Blow-by-blow account of dramatic showdown between Museveni and Amama Mbabazi
To some witnesses, Amama Mbabazi’s ouster as secretary general on October 18 provoked the most intense exchange in the history of the NRM Central Executive Committee (CEC) probably since the party was officially formed in 2005.
Sitting at Nakasero State Lodge, the day’s agenda was to break Mbabazi and possibly force him to resign immediately as NRM secretary general. Yet unknown to many, Mbabazi and his wife Jacqueline had assembled an arsenal of verbal artillery that would make the ouster harder.
The main actors in Saturday’s meeting, according to our sources, were President Museveni and Jacqueline Mbabazi (head, Women League) with Maj Gen Matayo Kyaligonza (Vice chairman Western) playing the key supporting role for the president and Mbabazi lawyering for his wife.
The setting in the conference room was perfect. Museveni sat at the tip of the long boardroom table next to Hajji Moses Kigongo, the NRM first national vice chairman. Mbabazi and Jacqueline sat on opposite sides of the table, almost directly facing each other.
Museveni called the members to order at 11am and informed them that they wanted to resolve the Mbabazi question by close of the meeting, our sources said.
“We are not leaving this meeting until we find a solution to this issue of secretary general. We spent so much time on Thursday [October 16] going around in circles but today we have to end it here,” Museveni said, alluding to the earlier CEC meeting.
Museveni then motioned an aide who ferried in a number of voluminous files and placed them in front of him.
“I got these from my American friends and they contain all the evidence to show that Mbabazi and Jacqueline have been working against me and the party,” he said as he tapped the files with both hands, our sources said.
Museveni added that the documents before him had been compiled by Mbabazi and wife and kept at the American embassy. He reportedly said his “contacts” at the embassy helped him retrieve the files. He said each of the CEC members would receive a copy of the documents to learn the extent to which Mbabazi and Jacqueline had gone to undermine him.
But Moses Kigongo advised against the distribution of the documents. There were also fears, according to sources, that if the documents were distributed, some of them would end up in the media. Museveni bought into Kigongo’s suggestion and decided, instead, to talk about the contents of some of the documents.
He then brandished a document, reportedly written by Jacqueline and containing names of people the Mbabazis considered political adversaries. These names, our sources said, included Gen Kale Kayihura (police chief), Brig Moses Rwakitarate, and the First Son Muhoozi Kainerugaba. However, before he could reveal any more names, Jacqueline shot up.
“You say we are campaigning against you. Is that a crime? You started campaigning immediately after the 2011 elections. You have been going around the country meeting people. What crime have we committed by campaigning?” she said, as the room fell into deafening silence.
Museveni shot back saying his countrywide tours were part of his national duty, and not a campaign ploy At this point, our sources said, Museveni stopped referring to the files and the meeting took a trend similar to that of October 16.
Kyaligonza jumped into the fray and accused the Mbabazis of having the airs of self-importance. He said he had read with disgust an article in Daily Monitor in which Jacqueline’s father Reverend Geresomu Ruhindi, had accused Museveni of using and dumping Mbabazi.
“Did Ruhindi fight? Does he know what we went through in the bush? You people were busy in Nairobi eating sausages and stealing our money. Should we have sympathy for you? Can I remove my trouser and show you the bullet wounds?”a charged Kyaligonza asked.
Hassan Basajjabalaba (Entrepreneurs’ League) urged caution. He told Kyaligonza that he didn’t need to use harsh language to make his point.
“President Museveni and Mbabazi have known each other for 43 years. In fact Museveni has known Mbabazi longer than he has known you (Kyaligonza). In my view, I think both of these people should sit together and reconcile,” Basajjabalaba said, ticking off an already livid Kyaligonza. The two engaged in a verbal exchange that ended with mineral water bottles being thrown.
The meeting soon split into camps with five of the 24-members siding with the Mbabazis, while Mike Mukula (Eastern), Jim Muhwezi (Veterans), Francis Babu (Kampala), Amelia Kyambadde (Treasurer) and Kasule Lumumba (Chief Whip) joined Kyaligonza to lead the charge against the Mbabazis.
Kirunda Kivejinja (elders) had a neutralizing effect. He went as far as accusing Museveni of using the NRM Parliamentary caucus to usurp powers of all the party organs.
“The chairman should stop using his caucus to usurp the authority of all organs; I think the organs should be allowed to do their work,” Kivejinja reportedly said.
All the while Museveni was looking on, occasionally taking some notes, the sources said.
Later, Museveni invited Rebecca Garang, the widow of the founding president of South Sudan Dr (Col) John Garang to address the members, briefly. Rebecca told the members that disunity in NRM especially amongst its top leadership could create chaos. She gave the example of her country, South Sudan, now gripped by war that erupted last year partly because of disagreements within the leadership of SPLA/M.
After her submission, Jacqueline retook the floor. She detailed how Museveni had orchestrated a campaign to fight her husband by proxy through other party members. She said Museveni always fights those with ambition in NRM, citing Dr Kizza Besigye as an example. She wondered whether the country would come to a standstill if Museveni was no longer president.
“Why do you fear competition?” she queried, according to our sources.
She said Museveni had now sent out some ministers to the countryside to meet NRM grassroots leaders, in an effort to demonize her husaband further.
“I know that you gave them Shs 2 billion to go around. But let me hope that what they report back is the truth. The truth is that people are tired. People want change,” she reportedly said as Museveni took down a few notes.
Jacqueline said the day presidential term limits were removed from the Constitution in 2005, was the day the country was buried, politically.
“I know my husband and sister [Hope Mwesigye] were involved in this but I always opposed them. Ask him. I remember the day Parliament voted; I was at home watching television. Then when my husband and sister came home to celebrate, I told them there is no food for you,” she said.
“I did not give him food,” she emphasized.
At that juncture, one male member is reported to have sought clarification, asking: “Did you also deny him the other food?”
If the cheeky member had hoped to use humour to ease the tension, it did not work. One insider source said it was the first time he had heard and seen someone take on Museveni so feverishly and boldly.
“I thought that Jacqueline was going to be put under arrest,” said the source.
In a raised voice, Museveni responded that he had kept quiet for a long time as the Mbabazis abused his family. He singled out Nina Mbabazi for her articles in newspapers and posts on social media, which allegedly denigrated the party and his family (Nina used to write a column in Sunday Monitor).
“In fact one time, Natasha [president’s daughter] came to me and said, why do we keep quiet when this girl abuses us? She said she was going to write back. But I told her that unless I am not the son of Kaguta, she should not write back,” Museveni said.
Museveni also rubbished claims that he had stayed way too long in power, pointing to the Mbabazis longevity too in the struggle.
“You remember the first time I came to your house, in 1976. You served me tea. Were you not part of the struggle?” he asked.
Museveni then went into the history of NRM’s rise to power. He received support from Kyaligonza and Muhwezi, who reminded the meeting that for NRM to come to power, they had shed their blood. This prompted Denis Namara (Youths) to tell them to end the bush-war stories and instead focus on issues that concern the youths.
“The youths are tired of hearing the story of the bush [war] because it is not relevant to them,” Namara said.
He, however, drew the ire of Kyambadde (treasurer) who said the bush-war heroes (including herself) could not allow to be disrespected by the youths. At 4pm, the members took a break and as they walked out of the conference room, Kyaligonza seized Jacqueline’s hand.
“Where are you taking my wife?” Mbabazi asked.
Mbabazi, Rugunda speak out
Mbabazi, who had been quiet but looked dejected, then spoke when the meeting resumed. He told the meeting that he hated injustice and unfairness. He said he studied law after witnessing someone attempt to steal his father’s land. He then questioned whether it was wrong for someone to express ambition within the NRM.
Museveni then quipped that “it is not wrong to have ambition but how one expresses it is the point.”
Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, the prime minister, is reported to have narrated how he had known Mbabazi almost since childhood. He said the two were close friends as well as business associates. What intrigued him, he said, was the fact that Mbabazi was not speaking his mind like “a real Mukiga.”
“I want my good friend [Mbabazi] to tell the meeting here and now, whether he intends to stand for the presidency.”
Mbabazi, with hand on his cheek, just stared at Rugunda without offering any response. At about 5:30pm, Museveni excused himself and rushed to Mulago hospital to officially flag off the reconstruction works there. He instructed the members not to leave.
He came back towards 7pm and the meeting resumed. Fred Mukisa (Elders) and Kasule Lumumba then told the meeting how Mbabazi had bought vehicles for his mobilisers in their respective areas. They each read out the registration number plates of the vehicles. As the meeting drew to a close towards midnight, Museveni reminded them that they had to conclude the Mbabazi matter.
At this point, some people were really exhausted and some had tight schedules the next day. Sam Engola (Vice-chairman, Northern Uganda), for instance, reminded the president that he had to travel to Apac that night to be able to welcome him to the district the next day (October 19) for the consecration of the bishop of West Lango diocese, the Rt Rev Canon Alfred Acur Okudi.
To resolve the Mbabazi impasse, Engola suggested that members vote by show of hands, whether or not Mbabazi should stay on as secretary general. Some members bought this idea but Mbabazi warned that he would sue the party if CEC endorsed an illegality. He said he was elected by the delegates’ conference, and not CEC. Museveni conceded and fished for an alternative solution.
Then the idea of Mbabazi writing a letter, taking administrative leave as secretary general for three months was floated. “Since you are a lawyer and the matter concerns you, I want you to draft the letter,” Museveni told Mbabazi as he handed him a piece of paper.
The first draft, according to our sources, was rejected, because it did not explicitly say that he would relinquish the duties of secretary general, while on leave. Sources said that Mbabazi had created a loophole that would allow him to have a say on some [party] matters while on leave. Museveni then told Muhwezi (Veterans) to airbrush it and effect changes.
After Muhwezi made the changes, it was debated briefly before members adopted it. Museveni then told the members that there would be an emergency delegates’ conference on December 15 where wholesome changes would be effected to the NRM constitution, including allowing the party chairman to appoint a secretary general. He told CEC that the conference would cost Shs 5 billion, which he would “look for.”
Later, Museveni proposed that all CEC members should take a group photo, to leave no room for anyone to disown what was discussed in the meeting.
“I am going to call [Robert] Kabushega and tell him to publish this photograph,” Museveni said insisting that Mbabazi should stand next to him.
By the end of the meeting, Museveni appeared as if he had scored one over Mbabazi. Indeed, on Monday, Mbabazi wrote to Museveni informing him that he had taken leave till December 31.
“As you are aware, I have been performing the duties of Secretary General of NRM without a break for the last nine years, I wish now to take leave of absence from duty from October 20 until December 31,” Mbabazi wrote.
Sacked as prime minister on September 18 and now hounded out as secretary general, some observers have opined that Mbabazi might be on his way out of NRM.
Yet the fact that he has so far given away little as regards his presidential ambitions means there could still be more intriguing twists and turns to this political tale.