After his dismal third place finish in the 2016 presidential election, former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi retreated from the public spotlight but kept being confronted with reports of him meeting President Museveni, the man who defeated him, to agree a return to cabinet.
Asked to respond to the reports on Friday, Mbabazi roundly denied meeting President Museveni recently.
“I have not had any such talks, I don’t know where such rumours are coming from and the purpose they are intended to achieve,” Mbabazi told The Observer during the burial of Jehoash Mayanja-Nkangi in Kalungu district,.
Prodded further, he said he preferred, for now, to remain quiet.
“I promised to talk some time to come, and by the way, that time is near, you’ll be able to ask me about anything you want me to answer,” Mbabazi said.
Mbabazi was among the mourners that buried former Buganda Katikkiro (prime minister) and central government minister Nkagi, who served in at least 11 ministries. He sat with ministers Abdul Nadduli (minister without Portfolio) and Idah Nantaba (state for ICT) and former Prime Minister Kintu Musoke, behind Vice President Edward Ssekandi, who represented President Museveni.
Early in February, it was reported that Mbabazi’s camp was in touch with President Museveni, with a return to the government a possibility. At the burial, when his presence was announced, Mbabazi drew cheers from mourners but they were not as loud as the applause that greeted former Lubaga South MP John Ken Lukyamuzi, who was among the group that ousted Nkangi as Conservative Party president.
In his speech, Mbabazi praised President Museveni for accepting a proposal his family pushed through Nkangi, then minister for Education, to include special needs education in the country’s education policy.
“In our society, we have people who are handicapped, with special needs of education [but] suffer social stigma. I and my wife, because we have a child who is handicapped, engaged Nkangi to change the education policy on handicapped children and I want to commend President Museveni for accepting that reform,” Mbabazi said.
But in a brief interview with this writer at the burial, Mbabazi declined to answer questions about the president and the confrontational state of affairs in the ruling NRM, a party he served as secretary general for 10 years.
Mbabazi two months ago told NTV that there was nothing wrong with him meeting the president as long as the meeting is open.
“That is the same question I answered [in January] when an NTV [journalist] hijacked me [in Buikwe] and I...” Mbabazi said, before he was distracted by mourners who were requesting for photo opportunities with him.
Some asked for his telephone contact. In a recent interview, NRM Secretary General Justine Kasule Lumumba told this writer that much as she couldn’t confirm whether the president and Mbabazi met, there was a possibility of the two long-time friends meeting.
“I can neither confirm nor deny [that they met] because President Museveni is open to meeting everyone for the good of Uganda. [Museveni and Mbabazi] have worked together for a long time so I see nothing wrong with them meeting,” Lumumba said on February 28.
Reports of the Museveni-Mbabazi meetings first emerged in January after Mbabazi’s daughter, Rachel met the president. Rachel’s engagements with Museveni led her to suggest during a family meeting in June last year that Mbabazi should reconcile with Museveni.
That suggestion however, earned her (Rachel) sharp criticism especially from Rachel’s younger sister Nina, mother Jacqueline, and auntie Hope Mwesigye. Some NRM functionaries have suggested that Museveni wants Mbabazi back to end the fights both at the NRM secretariat and in cabinet. Some have suggested he could take back the NRM secretary general job.
But Lumumba ruled out that possibility.
“The reasons for which I was appointed to the position still stand, and by the way, there is no assignment that I have failed to execute,” Lumumba said.
She however, said there were people working for her ouster.
“I know some people in State House have written several reports against me and some have gone as far as sponsoring [negative reports] in the media but they are fighting in futility,” Lumumba said.