As has been expected, President Museveni on Friday afternoon arrived at the NRM party headquarters at Kyadondo Road in Kampala to pick up forms for his nomination to head the NRM for another five-year term and also seek the party nomination as its presidential candidate for the 2016 general election.
Also as was expected, Amama Mbabazi pulled out of contention for the NRM party chairmanship and with that, at least for now, the official presidential candidate for the NRM for the 2016 general election.
On the face of it, this should have been a straightforward day: Museveni, the undisputed leader of the NRM since 1981, gets another walkover shot at the party chairmanship and the next general election.
Mbabazi, perhaps one of the most serious challengers to Museveni since 1981, at the last minute drops out of contention for the party’s primaries, leaving Museveni the only candidate and the rest is the usual story since 1986. However, as it was with the declaration of the “sole candidate” at the Kyankwanzi leadership institute in February 2014 and the time since, this story of the rivalry between Museveni and Mbabazi is still not over.
Both NRM camps know it
The first event, President’s nomination was the most familiar and routine and so was not really news except that the media must report events at that presidential level.
The second event, Mbabazi’s withdraw from the NRM contest and with that, mark the start of his departure from the NRM of which he was such an integral and important part for three and a half decades, was the more significant event.
It is the one the media and the political class will be watching with the keenest interest.
The 5pm news on UBC radio, the state-owned radio formerly known as Radio Uganda, reported the news of Museveni picking up nomination forms but did not mention Mbabazi at all.
The sections of the media that know what is going on, though, mentioned Mbabazi.
Wrote Arinaitwe Rugyendo of the Red Pepper on the social media network Twitter on Friday: “As [Amama] Mbabazi goes solo, the Mbabazi-Besigye plot is to force a rerun in 2016, then mount a united front under The Democratic Alliance umbrella.”
The political and media analyst Charles Rwomushana commented on the social media network Facebook, also on Friday:
“Amama Mbabazi appears to be on the highway to run as an independent candidate. He will have officially left [the] NRM. That will be the first decisive step to split NRM. We will now have the NRM Banyama (meat eaters) and the NRM Babooga (grass eaters). But this time we Babooga are tired of being eaten by Banyama.”
Rwomushana, who is one of the best-informed analysts in the country regarding the current split within the NRM, was hinting here that the decision by Mbabazi to drop his bid for the party leadership, far from diffusing the tensions within the NRM, will actually lead to the final, public split of the party.
When the NRM retreat to Kyankwanzi came to an end in mid February 2014, it seemed to have settled all questions about the party’s leadership.
Even the man at the centre of the controversy and rumours, Amama Mbabazi, penned his signature to the resolution along with 201 other NRM cadres to endorse Museveni as the party’s sole candidate for 2016.
Next few weeks
That is the same way it will be over the next few weeks.
After what appeared like an easy ride to the picking up of nomination forms for Museveni, the news and political discussion will soon return to Mbabazi and what he plans next.
In his statement, Mbabazi said: “The fact of the matter is NRM has sought to obstruct my intentions completely. The party’s pressuring of the national Electoral Commission (EC) was evident in the EC’s attempt to renege on their initial position regarding my consultations by requesting me to ‘harmonise’ my schedule with the party.”
“Similarly, the use of some elements of the police in internal party affairs is indicative of the extent to which the top party leadership is willing to go in order to stop me from contesting. Even the rules and regulations, full of all sorts of snares and illegalities, were obviously created with my candidacy in mind.”
It was the first time that Mbabazi, who has until now been polite and complimentary to President Museveni, directly criticised Museveni and accused him of acting in bad faith.
The statement continued, with a significant mention of FDC presidential aspirant Kizza Besigye:
“But this obstruction is not the only unlawful thing that has taken place. The arrests, torture and in some cases near week-long disappearances of my supporters, as well as the arrest of Dr Kizza Besigye, are an obscene violation of the basic human rights guaranteed by our Constitution.”
“The arrest of my daughter, as well as my own, was simply illegitimate and only served to illuminate the lawless forces at work in this nation the lawless forces whose intentions we, united and strong, will defeat.”
There has been much speculation that eventually there will have to be a form of alliance with Besigye if Mbabazi hopes to achieve national strength and present a truly serious challenge to Museveni.
As the Sunday Monitor recently argued, Mbabazi is still viewed by many as the ultimate NRM insider and will need to connect more personally with ordinary Ugandans to give his presidential bid a chance.
This is the position Besigye was in back in 2000 when he started his first presidential bid. A former National Political Commissar and personal doctor to President Museveni, some felt he was a decoy created by Museveni.
The decisive breakthrough for Besigye came when the former Kampala Mayor Nasser Sebaggala joined forces with Besigye and urged his supporters to throw their weight behind Besigye, with that statement “Seeya alagidde!” (Seeya, or Sebaggala has directed).
Even after “Seeya” backslid politically and lost his legitimacy with the masses, they stuck with Besigye.
In the same way, a statement to the effect “Besigye alagidde!” would be what it takes to swing the common man’s allegiance to Mbabazi, depending on what deal the two men manage to strike.
Last week brought a reminder of Besigye’s enduring popularity with the ordinary people. In tours of western Uganda, large crowds turned out to greet and listen to him. More remarkably, the crowds wherever Besigye would go initiated their own spontaneous fundraising for his campaign, dropping money into cardboard boxes, one thousand here,five hundred there, two thousand here.
It speaks of a high degree of motivation and determination for the Ugandan population in the impoverished countryside to actually raise money, of their own volition, for a candidate rather than the normal recent practice of waiting for soap, sugar and T-shirts from the candidates.
Besigye has to be a key factor in any future Mbabazi calculation.
There is so much going on between the Museveni and Mbabazi camps.
The last sentence of Mbabazi’s statement quoted above, was also significant. Mbabazi has until now spoken politely about the NRM, praising its contribution to restoring freedom to Uganda and years of the “dark days” of the past and proud of his role in the anti-Amin and anti-Obote struggles of the 1970s and 1980s.
Suddenly, we see Mbabazi in this most recent statement come up with a new view. The NRM, he seems to be saying, has degenerated to a government that blatantly violates human rights and is being run by “lawless forces” whose intentions, he declares, he “will defeat.”
It is the kind of statement that Fronasa and the NRA used to justify their decision to take up an armed struggle. He is now talking, no longer as just another politician seeking the presidency. He is now back to using freedom fighter Fronasa language, about taking on and defeating “lawless forces”, or what Museveni terms “bad leaders”.
For Mbabazi not to simply stop at mentioning his own arrest on July 9 as he attempted to travel to Mbale but also to condemn the arrest of Besigye in the same sentence was a skilful move.
It will have the effect of underscoring the message that this is not just about Mbabazi’s own personal ambition, but that he sees Uganda in danger of being destroyed by “lawless forces” against which all reasonable Ugandans, including Besigye and other leaders from the Opposition, should join hands.
We can expect that Mbabazi, now running or hoping to run as an independent candidate, to start speaking beyond the NRM and beyond his personal ambition and appealing, in the same way UPC’s Olara Otunnu did in 2010 and early 2011, to the formation of a mass movement and national effort to address the “lawless forces” that threaten to wreck the country.
In this new role as a neo-Fronasa leader, Mbabazi will seek to project himself as the new liberator of Uganda from the “fascist” tendencies that his wife Jacqueline described as dominating the NRM party in that Sunday Monitor interview shortly after the Kyankwanzi meeting.
All said and done, the twists and turns of this Museveni-Mbabazi saga are about to get even more bewildering and at a later stage, will start becoming scary, as the two camps and their leaders revert to their old Fronasa and NRA mindset and tactics of intelligence operations and covert political action.
President Museveni and Mbabazi know each other well and know what methods each can use and has used in the past to achieve their political objectives. In their hour of crisis and desperation, they will use the tried and tested methods that brought Fronasa and the NRA/NRM victory.
In other words, Ugandans can expect very tense weeks and months ahead as the two NRM camps get into intelligence war.