By Haggai Matsiko
President stuck as Mbabazi, Muhwezi rivalry divides NRM top organs; CEC and NEC
On April 19, four days before the NRM National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting at State House Entebbe on April 24, Prime Minister AmambaMbabazi called a press conference at the party headquarters at Kyadondo Road in Kampala.
It was an awkward meeting. First because Mbabazi called it to announce what the journalists already knew; that NEC would take place. Secondly, he did not comment much on other issues that the journalists already knew; that the NRM secretariat he heads was caught flatfooted by the momentum of the motion to return presidential term limits, that his job as NRM secretary general was up in the air, and that before NEC met, the NRM governing body, the Central Executive Committee (CEC), was due to meet earlier on April 22 to consider what to do about these issues.
There is a popular legend within the corridors of State House about President YoweriMuseveni ,Mbabazi, and the NRM secretary generalship.
Museveni reportedly asked Mbabazi why the prime minister does not relinquish the secretary generalship.
Mbabazi reportedly coolly replied: “Why don’t you also relinquish some of your positions; you’re the president, command in chief, chairman of NRM…”
He pushed the same line during NEC but even as he ceded more powers to Hyuha.
This time, however, Mbabazi faces challenges over a promise he made to relinquish that position when he was nominated to be prime minister. Party members are, therefore, surprised by his about-turn.
But after the CEC, which is the NRM’s governing body, at its April 22meeting failed to secure a discussion on that position, the strategy switched to the NEC. Even at the point, it was clear to those involved that only the NRM delegates conference, could resolve it if Mbabazi stuck to the party constitution. The CEC’s 14-members, and other party functionaries that attend because they are deemed crucial to the business on hand, knew this. Why then did some of them insist on pushing Mbabazi?
Dossier on Mbabazi
One of the CEC members told The Independent, that just a day before Mbabazi’sKyadondo pressconference on April 18, President YoweriMuseveni had received an envoy from the UK Prime Minister David Cameron with a message related to the Tullow oil bribery allegations. The CEC member said Cameron advised President “to purge his cabinet of corrupt ministers”. The Independent has not been able to independently verify this information, but it was a clear indication of infighting within CEC regarding Mbabazi, who together with Foreign Minister, Sam Kutesa, and Internal Affairs Minister Hillary Onek are accused.
As a battlefield for NRM anti-Mbabazi intrigue, the CEC’s membership is significant. It has the following members: President Museveni, First Vice Chairperson Al Hajj Moses Kigongo, 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 MatayoKyaligonza (Western). Others include NRM Deputy Secretary General Dorothy Hyuha, NRM Treasurer who is also Trade minister Amelia Kyambadde, Deputy Treasurer Singh ParmindaKatongole, Entrepreneurship league: Hassan Basajjabalaba ; Veterans League: Rujumbura County MP Maj Gen Jim Muhwezi.
Of these, Kadaga, Muhwezi, Babu, and Kyaligonza are openly not in Mbabazi’s camp while Museveni, Engola, Hyuha, and Katongolefavour him. Although Museveni tends to tip forces in Mbabazi’sfavour it is always crucial to woo and sway the others, which Mbabazi often does. That is why, the anti-Mbabazi forces were piling on the pressure. They also possibly hoped, the UK envoy’s message to Museveni would favour them.
The Independent also has information that before the CEC and NEC meeting, Museveni had confronted Muhwezi to stop fighting Mbabazi. Sources at State House said Museveni told him that he had information that Muhwezi was working with Tumukunde and KahindaOtafiire, the minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs to fail Mbabazi.
“I’m tired, tired, tired of Mbabazi’s methods of work,” Muhwezi reportedly cried out in anger before Museveni.
Sources say that while at the meeting, an infuriated Muhwezi told Museveni that he was not fighting Mbabazi and that it seems Mbabazi was bent on showing that people are fighting him as a way of skirting around his failures and weaknesses. Muhwezi added that at some point he had personally initiated a reconciliation meeting between himself and the PM but Mbabazi continues claiming he was fighting him.
That meeting occurred after Muhwezi and Tumukunde implicitly attacked Museveni on March 18 at a function to celebrate the installation of Mathew Rukikaire as honorary canon of St. Emmanuel Cathedral Kinyansano, Rukungiri district.
Tumukunde, who is a former head of the Internal Security Organisation and Army representative in Parliament, was jailed and not been deployed since he openly challenged Museveni bid for a third term in 2005, told the gathering that he is a victim of unfair competition within NRM.
“If I was given free competition, I am sure I would have made impact,” Tumukunde reportedly said, “Those who reach people who deny us free competition, please communicate this because we fought for freedom.”
When Muhwezi took to the podium he said: “… Fighting for freedom and then after they cover your mouth and then those who didn’t then enjoy is wrong. We must oppose it strongly; we must enjoy the fruits of our struggle”.
Their comments stirred a lot of controversy with observers drawing from the past when insiders or historicals have criticized the NRM party openly.
When asked about the meeting with Museveni ,Muhwezi said: “He is my President and my party boss, we are always talking.” He told The Independent adding that he could not comment further on the matter.
He also said that he meant whatever he said in Rukungiri: “That one I cannot deny, I was saying that what he (Tumukunde) said was right,” Muhwezi told The Independent, “When you fight for freedom you should have it.”
Although the two former spy chief’s statements came as surprise to many, their close associates say that this was just smoke of a bigger fire burning within the NRM party.
Sources indicate that the Muhwezi and Tumukunde statements represent a general sentiment amongst party stalwarts, especially those at the centre of the 1981-86 guerrilla war that brought the NRM to power.
A source close to Tumukunde told The Independent that the former spy boss, who has been quiet since he was arrested and detained between 2005 and 2007 for insubordination amongst a host of other allegations, has lately been calling on colleagues to “start thinking of considering a different perspective on the country’s politics”.
“He doesn’t put it directly but it is clear to some of us and he is not alone. It is just that the others are not as open as he is but you will hear most of them in their circles are expressing concern that things are not going the right way,” a top source within the NRM told The Independent, “don’t be surprised if tomorrow one of these people says other things or worse.”
Observers have likened Tumukunde’s criticism to the sentiment prevailing at a time when FDC leader, KizzaBesigye, then still with the NRM, authored a dossier in 1999 attacking the NRM for losing “the broad-base” under the weight of corruption, nepotism, and other undemocratic tendencies.
But at the heart of the current sentiment in the NRM is the older party’s problem—intrigue and infighting according to insiders that believe is getting worse.
The problem is compounded because the party is now dominated by new, young MPs out to change things and a civil society that is ratcheting up a campaign to return presidential term limits.
Although this appears to weaken the party, some members said the infighting in the NRM is getting worse is because Museveni has mastered it as a tool for staving off competition.
A party insider who sits on the CEC told The Independent that Musevenilikes it when people keep fighting each other and he remains the mitigating authority.
He added that what makes matters worse is that the person Museveni listens to most [Mbabazi] is the master of intrigue.
“It is a dilemma, Museveni has kept Mbabazi all this long because he knows that although he, Mbabazi fights these people, he also knows that none of them is as loyal to him or even as hardworking,” the official said, “The likes of Tumukunde are hardworking people but they are overambitious and they make it known to their boss that they are a potential threat to him.”
He added that that is why the likes of Mbabazi are darlings despite being known to fight many. This is because when the historicals are fighting themselves, Museveni is cushioned from competition—the historicals keep fighting amongst themselves and seeking his audience to report each other, the official said.
The official added that Mbabazi knows how to manage his boss and has also tactically made him believe that his enemies are always targeting him, Museveni.
“All these people were close to Museveniand were more powerful than Mbabazi. Then he started on them one by one and with the intelligence machine under his arm he manages to keep rolling out reports with all sorts of accusations against them,” the official said.
A story is told of how on the second day of the oil debate in Parliament last year, Mbabazi allegedly had a dossier implicating some senior army generals, including Muhwezi, Otafiire, Tumukunde, Aronda Nyakairima, Elly Tumwine, and David Tinyefuza, among others as the brains behind the dossiercirculated amongst some MPs. Insiders say that this reads like Mbabazi’s list of enemies. It is for this reason perhaps that excepting Museveni, Mbabazi is the only government official who travels in a fully armored vehicle.
At the time, Security Minister Muruli Mukasa was apparently directed by one of the implicated ministers in the oil bribery scandal to read the dossier before Parliament but did not after, among others, Special Forces Group Commander Col. Muhoozi Kainerugaba, advised him to trash the document and not mix security matters with politics.
But months later a similar dossier turned up in Museveni’s hands and Museveni told CEC members that it was Otafiire that had originated the oil bribery papers implicating his ministers. Shortly before this, Museveni had told a cabinet meeting that he was aware that those who were fighting Mbabazi were instead aiming for him.
Muhwezi summed it up clearly when while the Rukungiri function, he said: “Now in Movement (NRM) we don’t defend each other, instead we accuse each other such that we get promotion,” Muhwezi said. He was understood to be referring to Mbabazi.
The fight between Muhwezi and Mbabazi is traced to the days of the bush war and immediately after.
Immediately from the bush Museveni appointed Muhwezi to head Intelligence where Mbabazi would work under him. But sources say that Mbabazi complained and Museveni divided the intelligence authority into two. The Internal Security Organisation to be headed by Muhwezi and External Security Organisation by Mbabazi. In the military circles, ISO was the real thing and Mbabazi’s ESO was seen as just a placement.
Part of the reason of this was because, NRM historicals say, when the NRM took power Mbabazi was not in the good books of almost all the warriors including President Museveni.
The war historicals accused those in the external wing especially Mbabaziof using the money for the struggle to live in luxury while others were in the bush starving.
This sentiment is captured in Maj Gen. Pecos Kutesa’s book, Uganda’s Revolution (1979-1986): How I saw it.
Kutesa writes of one of his trips from the Luweero jungles to Nairobi while escorting Museveni:
“We, the bush people, were mesmerised by the grandeur of the streets,” he writes, “The well-paved roads, the sleek cars, the neon lights, the smart sidewalks, the flower gardens; but mostly how our people, [Sam] Katabarwa and [Amama] Mbabazi fitted into the picture. I started wondering if we were in the same war as the External Committee people.”
Kutesa goes on to describe how while in Nairobi, he approached Mbabazi for some little money and the latter told him to first wash his car in exchange.
The incident was very humiliating for Kutesa that he returned to the bush in Luweero and narrated his ordeal, the fighters got so touched, part of the reason most of them have never forgiven Mbabazi up todate.
The ordeal won Mbabazi the title Karya-Sausage (sausage eater), to describe his luxury of eating sausages when the fighters were starving and dying in Luwero due to lack of money.
Muhwezi himself has said in public that when they were in the bush fighting, Mbabazi was in foreign countries eating sausages.
In October 2008, Mbabazi and Muhwezi were involved in a bitter exchange of words on the floor of parliament.
Muhwezi accused Mbabazi and Internal Affairs Minister RuhakanaRugunda of hatching a plan to arrest him after his guards had been involved in the failed robbery attempt at Stanbic Bank’s Garden City branch. The robbery had allegedly been masterminded by city businessman Justus Kashoma.
When Mbabazi took to the floor, he sarcastically said that when “you see a military general getting panicky, then know that the ground cannot hold anymore.” In a spur of a moment Muhweziasked that Mbabazi be ruled out of order.
“It is you who has been panicking and moving around radios attacking us after the Temangalo scandal,” Muhwezi shot back.
Muhwezi is not the only top gun to have trouble with Mbabazi. At the height of accusations of ghost soldiers against him, Tumukunde contemptuously refused to appear before the committee led by Mbabazi to defend himself.
Otafiire has also had brushes with Mbabazi. Apart from accusing him of masterminding intrigue in the party, Otafiire took on Mbabazi for the NRM secretary generalship but lost.Every time Otafiire is accused of something, some quickly conclude that it has been masterminded by Mbabazi.
When President Museveni during the January CEC meeting accused Otafiire of having originated the oil bribery documents, many including CEC members said it was Mbabazi’s plot.
Recently, sources told The Independent, Mbabazi had influenced the Central Bank to investigate a local NGO, ACODE following a grand function it had organised and had Otafiire preside over.
The February function that attracted as many as over 300 councilors from all over the country under their National Local Government Councilors Association (NALCA), sources say, was seen as galvanizing support for the big shots that attended it.
The Speaker of parliament, Rebecca Kadaga and Leader of Opposition NandalaMafabi also attended the function. Kadaga, Otafire, and former Vice President Gilbert Bukenya have in the past accused Mbabazi of being the master of intrigue in the party.
While Kadaga told a Jan.2 CEC meeting that Mbabazi was fighting her, Bukenya intimated to The Independent in an interview last year that Mbabazi was behind his problems having told Museveniin his presence that Bukenya was mobilising the catholic faithful to overthrow the government.
When during the same meeting, Museveni presented a stack of intelligence reports indicating that Kadaga was planning to contest for presidency in 2016, many including a CEC member quickly said that it was “Mbabazi at work”.