By Nicholas Opiyo
The news of President Museveni’s appointment of Hon. Dr Ruhakana Rugunda to replace Hon. John Patrick Amama Mbabazi as the country’s premier flickered in on Friday morning.
What started as a rumor was confirmed later in the day by the government spokesperson, Ofwono Opondo and Sarah Kagingo, a Presidential aide on new media. Both posted on their social media platforms the official letter addressed to the Speaker of Parliament confirming the appointment of Hon. Dr. Rugunda as premier ‘with immediate effect’.
Amama Mbabazi standing with Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, the newly appointed Prime Minister of Uganda.
Expectedly, scores of analysts and media house descended on the story providing analysis and ‘context’ with many suggesting that the dropping of Hon. Amama was long overdue. They attribute this to what appeared a habouring of presidential ambitions by the Hon Amama. Rumors have for long now been doing the round that Hon Amama is eyeing the presidency in the 2016 general election.
This is when his aging boss (he recently held a birthday party saying he was 70) has shown no sign of retiring. At a party retreat last year he was hounded by junior members of the party. Mid this year, the party chief whip, the frumpy Kasule Lumumba appeared to lash at the former PM for failing (or is it refusing) to popularize the NRM resolution of Museveni as a sole candidate.
Some commentators have even suggested that the former premier had been tossed under the yellow bus and forced to publicly declare his presidential bid. Rallies were held in Kampala to thank the president for dropping Amama. In typical Amama, he issued a statement congratulating his successor and thanking the president for giving him the chance to serve the country. He offered himself to serve the ‘country'(read not NRM) in any capacity.
There is resounding silence from the Jacqueline Mbabazi (his wife’s) camp post his dropping. This itself is strange given that the lady had previously taken on the party hierarchy when challenged about her convert activities viewed as campaigns for her husband.
Rather than focus on the Amama, I draw my analysis from the choice of his successor, the Hon Ruhakana Rugunda. In spite of his warmth and ability to draw affection from across the political aisle, he cannot be aid to be a very astute politician in the murky waters of multiparty politics. He may have led the failed (disowned by Museveni at some point) Juba peace process, served as president of the UN Security Council, but Rugunda is a political failure at constituency politics. He was defeated felt in the NRM primaries in the 2011 round of elections.
He was only able to bounce back in cabinet and as an ex-official in parliament because of the magnanimity of the president who appointed him. It cannot be said that he commands a critical constituency. It can thus be safely concluded that his political fortunes is tied in the garment of the Museveni political calculations generosity.
But in finding what I think is the real reason for the change at the premier’s office; one has to look beyond Mbabazi but to Kyadondo road, the NRM’s headquarters and to 2016. Mbabazi after all is a long time friend of Museveni and declared personally that he will not contest against Museveni in 2016. Let’s take him for his words.
At Plot 10 Kyadondo road, Rugunda is the party’s election chief. He will preside over the party election and presumably lead the president’s country search for votes. At the same address, Mbabazi sits as the SG of the party but in fact only a shadowy SG given the appointment of Richard Todwong as Minister without Portfolio in charge of political mobilization. Museveni looks set to win the 2016 elections but needs a subdued legislature, not riotous and indiscipline lot as the current. Thus the party must invest in parliamentary elections.
In order for him to do that, he needs the vast resources of the OPM to provide an outlay for the many NRM cadres seeking election. It is an open secret that the ruling party has often times used the hundreds of projects in the OPM to promote party candidates. This has been so in areas where the NRM had difficulties winning elections such as Northern Uganda, Teso sub-region.
Government programs are presented as an NRM program and aspirants tagged along either as having lobbied or as implementers of these projects. Beneficiaries are chosen along party lines as rewards for their loyalty to the NRM.
Hon Rugunda is on a mission to accomplish this task and deliver a fresh lot of NRM MPs and other lower level leaders who will not burden the old man but owe their elections to his ‘generosity’ and ‘magninity’ Massive OPM programs will now be unleashed to NRM structures through its party EC Chairman, now PM.
In my view that is the real reason for the unusual reshuffle. My guess is that Amama will bounce back in some way. A 40 year friendship is not ended so easily.