By Edgar Tushabe Muhairwe
What will President do next?
What is not in dispute, however, is that President Museveni had summoned Mbabazi and former Vice President Gilbert Bukenya to a meeting scheduled for June 15 to explain why they were allying with the new formed The Democratic Alliance (TDA). The alliance seeks to field a single joint opposition candidate against President Museveni in the 2016 elections.
Museveni insists that Mbabazi and Bukenya, being members of the NRM party were forbidden from attending and signing a memorandum of understanding that created TDA on June 10 at Katomi Kingdom Resort. The hotel is owned by Bukenya. Museveni was summoning Mbabazi over another issue; a series of inflammatory exchanges on Facebook fomenting ethnic hatred between tribes in western Uganda.
But instead of answering Museveni’s summons, Mbabazi unleashed his YouTube announcement. When The Independent sought an interview with him, his daughter, Nina Mbabazi, said he was out of Kampala.
Meanwhile, as soon as Mbabazi declared his candidature, the police was heavily deployed on the streets of Kampala to avert any demonstrations in support of his candidature. Mbabazi campaign paraphernalia, including posters and T-shirts were confiscated when police raided the homes and offices of his agents in Mbarara, Lira, and Kampala. Possession of campaign paraphernalia is not a crime and the police are usually not involved in resolving intra-party squabbles unless there is a risk of disturbance of peace. As in the past, however, the police tend to become overzealous over challengers to President Museveni.
In a press statement on June 14, the day Mbabazi announced his candidature, the PRO of police CP Fred Enanga said they had received information that a group loyal to Mbabazi intended to stage demonstrations all over the country.
“This is to alert the general public that the police has not been informed of such demonstrations as is required by the Public Order Management Act, and should therefore not be deceived into participating in them,” Enanga said.
Indeed police was all over the country the following morning plucking Mbabazi posters from wherever they were placed.
Heavily armed anti-riot police were also deployed at the offices of Mbabazi’s wife, Jacqueline on Plot 38 offices Bukoto Street in Kamwokya, Kampala. They reported ransacked the office and carried off campaign materials. In another incident in Mbarara, a Mbabazi agent who was transporting banners, posters, and T-shirts in a car was arrested and detained. In Lira, several youths on similar pro-Mbabazi missions fled for dear life when police pounced. Their motorbikes were impounded.
`NRM is my party’
In a hurried address on public radio and TV, President Museveni who was just returning from an African Union summit in South Africa criticized Mbabazi and warned of stern action as he, according to Museveni, was violating campaign rules. Museveni said Mbabazi declaring of intention to challenge him within NRM was “premature”.
Museveni, who appeared to be miffed, said Mbabazi who has been a linchpin of the NRM for decades should not be allowed to turn around and accuse the government failing to perform. He said Mbabazi failed to perform and implied that he was either authoring or distributing false documents on social media. He said some of the perpetrators of the crimes had been arrested.
Mbabazi’s announcement has been anticipated since he was on September 18, 2014 relieved of his duties as Prime Minister by President Museveni. A few months later, he was also forced out of the powerful office of Secretary General of the ruling NRM party. The former “super minister” and right hand man of President Museveni was reduced to a nonentity in a party he has been at the helm of for over 30 years.
What was surprising though is that Mbabazi insists he will stand on within NRM and on the ticket.Clad in a blue striped shirt in a secret location, the Kinkizi West MP declared his interest in the presidency of Uganda.
“I come before you today to tell you that I will be seeking your vote, first within my party-the National Resistant Movement (NRM) as its flag bearer and later on in the whole country for president in the 2016 presidential elections,” he said in a video posted on the social media website YouTube.
Mbabazi’s insistence to vie in the NRM however raises eyebrows but it is not out of the blue. Speaking on Capital Gang a few days after his presidential bid was rumored in 2014; Mbabazi was steadfast as he insisted that he cannot leave NRM.
“Nobody can chase me out of NRM. Asking me to quit NRM is like asking me to quit myself.” He said then. While addressing students of Makerere University on April 25th 2015, Mbabazi insisted that he will not leave NRM. “This is my party. My friends and I started this party and I cannot leave it.”
The question however is his ability to vie successfully for the NRM flag that he says will lead him to the presidential candidature in 2016. At a time when rumors of his presidential ambition were rife, when he still held the office of the Prime minister, an NRM MPs retreat at the National Leadership Institute (NALI) in Kyankwanzi proposed and endorsed President Museveni as its sole candidate. Mbabazi who was in attendance signed that resolution as number 202. Mbabazi was later to claim that that resolution was not binding as the NRM parliamentary caucus is not a decision making organ of the party.
Museveni’s camp wants disciplinary action against Mbabazi and Bukenya because they are still nominally members of NRM but are in cohorts with the opposition. Museveni appears especially upset about Mbabazi who has been quite close to him for decades. Officially, their crime is their endorsement of the TDA.
The NRM constitution article 5 e (I) forbids a member of the party to campaign for a person that is not a member of the party. If so, then that member loses his/her membership of the NRM. It is in this vain that the NRM disciplinary committees summons the now-presidential aspirant. If Mbabazi is successfully summoned, he could either be suspended or held until after the primaries in October when he can no longer run in the NRM.
Nicholas Opiyo, a lawyer and director of Chapter 4, a human rights and political rights defense organisation says that even if the NRM wanted to prosecute, it has no case. “Mbabazi has been very careful not to offend. Whatever he has done, he has been very careful not to be implicated. That man Alipanga that went to court over Museveni’s age is just a proxy; there is no evidence that Mbabazi was involved.”
He adds, “There is even no case against him in the Katomi incident. It is only Hope Mwesigye who attended. Why doesn’t the NRM summon Mwesigye? I don’t think they have a case against Mbabazi. If it is an offense against the party, Mbabazi did not commit it but rather Hope Mwesigye.”
The minister for presidency, Frank Tumwebaze on his part said that Mbabazi is welcome to the contest. “It is his constitutional right to vie for any office. And since he says that he will contest within the NRM, the party will look at his record. Fortunately he is not from heaven. He was part and parcel of the government architecture until he was sacked.” Tumwebaze says.
Nicholas Opiyo adds that if Mbabazi is indeed steadfast on standing in the NRM, then he should be ready to go through the tribulations Besigye has endured. When Besigye declared his candidature, he was arrested, charged in court martial, accused of rape, and has been clobbered and tear gassed on several occasions without relent. Opiyo warns that Mbabazi should be ready to confront aggression.
Mbabazi not in NRM
Already, Lumumba insists that Mbabazi is not a member of the NRM. She says he should run to the nearest registration centre and register to be a member of the NRM. “Mbabazi should look out for the nearest registration centre to register and be issued with an NRM membership card, without which he won’t be nominated.”
Outlining the due process for one to be a candidate for the flagbearship of the NRM, she says she advises Mbabazi to write to the NRM EC, expressing interest, then it would compile all the names of interested candidates and forward to the Central Executive Committee which sends them to National Executive Committee and they are voted on in the National Delegates Conference. These are the same organs that were used to kick out Mbabazi a few months ago.
When The Independent reached Kasule Lumumba, the NRM SG for a comment on Mbabazi chances of being nominated within NRM, she was sarcastic.
“If he follows the guidelines, why not?” she said.
However, the NRM has on several occasions harassed and intimidated anybody that comes up against Museveni. In 2000 when Besigye declared that he would be vying for the chairmanship of the movement, he was ostracized until he quit the race and formed the “Reform Agenda” on which he challenged Museveni for the presidency. He soon left it to join the FDC when multiparty politics was returned in 2005.
Capt. Ruhinda Maguru, a former bodyguard of the president was also harassed out of the race by security forces in 2010 and blocked by the NRM Electoral Commission. Maguru went to court and it ordered his compensation which the party commission has never paid to him. Felix Okot Ogong Member of Parliament for Dokolo County was in the same way treated like Maguru, only that it was more subtle.
TDA is a coalition of opposition political activists, political parties, and civil society personalities pushing to front a single challenger to President Museveni in 2016. But what are the chances of Mbabazi crossing to the TDA and becoming its flag bearer?
The opposition coalition is a quilt of checkered political lives. It has former Museveni confidantes-turned foes like former VP Gilbert Bukenya, Mugisha Muntu, and Kiiza Besigye. It has fringe party leaders like Ken Lukyamuzi of the Conservative Party, and Asuman Basalirwa of JEEMA. It also has civil society activists like Godber Tumushabe, formerly of ACODE, and former chairman of the Africa Peer Review Commission (Uganda Chapter), retired Bishop Zac Niringiye. Most of these groups and individuals tasted the wrath of the NRM anti-opposition machinery wielded by then-prime minister Amama Mbabazi.
Mbabazi is seen as the architect of nefarious laws, including the Public Order Management Act and the Regulations of the Interception of Communications Act, which were designed as a stranglehold of opposition activity.
Besigye also became the poster child of the NRM’s perceived corruption with impunity. He was embroiled in numerous alleged corruption scandals; in the Temangalo saga where he sold land to NSSF irregularly, during the oil bribery scandal where it was alleged he and others took bribes from oil exploration companies, and he was PM when corruption was unearthed in the Office of the Prime Minister.
A TDA single presidential candidate must selected by consensus. Can the crowd of Mbabazi’s former victims forgive and accept him as their leader? If they do, can the Mbabazi candidature be successfully sold to the Uganda voter?
The de facto leader of the opposition, Kizza Besigye, while speaking to the media shortly after the launch of TDA said Mbabazi is welcome to join. But he counseled caution in drawing him too close too soon.
“In principle, I would find no difficulty in supporting people who have been causing problems in the past, and in this country where there are very few people without such baggage. But if we can of course, avoid people with a lot of baggage, why not?”
Commentators like Opiyo think Mbabazi cannot be accepted. That he has too much baggage. “Mbabazi has some explanations to make to Ugandans before he can be trusted,” Opiyo told The Independent.