By Haggai Matsiko
Money, intelligence, and behind the scenes deals
As the Dec.15 date of the ruling party NRM National Conference nears, President Yoweri Museveni appears unsure that his move to oust Amama Mbabazi will go according to plan. He has shifted to full campaigning mode to ensure that Mbabazi does not cause trouble. Part of the strategy involves Museveni meeting some of the delegations beforehand to smooth the way for some of the controversial items on the agenda, including that of removing Mbabazi from the influential position of party secretary general.
In just two weeks in November, Museveni held over ten meetings with different delegations. Many more are expected to take place.
The last meeting in November was with local leaders from over 20 districts in eastern Uganda. The president had previously met a delegation from Kampala, a delegation from over 20 districts in western Uganda among others, and others. Museveni had by end of November met about 300 people; a small figure compared to the over 10,000 delegates expected at the National Conference. Frank Tumwebaze, the minister for Presidency who appears to be driving the meeting, described them as routine but some of those that have attended them say the meetings are part of the stealth campaign to kick out Mbabazi.
At all these meetings, Museveni has been giving each local leader Shs400, 000, a source who has been part of the meetings told The Independent. Clearly, the cost of snuffing out former Prime Minister, Amama Mbabazi’s influence in the NRM keeps rising. The National Conference slated to be at the Mandela National Stadium Nambole is expected to cost up to Shs10 billion.
Initially, during a party Central Executive (CEC) meeting, officials had said the meeting would cost Shs5 billion. However, one of the organisers reasoned that that would only take care of the 100,000 delegates’ allowances. Yet the party will spend on a public address system, food, tents, stationery, among other things.
Although there are four items on the agenda, Museveni as party chairman called this `special’ conference to officially kick Mbabazi out of the top party leadership. The intelligence gathered around the extent of Mbabazi’s mobilisation and the magnitude of his perceived support got Museveni to block a delegate’s conference for a year as there was fear such a meeting would be used against him.
Kasuule Lumumba, the party chief whip told The Independent the conference was intended to iron out the issues the party has been having a head of the 2016 polls.
“We have been having a weak secretariat as you know and what we are doing now is to make leadership that is committed all the time to party activities is put in place,” Lumumba said. President Museveni put it even more boldly when he told a group of the local leaders at one of the meetings at State House that the party had issues because it has been having a weak secretary general.
Mbabazi has already been sent on forced leave. Still, although Museveni will most likely have his wish granted, he appears anxious to ensure that it is a clean coup without ugly scenes, protests, and heckling.
Insiders have told The Independent that the tension that started with suspicions Mbabazi is planning to contest against Museveni in 2016, which led to the two men’s fall out continues to stalk the party.
Museveni has already had a taste of the unexpectedness when dealing with Mbabazi. It happened when he called the Central Executive Committee (CEC), which is the administrative organ of the party, to prepare the agenda for the Dec.15 meet.
Museveni wanted CEC to endorse his proposal that he, as chairman, appoints the secretary general. Under the current system, the SG is elected at the National Conference. Going into the meeting, Museveni had met individually with several CEC members. Still, he failed to have his way and the decision was pushed to the National Conference. Apart from Jacqueline Mbabazi, the wife to the former Premier, who is also the leader of the party’s women’s league, other voices like Hassan Basajjabalaba, the head of the Business league, have also remained consistent in their criticism.
Insiders say the success of the move relies heavily on the push by Mbabazi’s foes within the party leadership and a young crop of leaders, who see an opportunity in the fall-out and who have for some time now been longing for their shot to play some role in the party. The meetings Museveni has been hosting at State House with the local leaders have also had their fair share of tensions with some of the leaders even heckling the President especially on issues directly concerning Mbabazi.
Even during upcountry consultations that senior party officials, including ministers, embarked on after the CEC meetings, the local leaders in some cases have stopped short of chasing away the leaders.
What officials are currently grappling with is how the over 10,000 delegates from across the country will react to the President’s proposals. While Museveni’s spies and local leaders like Resident District Commissioners (RDC) have been updating him about the situation on the ground, it is early days to tell how the delegates will react. Many expect tension come Dec.15.
To make sure everything goes according to plan, President Museveni from the start put in charge Mbabazi’s foes or those looking to impress in the hope of better prospects.
Rujumbura County MP, Jim Muhwezi, for instance, is in charge of security and vetting for the conference. Even before Ofwono Opondo, the government deputy spokesperson, publicly confessed that he is part of a campaign that is making sure the rightful delegates will be the ones to attend the meeting, Richard Twodong, the minister in charge of mobilisation, Frank Tumwebaze and a group of other legislators led by Anite were already working.
Insiders say the result of this work is what has informed who will attend and who won’t be attending. The idea is to make sure that unlike at the last conference, where Mbabazi allegedly smuggled into Nambole extra delegates that got him winning the Secretary Generalship, this time such a thing doesn’t happen.
That is why the numbers of delegates are likely to be much fewer, about 10,000 and heavily slanted towards to those who do not harbour sympathies for Mbabazi. Already genuine delegates like Mbabazi’s sister in-law, Hope Mwesigye, who is also the party chairperson for Kabale are being side-lined. Mwesigye, who was supposed to be invited for the meeting with local leaders from western Uganda, reportedly literally forced her way into State House. Many expect similar scenarios at Namboole on Dec.15.
Museveni fears a repeat of the 2012 National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting at State House Entebbe at which Mbabazi proved to be surprisingly popular among delegates. Museveni had called the meeting to use numbers to compel Mbabazi to give up the SG position.
Instead, delegate after delegate heaped praise on Mbabazi and said he could ably be both Prime Minister and SG. President Museveni was overwhelmed by the praise.
The same thing had happened earlier during the 2010 National Conference at Nambole when Mbabazi was overwhelmingly elected SG. At the time, it was claimed that Mbabazi got overwhelming support because he controlled who attended and who spoke at the conference. Mbabazi did not only control the party Secretariat at Kyadondo, he also controlled access to the President and had a thick grassroots network that saw him thrash his competitors—the Justice Minister, Kahinda Otafiire, the Defence Minister Crispus Kiyonga and former Vice President Gilbert Bukenya.
As the head of the party secretariat, he directly controlled who was accredited to attend and even sent them buses to come to the event. It was partly the reason Mbabazi was sent on leave this time.
The roles have now been reversed. Mbabazi’s foes are the ones in charge and it will be interesting to see who is selected to speak. Already at a State House meeting presided over by David Bahati, the party parliamentary caucus chairman, who is not exactly Mbabazi’s ally, the mike only went to those that are pro-Museveni, something that raised a few eyebrows. At Nambole, Bahati, Tumwebaze, Deputy Secretary General Dorothy Hyuha, Minister without Portfolio Richard Twodong, party spokesman Ofwono Opondo, and Information Minister Rose Namayanja, are set to direct proceedings. Their mission will be to ensure that the pro-Mbabazi side is locked out. Although some of these were previously firmly in Mbabazi’s camp, they appear to have switched sides. But the loyalty of some remains doubtful. Then there is also the question of money being used to deliver results by the Museveni and Mbabazi camp. The Mbabazi camp, it appears, will be satisfied with embarrassing Museveni.
A particular concern for party officials is what Mbabazi is doing behind the scenes. While Mbabazi has not been seen campaigning or meeting people, political groups keep emerging and sympathising with his cause. Even at the various meetings that Museveni has hosted, pockets of local politicians are not shy to express their disagreement against the anti-Mbabazi sentiment. Even when party officials were hesitant to comment on allegations by the leaders of a body of councillors, the National Local Governments Councillors Association (NALCA), that Mbabazi has allegedly pledged to finance in exchange for political support, instead preferring to rule it out, it is clear that the party leadership is not set for smooth sailing come Dec.15.
The party leadership is already dealing with claims that the Mbabazi camp has asked supporters to force their way into Namboole on the day of the conference to overwhelm the pro-Museveni camp.
Blocking Mbabazi camp
Apart from the State House meetings with delegates, a source involved in organising the conference told The Independent that Museveni is keener on constant updates, intelligence briefs, and sometimes personally places calls to party officials dispatched upcountry and members of the organising committees to get the picture on the grassroots. Museveni formed 10 committees to organise the event that will be attended by about 26 categories of party loyalists. The committees include; accreditation/security committee, finance committee, legal/constitutional affairs committee, publicity and conference programme management committee, protocol committee, health and safety committee, ideology committee, general duties committee, diaspora, foreign and specially invited guests committee and the technical committee (logistics/coordination – accommodation, welfare, transport).
Unlike in the past, where party officials from all over the country had an open invitation, the vetting is tighter this time. It is not just because the party is looking to spend less but because to get rid of Amama Mbabazi, which is why the conference has been called, President Museveni needs to be sure who is coming.
In an official communiqué, acting Party Secretary General, Dorothy Hyuha noted the meeting would be attended by a select few. These include: the party chairman, the 1st national vice chairperson, the 2nd national vice chairperson, the six vice chairpersons, all NEC members, who include all the party leagues, the secretary general, the party treasurer, the deputy secretary general and deputy treasurer.
Others include; members of the NRM municipal councils, promoters of the party, the executive committees of the NRM branches in the diaspora, the party national secretaries, party legislators, party East African Legislative Assembly legislators, members of the NRM Historical Leaders Forum, members of the national executive committees of all special organs, party district chairpersons, party flag parliamentary bearers, party flag bearers for district chairpersons, municipality mayors, party district executive committee members, members of the district executive committees of all special organs, party members on district councils and chairpersons of sub-county conferences. “The NRM Party is well aware that we enjoy overwhelming support from party members and well-wishers who may wish to attend the Conference,” reads the communiqué in part, “attendance, however, will be restricted to only the categories above.”