There is something striking about the team which President Museveni selected to organise the December 15 National Resistance Movement (NRM) national delegates conference.
Take a look at some of the names. Jim Muhwezi, Chris Baryomunsi, Evelyn Anite, Barbra Oundo and Rosemary Seninde.
Also on the committee are Political Mobilisation minister Richard Todwong, who deputises deputy secretary general Dorothy Hyuha as chairperson of the organising committee Information and National Guidance minister Rose Namayanja and Presidency minister Frank Tumwebaze.
Maj Gen (rtd) Muhwezi and Dr Baryomunsi were at the forefront of calling for former prime minister (PM) Amama Mbabazi’s sacking from Cabinet in 2007 when Mr Mbabazi, then Security minister, was accused of influencing the National Social Security Fund to buy his land in Temangalo. The duo has also publicly disagreed with Mr Mbabazi on a few other occasions.
Ms Anite’s biggest claim to national fame until now is that moment in February when she tabled a proposal at the NRM lawmakers’ retreat in Kyankwanzi which resulted in the resolution calling on the party’s organs to gazette President Museveni as their sole candidate for the 2016 elections. This was in light of a latent threat that Mbabazi, then PM, would go for the top job.
Ms Anite’s proposal, enthusiastically supported by mainly young MPs with Ms Oundo being among the loudest cheerers, set in motion the open war for supremacy within the NRM between President Museveni and Mr Mbabazi.
Ms Seninde, on the other hand, chaired the MPs’ select committee that was ostensibly to look into the mismanagement of the NRM party primaries in 2010, but which Mr Mbabazi’s backers say was intended to help Mr Museveni’s war against his former close ally.
The Seninde committee, on which Dr Baryomunsi was also a member, recommended, among other things, the fresh compilation of a party supporters’ register after it was alleged that Mr Mbabazi had refused to submit the old one.
Mr Mbabazi, as secretary general (SG), had insisted on executing his role as the custodian of party documents, including the register. In a State House meeting of the NRM MPs with President Museveni, which was a follow-up to the one in Kyankwanzi, Mr Todwong was suggested as acting secretary general. The argument then was that Mr Mbabazi was too busy to double as secretary general.
On being dropped from the premier job, Mr Mbabazi said he would concentrate on his job as secretary general, but it soon became clear that this would not happen. After a heated two-day meeting of the party’s Central Executive Committee, Mr Mbabazi “agreed” to take leave from the SG job till end of year.
By the time Mr Mbabazi took leave, Mr Todwong was already deep into mobilising the party, a task in which he would soon be joined by Ms Namayanja and Mr Tumwebaze. The three ministers have been on a special assignment by the President to traverse the country with the view of reviving the party.
One other development that seems to flow from President Museveni’s attempt to mould “a post-Mbabazi NRM”, Makerere University political historian Mwambutsya Ndebesa says, “Is the creeping back of hitherto forgotten party members.”
Here, Mr Ndebesa refers to Maj Gen Muhwezi, Dr Baryomunsi and Mr Moses Byaruhanga, a presidential assistant on political affairs who he says “has been out in the cold but is now clawing back as Museveni looks for people to fight Mbabazi”.
According to Mr Ndebesa, President Museveni has “padded” the committee organising the national conference with “individuals loyal to him and hostile to Mbabazi”.
But does this matter? Does it mean that Mr Mbabazi, if he intends to take on Mr Museveni even regarding proposed amendments to the party’s constitution, has something to fear about not being represented on the organising committee?
“Yes, of course,” says Mr Ndebesa, “Delegates’ conferences here have been historically dominated by those who have clout in organising them.”
When Mr Mbabazi was in charge of organising the 2010 NRM national conference, Mr Ndebesa points out, Mr Mbabazi was himself accused by his opponents for the SG job, namely Constitutional Affairs minister Kahinda Otafiire and former Vice President Gilbert Bukenya, of using his position to tilt the contest in his favour.
The most bizarre accusation coming out of the conference, perhaps, was that when it came to the election of the secretary general, even ushers at the function voted. The function had been organised by Mr Mbabazi.
Elsewhere, in the Opposition Forum for Democratic Change, former Leader of the Opposition in Parliament Nandala Mafabi accused SG Alice Alaso of tilting the election in favour of current party president Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu.
As secretary general, Mr Mafabi claimed, Ms Alaso usurped the powers of the party’s electoral commission to tilt the election in Maj Gen Muntu’s favour. The fallout resulting from that hard-fought campaign and election, which was at the end of 2012, has still to be repaired.
Basing on this, Mr Ndebesa argues, President Museveni will perhaps have the upper hand going to Namboole.
“Rebel” MPs kept out
Dr Baryomunsi now speaks with enthusiasm and hope about his party, a far-cry from the man who spent Christmas Day in 2012 in a police cell.
Dr Baryomunsi, along with Dr Sylvester Onzivua, a consultant pathologist, tried to make their way out of the country with body parts of the late Butaleja District Woman MP, Cerinah Nebanda.
Ms Nebanda, along with Dr Baryomunsi and others, including the four NRM MPs who are still in court challenging their expulsion from the party – Lwemiyaga’s Theodore Ssekikubo, Kampala Central’s Muhammad Nsereko, Buyaga’s Barnabas Tinkasiimire and Ndorwa West’s Alfred Niwagaba – were extremely outspoken against their party.
Dr Baryomunsi spent nine months battling the resulting court case, which came to nothing in the end. Representing Kinkiizi East, a constituency which borders Mr Mbabazi’s Kinkiizi West, some would like to blame the rivalry between the two on local Kanungu politics, which Dr Baryomunsi denies.
But the fact that he seems to have quickly warmed up to President Museveni’s overtures in the aftermath of Mr Mbabazi’s sacking may lend credence to the theory.
Speculation has since mounted that when Mr Museveni announces the next Cabinet reshuffle, Dr Baryomunsi will likely clinch a post.
That be as it may, however, “the problems within NRM are bigger than Mbabazi and the MPs’ uprising against the party earlier this term was not just against Mbabazi.” This is the view of Mr Ssekikubo.
“Museveni and Mbabazi are one and the same,” says Mr Ssekikubo. “Who can deceive you that Mbabazi was the one mistreating us and hounding us out of the party? Museveni was the chairman of CEC, what did he do about it?”
Mr Ssekikubo says in spite of being in two courts – the High Court and the Constitutional Court – challenging their dismissal from the party (meaning that they should still remain in the party until the courts throw them out), they (the “rebel” MPs) were not invited for the upcoming national conference.
“Is it still Mbabazi locking us out despite our still making monthly financial contributions to the party?” Mr Ssekikubo queries.
Therefore, in Mr Ssekikubo’s view, whereas Mr Museveni can use the opportunity of Mr Mbabazi’s sacking to woo those who the former premier had alienated, “some other members have deep-seated concerns that go beyond individuals.”
And, according to Prof Edward Kakonge, the chairman of UPC, this could be the reason Mr Museveni is taking his time before announcing an anticipated Cabinet reshuffle.
When Mr Mbabazi was sacked in a mini reshuffle in September, it was anticipated that a general reshuffle would follow shortly afterwards. Prof Kakonge now thinks that President Museveni could be “balancing up options and luring those who were originally working for Mbabazi”.
“Before the next reshuffle comes, Museveni will give Mbabazi’s people in the Cabinet an opportunity to repent,” Prof Kakonge says.
How President Museveni will go about easing Mr Mbabazi out of the system, however, is a relatively long term issue.
In the immediate term, all eyes are on who of the two aersaries will emerge out of Namboole stronger. And the team organising the conference may well give Mr Museveni the decisive edge.
‘Museveni having upper hand is misplaced concern’
According to Dr Baryomunsi, these observations are misplaced. He says at the forthcoming national conference, there will be no elections, “hence the fear of rigging is misplaced”.
But, we remind Dr Baryomunsi, one key agenda item going into the conference is to consider amendments to the party’s constitution, which can potentially be hotly contested. Party members who back Mr Mbabazi fear that Mr Museveni will use this opportunity to have the party’s constitution changed to suit his interests. One area where talk of changes has been intense regards having the secretary general appointed by the party chairman instead of having him elected by the national conference.
When the SG is elected by the national conference, he can only be removed by the same body, probably the only reason Mr Mbabazi is still SG. Former prime minister Kintu Musoke, who is one of the key proponents of having the SG appointed instead of being elected, says “this model has not worked in Africa”.
“Look at it carefully,” Mr Musoke says, “(Milton) Obote conflicted with (John) Kakonge in UPC, (Ben) Kiwanuka conflicted with Bataringaya in DP and Museveni has now conflicted with Mbabazi.”
Mr Musoke adds that elsewhere in East Africa, former Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere conflicted with the former Chama Cha Mapinduzi SG Oscar Kambona, leading to Kambona being exiled, while in Kenya founding president Jomo Kenyatta conflicted with the former Kenya African National Union SG Tom Mboya.
Against this background, Mr Musoke concludes: “An elected secretary general will throw it in his boss’s face that he was elected by the same people who elected the boss and that he therefore must not be given orders, yet an appointed secretary general will be loyal to the appointing authority.”
It is not clear yet whether a suggestion will be made to have such an amendment adopted. What is clear, however, is that there are high chances of clash of positions between President Museveni and Mr Mbabazi’s during the national conference.
Even if sharp disagreements were to emerge at Namboole, Dr Baryomunsi argues, “it is as natural as play you don’t expect a meeting of more than 10,000 people without sharp differences of opinion.”
What matters, he says, “is that every single aspect is debated thoroughly and soberly and a democratic conclusion is reached.”
SOURCE: Daily Monitor