What really happened to the succession queue?
What you need to know:
When Dr Kizza Besigye jumped President Museveni’s ship in 1999 and in subsequent years threw his hat in the election ring for presidency, former Prime Minister and Kinkizi West MP Amama Mbabazi famously told him he had jumped the succession queue. With the developments in the political environment over the last decade, political analysts are keen on knowing who was in the queue and if it still exists. Last month’s fallout between President Museveni and his long time ally triggered the debate. Was Amama the last man standing in that queue?
Who within the National Resistance Movement is next in line to take over from President Museveni both as leader of the party and probably the country?
Whereas this may rank among the most discussed questions in Uganda’s recent history, it is clear that there is no straight-forward answer to it.
So we put the question to Mr Andrew Mwenda, the journalist who in the course of his work probably got closest to Mr Museveni and his family.
Who does Mr Mwenda think will replace Mr Museveni within NRM? “Museveni,” Mr Mwenda answers. After a pause he adds, “Or one of his family members.”
Mr Mwenda says: “From a political perspective, I don’t think Museveni is planning any succession. All revolutionary movements of the type of NRM –in Cuba, China, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and others have their founding leaders dying in office and I don’t think Museveni will be an exception.”
And Mr Mwenda is not alone in holding this opinion. Mr Augustine Ruzindana, a deputy secretary general in the Opposition Forum for Democratic Change party who fell out with Mr Museveni over deleting presidential term limits from the Constitution in 2005, has a similar view.
“NRM is a sole proprietorship, there is nothing like shareholders in that party and so you cannot start talking about succeeding sole proprietor Mr Museveni,” says Mr Ruzindana.
And because Mr Ruzindana believes that the discussion on succeeding Mr Museveni within NRM is misplaced, it makes no sense for him to start talking about a succession queue within the party.
Genesis of the talk on the presidential queue
So was former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi deluding himself when, upon Dr Kizza Besigye declaring that he would challenge Mr Museveni in late 2000, he said Dr Besigye had jumped the queue?
Mr Mbabazi said then that there were a number of party members, including himself, who were more senior to Dr Besigye in the party hierarchy and therefore stood higher up in the queue than Dr Besigye.
Mr Mbabazi, speaking up against Dr Besigye “jumping the queue”, would be interpreted differently. Some saw it as an attempt by Mr Mbabazi to prove to Mr Museveni how loyal and committed to him he was.
Others would interpret it as an indication that Mr Mbabazi too was interested in the presidency and saw taking over power from Mr Museveni as relatively easier than taking over from Dr Besigye.
During that time, however, there were at least two individuals who were thought to rank higher in the queue, if there was such a thing, than Mr Mbabazi.
The two, now both dead, were former Speaker of Parliament James Wapakhabulo and former First Deputy Prime Minister Eriya Kategaya, who did much of his life’s journey with Mr Museveni since childhood.
Mr Bidandi Ssali, who has since left NRM to found the Opposition Peoples Progressive Party, was probably also higher up in the queue than Mr Mbabazi.
Another person who was thought of as a possible successor to Mr Museveni within the Movement is Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu, now FDC president.
Attempts to kick out Museveni
Mr Bidandi and Kategaya, before they fell out with Mr Museveni in 2003 over attempts to delete term limits from the Constitution, had done considerable backroom work to prevent Mr Museveni from overstaying in power.
One attempt they made, according a military officer we talked to, who was also involved in the bush war struggle, was to “sneak” a promise in Museveni’s manifesto for the 2001 election campaigns that he would step down after serving his “second and last” term ending in 2006.
When it became clear that Mr Museveni would not stand down anyway, going by the machinations that started almost immediately after he swore in in 2001, Bidandi, Kategaya and others became uneasy.
Mr Ruzindana, who was then still in NRM and an MP, vigorously coordinated the activities of the Parliamentary Advocacy Forum (Pafo), which was comprised by mostly pro-NRM MPs who were pushing for the retention of presidential term limits.
To Mr Ruzindana, the deletion of presidential term limits from the Constitution marked a critical turning point in Uganda’s history. Mr Ruzindana says before then, even Mr Mbabazi would be forgiven for believing that it was possible for President Museveni to be replaced within the party and the national presidency.
When Mr Mbabazi talked about the queue in late 2000, Mr Ruzindana says, “there could have been an assumption that Museveni could be replaced because we still had term limits.”
But things changed with the open presidential term system, Mr Ruzindana, says so much so that he even disagrees with Mr Mwenda’s observation that Mr Museveni may allow a member of his family to take over from him.
“I cannot trust Museveni not to come out with guns blazing against a member of his family if it became clear that that person wants Museveni’s job,” Mr Ruzindana says.
But then, we put it to Mr Ruzindana, Mr Museveni is only eligible to stand for only one more term, given that, being 70 now, he will be above the permissible age limit for contesting the presidency (75 years) by 2021.
“He will delete that clause too, what haven’t we seen before,” Mr Ruzindana responds.
A former bush war fighter and still serving army officer says there were “intense discussions about replacing Museveni dating as far back as 1995 or 1996.”
He says during those early days, a number of bush war strugglers who felt that “the revolution was going off the rails” used to meet up at Mosa Court Apartments, owned by NRM vice chairman Al Hajj Moses Kigongo, to discuss how to revamp the party.
“Many of the critical questions that Besigye put in his document of 1999 were discussed and shared by a large group of people within the party and the army from as early as 1996,” the military officer says.
He says, however, that there were disagreements on how to cause the necessary changes, with “gradualists” looking to ease Museveni out of the system using the term limits while the “revolutionaries” wanted Museveni out as fast as possible.
Dr Besigye, it has since been reported, only offered himself as a challenger to Mr Museveni for the 2001 elections after attempts to convince Wapakhabulo and Mr Bidandi to take up the challenge failed. He was not convinced by talk that Mr Museveni would serve out his last constitutional term and bow out.
When contact for a comment for this article, Dr Besigye said that he would instead write an article about the queue talk within NRM instead.
And it all looks like it is only those outside the ruling party who can talk about the existence or lack of a succession queue. Many of the NRM members we talked to were uncomfortable with discussing the succession issue within the party.
Soroti Municipality MP Mike Mukula, who at the beginning of this presidential term, talked up possibilities of even challenging Mr Museveni for the top job, only spoke in generalities when we contacted him for a comment.
He declined to answer the question as to whether he was still interested in running for the top job, instead pushing the responsibility to the National Conference, the party’s top organ.
“NRM will always field a candidate who is a vote winner; we just do not field a candidate for the sake of democracy,” Mr Mukula says, “There is already the Kyankwanzi pronouncement and the NRM National Conference will make the final decision.”
In our conversation with Mr Mukula, it sounded like he was disqualifying himself as a potential successor to Mr Museveni even without saying it.
Mr Mukula was captured in the leaked US intelligence cables, Wikileaks, saying President Museveni seemed to be grooming his son, Brig Muhoozi, to take over from him.
Things are not the same for Mr Mukula anymore, for he has since then been convicted on corruption charges and only released on appeal, and after President Museveni chipped in with Shs100m to pay Mr Mukula’s legal team.
Just last week, the Soroti Municipality MP advised former prime minister Amama Mbabazi to leave the NRM top decision making organ, Central Executive Committee, saying he had lost the moral grounds to continue sitting on the committee.
Past and present candidates
Before Mr Mukula would even be thought of as a possible successor to the NRM throne, there was a time when the media referred to Kategaya as de facto No 2, especially because of his presumed close association to Mr Museveni. But this issue was clarified when in 2003 Kategaya dared Mr Museveni over term limits.
It all sounded well-intentioned. Kategaya argued, passionately, that we could not have a country where presidents keep running away. He urged his former classmate Museveni to “seize the historical opportunity” and be the first Ugandan leader to peacefully hand over power.
Mr Museveni responded by sacking Kategaya, only re-instating him after deleting the term limits from the Constitution and winning a third elective term. Kategaya had been fired with Mr Bidandi, who never made up with Mr Museveni. Wapakhabulo had already died.
And so this left Mr Mbabazi to jostle with then vice president Prof Gilbert Bukenya, who appeared to be positioning himself to take over from Mr Museveni. Prof Bukenya was eventually sacked as vice president in 2011, leaving Mr Mbabazi as the visibly unchallenged No.2 to President Museveni.
Mr Mbabazi enjoyed a rather brief period of aplomb as Prime Minister, having more power than any other individual who had held the position during Mr Museveni’s time.
But this was only until the now well documented fallout with Mr Museveni, stemming from suspicion that Mr Mbabazi had been building a power base within the NRM in preparation for challenging for the presidency.
“The Muhoozi Project”
Before the fallout between Mr Mbabazi and Mr Museveni became very clear, however, former spy chief Gen David Sejusa last year lifted the lid off affairs when he alleged in a missive leaked to the media that there was a plan by President Museveni to install his son, the Special Forces Command commander Brig Muhoozi Kainerugaba, as the next president. This, Gen Sejusa termed “The Muhoozi Project.”
To ensure the success of this “project”, Gen Sejusa alleged, there were “plans to assassinate” senior military and political leaders. He said he was among those targeted, together with the then Chief of Defence Forces Gen Aronda Nyakairima and Mr Mbabazi.
Gen Sejusa fled to exile while Gen Aronda has since been moved to become Minister of Internal Affairs. Mr Mbabazi was sacked as Prime Minister more than two weeks ago.
A week after his sacking, Mr Museveni seems to have thrown down the gauntlet, signaling readiness to fight with his former confidante.
“The Banyankole have a saying that people who strangle themselves are not mourned,” the President was quoted as saying by Ms Sarah Kagingo, one of his press handlers, at the welcome party his supporters organised for him in Entebbe last weekend.
If this means that Mr Mbabazi is out of the picture, should he lose the current power fight, who then are the stars to look up to within the NRM and probably the military; those who can take over from Mr Museveni?
An opinion poll jointly commissioned by Monitor Publications Ltd and the Democracy Monitoring Group offers insights into who Ugandans think may hold sway within the NRM.
Two of those mentioned were Mr Museveni’s relatives – First Lady Janet Museveni and Brig Muhoozi. Also mentioned were Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga and Mr Mbabazi.
Looking at these four names, what becomes immediately clear is that Mr Mbabazi is the only person with acclaim to having made a contribution to the bush war.
With Mr Mbabazi seemingly on the edge, it can probably be safely concluded that whoever will take over the NRM from Museveni will not be a former bush war colleague. The rest we leave to time to sort out.