By Independent Team
Why can’t the President sack the PM?
A few days after The Independent published the article, “Battle for 2016: An inside account of the war between Museveni and Mbabazi” (The Independent Dec. 6), we caught up with Vice President Edward Ssekandi at the Munyonyo Commonwealth Resort after he launched the new Inspectorate of Government logo as part of the celebrations to mark 25 years of its existence and the International Anti-Corruption Day.
The story detailed how Museveni feared that his Prime Minister, Amama Mbabazi was using his bank, the now defunct National Bank of Commerce (NBC) to build a war chest to challenge him for the presidency in 2016. Mbabazi was allegedly surreptitiously mobilising funding from the Chinese and oil sheiks from Abu Dhabi.
In 2012, Museveni reportedly wrote to the Governor of the Bank of Uganda, Emmanuel Tumusime-Mutebile to investigate persistent reports that Amos Nzeyi, the largest shareholder in NBC, was withdrawing Shs 8 billion per month from the bank and “stashing” it in numbered accounts in Dubai and China. Although Mutebile gave NBC a clean bill of health, it was eventually sold to Sudhir Ruparelia’s Crane Bank stable.
So what did Ssekandi make of the story of a `war’ between Mbabazi and Museveni?
“I do not know about it because I have not read the story. Thank you,” he said.
NRM veteran and NEC member Francis Babu also refused to comment just as did Evelyn Anite, the NRM Caucus spokesperson, who kept saying the story was “sensitive” and she needed to read the story first— four days after The Independent published it.
“At the moment I am busy, doing so many things. Let me buy the paper first, read it and I will be able to comment,” she said on Dec. 12 when The Independent contacted her again.
Opposition FDC Spokesperson Wafula Oguttu said he was familiar with most of the story but was not comfortable with its ‘angling.’
“But why do you want us to comment on this story?” he asked.
“Because this story is very important for Ugandans,” we answered.
“No, I don’t think it is that important,” Wafula shot back, before launching into a criticism of the author of the story, Andrew Mwenda.
Others like Robert Tabaro, a lecturer of Political Science and Public Administration at Kyambogo University believe the huff and puff between Museveni and Mbabazi will eventually amount to nothing.
“I think Mbabazi won’t stand against Museveni,” he told The Independent, there will be a lot of negotiations and compromises before the primary elections in 2015. I have come to believe that Mbabazi is an intelligent character, is a leader and can push the country forward. But I am also sure, that 2016 is for Museveni and nobody else.”
Tabaro argues that, in fact, the NRM is nurturing young people (the likes of Frank Tumwebaze, Todwong, Bahati among others) to take on the party when the old guards leave.
“Let us not waste time on such issues,” he said.
Prof. William Muhumuza, Associate Professor and Deputy Dean of the Makerere University School of Social Sciences, and author of, From Fundamental Change to No Change: The National Resistance Movement (NRM) and Democratisation in Uganda (2009), blamed the rift on the way parties in Africa are personalised by their founders.
“It is common in all parties –FDC, DP, etc because of lack of institutionalization and personalization,” he told The Independent,” So you do not expect this rift to be said or talked about in public because it is not good for both the party and individuals.
He said the wrangles within NRM are unhealthy and not surprising and were reflected in the handling of the primaries in 2010.
“Now we have a situation where you have two powerful people each of whom wants to take independent decisions yet the president wants to be in control. All these two are historical therefore there is much more than the rift,” he said.
Ibrahim Semujju Nganda, the opposition Kyadondo East MP, explained the fear of politicians, both in and outside of the NRM to comment on the Mbabazi-Museveni rift.
“People; including the vocal politicians, fear what will happen if Museveni decides to retire in 2016 and hand picks some body. Mbabazi would want to be that person. That is why they are all pretending that they have not read the story or do not know whether there is a rift between the president and PM,” he said.
Eventually, we ran into Prime Minister Mbabazi at the Cabinet Retreat at Lake Victoria Serena Resort & Spa.
So what comments did Prime Minister have to say about the story we published? We asked him.
Mbabazi replied: “You people have already written something so what do you want me to comment? Any way I have not read the story. I am rushing for a meeting.”
Since then Mbabazi has said cryptically he will stand for “any post” if the NRM party organs ask him to do so.
In the most revealing moment he replied to a question by the new head of the European Union Delegation in Uganda, Kristian Schmidt, in noncommittal correctness.
He is quoted to have said: “We have the Central Executive Committee, the National Executive Committee, and the National Conference. If the party chooses me to be a candidate, I cannot refuse.”
President Museveni has himself used almost exactly the same language when asked if he will run for the presidency again in 2016.
Anointed Museveni successor?
But things did not go as smoothly for Mbabazi during a meeting between him, Museveni, Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga, and Zhang Dejiang, the Chairman of the Standing Committee of China’s the National People’s Congress (NPC) who visited Uganda in September.
During the meeting, The Independent has learned, unfamiliar with Uganda’s politics, Zhang reportedly thanked Museveni for “choosing” Mbabazi as his successor.
Although Museveni did not contradict his Chinese guest (Museveni reportedly politely told him that “that is not how it is done here”), it became clear to Museveni that Mbabazi could be selling himself as the anointed Museveni successor.
He reportedly is regarded as such by the Americans and the British as well, which does not go down well with Museveni. Hence the now emerging open rift between them, which could peak in 2014 in the CEC, NEC, if not in the National Conference in 2015.
At this point it is not clear how a contest between Mbabazi and Museveni would pan out in any of these party organs.
But as The Independent reported in the Dec.6 article that if Museveni had any doubt about allegations that Mbabazi was building a powerbase in NRM, they were confirmed during a National Executive Committee meeting held at State House soon after the 2011 elections.
At the meeting, President Museveni was asked why Mbabazi continues to hold the position of Secretary General when he had promised to relinquish it.
Museveni was reportedly surprised that instead of opposing Mbabazi, about 200 of the 500-strong NEC members heaped praise on the secretary general.
Mbabazi, himself told the meeting that his holding of two jobs is not any different from Museveni who is chairman of the party, president of the country and commander-in-chief of the armed forces.
Museveni realized that the information he had that Mbabazi had been mobilising NEC members to support his bid to retain both jobs was correct. It is clear, therefore, that Mbabazi has the numbers in NEC to upstage Museveni.
The same can be said of the National Conference, which is an even bigger body. Mbabazi won the secretary generalship in the National Conference. Before the vote, pundits had claimed that his challengers – former Vice President Gilbert Bukenya, Minister of Justice Kahinda Otafiire, and the academic; Prof. Elijah Mushemeza – could dislodge him.
Behind these men were some of the strongest forces with the NRM party and the country. Prof. Bukenya claimed support from the biggest religious group, the Catholics, and the biggest tribe, the Baganda. Otafiire claimed the support of powerful bush war fighters; the so-called ‘historicals.’ All of them claimed Mbabazi was unpopular because he had been sullied by numerous corruption scandals (all of them unproven) and was “aloof”.
Instead during the vote, it became clear that Mbabazi had won the vote overwhelmingly. Even Museveni, who batted for him that time, was reportedly surprised by the margin of Mbabazi’s victory. It is clear that in 2015, Mbabazi could emerge even more triumphant – this time against Museveni.
The Central Executive Committee, which is really the party politburo, is a smaller and more complex organ – hence easier to either decipher or manipulate.
It comprises President Museveni, First Vice Chairperson al Hajj Moses Kigongo, the 2nd deputy chairperson, Speaker Kadaga, Secretary General Mbabazi, and Regional Vice Chairpersons; Sam Engola (Northern), Abdul Nadduli,(Central) , Michael Mukula, (Eastern), Francis Babu (Kampala), Brig Matayo Kyaligonza (Western).
Others include NRM Deputy Secretary General Dorothy Hyuha, NRM Treasurer who is also Trade Minister Amelia Kyambadde, Deputy Treasurer Singh Parminda Katongole, Entrepreneurship League Representative Hassan Basajjabalaba and Veterans League Representative Rujumbura County MP Maj Gen Jim Muhwezi.
Of these, Kadaga, Muhwezi, Babu, and Kyaligonza have in the past not been in Mbabazi’s camp. Engola, Hyuha, and Katongole have been with Mbabazi. Significantly, however, Museveni has tended to wield a lot of influence and commentators claim that Mbabazi has thrived under his patronage. It is unclear what would happen if individuals like Engola, Hyuha, and Katongole are asked to choose between Museveni and Mbabazi.
Observers claim it would all boil down to who of the two is perceived to have more influence on the 2016 general elections – presidential and Parliamentary.
In the NRM, the influence always comes down to who controls the campaign kitty. It has always been Museveni.
But that could change too, if as alleged, Mbabazi has built up a formidable war-chest.
As one of his supporters put it when asked about money, “Museveni does not control the monopoly over money”.
Untouchable Prime Minister?
As the contest rages, one persistent question is why Museveni does not simply sack Mbabazi as Prime Minister. Museveni, of course, cannot under party rules remove Mbabazi from the SG docket. That is the prerogative of the National Delegates Conference.
Makara Sabiti, a Senior Lecturer at Department of Political Science & Public Administration at Makerere University, is predicting Mbabazi’s fall.
“The PM once said that Dr Kizza Besigye jumped the queue but he knows that the President does not want anybody with presidential ambitions,” Makara says, “it will not be surprising if he loses his job or there is a reshuffle of that position soon.”
Makara adds: “Mbabazi does not have power, Museveni has all the power. Unlike the past where people perceived Mbabazi as very powerful to the point of having a Pro–Mbabazi Cabinet before 2011, that is not real. There is a famous saying that you are just a cog in the wheel. So many of these people are part of his (Museveni’s) system and if you disagree with him, he can afford to do without you.”
Makara says the complication is that since Mbabazi has been PM, if he loses both positions it will be humiliating to give him any other position below the two ranks.
But a source close to Museveni told The Independent that the President is reluctant to remove the PM because he is calculating that it is “better to deter Mbabazi’s presidential ambitions than to alienate him”.
“The president does not want any fall out because Mbabazi has not openly broken ranks,” the source said, “The president prefers to go around, not to confront him. He wants to seduce him from any plans.”
Other observers like Ssemujju said Museveni cannot, in fact sack Mbabazi even if he wished.
“People like Mbabazi and Otafiire can only go after extreme discomfort. I predict that there will be a go-slow or silent strike in NRM following this rift and Mbabazi will no longer put in 100% to ensure that Museveni stays in power,” Ssemujju told The Independent. “He may not stand in 2016 but we may see a Mbabazi who will work to ensure that he has a share of the NRM party in 2016.”
Ssemujju adds: “I do not see Mbabazi going into a confrontation with Museveni. Mbabazi is intelligent enough and optimistic that probably in 2021, he will be the strongest candidate. He was a loyal cadre and he wanted Museveni to see him as a lead executioner hence not powerful because he gets orders from somebody else.”
Meanwhile, The Independent has learnt that the Elect Mbabazi 2016 Taskforce led by former Agriculture Minister Hope Mwesigye and his wife, Jacqueline Mbabazi, are busy with meetings and mobilisation.
Several top politicians who preferred anonymity confirmed to The Independent that they have been approached by the duo.
Their meetings, which since The Independent broke the story have been moved from the China Bowl Restaurant to another yet unknown location, continue to attract top NRM members, including some cabinet ministers.
Makerere University history Professor Mwambutsya Ndebesa describes the Museveni—Mbabazi rift as clearly a problem of succession in Uganda.
“The country is moving in a political mist and is liable to a political accident,” Mwambutsya told The Independent, adding, “There is no clear succession line because the Constitution opened up the issue of term limits.”
Mwambutsya says Museveni and Mbabazi, as leaders, need to state their positions clearly and not hide behind “the party will decide” clichés.
“Why not tell the people that ‘my position is this but the ultimate decision will be made by the party’”? He asks.
“We are not saying the party should not decide but he should be able to give his opinion. He as a party leader should give direction.” Mwambutsya says, from a historical perspective, the issue of succession has always been the trigger for political crises, not only in Uganda but in other countries as well.
“Even during pre-colonial times, the kingdoms of Bunyoro and Buganda would build powerful dynasties but only to disintegrate at the time of succession,” he said.
Mwambutsya is skeptical about Mbabazi’s candidature in 2016 because, he says, the PM “carries a lot of baggage”.
“He is nearly the same age with Museveni.
“The other factor is that he comes from the same region or south- western Uganda where the President comes from. This is something which may come into play during the 2016 elections.
“The third is that some of the historicals are against his candidature. But the other issue that creates even a heavier political mist is that there seems not to be a clear consensus of the right successor to Museveni.
“Let him mobilise but if Museveni is still interested in leading this country, he will not allow that to happen. He can dismiss Mbabazi from the party, and if he were still interested, would he win over people in the opposition.
“In this country, God forbid, if anything happened to Museveni, who would determine the successor? It is the Army High Command. Under the NRM regime, power lies with the army,” Mwambutsya says.
(Joan Akello and Ronald Musoke contributed to this story)