By Haggai Matsiko
Museveni’s sole candidature stumbles, amidst money fights
President Yoweri Museveni has a heck of a job restoring order in his ruling party, the National Resistance Movement (NRM) ahead of the 2016 polls. The fallout with his Premier and party Secretary General Amama Mbabazi over the latter’s perceived presidential ambitions, continues to tear apart party structures and percolate to its grassroots’ support base exposing the underbelly of the crisis-ridden party.
Currently, at the heart of the crisis, is in-fighting in the party’s youth wing and mixed reactions from the party’s grassroots over a move by legislators to sell Museveni’s sole candidature for 2016.
The Independent exclusively reports that pro-Mbabazi youths are planning to invite thousands of NRM youth delegates to a parallel youth delegates conference on May 15 at Namboole Stadium in Kampala, the same day and in the same venue where the party secretariat is inviting about 800 youth delegates.
“If Kayihura is bringing all the teargas, let him bring it. If Museveni is bringing more billions, let him bring it, for us we are going to invite all the youths to Namboole,” says Adam Luzindana, a pro-Mbabazi youth leader and Vice Chairman of the NRM National Youth League, Central Region.
Stakes are high considering that President Museveni hopes to use the conference to convert the youths and win back to the fold those that are chanting Mbabazi’s name. Previous efforts to deal with the warring youths have failed.
President Museveni’s pointsman in the fray, the youthful Richard Todwong, who is the Minister without portfolio in charge of political mobilisation, dismisses all these as petty issues that are already being resolved.
“Those youths have problems,” he told The Independent, “the last time we called them, they almost fought each other at the secretariat, they are suffering from ideological disorientation, and we shall help them with some ideological tuning.”
The news of another potential NRM youth showdown comes at the heels of a botched plan by the same warring youths to stage two other separate conferences.
With the help of police, NRM officials led by Todwong, who is currently the party’s defacto Secretary General, last month blocked the two conferences.
The pro-Museveni youths led by Abdu Kitaata, a Lwengo youth leader had organised one conference at Namboole Stadium and the pro-Mbabazi, another at Bat Valley Primary school.
Museveni locked out
In a strange twist, Museveni has been pushed to work outside the official party structures which appear to have been taken over by Mbabazi supporters.
The pro-Museveni wanted to get through a vote of no confidence against National Youth League leaders, Denis Namara, the league chairman, Adam Buyinza Luzindana, the Vice Chairman central region and Julius Omodo Omodo, the vice chairman, northern region because of the trios support to Mbabazi.
To counter this, Luzindana and Omodo Omodo led another army of youth to counter the Namboole conference. Todwong was able to halt the two conferences.
He told the pro-Mbabazi youth that President Museveni was not happy with what was going on and wanted unity amongst the youth.
The President, Todwong pledged, would meet the youths at one party youth league delegates conference.
However, hardly a week after, Luzindana told The Independent, they started receiving messages that Museveni had sponsored some youth elements to organise a delegates conference.
The pro-Mbabazi youths feel that the National Youth League is the appropriate party organ that should organise the delegates conference for youths.
The leaders of the youth league, especially the pro-Mbabazi camp are angry that Museveni is using youth MPs to organise the conference.
Luzindana says that Museveni is working with the youth MPs, Todwong, the Minister for Presidency, Frank Tumwebaze and Police Chief Kale Kayihura to organise the youth delegates conference.
President Museveni is using youth legislators mainly northern region’s Evelyn Anite, central’s Patrick Nakabale and Peter Ogwang to counter the pro-Mbabazi youth’s activities.
Indeed, when Evelyn Anite, the youth MP for northern region tabled the Kyankwazi resolutions endorsing Museveni’s sole candidature, the first voices against the resolutions were the top leaders of the youth league.
Although it is the highest decision-making organ of all youth structures n NRM, Museveni and his trusted hands at the secretariat understand that the National Youth League leans heavily towards Mbabazi.
Two of its regional leaders, Luzindana, and Julius Omodo Omodo, are Mbabazi’s sworn supporters.
“If Museveni is popular and believes he can beat Mbabazi,” Luzindana is not shy to ask, “Why can’t he allow competition, why is he bribing voters? He knows that Mbabazi would beat him.”
The two have been openly mobilising for Mbabazi, some say, this is the reason they spent almost two weeks in detention before charges of fraud against them were dropped.
Mbabazi castigated police for arresting them because of their political opinion on national radio and his wife, Jacqueline, called charges against them trumped-up in a national newspaper.
Apart from these, majority of the other 11members of the body, chaired by Denis Namara, the presidential advisor on Youth Affairs, are in Mbabazi’s camp.
The other members include; the General Secretary, Robert Rutaro , the Nakawa representative Patrick Kaahwa, Karamoja’s Peter Peex,Western region’s Justus Nuwagira , Deputy General Secretary, David Kisoro, Eastern region’s Moses Kiwanuka, Buganda’s William Seruyinda, Norah Akwir, Edwin Agaba and Alex Kaweesa.
Of all these, it is only Nuwagira and Rutaro that are well known to be in the pro-Museveni group. Kiwanuka also joined this camp recently.
Namara, the organ’s chairman prefers to sit on the fence, perhaps because of his job as a presidential advisor. But insiders say he is closer to the Mbabazis. Jacqueline was the chairperson of his wedding meetings at the close of 2013.
It is not hard to understand why most of these youths are in the Mbabazi camp. For all the time Mbabazi has headed the party secretariat, his wife Jacqueline and daughter Nina Mbabazi, have been directly interfacing with these groups on a regular basis. They all worked at the NRM secretariat.
This secretariat has turned into a battle ground for the youths. Last month on two occasions, they turned to fist fights at the party’s headquarters on Kyadondo Road.
Both fights had a Mbabazi angle to them. The first fight on April.9 was sparked off by money that President Museveni has released as part of war to diffuse the Mbabazi element.
The second fight was over the delegates conference, which is also supposed to settle the Mbabazi matter amongst the youth, took place at the party headquarters on April.23.
Experts say 2016 is going to be shaped by the youth largely because of their numbers. Youths contribute 77% of Uganda’s population. About 21 % or over 6.5 million were of voting age by 2012, according to the Population Secretariat. It is estimated that this population will have grown to 7.7 million by 2015. In 2011, only 8.2 million Ugandans voted.
Museveni’s money bags
Museveni’s critics were up in flames when he gave youths in Busoga a sack of money but conscious of what a big issue unemployment is, Museveni has kept a deaf ear to these critics and kept the cash flowing.
Apart from extending cash hand-outs to the youths, Museveni has been attempting to reach out to the warring youth leaders.
Luzinda, told The Independent that they did not want to meet the President as individuals but as the youth league.
As it is, the pro-Mbabazi youth camp continues to hold meetings largely because the pro-Museveni forces are also mobilising against them.
One such meeting at which the pro-Mbabazi youths, who have dubbed themselves the NRM Poor Youth League, were plotting to discuss the plight of youths and to endorse Mbabazi’s candidature was busted by police on April. 4.
Police arrested five youths at the meeting venue at a primary school’s premises in Makerere.
As the contest amongst the youth goes on, some top government officials have also voiced their fears the Mbabazi-Museveni contest is standing in the way of government functionality.
The spectre of the police chief’s leaked intelligence tapes, and reports that police was moving to have Mbabazi’s wife arrested, have also highlighted how ugly the Mbabazi-Museveni fall out can turn out.
It took President Museveni to block this arrest, which could have marked a full-fledged war between the two erstwhile friends.
Mbabazi maintains he has no intentions to contest against his party chairman but reports about his and his youth supporters’ clandestine operations continue dominating public debate.
It is not just the youth league that is caught in between the Museveni Mbabazi fall out.
The fall out has sucked in the several Leagues; the Women’s League, NRM Historical Leaders Forum, the Elders League, the League for People With Disabilities, the Workers League, the Entrepreneurs League and the NRM/A Veterans League.
Jim Muhwezi, who heads the Veterans League and a known Mbabazi foe was amongst those baying for the latter’s blood.
Jacqueline, who heads the women’s league was in the obvious camp.
And when the party’s Central Executive Committee (CEC), where all these league representatives sit together with other top party officials, met to settle the Mbabazi-Museveni matter, Mbabazi sailed through untouched.
Some top voices like Hassan Bassajabala, who heads the NRM Entrepreneur’s League, surprisingly even defended Mbabazi.
No wonder, Museveni’s sole candidature move that sprung from the Kyankwanzi retreat with a lot of gusto, first faltered at the door of CEC.
The same CEC, which ignored Ruhinda Maguru from contesting against Museveni in 2010 and sailed Museveni through as the sole candidate, was now replete with voices against a sole candidature.
If CEC had automatically endorsed it, Mbabazi’s fate in the NRM would have been sealed.
However, Mbabazi, who had left Kyankwanzi a humiliated man forced to sign on a resolution blocking him from contesting, left CEC the winner.
When he met the MPs to communicate CEC’s position, he was even more confident.
The party’s top governing organ had resolved that consultations over the sole candidature matter be taken to the grassroots.
And talk of calling the party’s Delegates Conference started gaining momentum.
Party insiders say President Museveni cannot risk calling the Delegates Conference. This is the same platform that gave Mbabazi a landslide victory, beating party historicals; Kahinda Otafiire, Gilbert Bukenya and Crispus Kiyonga, to the Secretary General post.
The Independent understands that all efforts have been concentrated on blocking the party’s Delegates Conference.
But even the move by MPs to sell the sole candidature to the grassroots as agreed at Kyankwanzi, has not yielded much.
As the legislators continue with their “sell Museveni candidature” campaign, resistance and fist-fights over the four million the party gave them, dominates the political debate in their wake.
Political pundits say that Mbabazi only calls shots in his backyard of Kanungu, where Museveni’s sole candidature was out rightly dismissed.
If so, Kanungu is just a tiny part of Western Uganda, which has for long been Museveni’s stronghold and which has several other kingmakers than Mbabazi.
In central, eastern and northern Uganda, pundits believe Museveni would beat Mbabazi hands down.
Luzindana disagrees. He says that Museveni has lost credibility and resorted to money.
He believes that Mbabazi has been the brain behind Museveni’s victories and that no one can match the Kanungu strongman’s mobilisation machinery.
Luzindana might be in dreamland but what is clear is that the MPs’ countrywide trail has not been a smooth sail; fist fights have dominated their path.
In Lira, reports indicate that youth purported to support Mbabazi were denied access to a venue where Anite was to meet the youth in a bid to sell Museveni’s bid.
In Lwengo, supporters of the district Woman MP Gertrude Nakabira were involved in fist fights with those of the NRM district chairman Muyanja Mbabaali.
In Bugiri District, police had to fire live bullets and teargas to disperse NRM members fighting for money.
In Mbabazi’s backyard, Kanungu, the resistance against Museveni’s sole candidature was overwhelming.
In Bushenyi, Kiruhura, Mbarara Municipality and other areas, residents have welcomed the proposal.
Merdard Bitekyerezo, the Mbarara Municipality legislator says that his constituency was very receptive.
“We had to take this message, the message is very critical to restore order in our party,” Bitekyerezo told The Independent, “we explained to our people and they received the message very well. Those who met resistance in other constituencies, maybe it was down to how they packaged the message.”
Bitekyerezo believes a Mbabazi candidature has no future because Mbabazi himself has refuted claims he will contest.
Bitekyerezo adds that over all, the entire message of Museveni’s sole candidature is being received well and where it isn’t, the politics of money are at play.
“I have heard some people saying that they can’t accept the resolution because if they do they will not make money in the 2016 elections,” Bitekyerezo said even sighting one of his constituents who told him so.
Makerere Historian, Ndebessa Mwambutsya agrees that the money factor cannot be ruled out.
But insists the general picture shows that the Museveni Yekka (Museveni only) proposal is not a popular idea.
“The MPs are not consulting, they have gone with their message, which some people have refused, this shows us that this idea of Museveni Yekka is not popular,” Ndebessa said, “you can tell from the vibrancy of the dissenting voices of the people.”
Ndebessa castigates the resolution as a setback to democracy because, he says, it is against the spirit of the party and national constitution, which allow for competition of all posts of leadership.
“Any political observer must have realised by now that the dissenting voices of the youth who are the majority points to the winds of change,” he notes, “those who planned the resolution had seen the momentum of these dissenting voices, they were rushing to patch up the holes.”
He cautions that such a move can only worsen the situation and split the party. He says that be it in Ghana, Tanzania and all these other countries it’s the youth that have led break away groups from their parties and established their own parties in pursuit of change.