By The Independent Team
When Parliament’s committee on Commissions, Statutory Bodies and State Enterprises winds up its public hearings of the Mbabazi-NSSF Temangalo land purchase scandal, it will be expected to produce a report in three weeks. This will cap nearly two months of public debate and political acrimony that have characterised the scandal.
Despite Security Minister Amama Mbabazi’s vigorous defense and denial of any wrong doing, many wonder whether he can survive the political storm.
Latest reports indicate that apart from the NSSF saga, Mbabazi is viewed as a security threat to the country and to President Yoweri Museveni because Mbabazi is dealing with foreigners who may endanger the country through his National Bank of Commerce.
Earlier, the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) declaration that a quarter of the land sold to NSSF was swamp appeared to have sealed Mbabazi’s fate in the court of public opinion. But it is State House’s intelligence officer Charles Rwomushana’s resignation or suspension last week that has, perhaps, added a new political dimension to the Mbabazi scandal and could prove critical to the minister’s political future.
Rwomushana claims he was forced to quit because Mbabazi’s agents were threatening him for his role in exposing the scandal, and other earlier disagreements with the minister.
For the many weeks that the Temangalo scandal has festered, Mbabazi has been engaged in side brawls with rivals within the NRM, notably former Health minister Brig. Jim Muhwezi, Local Government minister Kahinda Otafiire, and young Turks Henry Banyenzaki, Margaret Muhanga and Theodore Sekikubo, among others.
The addition of Rwomushana therefore only widens the minister’s firing range. But it is the accusations Rwomushana is lobbing against Mbabazi that could prove fatal. Rwomushana claims Mbabazi is a security threat to the country and to the president because Mbabazi is dealing with foreigners who may endanger the country through his National Bank of Commerce.
Rwomushana also accuses Mbabazi of mobilising violence through his agents.
These are matters Museveni usually takes very seriously especially given the potential to affect his power.
According to a memo addressed to Internal Affairs Minister Ruhakana Rugunda and copied to the president, speaker of Parliament, chief of Defence Forces and the Inspector General of Police dated September 23, Rwomushana claims that State minister for Local Government Hope Mwesige together with Mbabazi’s wife Jacqueline have mobilised several Bakiga youth to harass and intimidate MPs. The youths reportedly include George Byomukama, Humphrey Rugambanengwe, one Ndyomugenyi, and one Katabazi and Arnold Katwesige “ the latter two being ISO operatives.
They were allegedly tasked with: raising the Bakiga consciousness “ that the war against Amama Mbabazi in the NSSF saga was their [Bakiga] war; to write articles or call into radios and TV talk-shows to clean Mbabazi’s image; identify MPs who are opposed to Mbabazi to either mobilise them or intimidate them, and through violence disrupt any demonstrations against NSSF and Mbabazi.
Rugambanngwe and Byomukama have since gotten into trouble for reportedly exposing the plan to Rwomushana who in turn told the police and CMI. Rwomushana claims to have become a target since he exposed this matter.
Recently, MPs Margaret Muhanga (Kabarole Women) and Banyenzaki (Rubanda East) reported intimidation by unknown people.
Mbabazi introduced the tribal element into the NSSF land saga when he was quoted saying he is being persecuted because he is a Mukiga and Protestant. Ironically, all Kigezi MPs who are Bakiga; Henry Banyenzaki, David Bahati, Muhwezi, Winnie Matsiko, Sarapio Rukundo, Chris Baryomunsi and Wilfred Niwagaba, are apparently opposed to Mbabazi with the exception of Hope Mwesigye who is his sister-in-law. Some like Banyenzaki are openly supporting his possible censure. It is therefore not clear how all Bakiga could be mobilized to rally behind Mbabazi.
The Independent was unable to get a comment from Mbabazi. He was reportedly in a meeting when we called him, requesting that we call again later. However when we called again, he never answered our calls.
Mbabazi’s foot in Museveni’s mouth
By denying any wrongdoing in the NSSF Temangalo saga and refusing to resign or refund the money to placate an angry public and restore unity in the party, observers say Mbabazi has effectively thrown the gauntlet at President Museveni. So far the president is playing for time, saying any decision should await the outcome of the parliamentary committee.Â
But that, according to sources, is partly because the president is in a fix; he does not know what to do. Amama Mbabazi who is the defacto number two in the NRM presidential succession queue after Museveni has reportedly been building a network within the party, parliament and security to prepare for his time at the helm. The president cannot ignore this for any thoughtless action could easily disrupt his 2011 project. But if he keeps Mbabazi, then he is likely to go into the elections with only half the party behind him. Powerful NRM politicians and mobilisers like Jim Muhwezi, Kahinda Otafiire, Mike Mukula and Hassan Basajjabalaba have already expressed public disapproval of Mbabazi and want him out. They are unlikely to compromise on this. Others like Moses Kigongo, Gilbert Bukenya and Crispus Kiyonga are also believed to be quietly opposing Mbabazi.
Conversely should the president decide to sacrifice Mbabazi, then the latter could, in anger at having been betrayed by a man he has so loyally served, use his network to disrupt Museveni’s fourth term bid. His reported wealth is also now a big worry because if deployed in the election, it could easily create problems for many party candidates and possibly the president.
The National Bank of Commerce, which is owned by Mbabazi and other NRM big shots fingered in the NSSF land saga, is expecting an injection of US $50 million from an Arab investor. According to sources, the Arab investors did not want to do business with Gidoomal family who were the majority shareholders in the bank, thus prompting Mbabazi and Nzeyi to hurriedly find money to buy them out. The entry of the Arab money into Uganda through Mbabazi’s NBC bank is said to be particularly sensitive among the donor community, especially the Americans, because Mbabazi is the security minister. Sources within top security circles that cannot be identified for their safety say that the donors want Museveni to dump Mbabazi or sink with him. Many are already moving their aid to other countries in the region, a trend likely to accelerate if Museveni does not dump Mbabazi.
But other sources say Mababazi knows his vantage position in Museveni’ power-game and that is why he is defiant and determined to take the matter to the wire.
Salvation for the president may therefore only come through Parliament censuring Mbabazi. But already indications are that the committee on commissions and statutory authorities that has been probing the scandal is likely to recommend censure of only Finance Minister Ezra Suruma and spare Mbabazi for ‘lack of evidence’ which would put the matter squarely back in Museveni’s hands.
But even if the committee recommended censure, Mbabazi could easily survive the vote especially if it is by secret ballot because, according to intelligence sources, many opposition MPs and some NRM MPs would not vote out Mbabazi. The opposition wants Mbabazi around to embarrass Museveni. For the opposition, this would give them political capital in the 2011 elections running against the president who is carrying a corrupt Mbabazi on his back.
Indeed analysts point to the seeming laid back position the opposition has taken on the matter; leading opposition politicians like Kizza Besigye, Ssebaana Kizito, Kibirige Mayanja to mention a few have been unusually mum on the subject
Over the next few weeks, it will become clear what direction the president will take. In a sign that the scales may be tilting against Mbabazi, State House last week reportedly assured New Vision editors of no consequences should they run stories unfavourable to Mbabazi provided they are accurate. The editors had reportedly come under a lot of pressure from Mbabazi’s agents to skew reporting.
So is the ‘super minister’ finally about to fall? What will be the fallout in the NRM whichever way the matter ends?