By Haggai Matsiko
Plotting to forcefully remove President Yoweri Museveni? Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi denies it, Kizza Besigye says it remains an option, and Gen. David Sejusa aka Tinyefuza says it the only way to remove Museveni from power. But does what they say publicly really describe whether or not these three once powerful men within Museveni’s government are now plotting to remove him? Are they in fact working together to forcefully remove Museveni?
Alternatively, are intelligence reports given to Museveni on which those allegations are based to be trusted?
In one such report, it alleged that in April 2013 police got intelligence that Prime Minister Mbabazi had connections with a group of government officials that were plotting to topple President Museveni.
The officials, who allegedly included Sejusa were allegedly planning to take over the government by first capturing the capital Kampala, had been infiltrated by police informants.
It was on the basis of these reports that the police chief, Gen. Kale Kayihura swung into action against Sejusa in April 2013 leading to the flight into exile in London of the former army MP, Senior Presidential advisor and coordinator of military intelligence.
The Independent has learnt the police also got intelligence that Mbabazi was part of a group that wanted to first challenge Museveni for the leadership of the NRM at the party delegates’ conference. They believe Mbabazi would defeat Museveni in an open election and was telling his supporters to fight to ensure that Museveni does not return as party flag-bearer in 2016.
However, if Museveni insisted to contest in 2016, they would join hands with the opposition and wrestle him out of power.
Mbabazi’s wife, Jacqueline, was busy mobilising on the ground and was in touch with the opposition.
In one instance, the intelligence reveals, Mbabazi’s wife had a meeting with former FDC President Kizza Besigye on an airplane. The report claims Mbabazi had sent Jacqueline but Besigye had declined to meet in Uganda.
Mbabazi, who allegedly had moles in police that were spying on Gen. Kayihura had also asked some of the informants to investigate some people and know which camps they were in.
According to the intelligence, some of which The Independent has seen, while Jacqueline was a sworn enemy of Gen. Kayihura, she had a good relationship with some top commanders in the Kampala Metropolitan area.
Mbabazi, the intelligence showed, had rich connections in the Dubai and that although the government had confiscated his bank; the National Bank of Commerce, the money was now flowing to Mbabazi through these businesses.
A top city businessman of Somali-origin, the intelligence shows, is the alleged conduit of Mbabazi’s cash. In most of this man’s businesses which run lucrative contracts in the ministry of Defence, Mbabazi allegedly has a stake.
These and more intelligence reports are what Museveni and his top confidants, in and outside the official organs of the ruling party are constantly meeting over. Their main concern is how to deal with Mbabazi who remains the Prime Minister and NRM Secretary General.
Although it has for years been fashionable for Museveni’s opponents to proclaim their adherence to the democratic agenda and not resort to force, the tone has recently shifted as Museveni into his 29th in power.
Gen. Sejusa in October 2013 announced that he is building an alliance of anti-Museveni forces to remove Museveni from power by use of arms.
“No one should imagine that Museveni will be removed through elections,” Sejusa said at the launch of his Freedom and Unity Front (FUF) organisation in London.
But even formerly non-militarists like leader of the Democratic Party (DP) Norbert Mao and the former president of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), Col. Kizza Besigye, say using military force to remove Museveni is now an option if all else fails.
It remains unclear if Mbabazi is in with the plotters. This is mainly because denial is the first defense.
When The Independent first published articles about the rift between Museveni and Mbabazi (See “Battle for 2016: An inside account of the war between Museveni and Mbabazi” – The Independent Dec. 6), there were denials all round.
But The Independent’s reporting was spot-on and MPs resolved that Mbabazi’s wife Jacqueline and his sister-in-law, Hope Mwesige who were leading the so-called “Mbabazi 2016 election taskforce” be arraigned before the party’s disciplinary committee.
Therefore, although Mbabazi who is renowned for his debonair calmness continues to proclaim his innocence, the allegations have sullied his relationship with Museveni and ensured he remains a lame duck prime minister with office but no power.
Mbabazi told The Independent: “ I will not stand against President Museveni, If you want me to repeat it; I will not stand against President Museveni.”
Despite such avowals of loyalty, Museveni keeps whipping Mbabazi and applying soothing balm at the same time.
In an interesting incident on March 6, Museveni sought to officially set himself up as Mbabazi’s sole defender when he had unleashed an army of his young MPs against Mbabazi at a party caucus at State House Entebbe on March 4.
Observers familiar with Museveni’s modus operandi say that was clearly sign that Museveni now feels he has extinguished any threat he feared from Mbabazi. Museveni, they say, favours the cow-horn battle formation which leaves the enemy hopelessly encircled.
They point of how Museveni let former Vice President Gilbert Bukenya languish in jail in Luzira Maximum Security Prison before stepping in to rescue him.
The Entebbe meeting was the third time Museveni was squeezing political life out of Mbabazi. The first was at the Kyankwanzi retreat on Feb.8.
Museveni had previously invited Mbabazi and his wife Jacqueline Mbabazi, who leads the party Women’s League, and confronted them with his alleged evidence of their plot against him. The evidence was mainly excerpts of recordings of Jacqueline telling various party officials that Museveni “has run out of ideas” and “promises air”.
Mbabazi swore he was not aware of his wife’s activities but Jacqueline, who is renowned for talking straight stood by her actions. She accused Museveni of betrayal for letting a group of young MPs move a motion at the Kyanwazi retreat that endorsed Museveni and humiliated her husband.
Finally, at the Entebbe caucus meeting, Museveni presented the same evidence against, Jacqueline, and Hope Mwesigye.
Museveni categorised his concerns with Mbabazi in three elements; political, ideological, and criminal. The Mbabazis were exhibiting ideological bankruptcy by mobilising against him with bribes of money and promises of pay for support, Museveni told the caucus.
Museveni told the caucus that he agreed with Mbabazi and his wife to cease these activities and find ways to solve the divisions created. But he said he was shocked when he returned from a trip in Kinshasa and found that the activities had not stopped.
When he read the transcripts implicating Mrs Mbabazi, it was as if he had thrown a stone in a beehive.
Museveni’s young radicals acted like they wanted to tear Mbabazi into pieces and Museveni, once again, had to step in to protect him. A mob of MPs, one source said about 70 of them, had their hands in the air. They shouted and accused President Museveni of treating Mbabazi with kid gloves.
“What type of husband are you if you have no control over your wife,” MP Rosemary Najemba, reportedly shouted at Mbabazi, “You are an embarrassment.”
Mbabazi who is known for his composure even in the midst of the worst political times, for the first time seemed overwhelmed, people who attended that meeting told The Independent.
“He was sweating, wiped his face severally and even attempted to run away from the meeting,” a source said.
Museveni, however, initially asked Mbabazi not to leave but eventually let him to leave and postponed the meeting until the next day.
Museveni has to tread cautiously with Mbabazi because he cannot legally remove him from his powerful position of SG. Only the party National Delegates Conference has that mandate. Even the decision by the caucus to have the Minister of State with Portfolio, Richard Todwong, takeover the SG’s mobilisation docket is hollow.
Todwong has held that job since 2011 but Mbabazi and other fat cats at the NRM secretariat have ensured he remains a figurehead. It is unlikely, that will change unless Mbabazi is physically removed from Kyadondo Road. Description of his activities as “criminal” could be a sign that Mbabazi could end up in jail.
Museveni, The Independent has learnt, has been working on dealing with Mbabazi since the NRM primaries in 2010.
Up to this point, Mbabazi had appeared content with deriving his power from being considered Museveni loyal right-hand man.
Source of Mbabazi’s power
Sources close to him say the Temangalo scandal in 2008, where Mbabazi was almost censured for selling land to NSSF in a deal deemed dubious, he reportedly realised Museveni would not always defend him.
For a man, who has had his eyes on the Presidency for a long time, he realised he would require a huge financial war chest. Through his wife, he aggressively got involved in business. Even as Security Minister, Mbabazi was very powerful. He ran most of Museveni’s errands. Museveni ceded international deals to him.
He also ran the party. By the 2010 NRM Secretary General elections, it was clear Mbabazi had a steady flow of personal cash. Mrs Mbabazi was at the heart of the campaign and spent handsomely too.
Mbabazi garnered over 6000 delegates’ votes while his nearest rival, Kahinda Otafire could barely make 1,500. Others in the race, like ex-Vice President Bukenya managed only a few hundred votes. Museveni took note.
Insiders believe that Museveni appointed Mbabazi prime minister in a bid to undercut his influence in the NRM. Museveni had hoped Mbabazi would relinquish the party SG post. He did not.
Instead, with the SG post under their belt again, this time legitimately, the Mbabazis moved to solidify their hold on power. When he was handed the premiership in 2011, they became unstoppable. As Mbabazi traversed the globe, from Israel, Dubai, to China, his wife infiltrated the NRM structures even more.
Mrs Mbabazi embraced its youthful leaders like Denis Namara, who she has been grooming to take on Barnabas Tinkasimire in Buyaga West.
Namara, a young lawyer, chairs the party’s youth league and is the Presidential Advisor on Youth Affairs.
Mrs Mbabazi was behind Namara’s bid for a post in the East African Legislative assembly in 2012 and was in charge of his recent wedding.
Museveni attended the wedding but it is Mbabazi who attracted the most applause when he arrived.
She would follow through on the connections Mbabazi was making abroad whenever Mbabazi was busy at home. This is how the Mbabazis got the Chinese under their belt.
When noises to have Mbabazi replaced as SG in 2012 grew, the Mbabazis worked even harder to cling on.
With enough money, Mbabazi started seriously considering a shot at the presidency, insiders say.
But his cautious approach did not impress his wife. She invoked a promise Museveni had reportedly made to Mbabazi that he would step aside and let him run in 2016. Her zeal also got fuelled by the bad blood between hers and the First Family.
Kayihura’s growing power
Museveni started spying on his prime minister through Gen. Kayihura, and other confidants. The spies got hold of recordings of Mbabazi’s wife activities and also interrogated Mbabazi’s supporters.
In one of the briefs Museveni received, Mbabazi is referred to as “India”. This brief notes that Mbabazi was using the Women and Youth leagues to undermine Museveni. It also talks of how Mbabazi was amassing wealth through external connections.
When Museveni in July 2013 directed an inquiry into security agencies it was arranged as just another clean up exercise.
Headed by Security Minister, Muruli Mukasa, The Independent has learnt that it was designed to clip Mbabazi’s influence in intelligence circles. Mbabazi has since 1986 headed and built a network in the Internal Security Agency (ISO), the External Security Agency (ESO), police and military. Mbabazi had used his position as Security Minister to deeply penetrate the country’s political structure from as low as the Local Council One level.
While structures like Local Councils, Resident District Commissioners, Regional Internal Security Organisation (RISO), District Internal Security Officer (DISO) and the Gombolola Internal Security Officer (GISO) are government institutions, because of the fusion between the state and the NRM, these structures feed into the NRM.
RDCs, RISOs, DISOs, GISOs and LCs are essentially mobilising structures, intelligence gatherers and listening posts of the NRM.
Mbabazi’s outreach to these structures, partly explains how he was able to access intelligence on activities of fellow politicians and also his victory in the 2010 election for Secretary General of the NRM.
As much as Museveni was spying on him, it appears he realised Mbabazi was also spying on him. Museveni wanted to clip that. Museveni knew it because he had depended on Mbabazi for intelligence for a long time.
In 2012 Museveni based on intelligence provided by Mbabazi to warn the other intelligence honcho; Jim Muhwezi. Museveni said Muhwezi, Henry Tumukunde and Kahinda Otafiire, were fighting Mbabazi.
That same year, President Museveni during a Central Executive Committee (CEC) Meeting accused Otafiire of having originated the documents that appeared to implicate Mbabazi in bribes-for-oil contracts deals.
Then Mbabazi gave Museveni a stack of intelligence claiming to implicate the Speaker of Parliament, Rebbecca Kadaga, in a 2016 presidential bid.
Former Vice President, Gilbert Bukenya, Bukenya also told The Independent in 2011 that Mbabazi told Museveni in his presence that Bukenya was mobilising the Catholic faithful to overthrow the government. Bukenya would be dropped from Vice Presidency shortly after.
Museveni, in August 2013, personally wrote to John Muwanga, the Auditor General directing an inquiry into the classified expenditure of ESO. Museveni also directed that two of his trusted soldiers sit on the investigation.
In 2012, Museveni also asked Bank of Uganda Governor Tumusiime Mutebile to look into reports that Mbabazi’s business partner and former co-owner of the National Bank of Commerce, Amos Nzeyi, was taking out about Shs8 billion out of the bank every month and depositing it abroad. Museveni feared it was for Mbabazi to use as war chest in 2016. Museveni also asked Kayihura to conduct parallel investigations.
Museveni also directed that all intelligence be centralised in police under Gen. Kayihura who these days makes all international intelligence correspondence.
The biggest portion of the intelligence budget was also moved under Kayihura’s control and the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) was expanded into the Criminal Investigations and Intelligence Department.
Today the key intelligence assignments do not go to the External Security Organisation (ESO) or the Internal Security Organisation (ISO). They are handled by Kayihura and his team. Mbabazi’s blue-eyed boys, like ESO boss Robert Masolo, were kept on as figureheads.
The post of party SG has been the foundation of Mbabazi’s clout. Even as ceremonial SG, Mbabazi has been at the centre of power. He sits in all the party top governing bodies. This gives him access and power to influence the distribution of power in the party. That is why he could not easily give up this post. Whether or not he is plotting with Besigye, Sejusa, and others, Mbabazi is definitely paying a heavy price for that decision.
Additional reporting By Joan Akello & Ian Katusiime