Pro-president MPs form club to fight off premier
Towards Christmas last year, Amama Mbabazi, the prime minister of Uganda and secretary general of the NRM, sent out cards to key party leaders.
It was a goodwill gesture that has brought renewed scrutiny to his ambitions. The Observer has learnt that a group of President Museveni-leaning MPs has reacted to Mbabazi’s activities, which they perceive as laying the ground for a presidential bid in 2016, by setting up a taskforce to neutralise him.
A member of the group dubbed “Club 999-2016” who spoke on condition of anonymity said their campaign aims to send “signals” to Mbabazi that he should “back-off”.
“You are either with us or you are with them,’” said one of the members of the group on Monday.
During the festive season, sources close to Mbabazi say, the SG sent out two sets of Christmas cards to all NRM leaders, from the district to sub-county level. Pro-Museveni MPs have also alleged that he sent out cash gifts, although we have been unable to confirm that. The first set of cards sent out on December 22 bore his signature as NRM secretary general.
The cards were printed in the party’s yellow colours, complete with the NRM emblem.
The message read:
“My family and I wish you a merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous New Year 2014 full of peace and prosperity.” Two days later, Mbabazi sent out another set of cards he signed as Prime Minister.
These ones read as follows:
“The Prime Minister and leader of government business in parliament wishes you a merry Christmas and a happy new year 2014.”
Mbabazi could not be reached for a comment. But a staffer in his office, who declined to be named, confirmed his boss had sent out the cards.
“It is normal for any responsible politician to do that, it is the civilized way of doing things,” he said.
The cards and cash gifts, we have learnt, raised eyebrows within some NRM sections. The Observer has been told that some intelligence officers were asked to investigate the motive of the gifts.
“He gave out cards to all NRM structures and also sent money to NRM leaders, especially in the east. We know that he is using the [NRM] Women’s League to do his [presidential] campaign,” an NRM MP who supports a fifth term for President Museveni said in a recent interview.
The MP claimed that Mbabazi’s subtle campaign is led by, among others, the NRM Youth League Chairman Denis Namara.
“He may be having his own problems but I can tell you he is very strong in NRM. He has penetrated the party structures, concentrating so much on individuals that matter, attending to their individual problems,” the MP said.
Just before the 2001 elections, Mbabazi who was then minister for Defence accused opposition leader Dr Kizza Besigye of jumping the queue after the latter’s surprise decision to stand in the election. Fifteen years later in 2016, it has been suggested that Mbabazi believes it’s now or never.
“He realises that it is now  or never. He would have waited for 2021 but all indications are that Muhoozi [Kainerugaba, Museveni’s son] is coming, and besides, it would guarantee him only one presidential term,” the MP said.
Born on January 16, 1949, Mbabazi would be 72 years old in 2021, and thus ineligible for re-election in 2026, given the current constitutional age limit of 75 years. According to a story published on the Office of the Prime Minister’s official website www.opm.go.ug, Mbabazi told the new European Union (EU) envoy to Uganda Kristian Schmidt on December 16, 2013 that he doesn’t plan to run against Museveni.
However, he suggested that if the party chose him, he would be inclined to consider it.
“We have the Central Executive Committee (CEC), the National Executive Committee and the National Conference, which come up with names of candidates, but if the party chooses me to be a candidate I cannot refuse,” Mbabazi is quoted as saying.
The Observer has learnt that Kabula MP James Kakooza, one of the promoters of Museveni’s candidature in 2006 and 2011, is the coordinator of Club 999. The club has reportedly had three meetings so far, as it plans to launch its activities officially on Thursday this week.
According to our source, at least 120 NRM MPs from all regions of Uganda have so far enlisted. Eastern Uganda Youth MP, Peter Ogwang, another promoter of the group, said:
“It is not a secret that Museveni is the NRM flag bearer in 2016. I am very surprised that you don’t know that.”
He added: “…Club 999 is in place and we have been meeting different MPs in NRM secretly, but we have now come to a conclusion and we are going to launch it on Thursday [tomorrow].”
Asked to shed light on the club’s membership, Ogwang said:
“All those people you are asking me about are with us, but I can’t tell you who is who until Thursday when we shall make the whole matter public.”
In 2016, Museveni will clock an unprecedented 30 years in power. While this longevity might be exploited by his critics, it is largely to his advantage as he has used it to entrench himself.
Who is Mbabazi?
Currently prime minister, Amama Mbabazi was born in 1949 in Mparo, in present-day Kabale district. He holds a Law (LLB) degree from Makerere University, and a postgraduate diploma in legal practice from the Law Development Centre.
After his graduation in the 1975, he joined the Attorney General’s Chambers as a State Attorney, rising through the ranks to become the Secretary of the Uganda Law Council. At the fall of Idi Amin’s government in 1979, Mbabazi joined the Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA) as a director of Legal Services.
When Museveni launched an armed rebellion against the Obote II government in 1981, Mbabazi got actively involved, especially as a member of the NRM External Wing. When the NRA/M captured power in 1986, Mbabazi first served as director general of the External Security Organization (ESO).
Later, he became minister of state for Defence (1992 -97), minister of state in the President’s Office in charge of Political Affairs (1997-98) and minister of state for Regional Cooperation (1998 -2001).
After the 2001 elections, Mbabazi became minister of Defence (2001 -2006). Between 2004 and 2005, he also assumed the roles of Foreign Affairs minister and Attorney General following the death Francis Ayume, earning him the tag “super minister.”
The 2005 change of political systems saw him become the first Secretary General of NRM, a position he still holds. Between 2006 and 2011, Mbabazi served as Security minister. He was elevated to Prime Minister after the 2011 elections.