Grumbling over money, defections, and state harassment have led to some within and without to wonder if things are falling apart for Go Forward candidate Amama Mbabazi, SULAIMAN KAKAIRE reports.
Although Amama Mbabazi was touted as the best thing to happen to the opposition ahead of the 2016 elections, there are signs that the Go Forward train could be stalling, an Observer analysis shows.
Dogged by problems that range from state harassment, fear of infiltration by state spies, to defection of his agents, Mbabazi has now come under pressure from backers with what appears to be unmet expectations.
Insiders have told us that key Mbabazi supporters have also been disappointed by his inability to win over heavyweight politicians from the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM), going into the final third of campaigns.
Yesterday, the former Tooro prime minister Steven Kaliba, who was among the key figures at Mbabazi’s nomination, was pictured meeting President Museveni at Kabale State Lodge. Kaliba, is also a former Fort Portal Municipality MP.
But the Mbabazi yesterday insisted Kaliba was still loyal to Mbabazi. Sources close to Mbabazi say there has been unrest since the nominations for parliamentary and local council seats on December 1-2, 2015 with some candidates accusing Mbabazi of reneging on his promise to provide them with campaign facilitation, starting with nomination fees. Parliamentary candidates paid Shs 3 million.
However, Masaka Municipality MP Mathias Mpuuga, a member of Mbabazi national taskforce, told The Observer in an interview last week that the delay to provide facilitation is down to the fact that the candidates’ committee is still assessing their eligibility for support.
“This is going to be the basis for support and if one is committed to the cause they will be given the money,” he said.
Three months ago, when Mbabazi was seeking nomination of a united opposition front as their joint presidential candidate, he guaranteed members of The Democratic Alliance (TDA), a loose opposition coalition, that he had the capacity to raise all the required funds to sponsor his presidential bid and parliamentary candidates’.
However, according to some of his top officials, the limited spending by the former premier’s camp is because they do not trust the commitment of all those who joined the Go Forward team.
While Mbabazi has not yet committed money to facilitate the Go Forward candidates, NRM has promised to give Shs 20 to Shs50 million to each of their parliamentary candidates.
The spokesperson of Go Forward, Michael Mabikke, told The Observer that the pressure group will provide some facilitation to their candidates after they have proved “their worth” to Mbabazi’s presidential bid.
“We want to urge all our candidates to prove that they are truly standing [with Mbabazi’s candidature]... some of these people crying are at the tail end,” he said.
TRACING THE CRACKS
Some of the cracks in the Go Forward campaign machinery came to light late November when Kitgum Woman MP, Beatrice Atim Anywar, who nominated Mbabazi at Namboole, returned to her party, Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), begging to be fronted as flag bearer.
She subsequently campaigned for FDC presidential candidate in Kitgum, but has since decided to go independent and keep a distance from either opposition camp.
Contacted for comment yesterday, Anywar said she neither belonged to Mbabazi’s camp nor supported Besigye.
“I am an independent candidate; I don’t belong to any person’s camp. I nominated Mbabazi because he was a member of TDA. So, I can’t say anything about that [leaving Mbabazi camp] because I have never belonged there,” she said.
Barely two weeks after Anywar’s about-turn, Uganda Federal Alliance (UFA) president Beti Kamya distanced herself from Mbabazi’s camp when she told Capital FM’s talk show, Capital Gang, on December 12, 2015 that she had never committed herself or the party she leads to supporting Mbabazi’s presidential bid because he does not share her aspirations of having a federal government.
“I just gave my assessment that of the two [between opposition candidates Mbabazi and Kizza Besigye], JPAM stands the better chance but I am not his campaigner,” said Kamya, who is running for Lubaga North MP.
UFA was one of the five opposition parties that backed Mbabazi during the failed efforts some three months ago by members of The Democratic Alliance (TDA) to agree on a single opposition candidate.
Other Mbabazi backers included the Democratic Party (DP), Uganda People’s Congress (UPC), and Justice Forum (Jeema).
Around the same time that Kamya renounced the Kinkiizi West MP, Mbabazi’s camp was hit by the defection of some middle-level managers at the Go Forward headquarters, who crossed back to the Museveni camp. The team of about 10 was led by Tumwine Ssekitoleko and Idiri Kiiza.
These series of incidents forced Mbabazi to return to the drawing board, when he broke off his campaign to re- constitute a national task force and campaign team.
However, those efforts also faced tremors of their own when some people drafted on the two teams said they had never been consulted and disowned Mbabazi.
Prominent national leaders who disowned Mbabazi included the retired Anglican bishop of Soroti diocese, Charles Bernard Obaikol, former gender minister Gabriel Opio, and MPs Florence Kintu (Kalungu Woman, NRM), Kyewalabye Majegere (Bunya East, NRM) and Kassiano Wadri (Terego, FDC).
On December 30, 2015, shortly before leading Dr Besigye’s campaign in West Nile, Wadri told The Observer that he had never belonged to the Mbabazi camp.
“No one person can sleep in two beds at the same time. I have my candidate and I cannot defy my party for any other person,” said Wadri, although the Go Forward camp claimed he had attended their strategy meetings.
Dr Sabiti Makara, a political science lecturer at Makerere University, told The Observer that he was not surprised by what is happening to Mbabazi.
“Mbabazi’s team is patched up together from members of small parties and if you study it, there is nothing that binds them together except Mbabazi as a person,” Makara said.
Although Makara argues that Mbabazi has so far exhibited the best organisation in terms of the manifesto and public relations strategy, his biggest undoing is having a team of people who have allied with him because of his personality, and not his campaign message.
“I suspect that some people could have joined him expecting financial benefits, which must have constrained him already,” he added.
Makara explains that this is why some have gone back to where they belong.
“For instance, the FDC MPs must have gone back to their candidate after facing hostile esistance from their voters at the grassroots,” he said.
The Observer understands that due to the unsteadiness within Mbabazi’s camp, the regular reshuffles have affected even the mobilisation teams that travel with the candidate. For instance, at the initial stages of the Go Forward campaign, Mbabazi moved with a fleet of up to 20 cars but they have been scaled down to less than 10.
Other sources say that with Mbabazi playing a waiting game and keeping his financial taps closed until most of those not committed to his cause have fallen off, Go Forward has sometimes had to operate on a skeleton budget.
“We have a very lean budget that we have been working with since the campaigns began and the promise has always been that resources are coming but they are yet to come,” said one member of Mbabazi’s campaign task force.
Several Go Forward officials told us that when interacting with Mbabazi about the financial challenges, the latter gives the impression that the team has enough money – although he has failed to release money at crucial junctures of the campaign period.
The Go Forward media and communication director, Josephine Mayanja Nkangi, yesterday told The Observer that what is happening in Mbabazi’s camp is merely an exercise in financial discipline.
“If you are running a corporation, you cut on operational costs to make enough profits,” Nkangi said, explaining the trimming of the mobile mobilisation team. “No matter how wealthy you are, you do not just spend.”
Regarding Go Forward candidates in parliamentary and local council elections, Mayanja argued that Mbabazi had not pledged to fund anybody.
“For someone to sustain such a claim, they must bring evidence to prove the existence of such a promise,” she said.
MP Mathias Mpuuga questioned the motivation of some Go Forward members who have made an issue out of the delayed campaign funding.
“You have to understand the background where some of my colleagues are coming from. It is possible that they do not know what is happening in their camp,” he said.
Mabikke, on hand, said that the incessant restructuring of Mbabazi’s teams is a function of prudent organisational management.
“Every organisation refines its structures all the time,” he said. “When reviews are made, there are recommendations and what is happening is particularly informed by those recommendations.”