Historicals, party leaders, cadres speak out
Kampala, Uganda | IAN KATUSIIME | Former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi likes to keep people guessing. In the run-up to the 2016 election, he created a famous tongue-twister to answer whenever he was asked if he would run against President Yoweri Museveni.
“I will tell you when I tell you what I will tell you,” he would say with a chuckle.
Four years later and a year to another election in 2021, Mbabazi’s future is once again a point of speculation. Will he or will he not – rejoin his former senior colleague, Museveni, in the National Resistance Movement (NRM)?
The Independent tried severally to get a comment from him with little success. But if we had succeeded, he could possibly have had another tongue-twister.
The return of Amama Mbabazi to the NRM, his political home of 40 years, looked a likely possibility when on Jan.23 the NRM Secretary General, Justine Kasule Lumumba, told journalists that Mbabazi had been invited to be a “special guest” at the meeting of the NRM’s second top most body; the National Executive Committee (NEC) of Jan.24 and National Conference on Jan.25.
Museveni in his capacity as NRM chairman invited Mbabazi together with four other special guests; former vice presidents Speciosa Wandira Kazibwe and Gilbert Bukenya, former Prime Minister Kintu Musoke, and former minister and NRM Central Executive Committee member, Francis Babu. Bukenya, Babu and Kazibwe showed up at the National Delegates Conference held at Namboole stadium on Jan. 25. But Mbabazi did not attend, sparking a flurry of phone calls with one question, “why?”
Sources familiar with the highly secret arrangements at State House say Mbabazi skipping the meeting is typical. He thrives on intrigue, secrecy, and keeping everyone guessing – including President Museveni this time.
That the two men have been in contact since they contested against each other in the 2016 presidential election is well known. However, it appears Mbabazi is determined to be his own man and not at the beck-and-call of Museveni.
In fact, on the two occasions that the two have appeared together publicly, it has been on Mbabazi’s turf and terms. On August 04, 2018, President Museveni made the trip to Mbabazi’s home in Kololo Kampala to attend the marriage ceremony of Mbabazi’s daughter. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa whose son was the groom was in attendance and decorum possibly required Museveni’s presence.
Recently, Museveni and Mbabazi met in the Togolese capital Lome for the France – Africa summit on drug trafficking and counterfeit medicines on the continent. It was organised by the Brazzavile Foundation; a charity organisation based in the United Kingdom led by Sir David Richmond with HRH Prince Michael of Kent as patron. The foundation is managed by an international advisory board that includes Mbabazi.
As seen, the meetings were miles away from politics, but speculation remained. Tit-bits even hinted on secret meetings between the two at State House to discuss what role the former prime minister and NRM secretary general, and `super minister’ will play if he formally returns to the party.
In reality, what the public meetings communicated is an image of Mbabazi thriving quite comfortably outside of Museveni’s orbit and possibly willing to engage on his own terms. That could not be said of Museveni who has six years later failed to find a `super minister’ of Mbabazi pedigree and clout.
Talk of the return of Mbabazi to NRM is coming at a time when the party is facing deep organisational dysfunction. Party cadres have fallen out with current secretary general Justin Lumumba accusing her of arrogance and incompetence. While speaking at the delegates’ conference, party members heckled her to a point of her requesting protection from the party Ayatollah, Museveni.
Lumumba, a source who is a party cadre says, bungled up the transport logistics of delegates from the newly created districts. When they arrived at Namboole, they had already hatched a plan to disrupt her in revenge for what they say was sheer disorganisation.
She reportedly mishandled finances from the 2016 election and as a result, the president moved work away from the party secretariat at Kyadondo in Kololo to the chairman’s office which operates from Kyambogo, Kampala.
Lumumba as the top party executive carries out her duties from the Kyadondo office but has been out of work allegedly due to Museveni’s dissatisfaction from her performance in the 2016 elections. The chairman’s office is run by Milly Babirye and has since 2017 been carrying out the bulk of NRM work as directed by President Museveni leaving Lumumba frustrated.
Previously the chairman’s office was run by Molly Kamukama who after an impressive performance in the last presidential campaign, was elevated to the post of Principal Private Secretary to the President. Kamukama’s latest ascent is Minister of state for economic monitoring.