The ruling party might not admit this, but going by its stated purpose, the NRM legislators’ “Kyankwanzi resolution” has been a failure.
Some five months ago, when members of the NRM caucus in Parliament drew up and signed the Kyankwanzi resolution to front President Museveni as the ruling party’s sole 2016 presidential candidate, they said it would stem a premature power struggle.
Speaking to The Observer then, NRM supporters who threw their political weight behind the resolution argued that it was intended to nip the personal ambitions of some members in the bud.
The chairman of NRM’s Veterans League, retired Maj Gen Jim Muhwezi, said the resolution aimed at stopping some NRM members from “plunging us into electioneering before the real time.”
On the other hand, the minister without Portfolio, Richard Todwong, argued that the resolution was designed to stop some politicians from “trying to climb to the presidency through the window” when the party has “a door” to that position.
Indeed, in the Kyankwanzi resolution itself, the NRM parliamentary caucus made an appeal “to our other senior party leaders with presidential ambitions to shelve them for now and we collectively concentrate on securing party victory” in the 2016 presidential elections.
“Harbouring ambitions is not necessarily bad,” says part of the resolution. “It should, however, never be pursued at the expense of party cohesion, disrupt development efforts and divert the population from work to early politicking. Personal ambitions for leadership notwithstanding, the interest of our party must at all times take precedence over personal interests.”
Political activity since that February 2014 resolution has, however, gone contrary to the arguments that the NRM leaders made at the time. Over the last four months, for instance, President Museveni has spent the vast majority of his time meeting political factions within NRM.
Since February, Museveni has held at least eight meetings with NRM youth leaders seen to be vocal supporters of the unspoken bid by Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi to oust the president from leadership of the party and country. In addition, Museveni has met delegations from several parts of the country, including from Mbabazi’s home district of Kanungu, where his bid for another term in office has so far faced arguably its most public resistance.
Museveni, the NRM chairman, also authorised the release of Shs 6 billion to members of the party’s parliamentary caucus to enable them traverse the country to “popularise” the Kyankwanzi resolution. Notably, Mbabazi, the NRM’s secretary general, declined to receive his share of the money. Consequently, the NRM chief whip, Justine Kasule Lumumba, recently issued an unprecedented warning and ultimatum to her party boss – to use the money or face sanctions.
Meanwhile, the president has taken to contributing money for public activities in his personal capacity. For instance, Museveni ‘sponsored’ the broadcast of the 2014 World Cup on UBC TV and recently offered money to a body builder to participate in an international event.
While Museveni digs in politically, using “electioneering” methods similar to those for which Mbabazi was vilified by the NRM caucus, the prime minister’s hands have effectively been tied. Museveni’s all-out political attack strategy has forced Mbabazi to backtrack several times and reiterate publicly that he would not contest against the incumbent, although he refuses to state categorically that he is not interested in being president.
As a result, the mutual suspicion between the two leaders’ supporters has not disappeared.
Not Museveni's fault
However, to Maj Gen Muhwezi, President Museveni’s camp cannot be faulted for his post-Kyankwanzi actions. A staunch supporter of the Museveni sole candidacy project, Muhwezi argued that the decision by the pro-Museveni camp to spend a lot of time galvanising support for the incumbent’s 2016 presidential bid is a legitimate response to the activities of the Mbabazi camp.
“It is a reaction. If they hadn’t started this, we wouldn’t have moved to our constituencies to immunise our people because [those] people had already plunged us into that [electioneering] mode. So you can’t blame us. You blame those who started it,” he said in an interview last week.
When the Kyankwanzi resolutions were put before a subsequent meeting of the NRM’s Central Executive Committee (CEC), the party’s second top-most decision making organ declined to endorse a sole candidacy for Museveni. In addition, executive members of the party’s Historical Leaders’ Forum also spoke out against the move in separate interviews with The Observer.
Despite that high-level opposition, Muhwezi believes the MPs’ constituency tours were successful. He said the pro-Museveni group is satisfied with the response of many people across the country.
“We discussed this matter with the people and the people agreed with us. They endorsed our resolution within the party. Of course the other people have not stopped. They are continuing, but for us at least we have immunised our people against these machinations by some selfish individuals,” Muhwezi said.
A time for everything
During interviews with senior NRM members, a pattern is evident that they are generally reluctant to discuss on the record the ongoing efforts by Museveni to bury Mbabazi’s presidential ambitions. For instance, the deputy chairman of the NRM electoral commission (EC), Elijah Mushemeza, declined to tell The Observer his party organ’s view on the ongoing activities.
Mushemeza simply said NRM’s election body was waiting for CEC to come up with a road map on the party’s internal electoral processes in the run-up to 2016. He equated the current political activity to “people making consultations, which is normal in every political system”, but declined to discuss NRM’s internal shortcomings.
“Once the programme is out, we shall follow the programme, the [party] constitution and the subsidiary rules that govern elections,” he said.
When pressed on whether developments of the last five months were a sign of NRM stifling the emergence of leaders within the party, Muhwezi objected.
He said the Kyankwanzi resolution was only meant to “pour water on the fire that was burning in some people. Otherwise, people are free to stand when the time is right.
“We said there is a time for everything, as the Bible says,” he said. “There is time for electioneering and there is time for development, and our criticism was never that no person should stand against President Museveni. The issue was, ‘when do you do that?’”