In June, former Ugandan Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi announced his intention to run in 2016 presidential elections. Mbabazi intends to run as the presidential candidate of the ruling National Resistance Movement, hoping to be chosen by the party ahead of long time leader, President Yoweri Museveni. However, following his almost certain defeat in NRM primaries, it is likely that Mbabazi will run as an opposition candidate. The opposition camp has united to form the Democratic Alliance, agreeing to put forward a single candidate against the NRM in a move similar to that which enabled the ascension to power of newly elected Nigerian president, Muhammadu Buhari. FRANK CHARNAS takes a look.
Amama Mbabazi is a long serving member of the National Resistance Movement (NRM), and was once one of the closest allies of President Yoweri Museveni. But in September 2014, Museveni had Mbabazi removed from his post of prime minister in a move that was widely understood to be a step aimed at preventing Mbabazi’s presidential ambitions. Later in the month, the military carried out a raid on Mbabazi’s residence, arrested two of his bodyguards and replaced his military security contingency with police forces.
There is a high level of political intimidation in Uganda, with opposition leaders often facing arbitrary arrest. The police have also restricted Mbabazi’s freedom of assembly placing him under ‘preventive arrest’ earlier in July in an attempt to restrict him from being able to travel to a political rally, as he had not received party permission to visit the town in question.
Mbabazi is not without support within the NRM, and it is likely for this reason that he has decided to run as a presidential candidate within the party. Mbabazi has held multiple positions of influence within the government and within the NRM, and thus has an extensive network of supporters and loyalists, including within the defence and intelligence structures. His supporters are likely to be shunned by the party following any intra-party election, and thus may be forced to follow Mbabazi into the opposition, creating fractures within the NRM. Additionally it is likely that these linkages may aid Mbabazi as he contends with the already evident political crackdown. This situation almost certainly gives the former prime minister an edge over other potential opposition presidential candidates.
It may be a hard task for Mbabazi to gain the support of a unified opposition camp following his tenure as prime minister and his long history with the ruling NRM. Under his watch, the government passed legislation that was extremely damaging to the opposition camp such as the controversial Public Order Management Bill, which made it illegal for three or more people to discuss politics in public without police permission. Additionally, those opposed to the government believe that the NRM has used supporters to infiltrate the opposition in the past, and may thus be wary of any leader with past links to the ruling party.
There is a precedent in Uganda for opposition presidential candidates to emerge from within the structures of the ruling party. However none of the previous challengers to Museveni have been as close an ally to the president or as influential as Mbabazi. A prominent example of this phenomenon is three time presidential contender from the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) Col. Kizza Besigye. Besigye has openly stated that he is willing to support Mbabazi as a transitional leader, provided that his selection process is transparent. This may be the most clear indication that opposition leaders are likely to rally behind Mbabazi. Therefore, despite his past allegiances, the former prime minister may represent the best option in the effort to unseat Museveni.
That said, the NRM has a firm grip on government in the country, and it is unlikely that an opposition candidate other that Mbabazi could realistically mount a challenge to Museveni. Therefore, despite his past, the former prime minister may represent the best option in the effort to unseat Museveni.
The tactic of uniting the opposition into a single, albeit fragmented alliance was responsible for the defeat of former Nigerian president, Goodluck Jonathan, and the election of former military dictator Muhammadu Buhari. Buhari has since struggled to maintain unity among his disjointed party, yet his election certainly sets a unique example for other countries in the continent.
However, Uganda is not Nigeria, the NRM is extremely well entrenched, has a sure hold over the security forces and continuously demonstrates that it is willing to use governmental power to further its political ends. Therefore, a great deal of political bravery and civil society support will be needed if this is to be Uganda’s ‘Buhari moment’. Nevertheless, it is clear that Museveni has never before faced a legitimate challenge in the polls, and thus the high profile presidential bid of Mbabazi, whether it be from within the NRM or as an opposition candidate, could be the most prominent threat to the ruling party since it rose to power 29 years ago. DM
Photo: The Prime Minister of Uganda, Amama Mbabazi after laying a wreath at the ‘Eternal Flame’ in the ‘Hall of Remembrance’ at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, 29 April 2012 during a ceremony honoring the six-million Jews exterminated by the Nazis during the Holocaust during WWII. EPA/ABIR SULTAN
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