If Mbabazi plans to challenge Museveni for the presidency of Uganda, he has begun on a wrong footing
Since he was dropped from cabinet, speculation has been rife about
what former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi is going to do. Will he
challenge President Yoweri Museveni for the leadership of the NRM and/or
the presidency of the country?
Let me be philosophical here. The American historian Will Durant said
that philosophy is an attempt to develop a broader perspective on a
subject. One can achieve that by studying “objects in space” (science)
or “events in time” (history). Durant wanted to understand human nature.
He understood that objects can be taken to a laboratory and tested. But
human social behaviour can only be appreciated through the study of
history. Durant called himself “a philosopher writing history.”
Many analysts of contemporary Uganda ignore this approach to
explaining the character of Museveni and the NRM. The NRM is a
revolutionary movement that came to power after five years of a
protracted armed struggle. This struggle was based in the countryside
and mobilised elites and ordinary masses to slowly build capacity to
overthrow the government. Having captured power, it reshaped significant
sections of the state, fusing the political and security functions.
This way it restructured state-society relations in a way that allowed
it to penetrate society deeply.
Indeed, to understand the character of the NRM, we need to look at
other movements of its ilk that emerged in the 20th century in Asia,
Europe, Africa and Latin America. These include the Communist parties in
North Korea, China, Vietnam, Cuba, Nicaragua, the former USSR, Cambodia
and nationalist movements in Mozambique, Liberia, Angola, Zimbabwe,
Eritrea, Guinea Bissau, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Algeria. These movements
tend to share certain characteristics.
In nearly all these cases, power is always centralised in the
founding leader whose position is never contested: he is political
leader, military strategist and philosopher. A personality cult develops
around him creating the impression that succession will be difficult to
organise. Often (except for Cuba where Fidel Castrol retired after 49
years in power), the founding leader dies in office. And in all these
cases: Mozambique (Samora Machel), Angola (Agustino Neto), Ethiopia
(Meles Zenawi), USSR (Joseph Stalin/Lenin), China (Mao Tse Tung),
Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh) etc., there is always a peaceful transition.
Often, after the death of the founding leader, leadership tends to shift
from one strong man to collective rule.
Secondly, once these movements capture power they tend not to lose it
– even when they suffer prolonged economy atrophy (Zimbabwe, North
Korea, Cuba). Where they have lost it, it was due to external
intervention (Vietnam invading Cambodia to remove the Khmer Rouge,
ECOWAS invading Liberia to stop Charles Taylor and the Americans running
the Sandinistas out of power in Nicaragua). In the USSR, the communist
party dissolved itself. (The communist parties of Eastern Europe had
been imposed on those countries by the USSR and retained power through
its protection). In all these movements, there have been attempts to
challenge the position of the founding leader without success except by
assassination (Amilcar Cabral in Guinea Bissau, and even here his
brother Raul took over). Therefore, if you are Amama Mbabazi or even
Kizza Besigye trying to challenge Museveni, you have to take into
consideration these factors. Of course this does not mean that those
fighting Museveni have no hope of success. There is a precedent in
Guinea Bissau where the PAIGC lost power in 1999 but recaptured it in
2004; in Algeria when the FLN lost an election in 1990 but refused to
relinquish power and the army (fused with the ruling party) took over;
and in Nicaragua where the Sandinistas lost power for 16 years between
1990 and 2006. Besides, Museveni has presided over the most liberal
government of all these movements, a factor that makes his system the
most vulnerable to defeat from its opponents. However, those organising
against Museveni have historically lacked a good appreciation of these
challenges. Instead many opposition politicians and their pundits rely
on their hopes rather than the concrete factors on the ground to make
analysis of the situation. In so doing, they miss the core lessons of a
successful strategy – whether it is in a military operation, a marketing
plan, or a political campaign.
For example, a good military commander (or marketing or campaign
manager) must have good intelligence based on accurate and correctly
interpreted information. This allows you to develop a counter-plan that
is realistic about your strength compared to that of the enemy. In
strategy, they advise that you should never allow yourself to be fooled
by your own prejudices about the enemy. The enemy could be smarter than
you think. Museveni says this – quoting Mao – that you should despise
the enemy strategically but take him seriously tactically.
For Mbabazi, an aspect of military strategy called “timing and
surprise” has been missing. This refers to judging the right moment to
strike and disguise the intention to attack. His plan (if he has any)
was unearthed too early and now Museveni has all the time to neutralise
him. Besigye was successful with this aspect in 2000 (when he announced
his candidacy) and in 2005 (when he unexpectedly returned from exile).
In both cases he achieved maximum tactical surprise against Museveni. It
forced the President to panic and do all sorts of dirty things that
only increased Besigye’s appeal.
The final aspect of a good military strategy is to exploit one’s
advantage. For example, as the enemy advances he becomes vulnerable.
When Museveni arrested Besigye in 2005, he created a hero and martyr out
of him. When pro Museveni MPs moved to declare Museveni a sole
presidential candidate of the NRM in Kyankwanzi in February, Mbabazi
should not have signed the petition. Instead, he should have resigned
saying this was an antidemocratic decision. He should have said the
behaviour of MPs of the NRM caucus (itself not an official party organ)
who were yelling at him had made it difficult for him to exercise his
power as Prime Minister.
This would have given him the necessary credentials as someone who
quit an office of power and privilege in defence of a governance
principle. However, if it is true that Mbabazi wants to run for
president, it seems his only objective is power, not public service. He
has not voiced any disagreement with Museveni over policy or practice of
governance. Holding other factors constant therefore, Mbabazi’s
presidential bid is dead on arrival. It also shows that Mbabazi lacks a
good grasp of what Will Durant called “events in time”.