At about 4am on Monday morning, John Patrick Amama Mbabazi released a YouTube video in which he announced his 2016 presidential bid.
The video titled, “My declaration to the people of Uganda” went viral, forcing some television stations to suspend normal programming to focus on Mbabazi’s declaration. Before the video was put out, there had been a number of meetings, one, between Mbabazi and his key strategists, and the other with his upcountry coordinators.
After the Saturday meetings, the coordinators were given campaign materials that included T-shirts, posters, flyers and bandanas. Aware that a social media declaration would only get the attention of the elite class, the meetings agreed to hold parties in major townships across the country.
“The coordinators requested for the parties because they did not want the activity to be limited to Kampala,” Ronald Tumwine Ssekitooleko, a member of Mbabazi’s national coordination team, said on Monday.
Mbabazi is understood to have spent at least Shs 50m to facilitate the parties that were foiled by the police as it cracked down on frenzied youths found with Mbabazi’s publicity materials. Prior to the Saturday meetings, Mbabazi and his national coordinators had hosted different delegations, including religious leaders.
Among religious leaders he met, The Observer has learnt, were sheikhs with whom a programme for the holy month of Ramadhan was agreed. During the month of fasting, Mbabazi is to facilitate iftar (breaking the fast) programs at different mosques across the country.
When Mbabazi informed his associates that he was ready to launch his presidential bid, many anticipated a formal ceremony where he would invite key politicians and diplomats. But he had a different idea known to himself and very few close associates.
A website, www.amamambabazi.com was put up to complement his other social media platforms in unveiling his candidature.
“When we talk of change, we don’t talk about change of the country’s leadership but also a new way of doing things,” an aide to the former premier said.
In opting for social media, Mbabazi was reportedly wary of the likelihood of the state cracking down on a public launch event. He was also keen to avoid a public launch which would be perceived as open campaigning when campaigns are yet to be officially sanctioned.
Meanwhile, our sources have hinted that the announcement came about two months earlier than planned.
According to these sources, Mbabazi had planned to make public his intentions in August but some of his funders reportedly called for an early declaration. The donors, we have been told, wanted to make an assessment of the public’s reaction to his bid as well as that of the state.
However, Mbabazi’s agents denied this, saying the announcement was in accordance with their schedule.
“He has taken some time promising Ugandans that he would announce at the right time; the announcement came according to our work plan,” said Ellady Muyambi, a member of the Mbabazi publicity committee on Monday.
A press conference earlier planned for Tuesday was later called off as a strategy to first let his initial message sink in before saying more.
“For now, we are embarking on mobilization of members of NRM to seek their mandate at the primaries though we will not hold any public rallies until the party releases the official campaign program,” Muyambi said.
The Observer first reported about Mbabazi’s presidential ambitions in January 2014. At the time, Mbabazi had sent out Christmas cards to NRM grassroots leaders (See: Amama x-mas gifts shock Museveni, The Observer; January 22-23, 2014).
At the NRM caucus retreat at Kyankwanzi the following month, Mbabazi was accused of fomenting divisions in the ruling party and Youth Northern MP Evelyn Anite, who has since been named a minister, initiated a resolution declaring Museveni sole candidate.
Mbabazi was eventually dropped as prime minister in September and later ousted from his other position as NRM secretary general. From then on, it because a game of will he, will he not, which he encouraged by giving vague answers until June 15 when the cat got out of the bag.