Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni has replaced Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi - after what analysts suggest was a growing rivalry between these two major players within the NRM political party. There are rumblings that Mbabazi may challenge the long-serving president in the next elections.
For years, tensions have been reported between Ugandan President Museveni and his prime minister, Amama Mbabazi. On September 19, the president’s office made public that Mbabazi would be replaced by former minister of health, Ruhakana Rugunda.
Mbabazi received an outpouring of support on social media after his dismissal, although he described himself as “actually very fine”.
Mbabazi remains the secretary-general for the country’s leading political party, the National Resistance Movement, or NRM. During President Museveni’s rise to power almost 30 years ago, Mbabazi played a crucial role as his right hand man, fighting in the bush next to Museveni, and helping the NRM achieve popular support.
According to political insiders, Mbabazi’s intentions to run for President in 2016 caused sharp divisions within the party, which led directly to his being fired. However, government spokesman, Ofwano Opondo, tells VOA his dismissal was in line with party rules, which do not allow one person to serve as both prime minister and as secretary-general.
“In this particular case we made a resolution way back in October 2010… And we said whoever is elected secretary-general of the party shall not hold any other full time job in government… indeed when his name was brought up by the President as prime minister… we said ‘we elected you secretary-general, are you accepting the position of prime minister.?” He said ‘yes.’ We said ‘in that case we require you comply with the resolution’… He said ‘once I go through the necessary ratification at Parliament and I’m confirmed as prime minister I will step down within three weeks.’ We have waited for him for three years," said Opondo.
Yet inside political circles, Mbabazi’s intentions to run for president are anything but secret. Beti Kamya, the president of the Uganda Federal Alliance party, explains Mbabazi’s current options within the NRM party are limited.
“What is more likely, for me too, he could patch up with the president… because if he doesn’t the options are not good," said Kamya. "The prospects are not good at all… He could salvage his relationship with the president, buy some time, and reorganize himself. I think that would be a smart option. His future will depend on President Museveni… As long as you admit that you were wrong, and he was right and you’re sorry and it’s up to him to make or break you, he’ll take you back… But it’s not likely Mbabazi will say that.
Without mending this rift, Kamya speculates it’s only a matter of time before Mbabazi is thrown out of the NRM entirely. The NRM Vice Chairperson for the East, Captain Mike Mukula, has already publicly called on Mbabazi to resign.
President Museveni gave a lively speech on September 28, warning that the NRM is nothing to play around with, and those who wanted to disrupt party could go elsewhere.
Although neither Mbabazi nor Museveni have directly stated their intentions for upcoming elections, if Mbabazi decides to run, he could be the first critical threat to President Museveni’s power in three decades.