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NRM’s internal fights heat up

By the independent team

Bukenya, Otafiire dropped from Museveni campaign team

Mbabazi named in the plot 

Mid this year, President Yoweri Museveni received an intelligence report written against Vice President Gilbert Bukenya.  Signed by then chief of Internal Security Organisation (ISO), Amos Mukumbi, the confidential report claimed that Bukenya was mobilising Catholics with a view to develop a constituency not only to capture the job of Secretary General for the ruling NRM but also to place himself in a position to run for president.

The report was based on intelligence gathering ISO had allegedly collected from the grassroots across the country by ISO’s extensive network at sub-county level known as Gombolola Internal Security Officers (GISOs). The report claimed that he was holding nightly meetings with Catholic leaders across the country and that his contesting for Secretary General was just a platform for targeting the presidency.

People who have known him for years say Museveni is always wary of politicians who seek to build a national constituency ‘ they pose a threat to his power. And given that this intelligence report came from bottom-up, the President reportedly found it credible.

Sources close to Bukenya say that the president actually summoned the VP to State House Entebbe and placed before him the accusations. When Bukenya denied the allegations, the President excused himself claiming he was busy and asked Bukenya to return the next day.

When Bukenya went to see the President the following day, sources say, he found the Minister for Security, Amama Mbabazi there. Mbabazi was not only a boss to Mukumbi, author of the accusatory dossier, given his duties as Minister for Security, the two were said to be close. Bukenya was going to run against Mbabazi in the NRM race for Secretary General and therefore smelt a smear campaign by the Minister for Security. He told the President that the allegations were all false; possibly orchestrated by Mbabazi to undermine his candidature for Secretary General.

When Museveni reportedly asked him to defend the accusations in the intelligence report, Mbabazi began sweating and claimed the report had been authored by an established security organisation and were based on reports from grassroots intelligence. It is alleged that Mbabazi said his only role in the report was that he was Minister for Security under whom ISO fell. Attempts to talk to Mbabazi were futile as he was not picking his phone and did not respond to The Independent‘s text messages for a comment.

But controversy over Mbabazi’s handling of NRM affairs resurfaced on Thursday Nov. 25, when the Vice Chairman of the NRM Electoral Commission, Prof. Elijah Mushemeza conducted an unusual event at the party headquarters.

The event involved two women said to be very close to President Yoweri Museveni; Sembabule Woman MP, `yellow girl’ Anifa Kawooya and Joy Kabatsi, the Legal Advisor of State House.

Both women are staunch NRM cadres but Kabatsi has fought a protracted battle to unseat Kawooya from the Sembabule Woman MP seat. Her favoured weapon is a suit claiming that Kawooya is not academically fit to be MP. Although, noncommittal, the courts tacitly appear to agree with Kabatsi. But Kawooya appears to have more clout within the party election machine controlled by the powerful Minister for Security and NRM Secretary General, Amama Mbabazi.

When the women arrived at the NRM headquarters to meet Mushemeza, Kabatsi appeared to be favoured. Surprisingly, however, by the time they departed she had lost everything. As Mushemeza announced, Kabatsi had failed to fulfill the conditions for nomination. He announced Kawooya had passed unopposed as the NRM flag-bearer for the Sembabule District Woman MP.

Why did NRM and Mushemeza endorse Kawooya, whose qualifications are in dispute, over Kabatsi who is a State Hose insider? Obviously, Mushemeza was following instructions, but from whom?

That event is being linked to claims that Bukenya was not a lone target on Mbabazi’s hit list.

Kabatsi is not running as an independent. But her case is being seen as one of many that have raised question marks over the conduct of NRM primaries and resulted in disgruntled party members getting nominated for the February 2011 general elections as ‘independents’.

It is alleged that ISO also wrote a report to President Museveni claiming that Trade minister, Maj. Gen. Kahinda Otafiire, was in cahoots with known army renegade, Brig. Henry Tumukunde. Otafiire almost failed to get endorsed as an NRM flag-bearer until he threatened to run as independent and President Museveni intervened on his side.

Ministers Aggrey Bagiire (State for Agriculture), Nsaba Buturo (Ethics), Jennipher Namuyangu (State for Water),Isaac Musumba(State for Regional Affairs), and Asuman Kiyingi (State for Lands) are running as independents because, they claim the NRM primaries were rigged against them. Another minister Ephraim Kamuntu (state for Planning) is running as independent by default after the NRM flag-bearer who defeated him was disqualified.

Over 30 NRM MPs in the current parliament are also running as independents.

Appeasing independents

Numbers are still unconfirmed but over 370 people are vying for the 373 directly elected MP positions in the general elections as independents.  These are more that the number of candidates fielded by the biggest party, NRM which has about 350 candidates. The biggest opposition party, FDC, has about 200 candidates.

NRM has battled the phenomenon of independents for most of 2010 but as the year closes, the party faces an ever growing specter of their numbers swelling in the next parliament.

The NRM biggest fear is that, after February 18, 2011, it could emerge that independent and opposition MPs out number NRM MPs.

The outgoing parliament had 38 independent MPs, just one less than the biggest opposition party FDC. Of these, 32 are disgruntled former NRM members. They had a lot of clout but fortunately for the NRM and Museveni, they remained loyal to the party.

Unlike in 2006, however, opposition parties have fronted a high number of candidates for 2011.

In 2006, FDC nominated only 139 candidates for directly elected MPs out of the 215 slots. The Democratic Party had only 68 directly elected MPs in 2006, UPC had 76, JEEMA had 6, CP had 5 and a staggering 294 candidates contested as independents. A party called People’s Action Party had 2 candidates.  Six small political parties like LDP, FIL, NRP, etc had one candidate each.

Out of the 69 district Women parliamentary representative slots in the 2006 elections the FDC nominated 36, DP and UPC each nominated 12, JEEMA nominated 3,  while 62 stood as independents.

Meanwhile the NRM   had a candidate in each constituency.

This time FDC has 290 MP candidates, UPC 135, and DP over 120.

Opposition MPs and independents hope to do better in 2011. Most of these will be angry and demand scalps of appeasement, especially Mbabazi’s.

Faced with this uncertainty, insiders say, Museveni, Mbabazi, and other powerful forces linked to the NRM machinery cannot afford to antagonise them. Instead, they are supporting some independents with campaign money and other logistics. As a result, the NRM camp has some independents who are actually the defacto party candidates running against dark-horse candidates who are the NRM candidate on the ballot. NRM supporters will, therefore, have a tough time sifting through the chaff.

Meanwhile, this latest schism in the NRM involving Mbabazi comes two months after the NRM held its Delegates Conference at Nelson Mandela Sports Stadium in Namboole. The conference ended in acrimony after Mbabazi trounced a raft of opponents that included Buklenya and Otafiire.

Now, salt has been poured on the wounds caused by the contested electioneering process.  Mbabazi, Bukenya, and Otafiire cannot sit around the same table. Mudslinging and blackmail continue to mar unity within the party.

Museveni, who is continuing with countrywide campaigns, must maintain a facade of disinterest in the internal wrangling.

But observers have noted that there are hardly any party heavyweights or renowned party campaigners around him. Bukenya who is also the former NRM vice chairman in charge of Buganda region and Otafiire have been excluded from the NRM campaign structures. They are neither on the NRM’s national election campaign platform, not even on their local district or constituency campaign teams for the president. Yet both men are renowned for their mobilisation capabilities and both blame Mbabazi for this exclusion. In an interview with The Independent, Otafiire confirmed his exclusion adding that he is one of the founding members of NRM, which was called FRONASA [Front for National Salvation] in 1971.

‘But I do not need Mbabazi to tell me what to do,’ Otafiire said, ‘I will go ahead and campaign for the President in my constituency and in Teso, Busoga and elsewhere in the country. Mbabazi is a useless fellow. I have already told everyone who supported me in Namboole that I have been excluded from the official campaign structures of the president and the party but I will work for both in my individual capacity.’

Otafiire’s trouble allegedly revolves around long-standing bush war rivalry. Otafiire is known to stand by his old bush war comrades even when they are in conflict with the president and the state. He stood surety for Tumukunde when the brigadier was charged by the military court martial.

When Museveni ordered the arrest of Maj. Gen. Jim Muhwezi over GAVI funds, Otafiire again stood surety for the former health minister. The president openly challenged this behaviour saying that it was wrong for ministers to side with suspected criminals. However, the president’s young brother, Gen. Salim Saleh, stood surety for Maj. Gen. James Kazini after the latter was convicted by a military court for creating ghost soldiers and causing financial loss in the army.

At a party hosted by Muhwezi at Casino Pyramids in December 2009, Otafiire openly questioned why the president was reprimanding him for standing by his friends even when in row with the state and not Saleh. Otafiire vowed to continue to stand by his old comrades ‘regardless of the consequences.’

Intelligence sources now say that, in an ISO report to Museveni, the security agency claimed that Otafiire is undermining the coherence of the army and fostering dissension within it by working with disgruntled elements in the military. However, it seems Museveni did not take this report seriously. But insiders say it could have been another job by Mbabazi to use his position as security minister to undermine a major rival for the most coveted job in the NRM.

Meanwhile, Otafiire loyalists claim that Mbabazi was behind attempts to manipulate the NRM primaries in Ruhinda to eliminate him as the party flag bearer. As the NRM electoral commission delayed announcing the results from his constituency, sources say, Otafiire called Museveni and said if they do not release the results, he will declare himself an independent candidate. Sources say the next day, the results were released and Otafiire declared winner. Apparently, Museveni called the NRM electoral commission and instructed them to ‘sort Otafiire’s problem.’

Otafiire refused to comment on these allegations. However, he said that ‘As far as I am concerned, the entire primary was badly managed. The party has not been functioning for five years. But if party members think the person responsible for this mess needs a second chance, I respect their opinion. I have made my views clear on this matter.’

Sources said that anger is growing among party loyalists and cadres about the deliberate exclusion of the two senior mobilisers and their key supporters from key posts in the president’s campaign structure. Other mobilisers like Muhwezi, known to be close to Otafiire and a rival to Mbabazi in Southwestern Uganda have also been excluded.

Sources said that security chiefs and senior operatives in both ISO and External Security Organisation are being used to mudsling people who are not in the good books of Mbabazi. However, no direct evidence linking Mbabazi to this campaign has been adduced. Mbabazi’s allies say that the complaints are only sour grapes by his rivals who lost in the campaign to oust him as Secretary General.

A close Mbabazi ally who did not want to be named because of his other friendship with Otafiire and Bukenya said that the two NRM leaders are undermining internal cohesion in the party. ‘Bukenya’s only constituencies were Catholics and Baganda. How can a vice president deliberately build support around parochial interests,’ Mbabazi’s ally argued, ‘Otafiire made the mistake of making only historicals his core support base. These are now a minority in NRM.’

This senior NRM cadre said that Mbabazi is able to appeal to all Ugandans across the nation with his strongest support inside the party coming from the north, north-east and eastern Uganda and a significant section from Buganda. However, sources say that people from these regions with limited access to the president support Mbabazi because he can connect them to the chief of state. Politicians from Western Uganda, who have more access to Museveni do not need Mbabazi’s patronage to reach the president hence their tendency to oppose him.

One of the key intelligence accusations against Bukenya is that he met Catholic bishops and the clergy in western Uganda. However, sources close to State House say, the VP was not in that part of the country at the time the intelligence reports claim he held this meeting. The report also claims that Bukenya was growing closer to Mengo. Given the recent wrangles between Mengo and the central government, such reports can be extremely toxic for the VP.

Otafiire’s relations with Muhwezi and Tumukunde, who together with him have all been heads of intelligence, seem an obvious beginning point for anyone trying to mudsling him. Local media closely connected to planted intelligence reports had reported at the height of the campaigns for the Secretary General that these former chief spies were heading the Otafiire campaign teams and virtually spending nights in the house of Otafiire on Mbuya hill.

‘So long as Mbabazi is the security minister, the focus of the intelligence is more geared to fighting Mbabazi’s wars,’said an Otafiire loyalist who is a senior NRM politician and refused to be named lest he faces Mbabazi’s wrath, ‘These wars include using security operatives to fight Mbabazi’s real and imaginary enemies, and also covering up the minister’s numerous corruption scandals.’

Otafiire aides also allege that Mbabazi has a well paid unit of security operatives whose duty is to lure Otafiire into a dirty deal. The aim is to expose the Major General as being corrupt, bribe-taker and untrustworthy. ‘Because Otafiire did not feature negatively in the CHOGM scandal, all efforts are being made to fix him as soon as possible, the aide added. The plot collapsed when three men trained to trap Otafiire were instead arrested by the police on extortion charges.

However, a senior NRM politician close to Mbabazi told The Independent that it is Otafiire inventing all these plots against him in order to win public sympathy. ‘Otafiire was rejected by NRM delegates. He tried to manipulate the president and the public and failed. Now he is running around the media trying to drum up public sympathy. This is a very sad thing. Bukenya and Otafiire do not want to concede defeat. They do not respect democracy and its outcomes,’ the senior NRM politician said.

However, Otafiire’s claims are not without merit. The Independent has been informed that police Rapid Response Unit arrested Humphrey Rugambanengwe, Alfred Twehangane and Robert Ndyomugyenyi in Kampala last month after they allegedly impersonated intelligence officers from the President’s Office and conned Hima Cement Company of Shs10m. The arrested men confessed to the police that they were part of the people instructed by Agriculture Minister Hope Mwesigye and Mbabazi to trap Otafiire.

To taint the political future of Bukenya and Otafiire, Mbabazi is said to have funded and supported Eng. Ian Kyeyune and Chris Gumikiriza respectively in Wakiso and Bushenyi. Despite winning resoundingly, both men found themselves among those whose victories were questioned by the NRM electoral commission. Otafiire was cleared after he threatened to quit the NRM party. Other sources said that President Museveni intervened before Otafiire was cleared.

Attempts to reach the VP were futile. But people close to him say Bukenya is concerned that money has taken over the soul of the nation. He feels deeply that Mbabazi literally bought the votes at Namboole and rendered the process a sham

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