There is more than meets the eye in the current noise about oil. First, it’s coming from the ruling NRM party. Secondly, the manner in which it’s coming is acidic if not unpalatable to the cohesion of the NRM party. The NRM MPs have a notorious and unenviable history, of voting with their “stomachs” than brains on salient national issues. But the oil debate seems to suggest that some MPs are beginning to sense the folly of hoodlum politics. The question is: What is happening in the NRM politics? Why is the center falling apart? I have a few tips.
The government story is that foreign powers especially the US are interested in regime change in Uganda. According to two senior ministers I have spoken to on confidentiality terms, the US is sponsoring civil society organisations and political parties to cause regime change. The ministers believe that the monies are channeled through the Deepening Democracy program. For starters, this program supports growth of democracy and gives money to any political party but NRM [if the ministers are right] has since rejected the money. The government also believes that some of the vocal party MPs could have been drafted into the donors’ scheme to “sabotage” the ruling party. True or falls, that is not the only reason why the oil debate is causing waves.
The biggest players in the NRM politics have eaten to their fill. In this poor economy, they have the money. They have the connections. But they don’t have the ultimate power—the presidency. Some are yearning to taste it but President Museveni is still obsessed with it. And Museveni is trying to play games with those interested, who, apparently, see that time is running out on them.
Because Museveni is not clear on his succession, a number of his colleagues are positioning themselves. The Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi is largely seen as interested in the presidency. In fact many believe that he is Museveni’s favoured one.
However, those familiar with Museveni’s methods say he could be using Mbabazi as a trick for him to remain relevant in the party. Museveni is aware that Mbabazi is loathed in his own party. He is also hated by the majority of the citizenry. So by appearing to push Mbabazi, sources say Museveni is causing uneasiness in his party that will ultimately make him a uniting factor deserving of continuity. By the time Mbabazi comes out to seek Presidency, not many would want to touch him even with a long stick. But Mbabazi will have also built a small support base just enough to cause headache to other contenders.
And Mbabazi has gone full blast destroying anyone else he sees as interested in succession. Yet by doing this, he has denied himself the necessary political blocks.
But by playing the old age divide and rule tricks, Museveni; appears to be unaware of modern political dynamics. For instance, because there is no clear succession debate in the party, several contenders have encroached on Museveni’s long time exclusive constituency—the military. For long, Museveni spread a theory that it was no longer tenable for anyone to govern Uganda without military knowledge and support.
For that reason, the current NRM presidential contenders are investing in the military in preparation for their time in the presidency. For instance, Mbabazi is reported to be building his own power base in the army, intelligence and the Police. He was reportedly prompted to this partly by the unfriendly relationship he enjoys with the some bigwigs in the UPDF High Command especially Generals Kahinda Otafiire and David Tinyefunza.
Sources say, using huge money, Mbabazi has been able to build rapport with the Chief of Defence Forces Gen. Aronda Nyakairima and Brig. Henry Tumukunde. The other soldiers on his side are Maj. Gen. Silver Kayemba and Maj. Gen. Robert Rusoke. In the Police Force, Mbabazi is said to be enjoying a working relationship with Francis Rwego and Asan Kasingye.
While Mbabazi and his lieutenants in the army still play loyal to the Commander-in-Chief, the danger of these silent maneuvers is that Museveni can’t rely on them if the political tide changed.
There is too much anxiety and infighting in the army because of the various camps involved. Some officers loyal to Museveni alone reportedly face hard times. Such people include the First son Muhoozi Kainerugaba who commands the elite Special Forces Group.
Sources say the Inspector General of Police Maj. Gen. Kale Kayihura is a loner. His only support is President Museveni. In fact reports suggest that Mbabazi’s camp wants him out of the IGP position. An insider says most times Kayihura, who is aggressive in quelling Opposition activities, is in tears during his private moments.
He reportedly laments that he dedicates himself to serve the NRM but he is fought by the very system he struggles to defend in public. “I have so many enemies in the Opposition but even my own party officials fight me. I wish I had pursued my career in law,” a source quoted Kayihura as having said. Kayihura joined the bush in 1983 soon after his Masters in Law at the London School of Economics.
Apparently, even when we see the Police Chief aggressive against the Opposition, in him, he knows it’s a struggle that earns him no respect from anyone except Museveni.
But the bigger picture is that the cracks in the NRM are wider both in the army and the party. The military risk of these divisions is that in the event that an external force descended on Museveni, he would not count on the army as a strong pillar because of the intrinsic divisions and the education that most soldiers have been exposed to. The old Generals have less than 10 years to be active, therefore; it’s unlikely that the young educated soldiers would love to see Uganda go into ruins just to protect Museveni. These soldiers have degrees, young families, investments and future aspirations. And yes, some would love to become Army Commanders ahead of Muhoozi. So, although the army has been a Museveni political tool, the new order seems to make it increasingly difficult for the thinking army to be manipulated. If one million citizens protested in Kampala, Museveni will be shocked that his soldiers will not engage in a killing festival; that is why the suppression of protests in Kampala is high on the President’s agenda.
On the political front, only danger awaits Museveni in his own party if he does not come clear on his succession. The courage exhibited by the NRM MPs who challenge the party now, is unprecedented. Many of these MPs believe that Museveni is headed to the Robert Mugabe style. But unlike Mugabe who had populist programs for his country, Museveni has little to show to the common man. Secondly, Mugabe in his late 80’s looks fit and healthy yet Museveni’s stamina and health is a subject to whispers. And many see Museveni’s interest in power now as an interest to personally benefit from the oil resources. Many believe he has had enough.
Therefore; the MPs are not just vocal now. There are serious political forces within NRM responsible for the new wave. These forces, formerly close allies of Museveni, now see their man’s stay in power as a danger to himself and all those associated to him. And because Museveni’s ego is so fat that he can’t be told to leave power voluntarily, these forces want political pressure to bear on him. The prevailing economic hardships provide just a perfect opportunity to galvanise the citizens to see the folly of the politicians. Learning from the several interviews I have conducted with senior government officials, if Museveni does not drop his rigidity, we could, before 2016 see a major split in the NRM party. There will be a breakaway faction that will significantly eat into NRM’s numbers in parliament. Out of the more than 250 NRM legislators, dramatic events could lead at least 100 legislators to quit. Once this happens, it will be difficult for NRM to win many seats in the next parliament. I see the NRM defectors coalesce with the Opposition forces to form a Kenya like Rainbow Coalition that kicked out Moi from power. The oil debate is just the first episode in Uganda’s political soap Opera.