Why the Succession Cancer Weakening the Ruling National Resistance Movement
President Museveni swears in last year.

Why the Succession Cancer Weakening the Ruling National Resistance Movement

Who will be the next leader of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM)?

By Gideon Munaabi
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First published: November 22, 2007

The issue of who will succeed President Yoweri Museveni as leader of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) and consequently become the next Ugandan president continues to hang around despite efforts by the president to dodge or postpone it. President Museveni's childhood friend Eriya Kategaya, who fell out with Museveni only to make a come back as the Minister for East African Affairs in the current cabinet, once said that he believed Uganda should follow the approach adopted in South Africa where Thabo Mbeki was chosen to lead the Africa National Congress well before Nelson Mandela's retirement from active politics.

Until now, President Museveni has rejected this approach and his reluctance to discuss the matter, according to some political observers, fuels the suspicion by some people that even after leading Uganda for close to 22 years, he has not yet completely abandoned the idea of arranging another term of office for himself. Barely a year after he was sworn in as Uganda's President for the third term, some politicians began to openly discuss the fate of President Museveni, come 2011. Some are pushing for his return and others are against it. This, to observers, is because nobody is sure of Museveni's next move.

Kategaya wants Museveni to name successor

Kategaya wants President Museveni to name successor.

That is probably why former cabinet minister Felix Okot, who wanted to replace Mr. Museveni as the NRM party president and candidate in 2006, is already warming for the same position yet again, while MP Kakooza is spearheading the campaign for Museveni's fourth term in office. The Ugandan Vice-President, Prof. Gilbert Bukenya, who was once seen by some as the likely successor to president Museveni, has repeatedly said he is not interested in the seat and still supports his 'boss'. While the president has not overtly shown his intention to stand down come 2010, he has named Prof. Bukenya and Mr. Amama Mbabazi, the NRM Secretary General and Minister for Security as Presidential material.

This is not strange coming from Mr. Museveni. More than ten years ago, Ugandans' minds were glued to the late James Wapakhabulo, who had already declared his interest in the presidency. Wapa, as he was commonly known, was probably the earliest front-runner waiting to take the baton after President Museveni, probably because of the impressive range of high-profile portfolios he had held in President Museveni's early government. Some people believed that eastern Uganda was about to have one of its sons for the first time become the president of Uganda. These beliefs died along with Wapa, months after his popularity started waning.

Succession talk was only rekindled in 2001 when Col. Kiiza Besigye, a young medical doctor who joined Museveni during the guerilla war of the early 1980s stood against his former boss for presidency. That is when the succession queue was first mentioned in Uganda's political circles. Mr. Mbabazi was displeased that Col. Besigye, now president of the main opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party, had jumped the succession queue by standing against President Yoweri Museveni. Besigye was backed by Reform Agenda (a political pressure group). Reform Agenda was started mainly by aggrieved members of the NRM, most of whom sought change in the Uganda's leadership.

A few years later, a group of Ugandan Members of Parliament mainly from the NRM, under an umbrella called Parliamentary Advocacy Forum (PAFO) merged with Reform Agenda to form FDC as a political party after the ban on political parties' activities was lifted. Many, if not most, of the members of this group were either known anti-corruption and anti-nepotism members of NRM or were tired of Mr. Museveni's cling to power. This weakened NRM and made the opposition stronger as former members of Mr.Museveni's political group not only ushered vigour into the opposition, but also geared for a fight using the information on NRM and their contacts.

No presidential ambitions yet: Ruhakana Rugunda has remained loyal to President Museveni

No presidential ambitions yet: Ruhakana Rugunda has remained loyal to President Museveni.

Others preferred to do their fighting from inside NRM but later abandoned the party. Some are still reported to be doing so, including Hon. Felix Okot Ogong and MP Henry Banyenzaki. Banyenzaki has since teamed up with some other MPs to revive the Young Parliamentary Association, which was responsible for the creation of PAFO. Banyenzaki, who has been very critical of the Ugandan government, especially on its human rights record and respect for law, together with some young NRM-leaning MPs have teamed up with politicians from Uganda's opposition to achieve their objective. During a secret meeting at Uganda's Parliament building recently, Banyenzaki was elected the leader of the Young Parliamentary Association while Odonga Otto of the opposition FDC was elected his deputy.

Observers say that this move could be geared towards forming another political party, since Odonga Otto cannot be counted as faithful to the opposition FDC anymore after he reportedly rejected some political appointments in the party. At the end of the day, it is NRM that could lose most if this political marriage is successful because even if Otto leaves FDC, he will remain a member of the opposition. On the other hand, losing Banyenzaki and his group will weaken the ruling political party.

We should note that Banyenzaki is sympathetic to vice-president (VP) Bukenya rather than NRM Secretary General, Amama Mbabazi. A recent trip by Mr. Bukenya to Kabale, where he was received and accompanied by Banyenzaki reportedly annoyed Mr. Mbabazi who saw it as a 'marketing drive' by the VP in the Kigezi sub-region from which Mbabazi comes. A colleague at Ultimate Media Consult recently reasoned; "If you were Mbabazi and observed how vigourously Bukenya danced ekitaguriro (traditional dance of the Banyankore/Bakiga), with the Bakiga, you too would get worried."

Uganda's political heavy weights: President Museveni consults his vice, Prof. Bukenya

Uganda's political heavy weights: President Museveni consults his vice, Prof. Bukenya.

Although Bukenya has continuously denied that he is interested in the Ugandan presidential seat, some observers believe he is doing it for tactical reasons to avoid conflicts with his boss, President Museveni. Through his poverty eradication campaigns, Bukenya is slowly but surely becoming a household name, something that could not be going down well with some NRM colleagues who also covet the top job. It is not surprising that the VP once told an official from a local daily about how a 'mafia' group within the ruling party was plotting his (VP's) downfall.

Mafia talk seems to be gaining popularity at the moment. Any top gun in the NRM who gets problems points to a mafia group within the party. When President Museveni's closest military advisor, Noble Mayombo, died of acute pancreatitis earlier this year, the death opened a covert succession contest and the mafia group was again mentioned. Mayombo was a top intelligence officer and private secretary to Defence Minister Crispus Kiyonga. He was also widely tipped as President Museveni's most likely successor. It was widely assumed that he was being groomed to take over from Kiyonga enroute to presidency. Some Ugandans believed that he would soon replace Beatrice Wabudeya as Minister for the Presidency, with the same eventual goal. His death raised political eyebrows even higher.

Not so long ago, Maj.Gen. Kahinda Otafiire, another top NRM figure and current Minister for Local Governments drew political swords with Mr. Mbabazi in a bitter feud that could also point to deeper succession struggles within Uganda's ruling party. Otafiire, who in 2005 contested for the NRM party's powerful position of Secretary General and lost to Mbabazi, says Mbabazi is part of a group fuelling his current political headaches. Otafiire claims he is being fought because of the perception that he is against the political ambitions of Mbabazi and a clique working with him (Mbabazi). Recent media reports have claimed that Otafiire, former health minister Jim Katugugu Muhwezi and former East African Community chief Amanya Mushega held meetings to discuss who succeeds President Museveni. Asked by a KFM (Ugandan radio station) listener if he had any presidential ambitions, Gen. Otafiire replied; "Why should I rock the boat when we are still sailing in it? I weigh 96kg. Do you think I have grown this big because of this presidency?"

Although many Ugandans seem to be worried about the current state of things, NRM party spokesperson Ofwono Opondo says that the tussle over presidential succession is healthy. "It is abnormal in a vibrant organization like NRM to miss such conflicts," Opondo said, adding that the party has the mechanisms to choose its leaders.  

We now have to wait for the year 2011 to see if this analysis turns prophetic. Wait a minute; this writer is not a prophet but an analyst.

By Gideon Munaabi
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First published: November 22, 2007
To learn more about Ultimate Media Consult go to www.ultimatemediaconsult.com.

Gideon Munaabi is a journalist and public relations practitioner with Ultimate Media Consult (U) Ltd. He has been and continues writing widely for different publication locally and internationally. He is a founding member of Ultimate Media Consult (U) Ltd and is currently the chairman of the organisation.