By Haggai Matsiko
Delayed cash, poorly attended rallies, defections dominate Mbabazi’s campaign
According to the ACFIM figures, the money the Mbabazi camp spent decreased by 23% between November and December while that of candidate President Yoweri Museveni’s NRM went up by 72% and FDC’s by 25%. By December 31, NRM had spent Shs121 billion, FDC Shs3 billion, and Go- Forward Shs1.5 billion.
What the ACFIM figures show is that for every Shs1000 that Mbabazi’s camp spends, Museveni’s camp spends Shs9000. This is a big contrast to the pre-election predictions about Mbabazi having “lots of campaign cash” and being ready to spend it. Mbabazi contributed to building up the myth of his big wallet.
“Don’t worry,” he told journalists when asked about his readiness to be the joint candidate of an opposition coalition, “If I am selected as flag-bearer of TDA, I have money to run the campaign”.
Even before he officially declared, Mbabazi and his supporters, political pundits say, had created the impression that he had a lot of money. With Uganda’s highly commercialised politics, even genuine supporters are often keen to cash-in on the candidates.
Mbabazi who is a former co-owner of a commercial bank (the National Bank of Commerce) and other million dollar businesses was reported to have mobilised a lot of money from his international contacts, and capable of raising even as much money as the NRM.
Mbabazi personally pledged to raise financial resources to fund the various parliamentary and other political contenders under TDA if he was selected as its flag-bearer. But many of these candidates are still grumbling and some have even pulled out of mobilising for him, the reason insiders say, some of his subsequent rallies have been lackluster.
For all the talk about Mbabazi’s financial prowess and ability to attract finances from international connections, the funds did not seem to be coming.
Towards TDA, Mbabazi’s Go-Foward, contributed Shs20 million while FDC contributed Shs100 million.
Now, what is emerging is that when the outcome of the Feb.18 presidential elections is announced, lack of money might end up having a big impact on how Mbabazi fares. It is being blamed for his failure to attract big shots from the ruling party, political pundits say.
His major political backers like DP’s Mao and UPC’s Olara Otunnu have gone silent. Beti Kamya of Uganda Federal Alliance (UFA), who led Mbabazi’s team during the negotiations with Besigye has distanced herself from Mbabazi.
Kitgum woman legislator, Beatrice Anywar, who nominated Mbabazi, has also stayed away. She surprised many when she fumbled to join Besigye as he campaigned in her constituency. Another Mbabazi big catch Stephen Kaliba held a meeting with Museveni in Kabale at the beginning of this year and has since declared support for Museveni.
Another crack in Mbabazi’s team appeared towards the end of last December when a group of high profile persons denied being members of his National Taskforce. They included; former Public Accounts Committee chairman and Terego legislator, Kassiano Wadri, retired Anglican bishop of Soroti diocese, Charles Bernard Obaikol, Kalungu Woman legislator, Florence Kintu, Bunya East’s Kyewalabye Majegere and former Gender minister Gabriel Opio.
The Museveni factor
Prof. Ogenga Latigo, the former Leader of Opposition, is one of the big-fish who at one point was said to be in Mbabazi’s camp until he openly declared his continued allegiance to FDC. In a recent interview, he told The Independent that money was a big factor for some of the politicians who joined Mbabazi’s camp when the former Prime Minister fell out with Museveni.
“Of course, some of it was coloured by the expectation of money from him and to that extent, he has not lived up to the expectations,” Latigo said.
He said there are many who still identify with the core reasons as to why Mbabazi decided to run against Museveni.
“The discontent still holds and there are those who support him because of the key issues and not the resources.”
Latigo also hinted on the fact that there has been talk that Mbabazi’s financial channels have been blocked by Museveni. But he downplayed it and suggested a completely different explanation.
“Knowing Museveni, Mbabazi might be waiting to counter Museveni at the last minute,” Latigo said, “Mbabazi is very strategic. He will not be moved by people’s sentiments but by strategy.”
Another political analyst, Patrick Wakida who is the Executive Director of pollster, Research World International (RWI) and a ranking member of FDC, also made the same explanation.
“Knowing Museveni,” Wakida said, “Mbabazi might be waiting and watching because Museveni might also be waiting and watching to see what Mbabazi gives and then counter it. You don’t start by giving money, you want to first be sure who the real supporters are and then start facilitating them.”
This view might be supported by what Mbabazi told some scholars at an Aug 13, 2015 meeting in the boardroom of his offices at Crested Towers.
To illustrate Museveni’s weakness, Mbabazi reportedly said that Museveni had become vulnerable to blackmail from groups of people who extort money from him under the pretext of being his supporters. Mbabazi went as far as saying that most of the support the president enjoys is not genuine because it is rented. Going by this, it seems Mbabazi is more cautious about where his money goes.
On the issue of Mbabazi failing to sponsor politicians allied to Go-Forward in the parliamentary and other local elections, Wakida said that even the NRM has not given money to some who are contesting on its ticket. NRM has promised to give about Shs50 million to its parliamentary elections candidates.
Wakida said the talk about Mbabazi’s camp team losing people and his campaign being lackluster is misleading because the former ruling party Secretary General has kept his team private.
He said that it is very significant that Mbabazi was able to declare a team of 50 MPs and allies, a number that traditional parties – like DP and UPC, have not got in the past.
Going by previous polls, Wakida also said, there is no presidential candidate in the third position who has been able to go beyond a minimum of 4 percentage points, yet Mbabazi has a minimum of 10 points.
Asked whether it did not matter that Mbabazi had lost some of his mobilisers like former Tooro Prime Minister, Stephen Kaliba, Wakida said it did not.
“Most of those are just opportunists,” Wakida said, “They are not real supporters.”
Wakida, however, said that the miscalculation many are making is to think that Mbabazi can get 60 % or 50 % yet he cannot.
“Mbabazi is only a determinant of who becomes the next president, he cannot win because majority of the people in this country are illiterate, poor and information is limited,” Wakida said, “So, you will see the president performing but not performing as well as he should have.”
But cautious or not with less than a month to Feb.18 when the elections will be held, observers are pointing to major tell-tale signs that Mbabazi’s presidential bid has suffered significantly. Seasoned politician and former Presidential candidate, Aggrey Awori, says Mbabazi’s performance on the campaign trail has been poor.
“He hasn’t raised anything new,” Awori told The Independent.
Mbabazi’s successful rallies have been a handful—most of them in the north and east. He had been expected to perform well in Buganda because most of his backers under DP are legislators here but his rallies in Buganda; apart from Luweero and Masaka Municipality, were significantly affected by poor mobilisation. Mbabazi also failed to impress in his home area of Kanungu.
Awori attributed it to Mbabazi living in Museveni’s shadow.
“He was never a popular figure,” Awori said.
That is a view held by Mbabazi opponents in Besigye’s camp. They point at three meetings that they held to try to gauge the level of Mbabazi’s support.
The meeting happened when Mbabazi joined efforts to field a single joint opposition candidate under The Democratic Alliance (TDA), and the question of how many supporters he could bring with him from the ruling party surfaced. It is said to have been at the heart of why the negotiations between him and Besigye failed. But before that, three meetings were called for Mbabazi to show his team, but he did not on all three.
At the first meeting, top FDC officials who included Wafula Oguttu, Augustine Luzindana, Nandala Mafabi and Jack Sabiiti sought to understand what Mbabazi was bringing with him to the alliance. Mbabazi had only one representative, his sister-in-law, Hope Mwesigye at that meeting. The meeting did not make progress because Mbabazi and Besigye were absent. It was agreed to have another meeting.
At the second, Mbabazi still did not show up. Besigye attended together with his top honchos. They agreed to have the meeting of principals. In the third meeting, Mbabazi attended with his wife Jacqueline Mbabazi and her sister Hope Mwesigye.
To Besigye’s camp, this was the biggest indicator that Mbabazi and his few supporters were just talking big but did not have supporters and was just relying on Olara Otunnu and Norbert Mao to deliver UPC and DP’s support. They tasked the Mbabazis to show their support.
But the Mbabazis said it was still early and most of their supporters within the ruling party were not ready to be declared publicly.
After this, even mobilisers who genuinely want Museveni out of power seem to have concluded that Mbabazi’s potential to attract big shots within the NRM had been overstated.
Disappointed that the big shots or a substantial number of supporters from NRM have been longtime coming, the mobilisers either lost morale and sat on the fence or joined the NRM ranks.
Some of the mobilizers have been coerced by State operatives working for the NRM camp in lethal clandestine moves.
The disruptions by state operatives intended to destablise Mbabazi started with the arrest of his youth supporters and has been intensified with the independent candidate claiming that some of his supporters have even been murdered.
Mbabazi was forced to make a statement on Jan.7 over what he dubbed as an “offensive being waged against my supporters” following the publication of a picture of a dead body alleged to be that of his former head of security, Christopher Aine, who disappeared on Dec.17. While the state claims that Aine is in hiding, Mbabazi’s lawyers have petitioned the High Court to order the State to produce him or his body.
Human rights experts have told The Independent that whether or not the State is responsible for his disappearance, it has had a chilling effect on the population; especially supporters of opposition candidates most especially Mbabazi’s in the run up to 2016 elections.
Wakida explained what Mbabazi described as an offensive against his supporters saying that in 2001, 2006 and even 2011; the State targeted Besigye because he was seen as the biggest threat.
“What has happened now is that the State has targeted Mbabazi majorly because in their assessment, he eats majorly from the NRM.”
A political intelligence source, who talked to The Independent on condition that he is not named, confirmed that the NRM camp has infiltrated Mbabazi’s camp and targeted his mobilization network.
The source pointed out that, sometime in December last year, security operatives raided one of Mbabazi’s offices and took with them computers. It appears that the intention was to find out who Mbabazi’s grassroots mobilisers were and buy them off.
“Data has been harvested from Mbabazi’s equipment and used to counter his mobilisation,” the source said.
Indeed, some of Mbabazi’s grassroots mobilisers are now being said to have been quietly bought off and crossed over to NRM. It is also alleged that others that remain with Go-Foward are in effect NRM agents. It was not possible, for obvious reasons, for The Independent to confirm the alleged infiltrations. In fact, the allegation might be a ploy to sow suspicion in Mbabazi’s camp.
What is clear is that around Mid-December last year, about eight middle-level managers working at the Go Forward headquarters crossed to Museveni’s camp. It is said that some of them were already frustrated after Mbabazi delayed to meet their financial expectations.