Sunday, March 16, 2014

Museveni, Mbabazi wrangles have been festering since 2008

Adapted from the EAST AFRICAN

Since 1986, power in Uganda has been centralised in the neighbourhoods of Nakasero, where one of two main presidential complexes is located, and Kololo, where most of the regime’s top brass settled.
Just above the Kololo Independence Grounds is the house in which Museveni spent the night on January 25, when his troops took power. When Museveni left for State House, it fell into the hands of Eriya Kategaya, then the de-facto regime number two.

Gen Elly Tumwine, who fired the first shot of the guerrilla war, lived less than a kilometre away, off a public road that his bodyguards blocked from public use for over a decade.
Many of the regime’s historical figures have moved on and away. Some, like Mr Kategaya are dead. Others like General Salim Saleh, Museveni’s brother, have moved on to palatial homes away from the heart of the city, giving way to diplomats and Kampala’s nouveau riche.
Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi is one of the few remaining historicals in the city’s traditional power neighbourhoods, his house only minutes away from the Independence Grounds, Parliament, and the corridors of power.
While probably only coincidental, this metaphor is a symbolic reminder that Mr Mbabazi is one of the last men standing from the original political group of President Museveni’s contemporaries.
Now an attempt is underway to chop off his political feet amidst allegations that he has been quietly building a financial base and mobilisation structures to eventually replace President Museveni as party leader and head of state.
In many countries, ambition among politicians is expected, even demanded. However, in a country that has had one president for three decades, and has never seen the peaceful handover of one elected leader to another in five decades of independence, ambition is a risky thing to have and dangerous to display openly. 

Mr Mbabazi has been accused of “being too busy being prime minister to be an effective secretary general” as put by one senior party official, but his real “crime” has been to remain electable and ambitious where others have long given up or undermined their own chances.
The anti-Mbabazi camp has three major constituencies: Fellow senior party officials who see him as a political rival for any situation vacant; young party officials who, in smelling the Prime Minister’s political blood, have seen an opportunity to advance their own careers; and the “Musevenists” who have vested personal interests in the status quo.
Some historicals are openly critical of Mr Mbabazi, including Kahinda Otafiire and former vice president Gilbert Bukenya whom he defeated in the secretary general election.
Other historicals quietly accuse Mr Mbabazi of being behind their woes, be it prosecution on corruption-related charges, or simply being put out to pasture within the government. 
Still many others in the party blame their electoral defeats, particularly in the hotly contested and controversial party primaries, on Mr Mbabazi who was in charge of the process.
The “Young Turks” are an interesting but important dynamic. Some like Evelyn Anite, who moved the controversial proposal to endorse President Museveni as the sole party candidate, and Youth Minister Ronald Kibuule, were previously close to Mr Mbabazi and, in some cases, beneficiaries of his political backing.
Their about-turns are not just a case of political opportunism with an eye on the next election, says a political watcher in Kampala familiar with the power play within the government.
“They have been deliberately targeted and recruited in order to turn the large youthful vote, both within the party and outside it, to the president’s camp.”
At the heart of the anti-Mbabazi campaign, however, is a core group of Musevenists, including members of the first family and their close associates, who are keen to keep the president in power.
Interviews conducted by The EastAfrican with officials in both camps, many of whom insisted on speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, reveal that the struggle between the two camps has been simmering for more than five years.

First attack
The first attack on Mr Mbabazi took place in 2008, when he was accused of using his influence to compel the National Social Security Fund to buy land belonging to him and businessman Amos Nzeyi.
A parliamentary inquiry and a subsequent criminal investigation cleared Mr Mbabazi but some of the evidence leaked to the media, including forged cheques stolen from his daughter’s car, left fingerprints that suggested the organised hand of a puppet master.
If that transaction was forgiven, it was not forgotten. Intelligence analysis suggests that Mr Mbabazi, who was selling the land in order to capitalise the National Bank of Commerce in which he and Nzeyi were major shareholders, was building a financial war chest and had to be watched.
Mr Mbabazi and his wife last week admitted to mobilising support within the NRM, but said they had done so to counter unfair attempts to force the prime minister to resign from his position as secretary general.
Investigations reveal, however, that the fight over the secretary general position is the extension of a long-drawn out effort to keep Mr Mbabazi in check.
The intelligence community continued to raise red flags about the Prime Minister’s networks, especially with the Israeli security establishment and Chinese business players.
Sources indicated that the intelligence agencies also took a keen interest in the activities of Ms Mbabazi, including her foreign travel and photo-ops with foreign dignitaries, prompting one close ally of President Museveni to scoff that she was “practicing for the role of First Lady.”
Behind the designer handbags and smile of Ms Mbabazi, however, lay a thick-skinned operator who was as soft-spoken in the limelight as she was outspoken in the background.
The pro-Museveni camp was alarmed when an intelligence briefing reported that Ms Mbabazi, who was the head of a government munitions factory under the army-owned National Enterprises Corporation, had assisted some senior military officers in constructing their private residential homes.
The EastAfrican has learnt that people around Mr Museveni saw this as an attempt by Ms Mbabazi to build a power base within the military. The picture that emerged among the pro-Museveni camp was of an empire-building exercise in progress.
A political counter-attack was swiftly organised.
First, Ms Mbabazi was removed from her position as head of the munitions firm and retained as a presidential adviser.
Ms Mbabazi declined to be interviewed by The EastAfrican but sources close to her said the intelligence analysis had been greatly exaggerated, but admitted that she had been invited to explain herself over the matter in meetings with “senior regime officials.”
Then, the Central Bank shut down the National Bank of Commerce and transferred its business to Crane Bank in what pro-Mbabazi sources claim was an attempt to curtail Mr Mbabazi’s political ambitions by restricting his financial influence. The matter is still before court.
The next target was Mr Mbabazi. President Museveni could fire him as prime minister, but that would give him time to concentrate on the party and entrench himself further across the country.
An alternative strategy — to prise the secretary general job away through a meeting of the NRM National Executive Committee last year — failed after party leaders queued up before the microphone and openly accused President Museveni of double standards in picking on Mr Mbabazi.

New strategy
“By the time Mzee [President Museveni] cut short the discussion on the matter, he was convinced that Mr Mbabazi’s support in the party was something he had to address,” a senior regime official, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter, told this newspaper.
The pro-Museveni camp planned a new strategy to force the issue; this would involve using a snowball effect, the element of surprise, and a win-win offer. The party’s parliamentary caucus was a good starting place to build momentum.
First, Mr Mbabazi and the party structures were kept completely out of the planning for the event; the attack, when it came, caught the PM “completely by surprise,” according to one of the PM’s allies.
Secondly, although the caucus does not have the authority to fire the secretary general or force their resignation, it has many MPs willing to catch the eye of the incumbent and can get more party members to endorse the decision to have a full-time secretary general.
On average, according to recent statistics, six out of every 10 MPs are not re-elected in Uganda; with many MPs looking wearily at the upcoming election, backing President Museveni offers a chance for personal reward or, at the very least, an expectation of support in the party primaries, which, in many areas where the opposition is weak, makes the NRM candidate a sure winner.
The strategy was bold and aggressive, but it had one flaw; it did not anticipate the response to Mr Mbabazi’s open humiliation by the public or the PM’s loyalists in different arms of the government.

Last attempt
At the last attempt against Mr Mbabazi’s camp, the Marriage Bill was a useful diversion. The Anti-homosexuality Act was signed in public, and although it generated alternative publicity, President Museveni had to walk over the lingering burning embers of the political contest.
NRM MPs are to be sent out to the constituencies to sell President Museveni’s sole candidature for the 2016 elections, but the political attack on Mr Mbabazi has, ironically, raised the Prime Minister’s stature.
“If he is worthy of such an attack, and if he can scare President Museveni so much, then there must be something about him,” said Martin Ddungu, a businessman at a cafĂ© in Kampala. “Either he is a bad man or he is a good man they are scared of; either way I want to know.”
A lot will depend on how Mr Mbabazi responds, and on the outcome of a quiet on-going purge of the PM’s allies within government. Mr Mbabazi has worked with the president for four decades and has said publicly that he knows President Museveni well.
Conventional wisdom suggests that is a good thing, but Mr Mbabazi only has to look around the plush suburbs of Kololo and Nakasero to see how few of his fellow historicals and erstwhile neighbours are still part of the ruling circle.
In Part II next week, we argue that few people who have been loyal to Museveni have come out ahead; few good deeds have gone unpunished.

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