Weak leaders in NRM
Looking and finding a Museveni successor within the ruling NRM party is more complex. Gone are the days when one could point at a raft of pretenders to the throne; from then-powerful `super minister’ Amama Mbabazi, former Vice President Gilbert Bukenya, and even former VP Speciosa Kazibwe. Today, VP Edward Ssekandi and Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda cut an indifferent figure. That could be a survival strategy but none has a clear political base. Speaker Rebecca Kadaga is an ambitious possibility. Significantly, however, Ssekandi is older than Museveni and will be 84, Rugunda 78, and Kadaga 69.
Kadaga has been mentioned as a favourite among voters—in a 2014 opinion poll, 25 per cent said they would vote her if she stood against Museveni. In that poll, Kadaga performed better than opposition leaders Kizza Besigye, Gen Mugisha Muntu, Bukenya, Mbabazi and former UPC leader Olara Otunnu.
While Kadaga managed 25 per cent in a contest with Museveni, Besigye only managed 22%, Muntu only 19%, Bukenya the same, Mbabazi 18%, Mao 19%, and Otunnu 18%.
But Kadaga’s popularity had largely soared because of how she had steered the ninth parliament in the two years to the poll.
In 2011, she acted firmly when she led parliament to lock out some of Museveni’s nominees for ministerial positions. She presided over parliament during the oil debate in which some of Museveni’s ministers almost got censured. The climax of her popularity came in 2013 when she lashed out at a Canadian Foreign Minister about homosexuality.
Then Prime Minister Mbabazi in 2012 told a high level NRM meeting that Kadaga, an NRM vice chairperson was building a power base for her presidential ambitions.
Indeed, in March 2012, outspoken Kabale priest Fr. Gaetano Batanyenda publicly endorsed her to become Uganda’s first woman President.
But since she got a new term as Speaker of Parliament in 2016, she has focused on her parliamentary work and not showed any enthusiasm for the highest office.
The Bobi Wine factor
Within the opposition, potential contenders, Kizza Besigye, will in 2026 be 69, Norbert Mao 59, Mugisha Muntu 67 and Kyadondo East legislator Kyagulanyi Sentamu aka Bobi Wine 44.
In this group, Besigye has challenged Museveni the most times —the next election will be his fifth if he contests. Muntu and Mao, however, feel that this is their chance.
They also have to contend with Bobi Wine, who despite only recently arriving on the political scene, appears the most popular opposition politician going by both international and local attention.
But aware of how entrenched Museveni is, the three—Muntu, Mao, and Bobi Wine—appear to be planning to be testing out the possibility of fielding one candidate. The challenge they face is that they all see this as their turn.
Mao has said that the north is tired of endlessly voting for the south. Muntu’s exit of FDC was a clear indicator he was tired of waiting in Besigye’s shadow—his supporters say he is the best candidate; that he can unite both the opposition and moderates within the NRM, and are banking on this. Bobi Wine says it time for his generation.
Signs that Bobi Wine could face stiff resistance from the establishment can be found in the comments of senior officials in Museveni’s government.
“If you surrender government to small boys like Bobi Wine, you would declare the entire country a national emergency in a period of six months,” Justice Minister Gen. Kahinda Otafiire recently said.
Former coordinator of Intelligence Services, Gen. David Sejusa also jumped in.
“The Military formation of Uganda I know currently would not allow the civilian likes of Bobi Wine as their Commander-In-Chief,” Sejusa reportedly said, “Museveni positioned their mind in a way they can only accommodate a president with a strong military background or a known political veteran.”
To make a point about the stake the military has in Uganda’s politics, while campaigning for the 2016 elections, Museveni said that with the army, there is no way he would leave Uganda in the hands of “wolves”. He was referring to his challengers in the opposition.