In 2005, when Dokolo MP Felix Okot Ogong announced his intention to run against President Museveni in the contest for the NRM presidential flag bearer, many laughed him off as an attention seeker, a teaser bull.
But Ogong, then also state minister for Youth and Children Affairs, was a man on a mission.
“My decision to contest was to test the democratic credibility of my party that everyone is free to contest at every level, for every position from the branches to the highest level of presidential candidate,” recalls Ogong, a chairman of the Movement parliamentary caucus between 1999 and 2001.
“Secondly,” he added in a Thursday interview with The Observer, “it was to ensure that we deepen democracy within the Movement. Thirdly, that everyone who declares interest should not be victimised. That [was] the basis of why I offered myself.”
At the time, the NRM, which had just morphed into a political party following the return of multiparty politics, failed Ogong’s test. First, the NRM was so intolerant of any internal opposition to President Museveni that Ogong was promptly asked to step down. Although Ogong was nominated for the position, paving the way for a showdown with Museveni at the delegates’ conference in Namboole, he was pressured out of the race.
[My candidature] was debated by CEC [Central Executive Committee] members and, in the wee hours of the night, I was requested by members of CEC to step down for President Museveni,” he recalled.
After Museveni won in 2006, Ogong, who considered himself a “performer” from a place where NRM faced difficulties, was curiously dropped from cabinet.
“I always wonder – even you, you might be wondering – why a person of high capability, who has grassroots support, who has the capacity to handle any ministry, is not in cabinet. I have never been told [why I was dropped],” lamented Ogong, 49.
Lightning strikes twice:
Nearly 10 years after Ogong was sacked for openly ‘coveting’ President Museveni’s seat, his friend Amama Mbabazi, the NRM secretary general, has been fired as prime minister, under not-so-different circumstances. However, according to analysts such as Cissy Kagaba, the executive director of the Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda, the decision by the president to clip the wings of people keen to challenge him could create a g opposition from within NRM to his leadership.
“You cannot rid the system totally of historicals and think you are just going to bring in new people. They also have their own backing and constituencies. They also wield some influence directly or indirectly that you cannot ignore so, any person that thinks that isolating them is going to be a solution [is making a wrong move],” Kagaba told The Observer last week.
Early this year, members of the historical leaders’ forum spoke out against plans to lock Mbabazi out of contention for the presidency through the “sole candidate” resolution prepared by the NRM parliamentary caucus and later popularised around the country. (See: No sole candidate, historicals tell off President Museveni)
“Within the party, you still have those historicals who still wield a lot of power within and even if you try to get rid of historicals you can never get rid of all of them at once. There will still be those others who will remain and they will still owe their allegiance to that old party doctrine that they had,” Kagaba said.
Even when historicals are excluded from government, according to Kagaba, bringing in youthful leaders would only postpone the inevitable because even the young leaders soon develop ambitions of their own.
“The challenge to the president is that as you bring in these new guys, they may also have their own views of how they want the thing to run. Now, what happens if they are the majority and in the process they disagree with some of the things that you say? That is how we shall get a clash,” she argued.
Others argue, however, that Kagaba’s lucid analysis ignores one key reality – that the army, rather than the political party, may be the actual guarantor of the Museveni government. And as long as Museveni retains tight control over the UPDF, the party political chess game will bother him less.
Yet this time, Ogong, agrees with Museveni, saying that Mbabazi left Museveni with few choices because he had told an NRM caucus meeting upon his nomination that he would give up the party’s secretary generalship but then reneged on the promise. Ogong also argued that Mbabazi’s hesitation to declare whether he intends to stand for the presidency was not good for himself, the party and even those who support him as a potential leader of Uganda.
“If a person has interest, somebody has to be clear openly, not through other people,” he said. “I wonder why a person of Mbabazi’s quality should start working through underhand methods, through other people.”
As Mbabazi continues to dither over whether he will stand, some analysts who spoke to The Observer say 2016 offers him the best opportunity to lead Uganda. They argue that by dropping Mbabazi as prime minister, President Museveni has moved a step closer towards eliminating the most potent challenge within the ruling NRM to his quest for a fifth elective term.
The broader implication of Mbabazi’s sudden dismissal, political analysts say, is that Museveni has pulled the presidency further away from the grasp of the historicals and veterans of the liberation struggle that brought him to power. Sources privy to the goings-on within NRM have regularly said that one of the plans as Museveni juggles towards the evening of his leadership is to outlast all NRM historicals and senior leaders.
Once they are no longer in position to claim the presidency, Museveni would then pass the baton on to a younger crop of leaders who would not have historical scores to settle with him. If Museveni runs for another term in office in 2016, many of the current senior leaders in government would not be in position to succeed him should Parliament retain the 75-year age limit for one to run for president.
The Vice President, Edward Kiwanuka Ssekandi, is 71 new Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda is 67 while deputy prime ministers Moses Ali and Henry Kajura are 75 and 80 respectively. Museveni’s wife, Janet, who has also been mentioned as a potential successor, is 66.
Within the NRM, first national vice chairperson Moses Kigongo is in his 70s, second national vice chairperson Rebecca Kadaga is 58, while secretary general Mbabazi is 65 and the chairperson of the veterans’ league, Maj Gen (rtd) Jim Muhwezi is 64. Okot Ogong says the writing is on the wall for Museveni and other historicals to prepare the way for a new set of NRM leaders – not least because they cannot defy nature.
“Every revolution must rejuvenate,” he said. “It is not that when you come with a revolution you must be there all the time. There is a time for you to be there and a time for you to leave. A good forest must always have young trees so that when some collapse, others crop up.”
For FDC president, Mugisha Muntu, the current development points to the internal contradictions within the NRM. He said the reluctance of some NRM leaders such as President Museveni to subject themselves to competition could lead to the downfall of the party since such actions open the eyes of its supporters to the contradictions.
“You need to look beyond individuals because contradictions have got their own nature. If for example you don’t have internal democracy in an organisation, it doesn’t have to be this one or the other one, as long as there are people who want to have democracy in an organisation and you don’t want to give it to them, the situation will get worse and worse,” he said.
However, NRM Historical Israel Kayonde, who was a member of the Constituent Assembly (CA) that made the 1995 Constitution, says young politicians can still emerge even within the current setup.
“There is no clear timeframe when the old should go and the young ones should come in,” he said. “The policy of the Movement has been that as long as there are regular free and fair elections, leaders will always emerge. You can see when you look at that Parliament, you find there are people who come from Makerere and become MPs, and that number has been increasing.”
Meanwhile, younger NRM politicians such as Ogong say they have cooled their presidential ambitions, though not abandoned them, as they wait for “an opportune time” to resurrect them.
But in reality, it is not up to Ogongs or Amamas to determine whether a moment is ‘opportune’. For they might get the timing wrong, and suffer the consequences.
Additional reporting by Deo. Walusimbi
Source : The Observer