By Arinaitwe Rugyendo
KAMPALA – On December 31st, 2019, Ugandans were treated to rarely photographs, in recent times, from State House.
The first photograph shows President Yoweri Museveni with his former Prime Minister and Front for National Salvation (FRONASA) comrade-in-arms, John Patrick Amama Mbabazi. The two are shown seated in an outside shade at the President’s ranch in Kisozi, Gomba District. In the same photograph, are Museveni’s newly appointed Principal Private Secretary, Dr. Kenneth Omona and his Deputy, Irene Birungi, emphasizing the importance and profile nature of this get- together. The rest of the people in the photograph appear to be the usual casual but very alert plain-clothed presidential guards standing at a short distance away in their usual formation.
The second photograph shows the two men walking in the bushy ranch, probably after their meeting at the shade. In the photograph, Museveni is shown holding a walking stick while Mbabazi is holding what appears to be a brown A4- Size envelope. A soldier from the elite Special Force Command is seen accompanying them on what appears to be a rush stroll into the distant bush.
I have decided to attach very serious meaning to these gestures and the politics that comes with them because of the individuals involved and their recent history.
That these photographs were ‘leaked’ on social media by the Presidential Press Unit, leaving many Ugandans who witnessed what happened during the last presidential elections when the two men faced off in an intense campaign, is instructive.
Instructive because, very few Ugandans knew the two had been on talking terms since the last election where Mbabazi did not manage beyond 1% of the vote under the ‘Go Forward’ banner, a pressure group formed mainly by NRM supporters to execute his campaigns. On the other hand, those who knew something was going between the two but had no proof, the deliberate leaking of the two photographs sought to finally send the signal that it was now official that the two are up to something together again.
What then is going on? First, a brief history of the two men.
By June of 2015, Amama Mbabazi had served in various senior capacities under President Museveni’s government from 1986 when it shot its way into power. At some point, Mbabazi was decorously referred to as a super minister and natural successor to Museveni. The reason for this was hidden in a history he had shared with Museveni, 45 years earlier in the 1970s.
During that period, the two, together with others like Gen Kahinda Otafiire, had been top leaders of FRONASA, an anti – Idi Amin guerrilla force that birthed the Popular Resistance Army (PRA), later the National Resistance Army (NRA), that became the military wing to the revolutionary National Resistance Movement (NRM).
While Yoweri Museveni chose to organise FRONASA into a fighting force from Tanzanian bases, Mbabazi stayed behind building secret cells and helping with recruitment into the FRONASA fighting force that eventually became part of the fighting force that removed President Idi Amin, with the help of the Tanzania Defence Forces, in 1979.
By the botched 1980 presidential elections that the Yoweri Museveni’s Uganda Patriotic Movement (UPM) rejected, the force had grown into a formidable fighting formation and with it, and only 27 guns for its total arsenal, Museveni headed for the bush for a fight.
On the other side of the struggle, Mbabazi, Mathew Rukikaire, the Late Eriya Kategaya, James Wapakhabulo and others, formed the external wing with Mbabazi said to have maintained a direct contact of the NRA rebels in what would be known as the external wing of the revolution.
In what one would say is akin to the anti-apartheid struggle, ANC, structure that had the Islanders – Nelson Mandela and his prison mates at Robben Island and the military wing, Umkhotho we Sizwe- and the external wing of Thabo Mbeki and cohort, Yoweri Museveni became the leader of the ‘Islanders,’ leading the fighters into the jungles of Luweero, while Mbabazi assumed the de-facto leadership of the external wing in the mould of Mbeki, operating mainly in the comfort of world capitals but mobilising resources, allies and press for the fighters.
What is striking about the ANC arrangement appears to be that in case the islanders were to die, the movement would still continue with the external wing of the Mbekis. In the case of the NRA/NRM structure, just like the ANC one, if the struggle were to be halted or wiped out by Oboteist forces, the external wingers were the reserve force, some sort of Plan B, that would continue the struggle.
This, like in the case of current internal struggles in the ANC, was bound to create an internal struggle in the future between the fighters (Nazilwanako) and the external wingers (the sausage eaters).
Therefore, this is no wonder that when the NRA eventually succeeded, with the fighters taking control of the capital Kampala in 1986, the ones in the external wing naturally blended in but with a more elite view of things government. Whereas the fighters were pragmatic in the approach to governance, the external wingers were more urbane and bureaucratic in nature.
There is no denying the fact that by 2015, when Mbabazi decided to contest for the presidency within the NRM, the revolution had brewed two tendencies, one mainly propagated by the fighters and the other by the elite external wingers, a situation that is obtaining today in the ANC.
Hence, the 2016 election generated a lot of tension that was largely more internal to NRM than it was about the threat from the political opposition. So tense and intense it was that it exposed the cracks within NRM that had been simmering between the two contending forces since 1986.
To nip a potential schism in NRM, the fighters quickly went into overdrive and ensured that the wing led by Mbabazi did not even score more than 1% of the vote. Even attempts by Mbabazi to seek court redress were rendered shambolic. By the time President Museveni was sworn-in in May 2016, Mbabazi had quietly retreated to his home and refused to talk to the press. Everyone thought he had been finished, the only next possible career for him being goat rearing from an Island in Lake Victoria.
Strangely, oblivious to many Ugandans and several others in NRM, Mbabazi would secretly cultivate direct links with Museveni, with the president occasionally sending him books strictly about the Apartheid struggle for him to read.
To be continued tomorrow in Part II of this series.
I can be reached on WhatsApp 075 466 778 and Twitter: @RugyendQuotes
Adopted from Red Pepper