Mbabazi’s Cardinal ‘Sins’

In his book, 48 Laws of Power, American author Robert Greene points out that those aspiring to replace their bosses should adhere to the first rule: “Never outshine the master.”

The sacking of Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi on Friday could have been due to his failure to abide by this cardinal rule. Having worked with President Museveni for four decades, Mbabazi must have coveted the presidency well knowing that his long-time political twin did not take kindly to any perceived political threat. Indeed, for ardent political watchers, Mbabazi’s sacking was an accident waiting to happen especially after evidence had emerged that the relationship between him and President Museveni had grown lukewarm.

Museveni had recently started to delegate some of the key assignments to youthful ministers such as Frank Tumwebaze (Presidency) and Richard Todwong (Mobilisation), ignoring Mbabazi who not long ago had attracted the moniker of “super minister” for juggling many roles.

Ofwono Opondo, the executive director of the Uganda Media Centre, told journalists on Friday that Mbabazi was sacked because he failed to choose between serving the NRM (as full-time secretary general) and the country (as prime minister) as had been agreed within the party’s leadership.

“His refusal to step down from one role was a sign of disloyalty,” Opondo said.


Yet, disloyal or not, Mbabazi’s troubles with Museveni appear to have stemmed from his perceived presidential ambitions. If by sacking him as premier, NRM Chairman Museveni wanted Mbabazi to concentrate on his role as secretary general, as Opondo suggests, he could have stated it in the letter communicating his sacking. Instead, Museveni thanked Mbabazi for his service to “his country”.

To date Mbabazi has remained vague about his presidential ambitions. In May, when Museveni met Mbabazi, his wife Jacqueline and sister-in-law Hope Mwesigye at State House, Entebbe, the president reportedly expressed discomfort at Mbabazi’s vagueness. But Mbabazi, according to sources, did not commit himself on anything.

Mbabazi is the only NRM MP who declined the Shs 4 million to popularise the 2016 sole candidature resolution. He said he could not take the money before the Central Executive Committee (CEC) had taken a decision on a matter only endorsed by the NRM parliamentary caucus. If Mbabazi could not promote Museveni’s candidature in his constituency, it could mean, among other things, that he fancied running for the top job.

Tarsis Kabwegyere, the minister for General Duties in the Office of the Prime Minister, said on the Capital Gang radio programme on Saturday that Museveni had taken his time before acting upon Mbabazi.

“Museveni has been as patient as a stone,” Kabwegyere said. “He knew there were things Mbabazi was doing but he exercised his power carefully.”


In trying to be vague about his ambitions, Mbabazi appeared to have become stubborn, to the dismay of his boss. On September 8, Mbabazi warned during an NRM caucus meeting that his daughter, Nina Mbabazi-Rukikaire, would take NRM to court for failing to clear a Shs 3 billion debt which she incurred while doing party work.

“You have no lawyers as a party and she has a good case. The party will end up incurring more costs,” Mbabazi reportedly told the meeting attended by Museveni.

Mbabazi rarely exhibited such bluntness and this could have unnerved the president to begin thinking of replacing him.

Sister act:

If Mbabazi was vague about his ambitions, his wife, Jacqueline and sister-in-law, Hope Mwesigye, were more explicit. These two, plus their daughter Nina, purportedly did the grassroots mobilisation work for Mbabazi, in the hope that if the necessary time came, the premier would have enough delegates to coast him to victory.

Where Mbabazi was reluctant to speak especially against injustices against members of groups supporting him, Jacqueline andor her sister Mwesigye always lambasted the state. When Museveni met pro-Mbabazi youth leaders in April, he told them that he did not have a problem with Mbabazi but was only uncomfortable with his wife’s activities.

It is a message Museveni had passed on to Mbabazi on several occasions, but the premier seemed reluctant to stop his wife and in-law. Perhaps this left Museveni with no option but to wield the axe and send a clear message to perceived opponents.

Pro-Mbabazi youth:

Besides the women, a handful of youth groups aligned to the prime minister came up. One, led by Adam Luzindana, the NRM youth league vice chairperson for Kampala, openly attacked the Kyankwanzi sole-candidature resolution and declared that Mbabazi was their preferred presidential candidate in 2016.

Then, on September 6, during the belated youth day celebrations in Kanungu, the youths in Mbabazi’s home district endorsed him as their preferred NRM presidential candidate. Mbabazi “gladly” accepted the cultural symbols of power and calls from youths for him to run for president in 2016. He did not give a direct nod of approval to the calls but told his audience that when he decides to fight, he goes all the way.

In some instances, when the pro-Mbabazi youths faced the wrath of the police, Mbabazi came to their defence. Some people have suggested that by defending them, Mbabazi lent credence to reports that they were doing the bidding for him. Yet, as a politician with ambitions, others say it would have been suicidal for him to completely disassociate himself from the youths.

Breaking point:

Museveni’s relationship with Mbabazi hit its lowest point in June when Museveni instructed Mbabazi to stop chairing cabinet meetings, a responsibility he said the PM had ‘usurped’ from the vice president, Edward Ssekandi. It is a role that had made him powerful in the eyes of his cabinet colleagues.

Yet, much earlier in May, sources told us Museveni had also apparently stopped Mbabazi from holding the weekly press briefings, which he had initiated, after getting intelligence reports that he was using them to enhance his publicity. With his wings clipped, Mbabazi essentially became a figure-head prime minister without power to even discipline a state minister, a source said.

Another source at State House told us on Saturday that Museveni was forced to act quickly after getting information that Mbabazi intended to tender in his resignation as prime minister.

“Mbabazi was taken by surprise,” the source said.

The source added that something similar had happened to Bidandi Ssali, the former Local Government minister, in 2003 when he attempted to hand in his resignation days before he was sacked.

“The president told him on a Friday that he could forward his resignation to his office on Monday. But the next day (Saturday), he announced a cabinet reshuffle, dropping Bidandi.

At the conclusion of the September 8 caucus meeting where Mbabazi had aired some grievances, Museveni used two Biblical teachings to warn some people to tread carefully. Reading from the Book of Daniel, chapter 5 verse 25 and the Book of Genesis, Museveni said: “Some people’s days are numbered.”

He might have meant Mbabazi, whose days as PM are now over.

Source : The Observer

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