By Mubatsi Asinja Habati
Every delegate at this year’s 5th National Executive Council (NEC) meeting at State House on January 12 must have been aware of the rifts threatening to tear the ruling National Resistance Movement apart.
Talk of factions had been in the news all week before. There are various factions talked about but the most mentioned ones are of Security Minister Amama Mbabazi, Minister of Local Government Adolf Mwesige and his deputy Hope Mwesigye on one side and Kahinda Otafiire, VP Gilbert Bukenya and Kutesa on the other side.
It was, therefore, interesting to watch how each of the NRM leaders from President Yoweri Museveni downward worked the 600-strong conference in an attempt to position themselves above the fray.
The mood at State House where the NEC conference was held was jovial as delegates arrived clad in their yellow party T-shirts and caps on the opening day.
Among NECs recommendations to the National Conference are names of persons to compete for positions of national chairperson, vice chairperson, secretary general, national treasurer, deputy secretary general and presidential candidate.
At the conference there was frenzied applause whenever any faction leader arrived. The applause thundered when Bukenya hugged his alleged adversary, NRM Secretary General and Minister for Security Amama Mbabazi.
Mbabazi, who is usually accused of aloofness, must have come to the NEC determined to shake every delegateâ€™s hand. It was good strategy. He went on a greeting spree. He even shook hands with former minister Jim Muhwezi and Foreign Affairs Minister Sam Kutesa with whom he has had some sporadic fights. Among the latest fights is one about a report which Mbabazi published showing that the national voter register has â€œghost votersâ€. It was believed that the report was meant discredit some Electoral Commission officials perceived to be close to Kutesa. At the height of the Temangalo land scandal, Muhwezi clawed flesh off Mbabazi’s back.
Why these factions?
Some of the NRM historicals say the genesis of the factions in the party has its roots in the bush war. They say that during the bush war, Mbabazi was in the External Wing based in Nairobi. These were the people responsible for logistics and political mobilisation. They were never at the frontline in the bushes of Luweero like Otafiire and others. Therefore they were at much less risk of their lives and were living a decent life than the fighters. A story is told of how Brigadier Pecos Kutesa, then a senior officer in the bush, went to Nairobi during one of their clandestine missions. He sought facilitation from Mbabazi. Instead Mbabazi made Kutesa wash his car in order to get the money he wanted. Itâ€™s said the incident was so humiliating to Kutesa that when he returned to the bushes in Luweero and narrated his ordeal and the luxurious life the external wing was leading compared to their counterparts on the frontline, the fighters were so revolted. Many of them have never forgiven Mbabazi and his external wing functionaries. They accused the Mbabazi group of misusing the money meant for the struggle to finance their luxurious lifestyle. They actually coined a nickname Karya-Sausage (sausage eater) for Mbabazi, to describe his luxury of eating sausages when the fighters were starving and dying in Luwero due to lack of money.
How does this link to NRM in-fighting?
Those who were fighting in Luwero like the Otafiire and group think Mbabazi who was just eating sausages in Nairobi, has gotten more than his share of the political cake. Mbabazi occupies a key post of secretary general of the NRM, is security minister, has never been dropped in cabinet and is one of Museveniâ€™s most trusted and influential ministers. The bush war fighters think Mbabazi is the one calling the shots yet his contribution to the struggle was marginal. The ones who made the highest sacrifice to â€œkill the animalâ€ (who fought to capture power) are not given their deserved reward.
Using the analogy of a hunter, one of the former bush war fighters Major John Kazoora said hunting is a collective mission. Each person has his role to play. After killing the animal, each one gets a share of the carcass depending on the strength of his role he played. For instance, one who spears the animal gets more share than, for instance, who did reconnaissance or the shouters whose noise scares the animal to run into the net. Kazoora argued therefore that those, like Otafiire and company, who believe they speared the animal think they deserve better reward than the Mbabazis who were mere shouters/noise makers during the hunting in Luwero.
The Bukenya link
Apparently, Bukenya is not part of the bush war struggle. He is a late comer. But he has shot to prominence for other reasons other than his role in the liberation struggle. Some NRM historicals see him as getting a share he does not deserve. In order to secure his Vice Presidency slot, Bukenya has to ally with one of the factions of the historicals.
Analysts say thatâ€™s why Bukenya is said to be on the side of the Otafiires versus Mbabazi. Bukenya one time named Mbabazi among top NRM officials who were working to bring him down.
However, Observers say, Bukenya is a shrewd politician. He is aware that leaning on the historicals alone is not enough to sustain his political survival. Thatâ€™s why whenever he senses he is about to be thrown out, he hosts supporters from his constituency who sing for him and urge him not to leave politics. This is meant to send a signal to Museveni that if he throws out Bukenya there is a big political price top pay.
How do factions affect Museveni, NRM?
NRM Insiders told The Independent that instead of viewing the factions as a danger, they might be Museveniâ€™s management style. He ensures there is a counterweight to everyoneâ€™s power. In the past there has been Jim Muhwezi against Gen. David Tinyefuza, Brig. HenryTumukunde against the late Brig. Noble Mayombo, Muhwezi against Amanya Mushega, Tumukunde versus David Pulkol and Col. Elly Kayanja. Recently in the NSSF-Temangalo saga, Museveni supported Mbabazi when the Muhwezi group wanted him censured or reprimanded. Museveni oversaw the fight between Lt. Gen. Jeje Odongo and the late Maj. Gen. James Kazini in the army, Hope Mwesigye against Otafiire in the Local Government ministry and Mbabazi against Bukenya in the so-called queue to succeed the President.
A powerful faction at this yearâ€™s NEC in Entebbe was that of the First Lady Janet Museveni. Many in the know say anyone who hopes to score big in the next Museveni government had to attract Janetâ€™s eye. Unlike in the past, where the Janet faction could be neutralisedby the faction of the powerful Presidential Private Secretary, Amelia Kyambadde, that intra-State House rivalry appears to be dying out.
In fact, Kyambaddeâ€™s faction has become less defined. She remains anti-Mbabazi group to the extent that she sympathises with his adversaries. For example, when Museveni went to Mbabaziâ€™s constituency in Kanungu district last year, the Mbabazi camp tried to control the Presidentâ€™s programme. But Kyambadde overruled them and made Museveni visit opposition guru James Garugaâ€™s local tea factory in Kinkizi. She also supported the anti- Mbabazi voices during the Temangalo saga.
She is still powerful but has been expressing her disappointment with the political process. She is now planning to run for a parliamentary seat. Many at NEC were asking whether Museveni has started to sideline her. During the Temangalo saga, when Janet Museveni spoke against Mbabazi, Kyambadde reportedly cheered. Museveni was on Mbabaziâ€™s side.
Janetâ€™s strategy to create a party base at Parliament to ensure she is the go between parliament and Museveni, appears to be paying off. She is loved and has taken a liberal line. For example she was against Mbabazi during Temangalo and in the Ankole meeting where she attacked Transport Minister John Nasasira over poor roads.
Apparently, Nasasira went to her constituency and opened a road and did not invite her. She said, â€œI donâ€™t understand politics is as dirty as this! Where is the coordination and harmony in the government?â€
She also seems unhappy with the historicals. She has often championed the cause of those who are sidelined by both the Kyambadde and Mbabazi factions. For example, she supported or at least sympathised with Muhwezi during the Global Fund and GAVI corruption saga. Insiders say Janet showed sympathy for Brig. Tumukunde during his woes with the state. She tries to secure appointments for some MPs and groups to meet Museveni when they have been blocked by Kyambadde.
Some observers trace Janetâ€™s route to her new influence to 2006 when she was hosted by born-again churches and the pastors gave her a list of their followers â€“ about 7 million born-again Christians. The Kyambadde group accused her of planning to run for the presidency.
Sources at State House say Museveni no longer dismisses Janetâ€™s views. He seems more sensitive to her interests these days. She appears to be building her own power base.
Sources say that after the Temangalo debate in Entebbe last year, Minister Hope Mwesigye while at a small party at Parliamentary Canteen said she did not think being a First Lady is a permanent or professional job
She also reportedly told the pro-Janet group: â€œWe stood by you when you were up against your group [Mushega, Kazoora, Besigye]. Now you are deserting us. Obwire tiburya bundi. (We shall revenge at an appropriate time).â€
Janet got to know this. When the President hosted a dinner for the NRM caucus, Museveni, Janet, Mbabazi and Kigongo sat on the high table. Janet reportedly asked Mbabazi why Hope was attacking her. â€œI can understand if it was Jacqueline (Mbabaziâ€™s wife). Does Hope not separate our views as leaders from our personalities?â€
Museveni was reportedly angry with Hope and called her to State House and met her with the First Lady. Hope denied the accusations.
Hope Mwesigye is an outspoken member of the Mbabazi camp.Â Thus, whoever is with Mbabazi, is with Mwesigye. Still, Mbabaziâ€™s camp is thin. Its other big gun is Local Government minister Adolph Mwesige who helped Mbabazi during the Temangalo controversy.
Many people in NRM accuse Mbabazi of being arrogant and inaccessible. He is also viewed as vindictive, eager to fight, vengeful and uncompromising. People who have disagreed with him â€“ Otafiire, Muhwezi, Garuga etc have never reconciled with him.
For example, Bukenya has since reconciled with Kutesa, Otafiire with Kutesa but not with Mbabazi. However, Mbabazi is hardworking and loyal to Museveni. He never challenges him.
The Kutesa camp is seen as business-driven. He does not have particular and rigid political interests. He moves where there is influence or money. This is one reason he has become powerful and is considered a kingmaker.
During NEC in Entebbe, Museveni dodged talking about factions in the party. He instead dwelt on roads and the anti-gay bill. Museveni is not a prince who takes blame. He always blames others for his governmentâ€™s mistakes or failures.Â This time, Transport Minister John Nasasira and Ndorwa West MP David Bahati were his punching bags.
â€œI have already expressed my irritation and vexation with the dust in Kampala. When it rains in Kampala the roads become muddy with floods. In fact you would think you are in a potato garden. One of these days I will come with potato veins and plant them there,â€ Museveni told NEC before ordering Nasasira to ensure major roads entering the city are fixed. â€œI do not want to see dust or mud on these roads.â€
Bahatiâ€™s anti-gay bill
â€œThe bill was not brought by government and not the party. We have not had time to discuss with Bahati. Those saying we should not discuss with him should trust my judgement. Our foreign policy is not governed by individuals. We must involve all parties. We have our values here and we should also know [the concerns of] our development partners,â€ he said.
However his views were drowned in murmurs of disapproval. Earlier, in the opening prayer, Ethics and Integrity Minister Nsaba Buturo had prayed that God helps Uganda to resist the â€œevils of homosexuality and corruptionâ€ which are threatening the countryâ€™s moral and cultural fabric.
Despite the blame-game, Museveni was really the man on the spot.