With Museveni still blowing hot and cold, a pattern finally emerges

Saturday January 3 2015

Youthful NRM supporters show their support for President Yoweri Museveni. The party leader has entrusted key positions to the youth but is still the presidential flagbearer in 2016 elections. FILE PHOTO | MORGAN MBABAZI |

Youthful NRM supporters show their support for President Yoweri Museveni. The party leader has entrusted key positions to the youth but is still the presidential flagbearer in 2016 elections. FILE PHOTO | MORGAN MBABAZI |  NATION MEDIA GROUP

By MICHAEL WAKABI, The EastAfrican

After breaking many promises to retire, President Yoweri Museveni has become a permanent fixture of Ugandan politics and all indications are that he will still be around for some time, at least until 2021.

As the country eased into 2015, President Museveni was giving away little of his game plan. Speaking on December 30 at a memorial service for the father of CID chief Grace Akullo in Dokolo, a remote district in northern Uganda, President Museveni broached the subject of his mortality and succession.

But he was ambiguous.

“Those who are worried about Uganda should not develop high blood pressure; you should just concentrate on fighting poverty. Other things will work out themselves,” he said in reference to public speculation about his tenure.

The past year has seen the bush war fighter, who by January 26 will have ruled Uganda for 29 years, consolidate his position further by purging potential contenders to the throne and striking a new alliance with the youth.

The ruling National Resistance Movement Party’s national conference on December 15 cemented President Museveni as the undisputed leader of his party and Uganda after it sacked Amama Mbabazi as secretary-general.

Mr Mbabazi had been relieved of the prime-ministerial portfolio in October after he was accused of harbouring presidential ambitions months earlier.

On December 21, President Museveni turned the party secretariat upside down, placing youths in the key positions of secretary-general and treasurer and their deputies.

According to sources, though his nominations caused some unease in the NRM central executive committee, President Museveni argued that the youth should be given an opportunity to make their mistakes and learn the ropes. This means that outside the two dozen members of the CEC and the 500-strong national executive committee, the president is effectively the only elder directly running the party.

Ring-fence the presidency

When faced with an alleged plot by his long-time friend and party secretary-general John Patrick Amama Mbabazi to contest for the NRM presidential flag during the party’s next elective assembly due this year, President Museveni’s first reaction was to ring-fence the presidency around himself.

The move was championed by a section of the party’s youth wing, which hatched a plan to have the president declared the party’s sole presidential candidate for the February 2016 elections.

These moves appear to fit into a less discussed but radical succession plan that President Museveni is reported to have floated to inner circles of the ruling party and armed forces some time last year. If adopted, the plan would see a change of guard that favours the next generation and a partial weaning of the military off politics.  

The EastAfrican has learnt that, during one of the meetings of the Army Council in 2013, President Museveni told the military’s top brass that it was time to begin thinking about a gradual transfer of power to the younger generation in both the party and the army. 

According to our sources, President Museveni also told the generals that they should get used to the idea of reporting to a civilian commander-in-chief, because, in his words, Uganda was an electoral democracy and it would be a misnomer for the Office of the President to be associated with men in uniform.  

While he reportedly asked party members to identify a non-soldier to succeed him, the head of state also told them to look beyond his peers because, according to him, there would be no point in transferring power to his agemates since their role should be to oversee the transition and help the young generation through the ropes while they are still of value. 

Seen as a Trojan horse

President Museveni’s proposal, according to other sources, was not received with enthusiasm because many suspected that it was a Trojan horse for his son Brig Muhoozi Kainerugaba, whose rapid rise through the ranks has been a source of public debate, to succeed him.

Equally, many of the president’s peers who have waited in the wings for a long time for a shot at the presidency felt that it was unfair for the party leader to lock the door on them. 

While members on the NRM’s CEC we spoke to said President Museveni was yet to present such proposals to the ruling party, they added that the subject of an orderly succession has been impressed on the leader. 

“I have personally told him that some us are too old and are not ready to go back into exile or expose our children to the risks of a chaotic transfer of power,” said a CEC member who declined to be named. “From what I have heard, he has taken these concerns seriously and actually drawn up a shortlist of candidates.” 

The list, according to the CEC member, draws from people within the country and Ugandans in the diaspora with some falling within President Museveni’s age bracket and others slightly younger.  A common denominator is that all of them are civilians and have a clean record of service, the source added.    

Reading from recent shuffles in the military, the president appears to have embarked on a systematic implementation of his strategy there.

New generation in command

A new generation has taken command. With the exception of the office of Chief of Defence Forces, where Gen Katumba Wamala and his deputy Maj-Gen Charles Angina are the last holdouts from the older generation, the other divisions of the army are under the command of young officers.  

The land forces, previously led by Gen Wamala, are now under the command of the youthful Maj-Gen David Muhoozi while the Special Forces Command, responsible for missions such as the ongoing hunt for the LRA in the Central African Republic and the AU peacekeeping mission to Somalia, is headed by Brig Kainerugaba.

Cannot hand over power

Sources in the ruling party’s CEC further say that President Museveni cannot hand over power next year, however, because he needs that term to superintend his succession. But while his plan for a generational change in the military seems to be proceeding smoothly, weaning them off politics is less certain.

Surprisingly, President Museveni has said nothing about his intentions for the 10 army representatives in parliament, whose presence remains an oddity in parliamentary democracies.

If the plan did gain traction among his peers back then, however, the president’s recent move to entrust key party positions to the youth appears to show his resolve to push through with the succession plan.

But with his impending endorsement as the NRM flag bearer in the forthcoming polls, it is clear that he intends to be around — at least for the next six years.