Inside Museveni’s life presidency project | Exposing faces behind campaign to lift age-limit
Kampala, Uganda | HAGGAI MATSIKO | Members of President Yoweri Museveni’s inner circle know something is serious if Lt. Col Michael Katungi is involved. He is a very quiet officer who likes to keep a low profile but has been praised by Museveni for pulling off sensitive and very discreet assignments.
That is why many people paid attention when on July 24, Katungi called a special meeting at a discreet ruling party facility located near the Army Headquarters in Mbuya. The facility is officially called the Office of the Chairman; meaning Museveni uses it for his work as chairman of his NRM party.
The meeting was attended by Museveni’s most trusted staffers, selected government technocrats and loyalists.
The agenda was quickly communicated to them; it was to plan a mobilisation campaign to ensure that the presidential age limit is expunged from the constitution for Museveni to be eligible to run in 2021.
Museveni will be 76 years old and, since Article 102 (B) of the constitution sets the age range for president at 35 to 75 years of age, he cannot run for the presidency again.
Katungi often works closely with Molly Kamukama, President Museveni’s current Principle Private Secretary (PPS) who before the 2016 elections headed the Mbuya office—which was the hub of mobilisation for Museveni’s 2016 campaign. Kamukama was Museveni’s de facto campaign manager. They have handled many special assignments for Museveni.
Early this year, Katungi vied for the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) on the ruling party ticket but pulled out, he said, on Museveni’s advice.
In 2015, Museveni hailed Katungi and a one Janet Mugabi, for discreetly arranging the return of General David Sejusa from exile in London where he had gone after leaking a letter in which he warned of a plot to have assassinated those opposed to a plot to have the Maj. Gen. Muhoozi Kainerugaba replace his father as president, also known as the Muhoozi project.
On the age-limit campaign, sources tell The Independent, Katungi is also working with David Mafabi, the President’s Private Assistant for Political Affairs, Stephen Othieno, a personal assistant to the president’s son, Muhoozi Kainerugaba, and Nyombi Thembo, the former state minister for ICT. Others on the team are a host of legislators like Simeo Nsubuga and Col. Fred Mwesigye, RO 27 or the 27th guerrilla to join Museveni’s 1981 war, who is the MP for Nyabushozi.
But President Museveni continues to feign indifference to the plot to amend shift the presidential age-limit. “I hear there is a debate about age limit and I do not know what, what are you debating, who has brought a proposal?” Museveni had asked during a press briefing at State House Entebbe on July 19, just days before Katungi’s meeting in Mbuya.
Museveni opponents not fooled
Some people, like opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party President, Gen. Mugisha Muntu, who know Museveni well, are not fooled.
“He is a crafty operator,” Muntu, who worked as army commander under Museveni told The Independent.
Muntu specifically commented on 1986 meeting of the army High Command, to top organ of the army met to discuss how long they would stay in power before handing over to private authority.
Muntu confirmed the details of the meeting, which he said he used to discuss with colleagues. The meeting was in Mengo, where the army headquarters used to be. A question came up about the period of time that the military establishment needed to re-organise the country before handing over to an elected civilian government.
One of the attendees suggested four years.
“Four years?” a seemingly surprised, Museveni reportedly asked, “for what?”
Museveni said they needed only two years to reorganise things and hand over power to an elected government.
Sources say it then fell to political strategists like then-leading party ideologue Amanya Mushega, to argue strongly and convinced everyone; including Museveni.
“The reasoning was that two years was too short for the new government to put in place functioning systems and a firm foundation for good governance,” Gen. Muntu told The Independent in an interview, “it was felt that four years was more realistic. That is how the four years came about.”
After the four years, however, Museveni; who had only four years ago said they needed only two years changed his mind and requested the National Resistance Council (NRC) to add him another four to complete the constitutional making process that his government had commenced.
Even then, everyone appeared in agreement, the constitution was badly needed and the NRC without hesitation granted him another four years which led to the 1994 election of a Constituent Assembly (CA) that met for over a year to make the constitution that was promulgated in 1995.
With the 1995 constitution in place, an election was set for the following year, 1996. In the meantime, Museveni had already stayed in power for over eight years without subjecting himself to any form of election.