What the Amama Mbabazi campaign is missing so far

Former ruling NRM party Secretary general and Ugandan prime minister John Patrick Amama Mbabazi a.k.a JPAM will walk alone come the 2016 presidential election. JPAM had vowed to remain in the NRM party, and vie for national leadership as it’s flag bearer. He left citing the party’s ‘undemocratic’ tendencies.
Whatever his chances, JPAM must now think of a campaign that will capture the imagination of the public. Many have observed that his strengths include knowing his opponent President Yoweri Museveni very well, having been colleagues for over 40 years. He has been in government and at the centre of the NRM organisation for the last 30 years so has a good understanding of its workings, including the way it wins ‘disputed’ elections. Then he is very articulate, methodical, and sober, especially when it comes to interpreting the law and appreciating processes and procedures.
Very important, he seemingly has a huge cache of money to last the distance and beyond.
It is too late to say this but many thought JPAM would have stayed put in NRM, picked his forms and endured all the harassment and unfairness in the primaries.
The legal hurdles for Independents notwithstanding, he would then walk away with those who would suffer the same grievances, as the ‘champion’ of the oppressed. He would form an offshoot of the party something like ‘NRM-People’ ie the ones who have sought a democratic path. (Kenya has over the years perfected this arrangement. FORD gave birth to FORD-Kenya, FORD-Asili and Narc to Narc-Kenya, etc.
Going forward, there are areas that he will have to work on very quickly. First JPAM has to learn to take opportunities that help ‘alienate’ him from the NRM he is running from and identify himself with the people he intends to lead. For instance, when he was stopped from going to Mbale and ‘arrested’ at Njeru, he should have insisted on removing his belt, shoes, tie and jacket, sitting at the back of the police pick-up and found sitting on the floor at the police station. (There was a picture on social media of JPAM sitting cross legged on a chair at the police with a caption that claimed that the police did not arrest him but ‘saved’ him from ‘mob justice’ that awaited him in Mbale!) That would have helped disabuse the doubters and those who claim that he is still a Museveni ‘protégé’ simply engaging in an act to fool the people. This act would have helped cut the code that links JPAM to the ‘oppressors’ and land him among the ‘oppressed’ from whom he expects votes.
Linked to this is the need to highlight more the plight of those who have suffered for his cause at the hands of the government. Many of JPAM’s supporters have endured harassment and even jail. These are the people he should appear with at his press conferences and even give them an opportunity to narrate their experiences.
It would show him as a person who cares for those who follow him and that is a great mark of leadership.
Added to this JPAM will have to appear in public with people outside of his family to have a broader audience and appeal. A person vying for national leadership should have a diversity of people to stand with him in public. It says a lot if one intends to replace what is now called ‘family rule’ yet he appears in public with mainly members of his family and the odd aide in tow.
Then JPAM will have to climb down the high horse. Politics is about perceptions. JPAM is entitled to armed guards and even retired from service with a car fitted with government plates. Many people get confused when they see JPAM ‘enjoying’ these trappings of power and at the same time claiming he is not part of the set up. Leaders engage in self abnegation to achieve certain goals. Putting aside his government car and uniformed aides would serve him for the time of the campaign.
Lastly, JPAM has to get a proper public relations team to counter the misuse of the perception that he is backed by ‘foreign interests’ that have given him a lot of money and support.
The downside of this is the interpretation that this support the world over comes with strings attached. A successful recipient may have to mortgage the country’s resources to pay back in time. Also support from ‘foreign interests’ lately means being compliant to the interests of the powerful gay lobby of the West, which many frown upon as trying to impose an alien practice of sodomy on ‘African culture.’
JPAM has his work cut out.
Mr Sengoba is a commentator on political and social issues. nicholassengoba@yahoo.com
Twitter: @nsengoba