By Haggai Matsiko
Museveni caps 2014 on a high
President Yoweri Museveni has officially defeated his latest challenger, ex-Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, but observers now wait to see what he will do with the victory. In a well-orchestrated game of political manoeuvres, the National Executive Committee (NEC) on Dec. 14 handed him Mbabazi’s head when it endorsed Museveni’s request to be given power to appoint the secretary general of the party.
In the process, however, Museveni also appears to have been handed a hotchpotch of amendments to the party constitution, which appear to give him immense power and undermine it at the same time.
NEC’s endorsement followed that of the Central Executive Committee (CEC), which is the ruling party’s top governing body and which was the first to set the stage when over 22 of its members agreed to the proposed constitutional reforms on Dec.13.
By the time the issues were laid before the National Conference of about 10,000 delegates from all over the country meeting at the Mandela National Stadium Namboole in Kampala, Museveni already had his wishes in the bag. “That one [Mbabazi] was finished yesterday when NEC overwhelmingly approved the amendments to have him replaced with an appointee,” a top NRM official told The Independent at Namboole, “all we needed from the National Conference is support from just a simple majority.”
In an unusual show of stoicism, Mbabazi who was first humiliated when he was sent on forced leave as his epitaph was being written and had not been expected at the Namboole meeting, showed up.
Unlike past meetings where he was in charge, walked with a swagger, waved, shook hands, and gave a thumb up amidst wild cheers, Mbabazi was this time a forlorn figure. His arrival and presence was not recognised and he initially sat behind before an usher showed him to a seat at the fore, not far from where his wife Jacqueline Mbabazi sat and next to the man who succeeded him when he was sacked, Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda.
In contrast, Museveni appeared at Namboole as a very strong and confident man after garnering enough support for his proposed reforms from the two party organs. He showed his physical fitness, in spite of his official age of 70 years, by running up the steps of the podium.
The President’s men, like Minister for Presidency Frank Tumwebaze, youth winger Robert Rutaro and Media Centre boss Ofwono Opondo, who have been running up and down, campaigning for the amendments, defusing the Mbabazi forces, and organising meetings with local government leaders and businessmen to contribute towards the event, all appeared relaxed.
A few weeks ago, the state of affairs seemed different. Tumwebaze and his team had to work long hours to cater for the needs of hundreds of delegates that President Museveni invited from all over the country hosted at State House.
With his prize assured, Museveni made a short 90-minute speech. He did not even refer to the squabbles with Mbabazi although that was clearly the heart of the nut at Namboole.
The anticipated last minute canvassing for votes, and agitation by pro-Mbabazi delegates did not materialise. Even those that expected Museveni to use his speech to convince the delegates about the significance of the amendments were disappointed. Instead the President, who started speaking at about 12:20 pm, plunged into his usual list of achievements of the NRM, challenges, and how he intended to go about them. His speech, which contained all this, was bound in a booklet, which was distributed to the delegates. He said his speech was “his strategic overview of our past, present and future”.
Throughout the speech, he lambasted the Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) over failing to fix roads, government officials over failing to implement projects like NAADs and the Kalangala Palm Oil project. To hammer a point away against the failure of NAADs, he, like he always does at public functions, called some members of the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF) and farmers to the podium, to testify about the projects they have implemented.
He castigated leaders over what he called “political disorientation” and commercialising politics. It was not lost on anyone that Museveni has dished out cash to MPs to peddle his sole candidature campaign or to keep Mbabazi out. The Special National Conference—called purposely to kick out Mbabazi—at which he was speaking, had allegedly cost over Shs 10 billion and sources The Independent has spoken to estimate that the entire campaign to get rid of Mbabazi has cost the party over Shs 50 billion.
Cash was not a problem in the campaign to kick out Mbabazi. On Dec.05, a legislator who had been at State House told The Independent that after discussing on the pre-recorded Capital Gang show, the president was slated to meet some business people of Indian origin, who were being ushered in by Opondo. The same source estimated that the “party’s sympathisers” had fundraised about Shs 30 billion for the National Conference. Each delegate, sources said, left Entebbe with Shs 400, 000 in cash.
Still, delegates were unhappy the party had failed to give them Shs 500,000 as earlier promised, and was instead giving them Shs 300, 000.
Some of those who remained unhappy were heard shouting; “we want money” at the Namboole conference.
Sources told The Independent that they could not understand why party officials were having problems with the delegates over money again.
The Independent also learnt that some of the service providers had failed to supply prompting the organisers to engage in crash procurement of items like bottled soda.
On the face of it, Museveni, can now appoint the secretary general and deputy, the party treasurer and deputy, and a team of three, led by a commissioner, to manage the party’s electoral commission. Effectively, the roles Mbabazi as SG played have been split up into mobilisation, finance, and election machinery functions of the party – and Museveni directly controls all of them.
The trouble is that Museveni must now appoint officials to the positions, and he has recently showed a lot of ineptness at appointing anyone to anything. The country has been drifting without a chief justice for over a year, and several positions in his cabinet remain unfilled. Therefore, anyone expecting any quick appointment of party officials might be disappointed. Secondly, among the amendments was one that blocks party secretariat officials from holding any other government position and reduces the party secretariat to an “administrative unit”.
These amendments render the secretariat jobs unattractive to ambitious politicians looking for political and financial clout. When Mbabazi was elected in 2010, he had to wrestle for the position with former Vice President Prof. Gilbert Bukenya and NRM historical and vociferous Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Gen. Kahinda Otafiire. Before the secretariat was downgraded, several party top honchos had been mentioned to be in the running; among them Otafiire, immediate out-going deputy secretary general, Dorothy Hyuha, and current Minister for Information and National Guidance Rose Namayanja. Now, none of these would countenance a job offer at the NRM’s administrative unit.
The number of directors at the party secretariat was also slashed from seven to four appointed ones including legal, information and publicity, finance and administration, and mobilisation directors.
To compound the party organisational cul-de-sacs, some functions of the former NRM secretariat have been decentralised to the district branches. The NRM party has 57,000 branches across the country whose activities are coordinated by a district chairperson. Under the new amendments, they will now be responsible for registration of members at lower levels and monitor government service delivery. Museveni said he has instructed Prime Minister Dr Ruhakana Rugunda and the Minister in Charge of the Presidency, Frank Tumwebaze, to identify money from budgets of various government departments to fund the activities of NRM party structures.
Courting grassroots support
It was clearly political gimmickry or, as one of the delegates put it, it was meant “to lure them”. The government already has a myriad layers of apparatchiks purportedly “monitoring service delivery,” which is code for giving jobs and government money to cadres under a wide network of patronage.
The NRM party members’ register is a different matter. It was a point of contention between Museveni and Mbabazi. Although Mbabazi used his daughter, Nina Mbabazi, to compile a register, he refused to hand it over unless Shs 5 billion spent on it was paid. Museveni is clearly finding a way around that huddle.
In his speeches at Namboole, and before that in the CEC and NEC, Museveni also spoke about the wide chasm between the party leadership and its grassroots supporters. He said the party structures are vote-churning machines that go on ice after every election. “Some of the problems we are facing are due to lack of linkages,” he said at Namboole, in a veiled swipe at Mbabazi who has been accused of running an ‘incompetent’ and ‘aloof’ secretariat.
And in a direct counter to Mbabazi, he pledged to increase the salaries of councillors. This announcement came just a few weeks after a body of councillors had threatened to support Mbabazi at the 2016 polls saying that the former prime minister had pledged to fund their activities in exchange for cash.
Although Museveni lofty speech must have been music to the grassroots leaders, in practice it might be difficult to implement with a leaner administrative unit of appointed clerks. The only option appears to be that the activities of the NRM party will become fused even further with those of government officials. This has attracted criticism in the past. When the Namboole Conference was being organised, for example, government officials fumbled for answers when they were asked why it was the Resident District Commissioners (RDCs) – public servants – that were doing the party’s accreditation verification work.
It is also not clear how the new layer of appointed officials at the new NRM Administration Unit will serve the interests of their elected bosses in the government and the elected NRM leaders at the grassroots. In such situations, it is not unusual for appointed officials to exhibit an aloofness and lack of understanding of the activities and motivation of elected officials. With 2016 just around the corner, that could cost the NRM dearly. When finally, Museveni concluded his speech, the acting Party SG Dorothy Hyuha took to the podium, made her speech and in a short while the National Conference voted on the amendments.
Adolf Mwesige, the minister for local government, and once perceived to be in the Mbabazi camp, moved the amendments and Otafiire, seconded them saying the country needed to get rid of egoistic leaders who serve self-interest, in what many saw as a direct attack on Mbabazi.
Hillary Onek seconded from northern Uganda and Simon Aleper from Moroto on behalf of Karamoja region.
In a short while, the delegates overwhelming showed approval after the adoption of the amendments.
Only the amendment to vote by lining behind candidates in NRM elections was withdrawn due to stiff opposition from delegates who preferred the secret ballot.
The National Conference also agreed to the proposal to have the term of office of the affected officers to elapse immediately and for party Electoral Commission to approve the replacements, who will be appointees within 21 days. Museveni appears to have successfully, and with a lot of ease, ejected Mbabazi from the party leadership. Mbabazi’s many foes who were organisers of the events at Namboole, are ecstatic. But the decisions they took over one man, have far reaching implications for the party’s internal democracy and for the whole country especially given that Museveni, who is almost capping 30 years in power, is the one who emerged the biggest victor.