Mariam Najjemba Mbabaali, the minister of state for Urban Development, has warned that intrigue, clashes and in-fighting within the NRM may kill the ruling party, urging its leadership to “clean up our house”.
Speaking to journalists in Kampala on Friday, the Gomba MP, who says she is quitting elective politics after 10 years in parliament, described infighting as her biggest challenge.
“You try to be loyal to your party, constituents, [and] to do what you are supposed to do as an MP, but then you find a lot of resistance pulling you down,” she said.
“You clash with fellow party members; and not just members, but even leaders, and to me, I found that very unfortunate as a young person [because] I thought I was going to get a lot of support from my seniors.
“But unfortunately, some of the seniors who would have given me a lot of support, instead went out to fight me to make sure that I don’t come back.”
Najjemba did not mention the people who fought her, but warned that the NRM risked stifling internal leadership development.
She said: “We shall have a leadership vacuum at some point because if people come with very clean hearts, willing to work for the people and they are being fought and resisted by the very people who are supposed to support and groom them, then in the future we shall lack proper leaders. And that is why people are withdrawing from politics…”
In April 2014, during a cabinet meeting at State House Entebbe, Najjemba was among the youthful ministers who attacked former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi and literally threatened to resign their cabinet positions if Museveni did not fire his premier. They accused the latter of scheming against the president, creating parallel structures within NRM, and fighting them.
Najjemba said in future NRM may only get leaders who can “kneel” down.
“They will not say much, not do much. But leaders with real substance may not stand the intrigue, the clashes, the in-fights [within NRM].”
Asked what could be done to address the problems afflicting NRM, Najjemba said the NRM membership should speak out.
“People should be candid enough to speak out when we are in caucus, against these in-fights and intrigue. It is letting us down as a country and I believe many people who would make good leaders will not come out.
“So, we should discuss and come up with strategies of harmonious resolution of our conflicts within our party, so that we don’t hurt our own party members.”
Asked whether she would miss politics, Najjemba, said: “I will miss parliament as an institution that I have served for ten years and the colleagueship. But I will not miss the political game which has been dirty.
“I will not miss the intrigue; I will not miss the sidelining; I will not miss the marginalization that sometimes has happened.”
Although she is leaving parliament, Najjemba will continue serving her party if called upon.
“I have served two terms and I am comfortable with that. I don’t want to go [to] beg for my own votes, but if the party assigned me some work which is not so pressing to stop me from doing my [other] work, I can do it.
“My real supporters will miss me, but I think everything with a beginning always passes. I took the decision to retire at the beginning of this term and I told everyone that I was not going to stand again.”
On whether she had identified her successor, Najjemba said she does not believe in the politics of succession. For her to stand in Gomba, she said, she was not prepared by anyone, but was driven by her own conviction. It will be up to the people of Gomba to choose from among the candidates.
Contacted for a comment on Friday, Ofwono Opondo, the NRM deputy spokesperson, said intrigue and in-fighting within NRM should not be surprising, as it happens in many other parties.
“But we have structures where matters of intrigue and in-fighting can be resolved harmoniously,” he said, while pleading ignorance of Najjemba’s displeasure with senior party leaders.
“At least I am not aware that Honourable Najjemba, who is so active, has ever made a written complaint about leaders [in NRM] involved in intrigue and was not attended to.”
He explained that the reason why NRM changed its structure to have fulltime secretariat staff, which is not involved in elective politics, was to solve problems such as intrigue.
Opondo rejected Najjemba’s prognosis on a leadership vacuum, saying that natural law would not allow it.
While Opondo describes intrigue as ‘normal’, many other party members seem to want a calmer brand of politics. In 2009, for instance, The Observer reported that First Lady Janet Museveni was disappointed that the party was full of intrigue, with NRM leaders using blackmail as a political weapon and seeking to undermine one another.
Speaking at a meeting for Ankole MPs, which her husband hosted in Rwakitura, the Ruhaama MP said: “There is a lot of infighting and intrigue within NRM, we need separate time to discuss these things,” she said.
Ms Museveni has recently declared that this parliamentary term will be her last.