The Independent (Kampala)

Uganda: Battle for 2016

In 2012, President Yoweri Museveni wrote an unusual letter to the Governor of the Bank of Uganda, Emmanuel Tumusime-Mutebile. The President, sources say, told the governor that he had received persistent reports that Amos Nzeyi, the largest shareholder in the National Bank of Commerce (NBC), was withdrawing Shs8 billion per month from the bank and "stashing" it in numbered accounts in Dubai and China.

The motive behind this, Museveni reasoned, was to build a huge fund to act as a financial war chest for the presidential ambitions of Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi come 2016.

The President asked the governor to investigate the claims. Recently, Mutebile confirmed to The Independent that Museveni wrote the letter to him but he insists the President did not mention Mbabazi or the campaign war-chest. Mutebile says the President only alleged that Nzeyi was taking out money from the bank.

Mbabazi was the second largest shareholder in NBC after Nzeyi who also happens to be his close friend. However, reliable State House sources say that if the President did not mention Mbabazi specifically, the reports Museveni based on to write the letter to Mutebile explicitly mention that Nzeyi was building a campaign war chest for the Prime Minister to run for the presidency in 2016.

Sources say, and Mutebile confirms, the central bank carried out an investigation which found no evidence of this activity. However, the President also wrote a similar letter to the Inspector General of Police, Gen. Kale Kayihura, asking him to investigate similar allegations.

To date, there is no evidence of the report to Museveni from the police - at least The Independent has not been able to establish police findings. But sources inside State House say that the President has received many reports from the IGP about alleged clandestine activities by Mbabazi, including recruiting a large network of campaign agents.

Many people in the camps of Museveni and Mbabazi say Mbabazi is intent on running for president in 2016 - "whether Museveni is in the race or not."

Some Mbabazi confidants claim that Museveni and Mbabazi agreed that Museveni would retire in 2016 and let Mbabazi run. They argue that this is the reason the president helped Mbabazi be elected SG and also appointed him prime minister. Now, Mbabazi confidants claim, it is time for Museveni to honour his promise.

"We have supported Museveni for a very long time," an MP in Mbabazi's camp told The Independent bluntly but asked for anonymity, "This is our chance to have the presidency. Therefore, if Museveni does not honor his promise to Mbabazi, he can forget our support. We already have enough support inside the NRM to challenge Museveni at the party's delegates' conference in 2015 - and win outright."

This could be a bluff from an overzealous Mbabazi admirer. However, and whatever the prime minister is planning, from the date Museveni wrote to Mutebile, observers say, the Central Bank became concerned.

For example, BoU appointed its official; Abbas Mawanda, to sit inside and supervise NBC. After three months of work, sources say, Mawanda wrote a report which gave the bank a clean bill of health. In spite of this, the Central Bank wrote to NBC asking them to recapitalise the bank. At the time, NBC shareholders argued that it had just injected Shs8billion worth of capital in refitting and refurnishing the bank.

But sources at NBC say BoU rejected the claim and ordered that the Shs8 billion be treated as an ordinary expense rather than as an investment. The Central Bank gave the shareholders one week to raise Shs7 billion. Within a week Mbabazi and Nzeyi had raised the money and injected it into the bank.

A week later, while playing golf, Nzeyi was called by his son Humphrey Nzeyi who was a director at bank telling him that police were surrounding the offices of NBC and that BOU had sold NBC to Crane Bank.

Many observers say the Central Bank was not acting financially but politically. The President's letter tends to confirm this suspicion - that NBC was closed to cut off the suspected financial artery for Mbabazi's suspected presidential bid for 2016. Mutebile rejects this accusation and says BOU had had many problems with NBC lasting many years.

Museveni's shock

Whatever the case, sources say the rivalry between Museveni and Mbabazi began in earnest in 2010 when the later was elected SG of the NRM in a landslide victory against two powerful ruling party functionaries; former vice president, Gilbert Bukenya, and the NRM-historical and fiery Maj. Gen. Kahinda Otafiire.

Although Museveni favoured Mbabazi and financed and directed his campaign, sources close to him say the President was surprised and later frightened by Mbabazi's margin of victory.

More disturbing to Museveni, sources say, in a post-election assessment, the President realised that Mbabazi had built a strong network of support using his family and security agencies that Museveni did not know about.

Museveni has historically been uncomfortable with strong secretaries general of ruling parties. For example, in November 2005, the president called a meeting which was attended by Mbabazi, Otafiire and Cryspus Kiyongo (now minister of Defense) at State House Nakasero.

The three were in the race for NRM SG and Museveni was wanted Kiyonga and Otafiire to withdraw in favour of Mbabazi. He said the late president of Uganda, Milton Obote, had problems with three of his SGs in the 1960s - John Kakonge, Grace Ibingira, and later Felix Onama.

He said Jomo Kenyatta in Kenya had problems with Tom Mboya, Julius Nyerere in Tanzania with Oscar Kambona, Kenneth Kaunda in Zambia with Simon Kapwempwe and Kamuzu Banda in Malawi with Kanyama Chume. Therefore, Museveni reasoned, the leader of a party needs a "yes man" (someone completely loyal and un-ambitious) for the job. That is why he favoured Mbabazi.

But if Museveni felt this way about Mbabazi in 2005, he seems to have changed his position after 2010. After Mbabazi's resounding re-election that year, Museveni appointed him Prime Minister.

While many people saw this move as an elevation of Mbabazi to the position of heir apparent, analysts say it was Museveni's move to attempt to to stop his growing power and influence.

Given that the NRM National Executive Committee had agreed that the SG of the party should not hold another executive job, except as minister without portfolio, appointing Mbabazi Prime Minister was a way for force him to relinquish his elected office in the party.

When Museveni called the first NRM caucus meeting in early 2011 at State House Entebbe, he informed the caucus that he wanted to nominate Edward Sekandi as vice president and Mbabazi as prime minister.

Dokolo County MP Felix Okot Ogong asked the President how Mbabazi could run two busy and powerful offices at the same time when it had been agreed in NEC previously that a secretary general should not be given a substantive ministry.

Ogong argued that the president had at that time also agreed to this NEC position. Ogonga reminded the president that he had argued that even Kizza Besigye, Eriya Kategaya, James Wapakhabulo and later Kiyonga, all of whom had served as National Political Commissars of the NRM/Movement were always ministers without portfolio.

Museveni turned to Mbabazi and asked him to explain. According to sources, Mbabazi began his explanation but his voice was inaudible and the President directed him to go to the microphone so that everyoneBoU's Justine Bagyenda (L) , Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi and tycoon Amos Nzeyi before National Bank of Commerce was closed.can hear him clearly.

Mbabazi went to the microphone and told the caucus that he was aware both positions were very busy and one would undermine the ability of the holder to perform the other functions. He promised the caucus that he was going to resign his position as SG.

But Mbabazi did not resign as SG and the bickering went on in the party. Many months later, in 2012, at a meeting of the party's Central Executive Committee (CEC), Francis Babu asked the president why Mbabazi had not resigned his job as SG. Museveni answered that he had talked to the prime minister who had said he could not resign because of procedural and legal issues.

Museveni told CEC that even before he met the caucus to announce his intensions to appoint Mbabazi prime minister, he had held a meeting with him. He President said Mbabazi had promised to resign the post. So why has he not yet resigned, Museveni was asked? Museveni did not answer this question.

The next day, there was a NEC meeting. Before it could begin, some NRM leaders sought audience with the president. They told him that Mbabazi was busy mobilising NEC members to support his bid to retain both jobs.

Museveni seemed surprised. Some even say they felt he did not believe their claims. During the NEC meeting, Museveni raised the issue of Mbabazi holding both jobs but did not take a position on it.

Mbabazi also gave a speech and for about 30 minutes proceeded to defend his position arguing that an individual can hold two demanding positions and perform well in both of them. For example, Mbabazi opined, the President is leader of the party, president of the country and commander-in-chief of the armed forces and he is doing all of them well.

When Museveni opened the issue for public debate, there were over 200 hands of NEC members springing to their feet to speak. The president stood up and asked all those who wanted to speak to line up. NEC is composed of about 500 members and over 200 people lined up to contribute. Museveni stood at the microphone for almost two hours listening to the contributions from the floor. One after another, and without a single exception, all the speakers defended Mbabazi.

Some said he is hard working. Others that he is disciplined; many claimed he had made the party efficient.

"Now the party even sends us buses to transport us from our home districts for NEC meetings," some members said. A few delegates told Museveni that Mbabazi is the President's right hand man. Others said those asking Mbabazi to resign one of the jobs are fighting the President and are also supporters of the opposition.

Museveni listened in silent wonderment. Many NEC members interviewed by The Independent say that listening to the chorus of support Mbabazi was receiving from the floor must have convinced the President that his secretary general had stolen the heart of the party from him - or was doing so.

After everyone had spoken, Museveni said that it is not "other people" asking Mbabazi to resign one post. The President said it was his (Museveni's) wish that Mbabazi relinquishes one of the posts especially that of secretary general and remains prime minister. To conclude, Museveni said, let everyone rest. He, the President said, would resolve the matter.

If Museveni had any doubt about allegations that Mbabazi was building a powerbase in NRM, the theatrical performance of the prime minister's enthusiasts confirmed his worst fears.

Mbabazi's power base

Museveni also knew that Mbabazi had used his influence to recommend for appointment of many people to influential positions in government. So he had a base in the executive. He had also helped many NRM candidates win parliamentary and local council elections at district, sub-country and even parish level; so he had a base in the party structure.

It was also alleged that Mbabazi had used his position as security minister before he became Prime Minister profitably. Not only had he used intelligence services to penetrate the lowest ranks of the NRM and the country's political structure, he had also build a wide array of operatives in local councils and the intelligence services to promote his ambitions.

Mbabazi's victory in the 2010 election for SG of the ruling party was a culmination of these highly cultivated efforts. For Museveni who intends to run again in 2016, Mbabazi's actions, real or imagined, posed a serious challenge to his plans.

For starters, Mbabazi became SG after defeating some of the most historical and/or influential members of the NRM - Otafiire, Kiyonga and Bukenya. Behind these men lies the Cardinal, Emmanuel Wamala and the Catholic Church (behind Bukenya) and such people as Jim Muhwezi and businessman Hassan Basajabala (behind Otafiire). It seems obvious that although a victor, Mbabazi remained insecure.

Some political observers argue that to solidify his position against these powerful NRM functionaries, Mbabazi began building a strong base in the party.

But then the law of unintended consequences set it. Museveni began getting reports that Mbabazi is building a base to challenge the president and the evidence was there. Thus, what may be have begun as Mbabazi's desire to defend himself against an onslaught from the Otafiire-Bukenya-Muhwezi-Basajabala axis was now presented to Museveni as an effort to kick him out of State House.

Throughout his decades-long rule, the President has shown determination to secure his job, seeing upstarts with schemes to challenge him. Therefore, even an innocent effort by Mbabazi to solidify himself as SG is sufficient to raise suspicion that he is eyeing the top job.

Besides, some observers say, even if Museveni believed that Mbabazi's efforts were purely aimed at consolidating his position as SG you can never be sure what would happen if those efforts were successful.

Assuming, as one close Museveni confidant told The Independent, that Mbabazi is successful in building this base in the party to protect his job as SG; then what? Is it not possible that such a base can give him second ideas about attempting to even capture the biggest prize of all - the presidency of the party? If you are Museveni, it is better to believe the worst case scenario and rather than let it blossom, you begin to put in place schemes to thwart it.

A close Museveni confidant argued that even if Museveni trusted the prime minister's intentions, it cannot be 100 percent. Even if Museveni trusted Mbabazi 95 percent, he would maintain 5 percent skepticism to take precautions.

As a result, sources tell The Independent, Museveni's precautions against his prime minister have proved disastrous for the effectiveness and efficiency of running government.

For example, Mbabazi does not have sufficient funds as prime minister to visit the country. His budget no longer provides for that. Second, his official communication using his mobile phone is limited to Shs200,000 a month which his office enforces with discipline and rigour.

Museveni has also starved NRM of all funds. This has been extremely effective since the president raises over 90 percent of the party's finances. Whatever little money is available for the party, it is given to Minister without Portfolio, Richard Twadong, whom the president has informally appointed to act as his SG.

As Museveni kept stalking Mbabazi, sources say, the president discovered that Mbabazi has even set up a presidential election taskforce chaired by his sister-in-law, Hope Mwesigye.

The taskforce, which is composed of among others Dr. Augustin Nuwamanya meets every Saturday at China Bowl and has attracted a large collection of Mbabazi diehards including MPs, politicians who lost during the last parliamentary elections, NRM mobilizers, independents, activists and other well-wishers.

Mbabazi running out of time

Why would Mbabazi break ranks with Museveni at this time? In 2001, Mbabazi rebuked Col. Besigye for allegedly "jumping queue" of NRM presidential hopefuls.

Now sources say the prime minister realizes there is possibly no queue. Aged 67 years now, he will be 75 years in 2021, the age limit to run for the presidency. People who have spoken to him say Mbabazi believes it will be impossible to amend the constitution and remove the age limit as they did with the term limits. Therefore, if he does not try his lack now, he will miss the goal of his ambition - to be president.

Meanwhile, sources say Mbabazi's group feels confident that their man can beat Museveni in an NRM primary. This is because they now have capacity to mobilise a majority of NRM voters at the party's delegates' conference.

However, the Mbabazi group has a Plan B, so insiders claim. If Museveni uses his influence to rig their man out of victory, they would immediately form a break-away faction of NRM which they hope to link up with Mugisha Muntu's faction of the FDC to form a third force which they believe will split both parties right in the middle. This would leave NRM and FDC holding to their extremist fringes. This third force would emerge as the majority party which they hope will also attract many independents.

Reliable sources inside Mbabazi's camp say that FDC is ripe for a divorce between the Muntu faction and the Kizza Besigye-Nandala Mafabi faction. The battle between the two groups is about approach to politics.

Muntu appeals to the moderates who feel they should try to win over independent and moderate NRM loyalists who think Museveni has overstayed in power. However, Muntu's people argue that to achieve this, FDC would need to adopt a moderate posture and stop sounding angry and vengeful. Yet FDC's support-base wants Besigye exactly because of his belligerent and angry tone especially his ability to denounce Museveni in the severest language.

Sources inside the Muntu camp claim that actually Besigye wants to run for the presidency for yet another time in 2016. To realise this goal, he has allegedly allied with Mafabi to undermine Muntu as president of the party.

According to this view, Besigye and Mafabi have a deal. If Mafabi becomes FDC president, he will not seek to be the party's presidential candidate in 2016. This way, Besigye would be able to stand as the FDC presidential candidate since the party constitution does not necessarily require the party president to also be the party presidential candidate.

Besigye would then get former vice president Gilbert Bukenya as a running mate, a deal that has been discussed by the two sides or so intelligence sources claim. This means that 2016 could see a three way race where Museveni will fight two tickets led by his former allies, Mbabazi-Muntu ticket and Besigye-Bukenya ticket.

Mbabazi's supporters believe that in such a scenario, Museveni would be most likely forced into a second round. Indeed, the prime minister's camp believes Museveni would not survive a second round.

According to this reasoning, the aim of a second round is to undermine the myth of Museveni's electoral invincibility. Once so exposed, it would make many army and security chiefs begin to calculate their chances of survival if they do not exercise independence during elections. And the military is Museveni's trump card.

According to his supporters, Museveni would most likely face the Mbabazi-Muntu ticket in the second round. Besigye's supporters, who are staunchly anti-Museveni, are equally keen to see the President defeated and would have no option but to join the Mbabazi-Muntu ticket. This is a threat Museveni is also preparing for; how to defeat a second-round alliance of Muntu, Mbabazi, Besigye, and Bukenya.

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