By Arinaitwe Rugyendo
KAMPALA – In this second and last part of the series: Making Sense of the M7-JPAM Get- together, we trace the core relationship between President Museveni and Amama Mbabazi and why it is going to reshape the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party in the coming years. The first part of this series was published on Friday last week and aggregated bywww.pmldaily.com
Two days before, President Yoweri Museveni and his former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi met, Mbabazi called the newly- appointed principal Private Secretary to the president, Dr. Kenneth Omona.
State House sources tell this writer that Mbabazi telephoned Omona with one request: “I would like to meet my elder brother. Kindly arrange for me.”
The PPS who was at the President’s country home in Rwakitura, Kiruhura District, where Mr. Museveni was meeting different groups of visitors, immediately relayed the message to him. Mr. Museveni did not hesitate:
“No problem. Arrange the meeting quickly. We will meet in Kisozi,” he reportedly told Omona who immediately rang Mr. Mbabazi and fixed the appointment.
Two days later, the two met at Kisozi in Mpigi District. Kisozi is Mr. Museveni’s second ranch where he keeps a large herd of the ancient long-horned Ankole breed of cattle and apparently, his favourite. It was, therefore, a perfect getaway for what looked like an intensive meeting which lasted a cool three hours. In the meeting, sources say, Mbabazi kept reading from a notebook and briefing the president, who in turn kept nodding his head and occasionally smiling away, according to State House sources. Efforts by this writer to squeeze details out of everyone around the presidency yielded nothing. But some other sources insist the talks touched, among other things, on the issue of fake drugs in the health sector and how this posed a security risk. This writer could not independently verify this claim, preferring to dwell on the symbolism of this meeting. What exactly is going on? Is Mbabazi returning to the fold? Had he quit NRM, anyway? What is Museveni’s calculation ahead of the tough 2021 general election? Let’s answer these for now.
Apart from the December 31, 2019 photographic appearance between Museveni and Mbabazi at Kisozi, since the 2015 NRM retreat at Kyankwanzi, the only time the two men were seen together in public was during the give-away of Mbabazi’s daughter to the son of the South African President, Cyril Ramphosa in Kololo, early 2018. Museveni attended the event together with his wife Janet, upon invitation of the Mbabazis. The two couples sat close to each other throught out the event, a gesture that left tongues wagging. Many people wondered if the two sides were starting to mend fences. But what should occupy those who take time to analyse this stuff is that, that appearance should have sent signal that the two had only disagreed on the form but not on the substance of the NRM revolution.
As alluded to in the first part of this series, Museveni and Mbabazi move a long way back into the 1970’s. Their families too. For example, when Mbabazi’s first daughter, Racheal Kiconco Mbabazi was born on April 29, 1974, Museveni and Mbabazi were together and received the news together. Exactly a month thereafter, Museveni’s first born son, Lt. Gen. Muhoozi Kainerugaba, was born. Again the two received the news together, prompting the two to refer to each other’s offspring as their own child. Museveni to date refers to Kiconco as his daughter and it is said during their stand-off in the last elections, Kiconco was often the go –between the two men. It is therefore not surprising that Kinconco was appointed by Museveni on the National Water and Sewerage Corporation board, a few weeks back. It is also not surprising that soon after the 2016 elections, when Mbabazi’s wife fell sick and needed immediate surgery abroad, it is said Museveni would call Mbabazi almost on a daily basis to find out how she was doing until the day she left hospital.
Museveni and the old Comrades:
The other key issue to pick from this Kisozi meeting is something to do with how Museveni treats comrades who have fallen out with him. He has tended to maintain informal links with them, something that says so much about what informs their disagreements.
For example, during the 2016 presidential campaigns, while Mbabazi was moving his caravan towards the Eastern region, he was intercepted at Lugazi by a police squad commanded by the late AIGP Andrew Felix Kaweesi. As Kaweesi physically manhandled Mbabazi, Museveni was watching the episode live on NBS Television. Incensed by the scenes at Lugazi, Museveni immediately called Kaweesi and ordered him off Mbabazi. Sources say he told him; “That’s not how we handle senior leaders of the Movement.” Museveni appears to keep a soft spot on his comrades who have fallen out probably leaving out a window for their eventual return to the fold.
Is Mbabazi Returning?
It should be noted that the NRM is historically, a dualistic movement. It has both the military and the political wings. Having observed it for some time, it appears it is only in the military wing where a significant level of transition from the old bush war fighters to a new generation of soldiers, has taken place. Its political wing is still intact with its old formation, close to 40 years since it was formed. If the three hour meeting is anything to read into, it must have been a discussion about how to transition the political wing to a new generation in the face of a massive wave of the youth time-bomb. Mbabazi’s campaign architecture of 2016 was particularly attractive to this group of people in the NRM and outside, and threatened to divide it.
Mbabazi’s return therefore is not a return in the real sense of the word but a compromise on the 2015 disagreement. Museveni and Mbabazi are NRM 100%. They disagreed on one simple thing; and that was when and not how to internally transition to new leadership. Both men agree on practically everything else. Museveni and Mbabazi’s relationship, like Museveni’s relationship with other long time comrades of the revolution, will always be intact because they share values. The first is patriotism. This is actually what all the older generation had and still share from across the divide. A shared patriotism that was so strong it energised them to risk their lives. Bonds like that cannot be broken. It is just that we don’t really see the bigger picture. Museveni has maintained relationships with all of them. People like Mzee Mathew Rukikaire and Amanya Mushega, come to my mind. Otherwise, these old men and women are friends and will remain so. Neither can sit idly by and watch the other suffer. It is a very simple human relationship. They can disagree, even get angry at each other but that does not mean that they become mortal enemies.
Therefore, it a given that Mbabazi never left NRM. His ‘Go Forward’ campaign platform of 2016 was a pressure group that was not pressuring anyone else except NRM. And what was it pressuring it to do? To Move forward. Create continuity. Was the message received? Very much so, in my opinion.
Now, moving forward is not a matter of changing faces in State House. It is about the party, the country, the future. When I looked at that photo of the two men sitting together, I wondered, like everyone else. But I also asked, ‘Why now?’ Why take a photo now and post it on social media? What are they up to? It appears to me that ‘Go Forward’ might, after all, not have been a contradiction.