By Haggai Matsiko
Besigye (1999), Bidandi (2003), who is next after Kyankwazi?
Until recently, it was unheard of for an NRM party member to boycott summons by President Yoweri Museveni to the National Leadership Institute at Kyankwanzi which is respected as a sort of shrine where party folk go for ideology, politics, and military drills.
But over 100 NRM MPs boycotted the latest 10-day party retreat at Kyankwanzi that ended on Jan.21.
One of the boycotters, Kampala Central MP Mohammad Nsereko, says having walked-out of another retreat four months ago because the party leaders were not discussing issues, he did not expect much from the January retreat.
Even the MPs who went to Kyankwanzi, however, went there to give President Yoweri Museveni a piece of their mind. At the heart of the challenges are rifts between party stalwarts, corruption allegations against a host of cabinet ministers and a group of NRM MPs that have overshadowed the opposition at openly criticizing the party leadership.
NRM MPs have tabled motions to censure ministers and adamantly refused to toe the party line. This has increased speculation that some party members might end up falling out with the party.
Lwemiyaga MP Theodere Ssekikubo and Butaleja MP Emanuel Dombo used the occasion to literally open a Pandora’s Box; they asked Museveni to say when he plans to quit.
Museveni has been in power for 26 years. Over this period he has been asked this question a number of times. In all cases, he has responded the same way; by expelling the impetuous individual/s that had the temerity to ask it.
President Museveni’s main political challenger, Rtd Col. Dr. Kiiza Besigye, who is the leader of the Forum for Democratic Change, was the first to publicly raise the question twelve years ago in 1999. Besigye is a “historical” the name reserved for those who endured the trenches during Museveni’s five-year bush war. He was close to Museveni as his personal doctor. After serving as minister and National Political Commissar, he authored a sharp critic of the NRM in 1999 titled An Insider’s view of how NRM lost the broad-base.
In the dossier, Besigye accused the Movement of being undemocratic, corrupt and sectarian. He said the Movement System had been manipulated by people seeking to cling on-to power.
Before he took on Museveni, Besigye said he had held private talks with top NRM officials including Bidandi and Eriya Kategaya whom he urged to take on Museveni but they declined believing that the President was serving his last term. Museveni clung on.
Four years later, in 2003 at Kyankwazi was the turn of Bidandi Ssali, then a powerful minister and member of President Museveni’s inner sanctum, to ask the question. Bidandi had led Museveni’s 2001 campaign team that exhorted voters to give him “one last chance”. He asked the questioned because he felt betrayed if Museveni stayed on after 2006. Museveni banished him together with Miria Matembe, Augustine Ruzindana, and Eriya Kategaya. Others like Mugisha Muntu, Augustine Ruzindana, Jack Sabiiti, Sam Njuba, Patrick Garuga Musinguzi, and Amanya Mushega left NRM over disillusionment.
Museveni told the world that the NRM could do without them since they were “a mere spoke in the wheel” of the party. Bidandi went on to form his own break-away party and contested against Museveni in the presidential election last year.
This time, however, Museveni did not answer the question. Instead he asked his presidential advisor, David Mafabi, to mumble an answer. Like any true poodle, Mafabi exalted his boss’s strength and told those hoping to succeed him to wait until he resigns.
Dr. Miria. T. K. Matembe, who prefers to call NRM “a thief that stole the Movement System’s name and bus symbol”says the party has nothing to do with its original ideologies.
“When the Movement came from the bush, we all embraced it, but when it went, the ideals went with it, unity, development and fighting corruption,” she told The Independent, “do you see them fighting corruption, do you see unity?”
She says that by the time of the referendum, the ideals had been hijacked by over ambitious leaders who loved power more than they loved Uganda and that since then, everything else changed, apart from Museveni as the leader of the government.
“Even the Museveni that was who brought the original ideals has since gone through a metamorphosis,” she says, “And today between Museveni, Obote and Amin, there is no difference except that he is causing more damage. There is no doubt Museveni liberated us but him and his henchmen are taking us back to the worst.”
Capt. Francis Babu, the party’s Vice Chairman for Kampala Central who seats on the party’s high decision making organ, the Central Executive Council says that the biggest challenge the NRM is facing are leaders who are bent on fighting others so as to eliminate them and win the king’s eye. “It is palace politics, everyone wants Museveni’s attention,” Babu says.
He cited NRM primaries which he said the secretariat that is headed by Mbabazi chose to listen to some people and not others yet they all belong to the NRM.
Babu says that if the party chairman, Museveni, does not come up with reforms, the NRM is going to lose some members. The most critical reform according to Babu, is the cabinet reshuffle expected around Jan.26.
Babu’s view is shared by many observers. When The Independent spoke to two other CEC officials Jim Muhwezi and Abdul Nadduli they were all hopeful that a pending reshuffle would surprise those that are dancing on the party’s grave but admitted that the challenges were lingering.
Kintu Musoke, the former Prime Minister also added his voice to those that are calling for reform during the Kyankwazi retreat.
In his “Managing Internal Party Dynamics for Sustainable Development” paper, Musoke asked Museveni to get rid of rotten tomatoes [corrupt members] or risk being the victim of those who are angry about it.
Musoke wondered why the party abandoned the party’s 15 point programme which during his time members committed to religiously.
Musoke also struck at the heart of another issue that many MPs and CEC members have expressed concern about—the Prime Minister and party Secretary General Amama Mbabazi and why he continues to serve in two significant party positions.
But he could not be more candid. “The methods of my colleague are not transparent to grow the party. The intrigue in the party is because of his underhand methods of divide and rule,” a party member quoted Musoke.
Several party officials have raised the same issues but Musoke’s voice carries more weight having served as a prime minister. For instance, former NRM stalwart and now Peoples Progressive Party President Bidandi Ssali says the whole “circus” in NRM boils down to intrigue.
“We tried to question things and they accused us of intrigue, those who connived against us are now intriguing themselves,” he said, “ I wouldn’t want to waste my time commenting on such internal bickering.”
Many party officials including the Speaker of parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, Kahinda Otafire, the Justice Minister and former Vice President Gilbert Bukenya have accused Mbabazi of being the master of intrigue in the party.
During the earlier Jan.2 CEC meeting, Museveni presented a stack of intelligence reports claiming that Kadaga was planning to contest for the presidency in 2016 that many believe was “Mbabazi at work”.
“She hosts meetings that are attended by intelligence people that come back and report,” a CEC source revealed, “but the difference between the two is that Kadaga is open about her ambitions, but Mbabazi covers up but otherwise they are all the same.”
In the same meeting, Museveni also said that he had intelligence reports showing that Otafiire was responsible for the oil documents alleging that ministers including Mbabazi took oil bribes.
He constituted a committee consisting of himself, Ruhakana Rugunda, the ICT minister and Moses Kigongo, the party Vice Chairman to investigate the issue. However, some CEC members say that these intelligence reports too have been originated by Mbabazi to fight Otafiire.
Mbabazi and Otafiire are sworn foes. The latter always accused the former of intrigue and their differences worsened during the race for the SG slot where Mbabazi beat Otafiire and Bukenya.
Before he was detained at Luzira for over a week over corruption charges, Bukenya told The Independent in an interview that Mbabazi had lied to Museveni that him [Bukenya] was mobilizing amongst Catholic to oust him.
When Bukenya was jailed, critics accused Mbabazi of influencing Raphael Baku, the Inspector General of Government who is Mbabazi’s former Personal Assistant to detain Bukenya.
Museveni, in an October caucus meeting admitted that he was aware Mbabazi had a hand in the Bukenya jailing and that he was fighting Muhwezi, Otafiire, but he did not even warn him.
Instead, he defended him and in an October cabinet meeting, said that Mbabazi was going nowhere. The president told his ministers that he had learnt that the plot to censure Mbabazi by MPs was an attempt to remove him from power.
As accusations against Mbabazi mount, his relationship with Museveni has increasingly became a mystery to even those in the inner core of the party.
“Either, there is something between the two we do not understand or Mbabazi is such a wise man that he controls Museveni,” a CEC member who declined to be identified told The Independent.
But for people like Babu, Museveni has got to sort out such leaders like Mbabazi who have stirred conflicts in the party.
However, he expressed fear that Museveni has chosen to listen to specific leaders who unfortunately are making him crash. “The chairman is human, he makes mistakes, my biggest worry is that he might realise too late,” he said.
Going forward, Babu says that what the party needs is a kind of cabinet that can counsel the president and that Museveni himself needs to change his attitude. But some members on the CEC say that while a cabinet reshuffle is welcome, Museveni would do the party proud if he does not come back in 2016.