President Yoweri Museveni has sacked his long time confidant Amama Mbabazi from the position of prime minister, and replaced him with Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, in what political watchers say will end the uncertainty that was eating into the party members’ loyalty, and project the Head of State as a resolute leader.
The sacking of Mr Mbabazi, five months after he was almost relieved of his duties as secretary-general of the ruling National Resistance Movement, also laid bare determination to stop any opposition to President Museveni’s candidature in the 2016 elections.
Mr Mbabazi becomes the first prime minister to be sacked in Museveni’s 28-year rule; his stint is the shortest.
“I have with immediate effect, decided to appoint Dr Ruhakana Rugunda as the new prime minister of Uganda,” the president said in a letter to the Speaker of parliament. No reason was given for relieving Mr Mbabazi of his duties.
NRM spokesperson Ofwono Opondo told The EastAfrican the party was unhappy with Mr Mbabazi for backtracking on his promise to relinquish the position of prime minister once he was voted in as secretary-general. However, Mr Mbabazi’s supporters say his crime has been to openly declare his ambition for the presidency.
Although he had said he would not contest against President Museveni, he often asked, “What is wrong with having a political ambition?” This had been construed by Museveni’s camp as daring to unseat the Head of State.
Mr Mbabazi, who served on the political wing of the guerrilla war that saw Museveni take over power in 1986, has worked with Museveni for four decades and was one of the few remaining historicals in the government. Many have either died or fallen out with Museveni.
His sacking, political watchers in Kampala say, could also see an all-out war between the two close friends in the next election or send Mr Mbabazi into a political abyss like many before him who fell out with the system.
The Museveni-Mbabazi wrangles have been festering since 2008 but climaxed early this year amid allegations that he has been quietly building a financial base and mobilisation structures to eventually replace President Museveni as party leader and Head of State.
His sacking last week, insiders in the ruling NRM party and political watchers in Kampala point out, was partly triggered by a statement he made while flagging off a group to tour Rwanda, urging the youth to rise up, prepare themselves to take over the leadership mantle and set the bar even higher.
“This was long overdue, it was only a matter of time,” said former minister in Milton Obote and Museveni’s governments Aggrey Awori. “He is accused of mobilising the youth.”
Makerere University don Mwabutsya Ndebesa, agrees that Mr Mbabazi was on his way out and “it was long overdue because President Museveni is traditionally a Marxist and also during his stay in Tanzania, he adopted socialism. These ideas do not tolerate opposition.”
How Mr Mbabazi responds to the sacking, analysts say, will determine the political future of both men and the political landscape in Uganda in the run-up to the 2016 election.
Mr Mbabazi had the option of resigning from the position in April and avoid the humiliation but he chose to stay, pointing to a determination that he was ready to take on a man for whom he was alter ego for four decades.
According to Mr Awori, the president’s decision to sack Mr Mbabazi could give the former premier time to concentrate on the party and entrench himself further and popularise his ambition to contest.
Having worked as President Museveni’s close ally in charge of the country’s security apparatus and different ministries, Mr Mbabazi has built both internal and external networks, which could come in handy should he decide to challenge President Museveni in the State House race.
“The network he has built over the years is enough to help him win the party leadership,” said Mr Awori.
The first attempt to remove him from the position of secretary-general failed in 2012, when during a National Executive Committee meeting, a gathering of party leaders from across the country openly supported his quest to remain party secretary general and others accused Museveni of double standards in picking on Mr Mbabazi while other party officials served both in the party and government.
At the height of the wrangles between President Museveni and Mr Mbabazi in March, intelligence officials released transcripts of what they said was a recording to prove that Mbabazi and his family were mobilising against the party chairman.
Mr Mbabazi and his wife admitted mobilising support within the NRM party, but said they had done so to counter unfair attempts to force the prime minister to resign from his position as secretary-general.
READ: Mbabazi’s wife calls Uganda’s NRM ‘fascist’
The intelligence agencies, including the Inspector General of Police, however continued to raise red flag over the Mbabazis activities and networks, both within and outside the country, especially among Chinese businesspeople and with the Israeli security establishment.
Political watchers, however, say a confrontation with President Museveni could be to Mr Mbabazi’s disadvantage.
Over the years, President Museveni has blocked attempts to investigate Mr Mbabazi or simply stalled implementation of recommendations from investigations.
Already, parliament in its ongoing probe into alleged mismanagement of the workers fund has reopened the investigation into the possibility of the former premier having influenced the National Social Security Fund managers to buy his piece of land at an exorbitant price.
There are also rumours that the Inspector General of Government could soon re-open a case in which Mr Mbabazi is accused of having caused financial loss to the government in procurement of security gadgets for Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.
The pro-Museveni camp has three major constituencies: Fellow senior party officials who see him as a political rival for any situation vacant; young party officials who, in smelling the prime minister’s political blood, have seen an opportunity to advance their own careers; and the “Musevenists” who have vested personal interests in the status quo.
A number of historical and senior party members have accused the former premier, some publicly and others quietly, of being behind the growing number of independent, but NRM leaning MPs and the architect of their defeat at elective politics especially in primaries given that Mr Mbabazi has been in charge of the process.
Former vice president Prof Gilbert Bukenya and Justice and Constitutional Affairs minister Maj Gen Kahinda Otafiire, who he defeated in the race for secretary general 2010, are publicly critical of Mr Mbabazi.
Other historicals who fell out with the system before him, have accused Mr Mbabazi of being behind their woes.
Political analysts point that the hard blows to Mr Mbabazi political career will continue to come from the party Young Turks he has tutored like Eastern Youth MP Peter Ogwang, Youth Minister Ronald Kibuule and Northern Uganda Youth MP Evelyn Anite.
Ms Anite, backed by a group of youth formerly close to Mr Mbabazi, moved the controversial proposal to endorse President Museveni as the sole NRM party candidate in the 2016 election early this year. The U-turn by these youth leaders is however seen more as political opportunism given the coming election.
The plan was, however, carefully orchestrated, outside the party structure, leaving the pro-Mbabazi camp flat-footed.
Political watchers point out that the outcome of wrangle between the two, will now depend on how Mr Mbabazi picks up the pieces. There is a quiet ongoing purge of the former PM allies within government.
Sources say a cabinet reshuffle is due anytime and many pro-Mbabazi ministers will be dropped.