NRM meetings likely to reshape politics beyond the ruling party

As crunch encounters go, the series of NRM meetings this weekend culminating into the national delegates’ conference tomorrow are likely to produce serious, if entertaining, sparks. They may well carry some larger implications for national politics in the months and years ahead.
The Monday meeting is arguably the most anticipated NRM delegates’ conference yet. I would be surprised if the power play between NRM chairman Yoweri Museveni, also the President of Uganda, and on-forced-leave party secretary general Amama Mbabazi is not definitively resolved by close of conference business.

No one can be certain what will happen. It is safe to guess, however, that given the vast amount of resources at his disposal, the chairman will vanquish the secretary general.

Be sure to see some lowly delegate rise spontaneously to move a motion to expel Mr Mbabazi from the party. The chairman will intervene to say the delegate is out of order but other delegates will spontaneously vote en masse to execute the expulsion.

The chairman will then say he intervened, but the wishes of the overwhelming mass of assembled delegates carried the day. Power belongs to the people. Just like happened in Kyankwanzi in February. At NRM gatherings spontaneity is or is not manufactured.

Mr Mbabazi will then go to court to challenge his expulsion and by extension his sacking as secretary general.

That will be a waste of time if he is interested in running for President of Uganda. Assuming the courts move fast and he wins and is restored as NRM party member and secretary general, that will be good for the record and for his conscience.

Politically, it will be inconsequential. Having been expelled, his return will not win him any new followers within the party. He may well be seen as someone fighting too hard to cling on, to embarrass the party and its beloved chairman.

Alternatively, the atmosphere will get so foul that Mr Mbabazi will have no choice but to resign from the secretary general’s job and possibly from the party.

Already dismissed as prime minister, his banishment from Camp Museveni will be complete with his departure from the party. Purging the party of Mr Mbabazi’s sympathisers will follow.

Zimbabwe’s nonagenarian leader Robert Mugabe has gone about a similar problem slightly differently. He removed his ambitious vice president Joice Mujuru from the central committee of ZANU-PF, then sacked her as vice president with several other ministers said to be part of her “treacherous cabal”. It was all over within two weeks. The Old Man of Harare does not dilly-dally.

Tellingly, his wife, the holder of a fresh but bogus PhD in something or other from the University of Zimbabwe, rose to head the Women’s League.
Mr Museveni is taking his time, going through the motions of discussion with various party organs.

In both cases, the leaders, claiming to have evidence, have accused their perceived challengers of conniving with the “scheming” Americans. In both countries, the end is likely the same for those impudent enough to pursue their boss’ non-available jobs.
What then? If Mr Mbabazi manages to stay in the party, well and good, he can still challenge Mr Museveni for party chairman and presidential candidate positions.

If expelled, he can join the Opposition – assuming they welcome him over there. Otherwise, he can do his own thing: lead a third force that is neither Opposition nor NRM. He could well pull together some credible people from either side and make a go at the presidency.

A political junkie like me is hoping for fireworks. But there could be none. Mr Mbabazi may behave himself. He may stay in his job until the expiry of his term next year at which point Mr Museveni as a party chairman will name a replacement. (Of course, the idea that an appointed secretary general will not be political and ambitious enough as to challenge the chairman for power is wishful thinking.) And if he does not challenge Mr Museveni for anything, that would be the anti-climax of the decade.

If Mr Mbabazi loses his job and is thrown out of the party acrimoniously (and possibly into jail in subsequent weeks or months), Mr Museveni may well be seen to have played pig-dirty. That could go a long way in diminishing his person and office. Crucially, not many Ugandans will subsequently think highly of the presidency.

Regardless of Mr Museveni’s moves, good sources say Mr Mbabazi will announce on Monday or Tuesday that he is running for the job of President of the Republic of Uganda. Given his decades-long role – most as one of Mr Museveni’s most trusted lieutenants – in constructing the corrosive politics we see in Uganda today, his switch to take on his (former) boss will nonetheless help free up space in the future for underlings to dare challenge their larger-than-life bosses in the various political parties.

Ultimately, some good could come out of the political events of mid-December 2014. Just how good we will know in due course.

Mr Tabaire is the co-founder and director of programmes at African Centre for Media Excellence in Kampala.

SOURCE: Daily Monitor

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