What the humiliation of Mbabazi at Kyankwanzi portends for the succession of Museveni in NRM and Uganda
Last week, the Prime Minister and Secretary General of the ruling
National Resistance Movement (NRM) was forced to sign a resolution
saying that President Yoweri Museveni will be the “sole” presidential
candidate of the party.
The ambush and capitulation of Mbabazi at a retreat of NRM’s
parliamentary caucus in Kyankwanzi opened doors for the amendment of the
constitution to remove term limits. And more than that, it also set in
motion a process that is most likely going to bolster chances of a
family succession in Uganda.
History unfolds in ways that even major actors in it cannot predict
or even intend to. For example, many of those who signed the resolution
may have done so out of very short-term political, career, financial and
other considerations. However, the long-term effect of this decision
may be more than they bargained for. For example, this resolution, which
was clearly aimed at nipping in the bud real and/or perceived ambitions
of Mbabazi to succeed Museveni, may equally have destroyed the last
credible alternative to the President in NRM. Without such an
alternative, the door is open for a family succession.
That Mbabazi’s fall was in the making seems like a political
inevitability given the credentials he has accumulated. He has been a
Director General of External Security Organisation, a minister of
defense, a minister of security, a minister of foreign affairs, a
secretary general of the NRM and now a prime minister. He has played the
role of Museveni’s special envoy on many missions. Given his personal
discipline (he does not drink, smoke, or womanise), and given his work
ethic (he works hard and smart and for long hours), Mbabazi carries all
the credentials of the man to succeed Museveni.
Since 2000, his influence inside NRM as a political party and on
Museveni as the leader of the government began to grow rapidly and by
2007 had become effective Number Two. That should have been a sign of
his coming trouble - for the higher you climb in politics, the bigger is
often the fall. Did Mbabazi see this coming? Did he ever develop
presidential ambitions? Remember, it seems his star rose in large part
because he exhibited no ambitions! Where did Mbabazi slip? Or were all
the allegations that he was eyeing the top job exactly that – one of the
many wild rumours that defines political discourse in Uganda?
Many commentators on Uganda’s political developments allow their
desires to shape their conclusions instead of relying on existing facts
to guide their analysis. Consequently, a lot of what goes for analysis
is hope based on political preference. Indeed, the idea of analysis that
is detached from one’s hopes and desires is so alien in Uganda’s
political debate so much so that most commentators mistake it for
preference. For example, each time I have argued that Uganda is likely
to end up with Mrs. Janet Museveni succeeding her husband, critics have
replied saying that I am campaigning for her.
Yet Mbabazi’s capitulation in Kyankwanzi should be seen as laying the
foundation for her candidacy should Museveni die in office before his
son Brig. Muhoozi Kainerugaba has left the army and joined mainstream
politics. It is increasingly becoming difficult to stop family
succession in Uganda precisely because of the way politics is evolving
inside NRM. Anyone with credibility, experience, skills and legitimacy
to challenge or even succeed Museveni in that party immediately becomes a
target of attack.
This is because there are many people interested in such a position
and the best way to improve their chances of becoming the successor is
to destroy the one seen as most likely suited to succeed Museveni to the
leadership of the party and country. Given Uganda’s culture of reliance
on rumours, street gossip, idle talk and speculation to explain
politics, allegations will always grow like flowers in June against
anyone with the slightest possibility of being in line to succeed
Museveni. Evidence will be manufactured, intelligence will be falsified,
and wild allegations will be accepted.
Indeed, I am increasingly of the view that Museveni does not need to
plan a family succession. If he tried, it would collapse on its face.
Museveni will most likely leave Ugandan politics to drive to its own
conclusion and it seems to me that even without his overt or even covert
plans, the way NRM is working right now will deliver a family
succession. This is because while all the major players in NRM are
involved in a life and death battle to destroy each other, the only
people who are beyond internal infighting are Museveni’s family members.
This creates a situation where – should Museveni die accidentally – the
only acceptable compromise is his wife or son.
Secondly, given the way things are moving inside the NRM, it is
becoming increasingly difficult, almost impossible for Museveni to hand
over power even if he wished to. The party is now rife with personal
squabbles and infighting among its top leadership so much so that the
only alternative to its degeneration into chaos is by keeping Museveni
at the top of it. Indeed, so diverted has Museveni grown that today his
main role is to act as a referee in the party’s internal competitions
for power and influence. His value is in his ability to balance the
competing interests that have consolidated.
This is the context in which Mbabazi’s fall needs to be understood.
It is also the lens that allows us to see why Museveni will not leave
power voluntarily even if he wished to. The stakes seem to be too big,
the risks so high, the vested interests in his continued presidency too
powerful and the power struggles in his party so intense that a
situation has evolved in Uganda as had done in Marshal Mobutu SeseSeko’s
Zaire where it was “it is either Mobutu or chaos.” Uganda has not
reached such a level of state collapse. But it has reached a level of
political paralysis that the dictum either Museveni wins or NRM loses is
The aim of every political party is to win and hold power. It now
seems NRM can only hold power with Museveni – and after him his family
member. Therefore it is in the interest of many NRM players that they
keep Museveni in power for as long as they can and if he dies they look
for someone from his family to keep them together.
Museveni and family are, therefore, as much hostages of the interests
of their coalition as they are its principle architects. This may not
have been the subjective motivation of those who fought Mbabazi but it
seems to me that it is the most likely objective outcome of their