By Isaac Mufumba
On the morning of September 13, Vice President Gilbert Bukenya walked out of Namboole a lonely and dejected man. His situation was understand able. The elections to the post of Secretary General of the NRM had just left Bukenya with an egg on his face.
So emphatic was Mbabazi’s victory that he got more than twice as much as the combined vote of all his opponents.
Sources close to Bukenya had told The Independent late in August that the president had made a substantial financial contribution towards his campaign.
On the other hand, Mbabazi had always been projected as aloof, unavailable and inaccessible to party members, which made him look unsuitable to hold the office of Secretary General.
Following the shambolic NRM primaries which most of the aggrieved candidates blamed on Mbabazi and the Secretariat, the elections had been expected to bring Mbabazi’s tenure as Secretary General tumbling down. This did not happen. Bukenya and Mbabazi’s conflict is not new. In 2007, Bukenya gave a recorded interview to daily Monitor in which he claimed there was a mafia in the government working to bring him down. But on the following day when the interview was published, Bukenya appeared at a press conference at State House to ‘clear the distortions’. Sandwiched between Mbabazi and Sam Kutesa, he denied having said there was a mafia group plotting his downfall. However it was widely interpreted that Mbabazi and Kutesa were the group Bukenya had referred but had now succumbed to their pressure. They are the same NRM heavyweights that brought him down at the NRM elections at Nambole last week.
So where does this election leave Bukenya and his relations with the President and Mbabazi in the party?
‘This is a very difficult situation for both Museveni and Bukenya, but I am sure they will all extricate themselves,’ says Government Chief Whip Daudi Migereko.
FDC’s Vice Chairman in charge of Western Uganda, Patrick Baguma says Bukenya should better jump before he is pushed. ‘Most of those who took positions had Museveni’s support. Bukenya’s defeat only shows that he is out of favour. I don’t see him holding on as Vice President for long,’ Baguma says.
Sources within the NRM echo Baguma’s thinking. They say Bukenya has put himself in a very vulnerable situation.
‘He has given Museveni a blank cheque. There is no better opportunity for Museveni to sack him than now because his popularity at home (in the party) is now in question,’ said a member of the NRM’s Central Executive Committee who declined to be named.
‘The Vice President is meant to be the most powerful man after the president, but once he starts getting zeros in some districts, then you know his political rating is really down. That is a vote of no confidence,’ he said referring to cases where Bukenya got no vote at some polling stations in the NRM elections.
The same source said that that as early as March this year, Bukenya was advised not to ‘demote’ himself from the post of NRM Vice Chairman for Central Region to contest for Secretary General. But not only did he defiantly go ahead to contest for the SG post, he went for even a lower post of NRM Chairman for Wakiso district. This, the insiders say, portrayed his as a politically hungry person.
Why did Bukenya go for a post he had earlier ridiculed as inferior? He first belittled the post of Secretary General as ‘small’ but later contested for it claiming he wanted to strengthen the party.
Sources close to Bukenya say he had been aware that Museveni has been searching for someone to replace him as VP. The preferred choice is a Catholic from Northern Uganda as NRM prepares for 2011 general elections. The move is calculated to either split or win over the opposition vote in the region and compensate for the reversal the NRM and Museveni are likely to suffer in Buganda.
This according to the sources, knowing that the curtain is about to come down on him, Bukenya had to hold a powerful position of SG to prove his political cloud within the party ranks and Buganda. He has been repositioning himself in the central region. For example though he supported the closure of CBS radio, he was the first top government official to hand in a cheque for the rehabilitation of the burnt Kasubi tombs of Buganda.
The question now is whether the Namboole defeat did not
leave him weaker and less politically relevant than before.