Efforts to reconcile former prime minister Amama Mbabazi and President Museveni have caused sharp differences of opinion in the Mbabazi family, The Observer has learnt.
According to people close to Mbabazi, the reconciliation idea emerged barely four months after the February 18, 2016 presidential election, where the former premier came third – behind Museveni and FDC’s Kizza Besigye. In June last year, according to our sources, Mbabazi, also a former NRM secretary general, convened a family meeting to discuss his political future.
At the time, Mbabazi was reeling from his poor showing of barely 1.4 percent in the presidential vote, and was under evident strain because of his wife’s failing health. Jacqueline had been in and out of a UK hospital where she was rushed late in 2015 for cancer treatment.
During the family meeting, Mbabazi’s eldest daughter, Rachel Kiconco, suggested that her father makes up with President Museveni who she described as an “uncle” they have known for long.
Rachel’s suggestion reportedly drew sharp criticism, especially from her younger sister Nina, mother, and aunt Hope Mwesigye. The trio roundly rejected the suggestion. This was not surprising. At the height of the falling out between Mbabazi and Museveni, Jacqueline was more critical of the Museveni stranglehold on Ugandan politics than her husband.
At one point an MP and junior minister reportedly accused Mbabazi of “failing to control” his woman.
In weeks that followed last June’s meeting, Mbabazi accompanied his wife back to the UK hospital for review, around the same time Rachel reached out to Museveni with the suggestion of making peace with her father.
Museveni reportedly readily accepted Rachel’s suggestion and he tasked Prime Minister Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, his younger brother Gen Salim Saleh, and Archbishop Stanley Ntagali to explore dialogue. Museveni also reportedly promised Rachel a government job to reward her commitment to reconcile him with her father.
One source could not rule out the possibility that the two principals have already met secretly.
“What we understand is that he [Mbabazi] kept them [meetings] away from his family members because he knows that majority are opposed to them, he must have kept it to himself and Rachel,” said the source, who is quite close to Mbabazi.
“It is not possible that Rachel could go that far without Mbabazi’s knowledge, he was well aware,” a source said.
Dr Rugunda has not answered our repeated phone calls. Even questions channeled through his communications adviser Julius Mucunguzi have not yielded a definitive response.
Rugunda, an old comrade to both men, has been at the centre of trying to reconcile Museveni and Mbabazi since their 2014 public fallout. He once said that the toughest time of his political career was when Museveni and Mbabazi fell out, adding that reuniting them was in his best interest.
During the Christmas holiday, Rugunda represented Museveni at the thanksgiving service for James Zatwoshaho and his wife Joy, Mbabazi’s sister-in-law. In 2014, Museveni tried to go through Joy to persuade the former premier to return to the NRM fold. Both Museveni and Mbabazi had been expected to attend the party at Kikungiri Church of Uganda in Kabale.
It is believed that Mbabazi stayed away because of Museveni’s expected presence. In the end, Museveni sent Rugunda to represent him with a contribution of Shs 10m. Ntagali could not be reached for a comment.
An aide to Gen Saleh that we spoke to did not rule out Mbabazi returning to the fold. He told this writer that political reconciliation is Gen Saleh’s top priority. Asked what position would be offered to Mbabazi if he were to return, an NRM source said he could take back his PM job, the East African Affairs docket, or make up with the president but stay out of government. Mbabazi did not answer our calls but an aide ruled out the possibility of him rejoining cabinet.
“It is true they have been reaching out to him and he has been clear about his being open to talks about a political transition, not serving in government,” said the aide who preferred not to be named.
Mbabazi has been out of the public eye since last February. He made a rare appearance in December during the wedding of his former bodyguard Christopher Aine and also appeared at former DP Secretary General Mathias Nsubuga Birekeraawo’s funeral in Lwengo district, where he told mourners that his silence would end soon.
On that day, Mbabazi declined an interview with this writer, saying he would speak at “the right time”.