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Mbabazi’s trouble inside NRM

By Independent Team  

Top party chiefs plot his downfall

Shs7.5bn for delegates sparks chaos at Namboole conference 

The National Resistance Movement (NRM) Secretary General, Amama Mbabazi, has shown that he has the proverbial nine political lives, but it will take more than that for him to shed off the mud heaped on him at the party’s National Conference.

Mbabazi, who is also minister for Security, was accused of incompetence by top party officials, who booed and blocked him from speaking at the conference.

‘Agende, twakoowa, toka (Go away, we are tired of you),’ were some of the insults that the angry delegates hurled at Mbabazi’.

It took the intervention of President Yoweri Museveni to calm the flaring tempers.

At the heart of the anger at Mbabazi was money.

Apparently each of the delegates was entitled to Shs 250, 000. Tempers flared when delegates entered the second day of the conference on June 26, without receiving a penny.

Mbabazi explained that the conference had 8,000 official delegates but that the number had unexpectedly surged to 30,000. The expected delegates included top party officials, NRM members of parliament, NRM sub-county chairpersons, NRM LC3 chairpersons, and NRM LC5 councillors. However, mobs of delegates, some with children could be seen at Namboole. In monetary terms, the jump in numbers meant that instead of the initial Shs2 billion Mbabazi now needed Shs 7.5 billion instantly to pay the delegates.

Additionally, even the few delegates who had received their allowances were angry that Shs3000 had been deducted in transfer fees under the MTN Mobile Money transfer arrangement which was used. Dorothy Hyuha, the deputy to Mbabazi, said deducting Shs3000 from every delegate who received money through MTN mobile transfer was wrong. But her voice came too late.

Some delegates were given Sim-cards without money and others got less than what they were supposed to get. Many preferred to be paid cash.

The mobile money system had reportedly cost the conference organisers Shs500 million, according to media reports. MTN charged NRM Shs200 per delegate while each delegate was to pay Shs3000 when withdrawing the money. Under the arrangement, MTN stood to deduct between Shs24 million and Shs90 million at the rate of Shs3000 per transfer.

When President Museveni intervened to rescue Mbabazi from the angry delegates he said he was aware that some individuals were intent on making money off the conference.

‘I have been briefed that some people are trying to kulembeka (extract gain),’ he said, ‘I have also been told that the Simcards were stolen by some people because they wanted to steal your money. Fortunately, I had kept some money and it’s coming.’

President Museveni reportedly ordered Shs1.2 billion to be brought to Mandela National Stadium, Namboole, venue of the conference, and paid to the delegates in cash.

Sources involved in the deal who requested anonymity told The Independent that the NRM gave MTN money for only 6,000 delegates at Shs250, 000 each. According to this source, MTN delivered the money effectively. However, confusion erupted when other delegates did not get money. The source estimated that there were 20,000 people at Namboole.  According to them, either the organizers gave MTN money for few delegates and pocketed the rest or they did to make the MTN mobile money fail, so that delegates are paid cash and the organizers steal the money.

‘There is no way they were going to cheat with MTN mobile money because each delegate would pick money individually,’ the source said.

Meanwhile, the usually confident minister who prefers to make speeches with one hand in his pocket looked on in disbelief from one corner of the big tents to another. He licked his dry lips and took a sip of water.

Commenting on the booing, Mbabazi said: ‘I knew that they (opponents) had organised to disrupt my speech but they couldn’t do much,’ he said initially. He was forced to withdraw this claim and issue an apology. Subdued, he conceded that the ‘disruption was genuine.’ ‘They were expressing their displeasure of what had gone wrong in the organisation of the conference. Even if it had been me, I would have done the same.’

The NRM Deputy Spokesperson Ofwono Opondo blamed ‘multiple issues like the logistical failures on the MTN system being overwhelmed by people.’

‘But let’s not forget that there are some factions who wanted to use the occasion for politicking and that is normal in every party,’ he said.

The conference was to take stock of the part activities and important amendments to the party constitution.

But several camps opposed to Mbabazi opted to use the event to upstage him. Apart from the booing, several others mooted amendments to the party constitution to block him from any other public office.

According to the Saturday Monitor newspaper, Mike Mukula, the NRM vice chairman for Eastern Uganda, planned to table an amendment barring the party’s Secretary General from holding any other government job.

Mukula reportedly said it was a mistake to allow a party SG, the deputy SG, the Treasurer and Deputy Treasurer to take over ministerial positions because the individuals are too busy. Mukula’s amendment was directed at Mbabazi who is the SG, a minister, and an MP. Rukungiri District Chairman Zedekia Karokora, had also wanted an amendment to bar party members found guilty of corruption and electoral malpractices from vying for party positions. Mbabazi is accused of corruption over his role in the expenditure of the 2007 Commonwealth summit funds.

Mbabazi outsmarted his opponents and blocked the proposed amendments to the party constitution.  He said some proposals were never considered because they were submitted too late.

Mbabazi has obeen unpopular within the party top ranks. However, he has always gotten the backing of President Museveni.

The booing must have been a terrible reminder for Mbabazi of the last NRM Delegates Conference in 2005. During that meeting at the same stadium, Mbabazi was almost ousted by Crispus Kiyonga, the then National Political Commissar (NPC) of the now defunct Movement – a position equivalent to that of SG.

Museveni indicated early that he wanted Mbabazi for SG. But the NRM bush war veterans defied him and fronted Kiyonga. To quell the ‘rebellion’, Museveni called a reconciliation meeting between Mbabazi, Kahinda Otafiire, and Kiyonga. He reportedly told them that he needed an SG who he would not fight with. He spent hours explaining the history of conflicts between presidents and their SGs.

Museveni said that Milton Obote, who was president of Uganda and the Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC), had initially clashed with all UPC Secretary Generals: John Kakonge, Grace Ibingira and Felix Onama. Jomo Kenyatta had conflicted with Tom Mboya in Kenya, Julius Nyerere with Oscar Kambona in Tanzania. After this lecture, Museveni said he preferred working with Mbabazi.

On May 6, 2007, at the funeral of the late permanent secretary in the Ministry of Defence, Brig. Noble Mayombo, Museveni in mourning him, said the deceased army officer and Mbabazi were the two persons he trusted most. He repeated the sentiment on July 12, 2008 when he attended the wedding of Mbabazi’s son, Mao Mbabazi at the Kampala Serena Hotel. He told the guests: ‘I have always been close to Mbabazi because he is not greedy.’  Mbabazi is referred to as ‘super minister’ and probably he sees himself in that reflection. According to delegates, the booing and other scenes of defiance were intended to show Museveni that his clinging onto Mbabazi may no longer be acceptable.

Critics claim Museveni uses Mbabazi to kill the party. They say Museveni prefers a weak party that does not impose limits on how he as President exercises power. NRM leaders complain that Mbabazi does not call regular meetings for the different party organs. They charge that the party has no independent source of finance away from the President. They also complain that there is limited interface between headquarters and the districts and sub-counties. Instead of headquarters listening to the views from branches of the party, it is the one that is always sending instructions on what branches should do.

Bukenya targets Mbabzi’s post

Campaigning for the SG post was in full gear at the Namboole conference. As Mbabazi distributed cards bearing his portrait to every delegate as did Vice President Gilbert Bukenya’s aides. Bukenya has indicated his interest in the SG’s job. Others gunning for Mbabazi’s job are Trade Minister Maj. Gen. Kahinda Otafiire, MP Theodore Ssekikubo (Rwemiyaga), and Elijah Mushemeza. But the real contest seems between Otafiire and Mbabazi.

During the booing of Mbabazi, many delegates were chanting ‘Otafiire! Otafiire!’

In an April 18 report, The Observer newspaper ran a story that Mbabazi had said his main challengers for the post of NRM Secretary General are ‘inconsequential.’ It was run under the headline; ‘You are nothing, Mbabazi tells VP, Otafiire.

The Observer story said Otafiire’s response was: ‘If he regards us as inconsequential, then he is disregarding the electorate which is very bad for our party. But for me, I am doing my part of campaigning, and we shall see if we are inconsequential.’

Ssekikubo reportedly said: ‘Saying that we are inconsequential is an indication of super arrogance and it is the very reason that I am standing against him. He has learnt nothing from his arrogance.’

Otafiire has the support of influential bush-war veterans. Bukenya’s power base in the NRM is unclear but he is a smart mobiliser.

Many bush war historicals call Mbabazi a person imposed on the NRM by Museveni. Mbabazi is a historical NRM member but did not go to the bush during the 1981-86 rebellion and served in the NRM’s external wing from outside Uganda.

NRM ‘˜historicals’ like Maj. Gen. Kahinda Otafiire, Maj. Gen. Jim Muhwezi, Brig. Henry Tumukunde, Eriya Kategaya, Crispus Kiyonga, and Col. Tom Butime openly detest him.

It is, however, not predictable what Museveni will do about the party outrage against Mbabazi this time. Museveni’s own popularity is not in danger within the NRM. However, NRM insiders say clinging onto Mbabazi might dent it.

Museveni supported Mbabazi during the Temangalo saga in spite of widespread opposition by the NRM Parliamentary Caucus and the First Lady, Janet Museveni. But Museveni also likes to play cat and mouse game with Mbabazi.

For example, State House sources say, on the evening of May 22, 2003, Museveni called Mbabazi to State House and told him he would be announcing a cabinet reshuffle the next day. He then informed Mbabazi that he would be appointing him vice president. Mbabazi left State House a very happy man.

The next afternoon, May 23, when the new cabinet was announced, it emerged that Museveni had appointed Prof. Gilbert Bukenya, then minister for the Presidency, as VP.

Earlier, in 1996, Bukenya had scooped another coveted job from Mbabazi; that of Chairman of the Movement Caucus.

After the 1996 parliamentary elections, Mbabazi was selected as Chairman of the Movement Caucus ‘ as it was known then. However, MPs in the Sixth Parliament petitioned Museveni against him. They argued that having a minister lead the Caucus would suggest that the executive was controlling the legislature. Museveni asked Mbabazi to leave the chair of the Caucus.

NRM leaders, led by the then Speaker of Parliament, James Wapakhabulo (RIP) named Bukenya to the job.

At that point Bukenya was relatively new to the Movement having been a member of the Democratic Party.

State House and NRM insiders say this explains the rivalry between Mbabazi and Bukenya.

In a major fallout, Bukenya accused Mbabazi and Kutesa of secretly investigating him in order to undermine him. Bukenya called Daily Monitor and gave an interview claiming there was a ‘mafia group’ in the government that was working to bring him down. He specifically mentioned Mbabazi and Sam Kutesa as leaders of the mafia. However he was later forced to disown his remarks and deny there was a mafia against him.

Local regional politics has pitted Mbabazi against most of the top politicians in his home region of Kigezi. Many MPs from the districts of Kanungu, Rukungiri, and Kabale oppose him. In 2006, Otafiire led a delegation from Bushenyi which included all

local councillors for a meeting with Museveni over Mbabazi. They were surprised when they arrived at State House and found that Museveni had invited Mbabazi to attend. The delegation had a written memorandum which was a list of grievances against Mbabazi.

Museveni asked Mbabazi to defend himself.

Apart from Museveni, Mbabazi has other big names on his side. These include Ruhakana Rugunda and Hope Mwesigye.

At the end of last week’s conference, Mbabazi retreated to the stadium’s basement and held a closed door meeting with some upcountry delegates from Kabarole. Beside him were some of his trusted lieutenants like MP Hanifa Kawooya (Sembabule Woman) and James Kakoza, the State minister for Health. Mbabazi will need their support during his next encounter with the delegates- at the early September NRM Delegates Conference also at Namboole.

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