Last week, President Yoweri Museveni dropped Amama Mbabazi, making him the shortest serving Prime Minister of the NRM era.
Amama was almost tied with George Adyebo, who was dropped on November 18, 1994 after three years and 300 days in the job (someone calculated it in an article on Wikipedia!). By contrast, Amama served three years and 117 days, just 183 shy of Adyebo’s.
However, as PMs come and go, Amama’s wasn’t the shortest in Ugandan history. That honour belongs to Paulo Muwanga, former VP to Milton Obote II, who was PM for 24 days after the July 1985 coup against Obote. Abraham Waligo succeeded him, and held the position for 154 days.
All this is important, because it means the fact that Amama exited just over three years is itself not significant.
PMs in Uganda serve three functions. One, they are used as a buffer and bridge between contending factions, usually between the hardliners and moderates or the left and right wings of ruling partiescoalitions in Uganda (broadly speaking).
The PM who most fit that role was Otema Allimadi during Obote II. Kintu Musoke also played that role between 1994 and 1999, although only partially.
The second role they play is to be a holding entity, as the Big Man plans his next move. The choice can be of an ineffectual individual without his own social base, as in the case of Adyebo. Alternatively, it can be someone with a social base – as Apollo Nsibambi, who logged the most years at 12 – but who has no power ambitions and brings a certain technocratic competence.
Amama’s successor, Dr Ruhakana Ruganda, is also partly in this mould, but he brings something else good public relations and feel-good factor, because many sides of the Ugandan political divide generally like him. However, he is not considered power hungry. Waligo also brought the same currency to the Military Council government.
The third role is the more complicated, and dangerous one. Either a PM is appointed to be the president’s sledgehammer, or to represent a powerful faction that needs to be wooed or appeased. Dr Samson Kisekka, who was PM for nearly five years after Museveni took power in 1986, was a factional chief. He represented both the southern Uganda right wing, and critical Buganda constituencies that had backed the Museveni bush war.
Amama, on the other hand, was the sledgehammer. A workaholic and lethal political operator, he did a lot to smooth Museveni’s victory in the 2011 elections. Partly because that was the one election in which Museveni’s reputation was not tarnished by egregious vote-stealing, it looks like he was seeking to go into “statesmanlike” mode, leaving Amama to take care of the messy business, while he kept his nose clean and stayed above the fray.
All that was thrown out of the window when runner-up, and stubborn Dr Kizza Besigye and other opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) took to their Walk-to-Work protests, and rattled the regime. Museveni went native on Besigye and Co., and let out the dogs.
In other words, he was doing the dirty job himself. Then there was another wrinkle the sentiment around a succession grew inside the party, which increased his vulnerability.
If one were to compare Amama to anyone, it would have to be to Muwanga. Both brought experience from intelligence and heading security services to the job. Both were consummate insiders, and had amassed power inside government. Muwanga had been UPC vice president, and Defence minister in Obote II. But he had also been a shrewd player in UPC in the 1960s and an influential diplomat. Amama, beside his security leadership, was now secretary general of NRM party.
So what happened? One pointer is in the appointment of Rugunda. Rugunda is a good friend of Amama, but most importantly, he is from the same far-west political geography Amama came from. It is the first PM reshuffle in which Museveni has appointed a successor from both the same political and social pool. The near-status quo appointment suggests that Museveni acted out of weakness.
One place to look is an article by Monitor journalist Ivan Okuda “Palace politics at State House” (September 7). The article suggested a bitter factional fight for influence in Museveni’s court.
The fear of Amama had united the State House factions, and it seems it started up again after Amama visibly stepped back into the shadows from late July. His removal, however, ensures that that contest will only heat up, because Rugunda is too mild to frighten them.
Factional fights inside the party and NRM favour Museveni, allowing him to strengthen his hand. Maybe Amama’s ambitions threatened Museveni, but his bigger sin seems to be a strange one – he had united Museveni’s “enemies”, including in the Opposition who disliked him intensely.
Mr Onyango-Obbo is editor of Mail and Guardian AFRICA (mgafrica.com). Twitter:@cobbo3
SOURCE: Daily Monitor