President Museveni’s reelection drive is entering high gear even before the political season officially rolls off next year.
The president is not taking any chances and at the centre of his bid to extend his rule since 1986, it has emerged that the national structure of youths formerly allied to Amama Mbabazi has been given the lead to dismantle the opposition, writes BAKER BATTE LULE.
In the run-up to the 2016 general election, a well-coordinated group of youth swore allegiance to Amama Mbabazi, the former powerful prime minister who had vowed to unseat President Museveni. They often talked of how they had the capacity to overthrow President Museveni and the NRM because they were privy to all state tricks.
So convinced was the anti-Museveni forces that Mbabazi nearly became the sole opposition candidate through The Democratic Alliance (TDA), an umbrella for a united opposition.
Even when TDA talks failed, these youths were lined up on the frontlines to oust President Museveni but in a strange twist, the state machinery did not clamp down heavily on them as it did with FDC supporters.
Another version, however, is that these youth were purposely sent into Mbabazi’s team in order to dismantle it from within. Since the end of the 2016 elections, many of these Mbabazi loyalist youths stayed silent until early this year when they resurfaced as NRM prodigal sons.
In January when the president launched Team Thorough YKM 2021, it emerged that the team comprised some of youths wooed back from Mbabazi. These campaigners have been recruited to prop up President Museveni’s early campaign.
So, even before the official ceremonial kickoff of his reelection campaign, a routine show of political force, The Observer has learnt that the president has invested heavily in a team of youths who are moving from village to village building his structures and dismantling the opposition in the countryside.
Their patron is first lady and minister of Education and Sports Janet Museveni and the national coordinator is Edris Kiiza Kamuntu. According to some members who preferred anonymity for fear of being exposed as Mbabazi betrayers, the team plans to complete building structures from local councils to the national level by September 2019.
And they want to recruit about 40 people per village from about 60,000 villages countrywide. In total, they are looking to recruit four million voters even before the first ballot is cast in 2021.
According to Kamuntu, the team is rigorously dismantling Bobi Wine’s People Power, Kizza Besigye’s FDC and Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu’s Alliance for National Transformational (ANT) structures. They believe these have potential for raising enough dust to cause Museveni trouble.
“DP and UPC are friendly forces,” one member said. Indeed, Kamuntu emphasized the notion when The Observer reached out to him.
“They [DP and UPC] don’t enjoy a nationwide support; therefore, we can’t spend a lot of time on them. Secondly, have you ever heard of a demonstration by DP or UPC? They are not violent like the FDC and People Power,”.
So far they have covered 20 districts and allegedly recruited 1,000 People Power supporters from Kampala, its biggest stronghold.
“We are only looking for the president’s votes. We don’t want to go into the MPs’ wrangles,” another member said, adding that they are coordinating with the NRM secretariat.
The team is located on Vomito house on Kampala road. Another member told The Observer they are soon shifting to Bugolobi, a leafy Kampala suburb. On July 12, Janet Museveni met the top leadership of the team comprised about 45 members in Bugolobi.
It is during this meeting, which lasted about three hours, that she told them of the need to cooperate with other party organs but to steer clear of them.
“She said we should remain independent so that we can work effectively like we have done in the past. She assured us of benefits in the future if we deliver victory to Museveni in 2021,” said a member who attended the meeting.
He further confided that after the meeting, each participant received transport refund; the lowest being Shs 250,000. “We are lined up to meet the president soon now that his Operation Wealth Creation countrywide tours have ended,” added another member of the group.
Youthful Adam Luzindana Buyinza was one of Mbabazi’s closest aides during the 2016 election campaigns. When The Observer reached out to him for a comment, he distanced himself from Team Thorough YKM 2021.
“I quit politics after 2016 and I’m into my private business and empowering youth through employment,” said Buyinza, who used to head the Uganda Poor Youth group.
“Some of my former colleagues may have been compromised but I’m not part of that scheme to mobilise support for President Museveni much as I cannot stop him from reaching out to the youth.”
Efforts to contact Mbabazi were futile as his known numbers didn’t go through.
MUSEVENI CHANGE OF GUARD
An insider source in NRM has intimated to The Observer that the president realized he was duped in the previous campaign by some NRM leaders who used to ferry people from different areas to his rallies. But when polls opened, the ballots cast in some areas didn’t match the campaign rally numbers.
“The mafia used to lie to the president. They would get cash from him and instead of running his campaigns, they would buy houses…” the source said.
These people didn’t meet the president’s supporters. There was a gap between the president and his voters. Team Thorough is bridging that gap. They are meeting people and taking back their views to the president…”
The insider added that the president, in this reelection campaign, wants to see his real supporters attend his rallies regardless of how few they may be.
“He doesn’t want mercenaries anymore,” he said.
Kamuntu said there is realization in the NRM that the youth excitement caused by Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine is too important to ignore.
“We can’t underestimate their capacity of causing disruptions during the elections; that’s why we are organizing to counter them. We know their capacity. I don’t think they are more sophisticated than Go Forward [Mbabazi’s campaign team of 2016] that we successfully dismantled.
Mbabazi had taken over a big part of our party members but we were able to finish him. What about People Power? We have been talking with them, we know what they are thinking and we know what we need to do to win them over. I can assure you Bobi Wine might not even get ten percent of the vote in the coming election,” Kamuntu said.
Interviewed for this article, Mityana municipality MP Francis Zaake, who is also the People Power youth coordinator, said they are not surprised with the maneuvers.
“This shows that they have feared People Power so much that Museveni can only trust his wife to deliver victory. We know for a fact that they will go all the way in trying to recruit our people but we can assure them that 2021 is not going to be business as usual. If they succeeded in dismantling Go Forward, I’m afraid they are dealing with a different crop of people, not those they are used to,” Zaake said.
He, however, admitted that the NRM strategy will succeed in swaying some people from their side but not enough to deny them victory.
“Obviously, they will take some of our people by giving them money and other inducements but let me assure you, many are going to take that money and actually bring some to us to help us in the campaign,” Zaake said.
Interviewed for a comment Kakooza Bukuri, the spokesman of Team Thorough 2021, said: “We are currently recruiting, identifying, mobilizing and sensitizing people to support NRM, mainly President Museveni.”
“We are also neutralizing the opposition with our slogan of winning back Kampala since 1996,” he said.
SHIFT OF INFLUENCE IN NRM
Last June, we reported that the president’s newfound preference for youths and use of unofficial structures in the running of NRM affairs, had unsettled many high-ranking ruling party officials. See, “Museveni turns to youths, angers NRM’s old folks [June 12, 2019].”
We reported that the president, who is also the NRM national chairman, had sidestepped the party secretary general Justine Kasule Lumumba, who heads the secretariat, preferring to work with a team of youthful mobilisers under his political assistant Milly Eva Doka Babalanda.
The Babalanda team authored a damning report and handed it to the president. The report suggested the party had been infiltrated and needed an aggressive purge of its ranks of opposition supporters.
The report also nudged the president to sanction a new drive to recruit genuine party members. The idea, corroborated by a private investigation, insider sources said, swayed the president to ignore the secretariat.
“We are recruiting three youths per village. If there are over 60,000 villages in the country that comes to about 200,000 youths,” an MP who took part in the recruitment of the cadres told The Observer.
Babalanda confirmed then that the recruitment drive was on then and covered nearly 90 per cent of all villages in the country. After the recruitment drive, the three youths-per-village will be trained and sent back to their respective villages to form youth groups. The target is to have at least three youth groups each composed of about 45 members who will then get development funds.
This, according to the source, explains why the Youth Livelihood Funds were moved from the ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development to State House, whose budget allocations were also increased.
“Truth is, the 2021 election is going to be about youths; the generational phenomenon by Bobi Wine has changed the game plan and I can assure you, Museveni’s focus is on the youth, for now, there is nothing he wants the older politicians for,” the source said.
Babalanda’s activities have, however, unsettled the party’s core. Some members of the Central Executive Committee (CEC), NRM’s topmost decision-making organ, wrote to Museveni on May 28 urging him to respect the party organs.
“We have observed with dismay, the targeted impunity and indiscipline with which a few of the ‘cadres’ identified and recruited by the office of the national chairman have misused and abused the social media platforms to attempt to undermine the integrity and decisions of CEC and other organs and institutions of the NRM,” the CEC members wrote on May 28, further warning that the said impunity and indiscipline, if not checked, would increase internal contradictions.