The last time he made a public appearance after he lost the Supreme court petition, Amama Mbabazi, like Arnold Schwarzenegger, the famous American actor, said: “I will be back.”
The former prime minister told his supporters to remain patient as he works on a new strategy to confront government. A month later, some of his supporters are wondering whether there could be any strategy and what it entails. For the time being, Mbabazi is not saying anything.
The Go Forward office on Plot 29, Nakasero road, which was a meeting point of his supporters, was closed down after the election. We have been told that the operations of this office have since been merged with those of another coordination office on Kanjokya road in Kamwokya. It is ‘womanned’ by his sister in-law, Hope Mwesigye.
Mwesigye told The Observer last week that Mbabazi was quiet because he had taken his wife Jacqueline to have her health condition reviewed in the United Kingdom. She said the couple was expected back in the country soon. Mwesigye, however, dismissed talk that Mbabazi had given up.
“We shall tell you our strategy at the right time but we are working on something,” she said.
Other sources in Mbabazi camp told us a different story. They said after the elections and the court petition, some of the staff had decided to move on ostensibly because “there appeared to be no work”.
We have been told that a few have stuck around although they have not been let in on Mbabazi’s future plans. One of them told us that he had heard that Mbabazi could be working on a political plan whose first steps he took while in the UK. Mbabazi reportedly met some key officials and key donors there.
“Talk to Nina or Mao. They are the main people running Go Forward,” the person, who requested for anonymity, said. Nina and Mao are Mbabazi’s children.
Mbabazi was hailed as a modern-era, social media-savvy politician, but traffic on his Facebook page has also considerably gone down compared to early this year when he used to update his page at least once a day.
In the 78 days following February 18 (until last Thursday), Mbabazi updated his Facebook page eight times, an average of three posts per month. His last post was on April 23 when he condemned the killing of innocent civilians by a UPDF soldier in Kanungu district. For good measure within the same period, FDC’s Dr Kizza Besigye, the main opposition figure, updated his page 30 times.
Mbabazi got 136,519 votes in the 2016 presidential elections in what many analysts said was a lukewarm performance for someone who had been described as a powerful figure in NRM.
Some people have suggested that it is unfair to gauge Mbabazi’s political effectiveness using Besigye as the yardstick. The two individuals, analysts have said, espouse different political styles – Besigye being activist and confrontational, Mbabazi patient and calculative. Both styles can be effective in various contexts, some people believe.
While Besigye’s approach has often landed him in trouble with the state, it has also given him the media publicity that perpetuates his political relevance. In the same vein, Mbabazi’s calculative style continues to create a sense of mystery about him, making him fodder for the media.
For instance, after his fallout with Museveni became public in February 2014, Mbabazi kept the nation guessing about his next move. It was not until June 2015 that he came out to declare that he harboured presidential ambitions.
It also took him more than three months to decide whether he will join The Democratic Alliance (TDA), a loose coalition of opposition forces formed in June 2015 with a major aim of fronting a joint presidential candidate in the 2011 elections.
When he did join, the political landscape looked destined to change but the coalition collapsed before nominations. Yet in a country with a history of military rule and with a hardnosed leader like President Museveni, Besigye’s no-holds-barred approach appears to have won more favour at least among a big section of opposition supporters.
Dr Sabiiti Makara, an associate professor in the department of political science at Makerere University, said Mbabazi’s behavior proves that he is not your typical Ugandan politician.
“He is an office worker who would work well in a bureaucracy. He does not connect well with the masses,” Makara told The Observer on Thursday.
Makara, however, added that if Mbabazi wants to remain a relevant political player over the next five years, he has to change approach.
“He can decide to turn his pressure group into a political party, set up structures and begin mobilizing,” he said. “Otherwise, most people will forget him.”