Why Mbabazi May Fail As NRM Secretary General [opinion]

During his maiden appearance in Parliament as a backbencher, former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi said he would now focus on his other role as secretary general of the ruling NRM party.

However, it appears Mbabazi will face immense challenges, largely because of his sacking. A close scrutiny of the NRM constitution and a snap survey of opinions of those familiar with NRM affairs indicates that the scales are heavily tilted against the now out-of-favour Mbabazi. In addition, with allegations that Mbabazi was building his own power base which caused his sacking, it is unlikely that President Museveni will give the Kinkiizi West MP the free reign to run party affairs.

In an interview with The Observer on Wednesday, Bunyole East MP Emmanuel Dombo warned that Mbabazi had many roadblocks in his path now that President Museveni had identified him as a threat. And what’s more, by sacking him, Museveni is telling all NRM members across the country that Mbabazi is no longer omwana (good boy) but is probably ekyana (rogue, child) – words of former Vice President Gilbert Bukenya.

This could mean that even when “Secretary General Amama Mbabazi” calls party meeting in Kanungu or Katakwi, the party leadership in the districts could stay away for fear of being labelled Mbabazi supporters (which, in the present scheme of things, would make them anti-Museveni).

“The power of the incumbent is very critical and if [Mbabazi] decides to stand, he has very many roadblocks ahead. He should be ready to face the state machinery,” Dombo said.

Ndorwa East MP, Wilfred Niwagaba, who was expelled from the NRM, says the ruling party is largely weaved around its chairperson, Museveni, making it difficult for anyone to perform effectively when they are seen as a challenge to his leadership.

“As far as I am concerned, NRM is Museveni and Museveni is NRM. How can you claim to do anything under Museveni? He is the party and the party is him,” Niwagaba said.

Before their expulsion from the NRM, Niwagaba and other colleagues who became known as ‘rebel MPs’ had announced that they would seek for the reform of the ruling party from within. However, according to Niwagaba, the outspoken MPs, who included Barnabas Tinkasiimire (Buyaga West) and Lwemiyaga MP Theodore Ssekikubo, hit a brick wall in their effort to challenge the status quo of a system built around one individual.

Chairman of everything:

A source at the NRM secretariat, who declined to be named because he is not authorised to speak to the press on party matters, agrees with Niwagaba.

“If you go through the constitution, the party chairperson is the only person with clear functions and authority to appoint people in most of the influential positions in the party,” said the source.

Museveni’s roles are provided under article 14 of the NRM constitution and they include being the head of NRM, chairperson of the National Conference and the National Executive Council, convene and preside over meetings of the NC and the NEC, being the chief spokesperson of NRM, giving guidance to the organs of NRM and ensuring that the policies and principles of NRM are implemented.

Whereas the secretary general heads the NRM secretariat, the chairperson can assign responsibilities to directors at the National Secretariat and also nominate members of NRM commissions. The commissions, which work under the Central Executive Committee, include electoral commission, defence and security commission, ethics and discipline commission and finance commission.

The finance commission is charged with the responsibility of supervising and controlling of NRM finances as well as the party’s fundraising mechanisms. Those familiar with the NRM constitution also say that the party chairperson can expel anyone from the party if he so wishes.

“If you look at the composition of the National Disciplinary Committee that recommends for expulsion of a member, in addition to the NRM vice chairperson and secretary general, the chairperson has powers to appoint seven members of the committee. This means any outcome of the committee would be in his favour,” explained the source.

The infinite powers of the chairman were evident in the case of the expelled rebel MPs, according to the source, who says President Museveni used NRM organs such as the disciplinary committee and NRM Central Executive Committee to strangle the rubble-rousing legislators out of the party.


Although Museveni has more powers than Mbabazi, some NRM insiders think that he can only put them to proper use depending on the way Mbabazi conducts himself in the party structure. According to Dombo, the secretary general heads the secretariat which is almost the engine in the day-to-day running of party affairs. This, he adds, means that if Mbabazi intends to sabotage the actions of the chairperson, he can effectively do so using the powers at his disposal.

“The secretary general’s powers are established by law so, anything done contrary to the party constitution would be in breach of it and if Mbabazi goes to litigation, he will win and get the money,” he said.

Dombo further argues that if there is no amicable truce between Museveni and Mbabazi, the party could be fractured right down the middle by the turf war between the two erstwhile confidants.

“This is going to be unfortunate for the NRM because there will be divided allegiance,” said the Bunyole East MP.

Under the NRM constitution, the secretariat, under the direction of the secretary General, is charged with the responsibility of implementation of the decisions of the National Conference and National Executive Council as well as implementation of NRM policies, decisions, and directives on a day-to-day basis.

Other responsibilities include providing administrative and secretarial services to the National Conference and National Executive Council coordination of the activities of all organs of NRM maintaining a National Register of members carrying out such other functions as may be assigned to it by the Chairperson, CEC or the National Executive Council. The secretary general also appoints the support staff at the secretariat.

Weighing in on Mbabazi’s mandate as secretary general, Kibanda MP Sam Otada, a former NRM member who can now analyse issues in the party without being distracted by overt allegiances, says that this is the main strength of Mbabazi.

“Mbabazi controls the NRM register which means that he can decide those who can stand in elections,” he said.

However, it is known that the appointment of Richard Todwong has had the effect of creating a de facto second secretary general through whom Museveni can conduct secretariat affairs. At the same time, whatever the NRM constitution says, the NRM has previously demonstrated that it has capacity to change or bypass problematic constitutional provisions.

For instance, some in the party have argued that the constitution should be changed, so that the chairman appoints (and therefore fires) the NRM secretary general. These calls could grow louder sooner than later.

With both Museveni and Mbabazi able to call on the party constitution to their aid when push comes to shove, Magode Ikuya, a member of the NRM historical leaders’ forum, believes it may come down to either politician’s wits.

“Museveni has the state machinery and knows the politics of trickery more than Mbabazi. The latter is a student of the other, although he knows his master’s tricks,” he said, suggesting it could be a political game of chess that is too close to call.

Source : The Observer

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