The elevation of outgoing security minister, John Patrick Amama Mbabazi, the to the post of Prime Minister this week could be the biggest hint yet that President Museveni wants to make a big impression, as far as service delivery is concerned, in the next five years.
Like or hate him, Mbabazi, who is expected to resign the position of NRM secretary general, is an intelligent and hardworking individual who strives to ensure that things are done in a proper way.
In his new role, Mbabazi will be the leader of government business and will be expected to bring his strict work method to bear on ministers to ensure that Museveni’s manifesto is implemented. Edris Kiggundu and Hussein Bogere explore the possible reasons why Museveni appointed him to this influential post.
Mbabazi is steadfastly loyal to President Museveni and there is no doubt that he is one of his most trusted lieutenants. According to a source that attended the Tuesday NRM caucus meeting at State House, the explanation Museveni gave for appointing Mbabazi was that having worked with him since 1972, he had come to know him as “well disciplined, hardworking and not a drunkard”.
The source added that there was neither opposition to Mbabazi’s nomination, nor to Edward Ssekandi’s (for Vice President) for that matter.
“They were both received with a standing ovation.”
While meeting a group of people from Kigezi last year, Museveni told them that Mbabazi is a clean man – a “mzungu” (white man) – after he had been accused of promoting divisions along religious lines in Kigezi.
Museveni has defended Mbabazi on several occasions, from as far back as the early 80s during the bush war. Then, some members of NRA’s Historical Command wanted Mbabazi (who was in the external wing) punished for allegedly diverting some funds meant for the war. Museveni stepped in and shielded him.
More recently in 2008, some NRM legislators were baying for Mbabazi’s blood over the NSSF/Temangalo saga and Museveni pleaded with them to forgive him.
“I know very well that this NSSF land issue is not about Mbabazi, but about [destroying] the party and I will not sit back and see my party being destroyed,” Museveni reportedly told the NRM MPs.
Not surprising to many, Museveni twice supported Mbabazi’s bid for the post of NRM secretary general amid significant resistance from within the party. In 2005, during a meeting at State House, the President tried to persuade other contestants – Crispus Kiyonga and Kahinda Otafiire – to quit the race.
During last year’s NRM delegates’ conference, Museveni told delegates to vote for someone “who will not spill party secrets” in a bar – a veiled support for Mbabazi’s bid.
Mbabazi was facing pressure from Otafiire and other delegates who accused him of being aloof and inaccessible. But just when many analysts thought his chances of keeping his job as secretary general, the party’s second most powerful office, were slim, Mbabazi won with a convincing margin.
While both Mbabazi and Museveni are teetotalers, the similarity extends to their spouses. Like First Lady Janet, who professes being a born-again christian, Jacqueline Mbabazi is pious and is a canon in the Anglican Church.
Other than his proven loyalty, Mbabazi is known to be a workaholic who spends considerable hours in office. That is why he often has no time to meet people or take calls, according to one politician who has closely worked with him.
The fact that he has the ear of the President will make it even easier for him to get things done in his new role. Since he was declared winner of the 2011 elections, Museveni has been sending noises that suggest he badly wants to deliver this term.
He is humbled by the fact that for the first time in 25 years, he got the mandate of Ugandans across the entire country, including areas like northern Uganda and Teso, which previously rejected him.
Secondly, President Museveni has been pushed to the wall by the opposition over the rising fuel and commodity prices. So, the best way to respond is to deliver on his manifesto.
In doing this, the Prime Minister’s Office will play a crucial role. The office supervises other ministries, on top of directly implementing several government and donor funded projects such as the Northern Uganda Social Action Fund (NUSAF) and the Northern Uganda Reconstruction Programme (NUREP).
The implementation of some of these projects partly helped Museveni to win in northern Uganda and Teso. Museveni’s interest in Mbabazi could be to get a man who will come down hard on technocrats who Museveni says jeopardise government programmes.
Almost every time Museveni has had a major political, legal or security related challenge, the assignment has gone to Mbabazi. Museveni tends to put Mbabazi where he desires utmost performance.
In 2004, Mbabazi briefly held three ministerial portfolios of Defence, Foreign Affairs and Attorney General, earning the tag of ‘Super Minister’.
“My lords, I am the Attorney General of Uganda. I was appointed AG last week, but I retain the portfolio of Defence,” Mbabazi told the Constitutional Court then when he appeared, all draped in an advocate’s robes, to represent the state in the appeal against the Constitutional Court case ruling that had nullified the 2000 Referendum Act.
Mbabazi is widely respected and feared within the NRM, military and other circles. He is the only civilian who wields Museveni-like respect in the army.
Mbabazi draws his respect in the military partly from the fact that he has been in security circles for most of his career in government. First, he was Director General of the External Security Organisation in 1986, before becoming minister of Defence in 2001, and later minister of Security.
Museveni had jealously held onto the Defence portfolio for a long time and when he was ready to give it up, he chose to hand it to Mbabazi. His political clout has at times overshadowed the positions he holds. Give him a small ministry and he will make it big.
When Mbabazi was appointed minister of state in the President’s Office in charge of Political Affairs in 1996, it was not seen as major position, but his clout and pompous style quickly transformed it into a powerful one.
When he became minister of Security, it was a relatively small position occupied by NRM outsider, Betty Akech, who had succeeded another light weight, Muruli Mukasa. But Mbabazi has since transformed the portfolio into a major one, whose minister now moves with a route opener and army escorts, privileges his predecessors did not enjoy.
Article 108A of the Constitution makes the prime minister leader of government business in Parliament. The holder is responsible for the coordination and implementation of government policies across ministries, departments and other public institutions.
These are the tasks that lie ahead for the Kinkizi West MP, who has already been Museveni’s unofficial listening post in Parliament. At times of controversy in Parliament or elsewhere, Mbabazi is always at hand to keep Museveni abreast.
Whenever there has been a controversial bill to be passed or major decision to be made by Parliament, Mbabazi has had an enormous input. As Prime Minister, he will now become the perfect link between the legislature and the executive – and officially do what he was doing unofficially.
Just recently, Museveni appointed him to head the six-man committee that was tasked to draft an amendment to the constitution denying bail to suspects of rioting, economic sabotage and murder, among other offences.
In Mbabazi’s appointment as Prime Minister, others see Museveni as moving to address the succession issue. For starters, Museveni has not been known to appoint anyone with know presidential ambition in a position as strategic as prime minister.
His first premier was the elderly Samson Kisekka, who could not have aspired to become president because of advanced age. Kisekka was succeeded by John Cosmas Adyebo, a hardly known politician who had just been elected Kwania county MP. Next was Kintu Musoke, who was looking towards retirement.
Most recently, Prof Apolo Nsibambi, in his seventies, who has never stood for any elective political office, has occupied the position.
Picking Mbabazi, some analysts believe, might be a statement that Museveni is finally comfortable with a presidential hopeful, particularly one that shares his vision and ideology, near him. The fact that Mbabazi hails from western Uganda, the first prime minister under Museveni from this region, shows how strongly he felt about giving him the position.
Previously, the position has been used as a regional balancing tool, mainly reserved for Buganda, apart from the brief Adyebo period. In 2016, Museveni will be 72, three years short of the constitutional limit of 75 years for one to stand for president.
Mbabazi will be 67. Many analysts believe that Museveni will seek re-election, but just in case it doesn’t happen, Mbabazi who famously said that FDC leader Dr Kizza Besigye had jumped the succession queue when he contested for the presidency in 2001, might just have a chance.
Moreover, the former vice president, Prof Gilbert Bukenya, who was perceived as Mbabazi’s rival in the ‘queue’, is out of the way, for now.
John Patrick Amama Mbabazi, Member of Parliament for Kinkizi County West, has served Uganda in many capacities in a career spanning more than 35 years.
Born in 1949 in what is now known as Kanungu district, Mbabazi studied at Kigezi High and Ntare schools ahead of joining Makerere University to study law, after which he attained a Diploma in Legal Practice from the Law Development Centre.
On completing and being enrolled as an Advocate of the High Court of Uganda, Mbabazi served as Secretary of the Uganda Law Council, alongside various positions on boards of several parastatals and private business ventures.
He joined the Attorney General’s Chambers as State Attorney in 1976 and later on became Director of Legal Services of the Uganda National Liberation Army in 1979.
In 1981, Mbabazi became partner in the law firm Kategaya, Mbabazi and Tumwesigye Advocates, by which time he was already deeply involved in efforts to liberate Uganda from a period of turmoil and deterioration.
He played a key role during the NRM/A war of 1980-1986 as one of the key people in the External Wing based in Nairobi, Kenya. He has been chairman of the Historical High Command of the NRM since 1986 to date.
Mbabazi’s efforts have been nationally recognised with the highly coveted Nalubale medal of honour for distinguished service in the struggle against bad governance in Uganda.
From 1986 to 1992, Mbabazi was Director General of the External Security Organisation. In 1992, he was appointed minister of state for Defence, during a time of numerous conflicts and threats of external attacks on Uganda, and served till 1996, when he was appointed minister of state in the Office of the President in charge of Political Affairs.
Mbabazi was also Constituency Assembly delegate representing Kinkizi West County, playing key roles in the drafting of Uganda’s Constitution.
From 1997 to 2001, Mbabazi was minister of state for Foreign Affairs in charge of Regional Cooperation during the critical years of the revival of the East African Community. He also served as chairman of the Permanent Tripartite Commission for East African Cooperation, and chairman of the Political Committee for Countries involved in the Congo conflict.
Thereafter, he was appointed minister of Defence from 2001 to 2006, during which time he was also assigned the role of Attorney General of Uganda.
From 2006 to 2011, Mbabazi has held the position of minister in the Office of the President in charge of Security, alongside serving as Secretary General of the National Resistance Movement Party.
Over the years, Mbabazi has served the people of Kinkizi County West as Member of Parliament, representing them in the 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th Parliaments.
However, in 2001 court nullified his election after his main challenger, FDC’s Garuga Musinguzi, alleged that Mbabazi had engaged in election malpractices. He won the by-election after Musinguzi surprisingly opted out.
Mbabazi’s ‘Mr Clean’ record has taken a knock in recent years following the controversial sale of his land in Temangalo to NSSF, and the CHOGM inquiry in which his name, again, came up. In both cases, he has been absolved of any wrongdoing.
Mbabazi is married to Canon Jacqueline Mbabazi and they have several children.
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