20 March 2019

Uganda: How Museveni Outplays NRM Rivals

Kampala — When Dr Kizza Besigye, a former personal physician to President Museveni, broke ranks with the then Movement system and announced a bid to succeed the later, some comrades derided him as less-qualified.

Among the faultfinders was Amama Mbabazi, then a junior minister. He declared, rather cryptically, that Dr Besigye had "jumped the queue".

Mr Mbabazi did not explain the catchphrase. He was, however, understood to signal that there were more deserving individuals in government, including himself, in pole position to replace Mr Museveni than Dr Besigye.

Dr Besigye was one of the National Resistance Army (NRA) rebels and upon the group capturing state power, served as a junior minister and national political commissar or chief ideologue of the Movement system.

Put another way, he wrapped up his sleeve high in military, professional and political credentials.

Dr Besigye's departure in 1999 was acrimonious. A lengthy stinging missive he authored in which he accused the Movement leadership of losing its way and digressing from the goals that took them to the bush foreshadowed the retired Colonel's future tumultuous political career.

Faced with imminent arrest, Dr Besigye declared he was standing for President and indeed ran against Museveni in 2001 as a flag bearer for the Reform Agenda, a pressure group.

He would later say throwing his hat in the political ring happened only after senior figures such as former Local Government Minister, Mr Jaberi Bindandi Ssali, declined to challenge the President for the seat.

Some believed Dr Besigye was disruptive and that Mr Museveni would honour his word, embedded in the 2001 manifesto, to serve another five years as his last term. It was unclear if the camaraderie and hesitation to dare the President was birthed out of respect or fear.

Both became his political tools, deploying a carrot-stick approach to compromise or conquer opponents.

The tense build-up to the 2005 amendment of the Constitution to scrap presidential term limit proved no comrade was indispensable if they stood in the way of Mr Museveni's stranglehold on power.

He summarily dismissed Mr Bindandi and former Ethics Minister Miria Matembe alongside then First deputy premier Eriya Kategaya, considered the de facto Number Two in the country, when they opposed the manoeuvres. That scared many down the political and military ladder. They learned first-hand the risk of challenging Mr Museveni, giving him a freehand to emasculate foes through a carrot-stick approach.

With the old guard now elbowed out, Mr Museveni seems to have a freeway around the political rookies. We explore the fate of the presumptive and real power contenders against Mr Museveni.

Eriya Kategaya

He was a Museveni childhood friend, holder of the army number after the President and both enjoyed enviable camaraderie until Kategaya opposed the President's machination to remove term limits and seek another term. He was sacked from Cabinet, returning to government service as a weakling and died in 2013 while an inconsequential politician.

James Wapakhabulo

He died in 2004, days before he died, Wapakhabulo had written to President Museveni, his longtime friend, opposing the plan to lift the presidential term limits. After his death, the former ICT Minister Aggrey Awori, who was a leading opposition lawmaker, described the deceased as "the best Speaker of Parliament ever".

Opposition Chief Whip Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda, who was a parliamentary reporter at the time, said late Wapakhabulo and Kategeya were frontrunners to replace Museveni.

Amama Mbabazi

He in 2005 was christened a "super minister" for simultaneously holding three ministerial positions. Mr Mbabazi grew up in power that he was considered political Number Two when elevated to a Prime Minister. A background in intelligence and robust political experience, including servings as the ruling party's secretary general, emboldened him to eclipse others. President Museveni, however, sacked him and thwarted all else for him once he eyed the presidency, a contest he lost miserably in 2016.

Kizza Besigye

He may have during the NRA guerilla war helped to keep their leader Yoweri Museveni alive by superintending his health. That friendship endured only as far as Dr Besigye did not threaten his power. When he did, security forces brutalised and eventually hounded him into exile in South Africa. Since his return, Dr Besigye has been prosecuted multiple times. He has stood against and lost four elections to President Museveni and their political battle persists.

Gilbert Bukenya

A flamboyant character while vice president, the medical professor gained popularity countrywide for promoting the upland rice. Critics saw him as building a power base, particularly among the Baganda and Catholics, and he would later complain that "mafias" in government were hounding him.

Mimicking the gait and mannerisms of President Museveni, including stuttering and rolling eyes, did not save Prof Bukenya from being sacked. He was later processed through Luzira Prisons in a scandal related to procurement of luxury cars for the 2007 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (Chogm).

Gen David Sejusa

The former Coordinator of Intelligence Services said a general without ambition is not worthy the four-stars. He has severally challenged Museveni's authority, including during the NRA bush days. In 1996, he tried to resign from the army but was blocked. He capitulated. He fell out with Museveni in 2013, fled into exile in the UK and returned in December 2014 to the warm embrace of the then domestic spymaster, Ronnie Balya. His defining saber-rattling has faded.

Mike Mukula

The NRM vice chairperson eastern region is a converted Museveni apologist. One of the US diplomatic cables leaked by Wikileaks quoted Mr Mukula, who had expressed presidential ambition, as having said he believed President Museveni was preparing his son, now Lt Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba, as a successor.

The revelation was a killer punch on Mukula, bottling up his ambition.

Ruhakana Rugunda

The Prime Minister is an experienced hand in state craft and one of the longest serving minister in the Museveni government. He is publicly an amiable individual, fondly named "ndugu". Having opted out of elective politics, he is unlikely to challenge Museveni for the big job.

Rebecca Kadaga

According to the Uganda National Order of Precedence, she is Number Three in the country and first woman in Uganda to be the Speaker of Parliament, a role she has held since 2011. Mr Ssemujju says she is the only current NRM member who is bold and assertive to challenge Museveni.

Sam Lyomoki

The workers' MP is threatening to challenge Museveni for president.

Kirunda Kivejinja

He has turned a career minister, although his rich political experience and involvement in different liberation struggles in the country potentially makes him as well qualified as Museveni to steer Uganda.

Kasule Lumumba

As ruling NRM party's secretary general, she in theory is in pole position to race up the political ladder for the ultimate political executive office.

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