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NSSF: Museveni wins but may pay big price

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By Andrew M. Mwenda

Finally, against opposition from his wife, brother and party, President Museveni literally bulldozed the National Resistance Movement (NRM) into letting ministers Amama Mbabazi and Ezra Suruma off the hook of censure despite glaring evidence that they arm-twisted the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) to buy Mbabazi’s land in Temangalo. For a moment, Museveni, Mbabazi and Suruma can breathe a sigh of relief or even victory. But it will be a Pyrrhic victory in terms of the wreckage it will leave on our nation’s body politic.

Why did the president pull no stops in saving Mbabazi? Many insiders say Museveni was not saving his Security minister, who also doubles as secretary-general (SG) of the ruling NRM. He was actually saving himself. People who have worked with him closely for many years believe that the president was afraid that if the censure of Mbabazi succeeded, it was likely to leave him exposed and weakened. How?

Many NRM insiders believe that the president was afraid that if Parliament successfully censured Mbabazi, it would leave him exposed to a threat of impeachment. He did not want Parliament to taste Mbabazi’s blood because this would provide them a signal to up the ante and seek to test the president’s own blood, too.

Museveni also understands the deep resentment in the NRM for his leadership, especially his desire to cling to power ’till death does them apart.’ He is also aware of the many wrongs he has committed which render him vulnerable to impeachment. Therefore, if he allowed Parliament to censure Mbabazi, he would be exposing himself to a similar fate. The censure of Mbabazi was likely to be a potential curtain raiser and testing ground of his own fall. Stopping it in its tracks was important in re-establishing his control over the Parliament and his unruly party members.

Beyond exposing him to potential impeachment, the censure of Mbabazi would also have weakened Museveni considerably. NRM insiders say that over the years, the president has been running out of people he can trust without being able to cultivate new cadres. Mbabazi seems to be one among very few cadres Museveni can count on for absolute loyalty. Removing him from office would have taken away a critical prop to his increasingly weakened standing in the party and the government.

More critically, if Mbabazi was censured as minister, it would have been difficult to sustain him as SG of NRM. Yet Mbabazi is the one man Museveni can rely upon to keep the lid on the party’s increasingly restless members. Mbabazi’s seeming liabilities are Museveni’s greatest assets. Party members accuse the SG of being aloof, arrogant and inaccessible. They complain that Mbabazi does not call regular meetings of party organs, he does not keep the headquarters in close touch with party branches across the nation and that he has failed to establish ways through which the NRM can raise money to finance its activities.

Yet, those who have known Museveni for many years say, this is the exact reason he pushed Mbabazi to the position of SG. The president does not want a well organised NRM where party organs meet regularly, which raises its own money, develops its own programmes and where headquarters is in constant touch with branches nation-wide. An SG with skills and ability to do all the above would also be able to build a strong following within the party and country thereby becoming both an alternative and a rival to the long serving party patriarch.

If NRM leaders succeeded in removing Mbabazi from the position of SG, the job would be open for new elections. Museveni can influence but certainly cannot determine who is elected to replace Mbabazi. The president is afraid that the democratic process inside NRM can produce an SG he is afraid of i.e. a man or woman with skills and popular backing to build an effective party ” the very thing Museveni is afraid of. For now, Museveni’s strategy seems to have been ‘better a devil you know than an angel you don’t.’

Yet some NRM insiders say that it is Museveni who under-estimates Mbabazi. They say the politician from Kanungu understands Museveni well. He knows the president is afraid of NRM leaders who act as alternatives to him. He has therefore tactfully built his profile before Museveni as the Mr Loyal. This, some insiders say, has allowed Museveni to trust Mbabazi and possibly consider him a potential successor. It is Mbabazi who is using Museveni and not vice versa, this later opinion holds. The exact answer could be that both men are using each other.

Therefore, in stopping NRM MPs led by Maj. Gen. Jim Muhwezi from censuring Mbabazi, Museveni actually won Round One in the battle to protect his presidency. When Parliament decided ” possibly correctly ” that it has no constitutional mandate to enforce the Leadership Code, the opposition walked out in protest. Yet it would be wrong to conclude that only those opposed to Museveni and the NRM wanted to see Mbabazi and Suruma punished for their role in the NSSF-Temangalo saga.

There is widespread discontent in cabinet and among NRM MPs regarding the outcome of the party’s parliamentary caucus meeting held at State House in late October. Ministers and NRM MPs The Independent has spoken to feel a strong sense of grievance and frustration that Museveni ran rough-shod over the party to save Mbabazi. And there is even greater apprehension among the general public, most especially NRM supporters.

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