The Return of Jim Muhwezi

Mbabazi troubles give ex spy chief political rebirth

Seven years ago, Maj Gen Jim Muhwezi stared at a bleak political future. Sacked as minister of Health in 2006 before serving a short stint in Luzira prison for mismanaging the Shs 280 billion Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (Gavi) project, political pundits thought Muhwezi’s days in NRM were numbered.

At the height of Muhwezi’s Gavi-related troubles in 2007, according to a September 24, 2008 report published in The Independent magazine, Museveni asked the Rujumbura MP at a State House meeting to apologise in exchange for a presidential pardon.

Muhwezi, flanked by his wife Susan and mother-in-law Constance Kabonero, reportedly said he did nothing wrong, and therefore could not apologise. He said his only crime was to carry out the instructions of the president in using Gavi money. Puzzled, Museveni looked on before calling off the meeting. From that point, Muhwezi appeared to be a marked man, politically speaking.

Yet politics being a very unpredictable game, Muhwezi has today managed to turn his political fortunes around. Slowly and shrewdly, he has managed to claw his way back to the NRM political high table. Those who have keenly followed the political fallout between Museveni and Amama Mbabazi will know that Muhwezi has played a covert but invaluable role in helping the president retain the upper hand against his ambitious former prime minister ahead of 2016.

Since then, Museveni has warmed up to Muhwezi more than he has ever done in the last seven years, with the chairman of the NRM veterans’ league receiving a series of crucial political assignments. Prof Morris Ogenga-Latigo, a former leader of opposition, said Museveni could be motivated to work with people he had originally fallen out with because he knows they would be very loyal.

quotSomebody can suggest that the gesture means that the president is very forgiving. But it can also mean that the president is a cynical political player who knows that once you bring back people who had been dumped, they will offer you maximum loyalty,quot Ogenga-Latigo told The Observer today.

Political comeback

Muhwezi’s political reincarnation within the NRM, our sources in intelligence say, started when reports emerged that Mbabazi was trying to mobilise against Museveni. As the president tried to tie the loose ends and make sense of those reports, our sources said, Museveni, among other people, sought out Muhwezi.

It is a role Muhwezi, a former intelligence czar, relished and performed with zeal. Our sources told us that Muhwezi offered to help neutralise the pro-Mbabazi youths with the aim of bringing them back into the main NRM fold. He was partly successful when he managed to convince one of the key pillars of this group, Omodo Omodo, the NRM youth league vice chairman for northern Uganda, to meet with Museveni.

Yet even if the pro-Mbabazi group still persists, that assignment offered Muhwezi a golden opportunity to score one over Mbabazi. The two have never been the best of friends. As Muhwezi waded through his political troubles, he somewhat suspected that Mbabazi had a hand in orchestrating them.

In 2008 when Muhwezi joined the vocal brigade that was baying for Mbabazi’s blood after he was accused of exerting pressure on the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) to buy his land at Temangalo, suspicious charges of money laundering were quickly brought up against the former Health minister and businessman Justus Kashoma. But the tables have since turned.

Last month, as Mbabazi was being shunted aside as NRM secretary general, Muhwezi was part of a delegation of senior NRM leaders that traversed parts of western Uganda, shoring up support for Museveni and the ruling party. The team, which was led by Frank Tumwebaze, the minister for the Presidency, was also unofficially tasked with sniffing out whatever support Mbabazi was perceived to have at the grassroots.

Muhwezi’s active participation in NRM’s activities has already fuelled speculation that he could bounce back into cabinet, when the next reshuffle is announced. Muhwezi told The Observer today that while he was aware of the perception that he had previously fallen out with Museveni, he did not want to talk about it now.

quotI wouldn’t want to give you half answers. Time will come when [I will] talk about the perception [that I had fallen out with Museveni]. I will do so soon,quot Muhwezi said.

Juggling act

Some political analysts have said that Muhwezi reconciliation with Museveni has been helped by the fact that even when he had a frosty relationship with the president, he largely kept quiet and chose not to fight him publicly like some former NRM bigwigs who have completely parted ways with Museveni.

Yet Museveni is also known to make up easily with his aersaries, provided it is on his terms or whether the move brings him some political capital. In 2006, Museveni agreed to work again with Eriya Kategaya and appointed him first deputy prime minister.

Three years earlier, Kategaya had fallen out with Museveni after he opposed his attempts to amend the constitution and remove presidential term limits. More recently, he welcomed back Maj Rubaramira Ruranga who had quit the NRM in 2001 and joined the opposition.

In Muhwezi’s case, it is believed that the president is trying to do a delicate juggling act by ensuring that his fallout with Mbabazi can be offset by seemingly propping up NRM bigwigs in the Ankole-Kigezi region such as Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda and, now, Gen Muhwezi.

Source : The Observer

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