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Museveni Friend Turns Rival in Uganda Campaign

FILE - Uganda's Former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi gives a speech at the World Economic Forum Meeting on Africa, Cape Town, S. Africa, May 9, 2013.

After years of speculation, Ugandans awoke Monday to news that former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi would be running for president in 2016.

In what is seen as a sharp blow to President Yoweri Museveni, who was a close ally to Mbabazi for nearly 30 years, Mbabazi declared his candidacy on YouTube, saying the current system of government must be reinvigorated.

Both Mbabazi and Museveni worked together to establish the nation's ruling political party, the National Resistance Movement, as well as the current government until two years ago, when a rift formed between them.

Many speculated it was because Mbabazi had overstepped politically, trying to seize more power.

Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni prepares to deliver his state of the nation address in the capital Kampala, June 4, 2015.
Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni prepares to deliver his state of the nation address in the capital Kampala, June 4, 2015.

On Tuesday, President Museveni responded to Mbabazi’s declaration with his own video, accusing the former prime minister of wasting everyone’s time with such a premature announcement. He also asked how someone who had been a key player in government for so long could demonize the current shape of the nation.

While some have criticized the video, saying it makes Museveni appear scared and defensive, political blogger Michael Freeman Ojula thinks it was the right move.

“The posting of that video, the Museveni video, online, that is the kind of president Ugandans want to see," said Ojula. "They want to see that kind of president who does not just keep in hiding when something wrong is happening. They want a reactive president; it showed that he has given even Mbabazi a freedom to say what he feels like saying, so it has actually played him a very good PR.”

Mbabazi says he intends to run within the NRM, a party for whom he was secretary-general until late 2014, when Museveni, NRM chairman, removed him.

To run on the NRM ticket, Mbabazi's candidacy will have to be approved within party ranks. Although difficult, some observers say it is not impossible.

explained why .

"I think he should come out and take responsibility first for the failures in the system, because he has been part of the system,” said political analyst Owen Erima, insisting the former prime minister must be strategically cautious.

“He should apologize for the failures the government did, which he was part of, and then he should maybe go ahead and tell the people, this is the new beginning for us," Erima said. "But if Mbabazi plays victim, which I suspect he will, I do not think very many Ugandans are going to like him. And the fact that Ugandans will not forget the things he did. And you know why? Because NRM will constantly remind them.”

Uganda's electoral commission has chastised Mbabazi for his announcement, which it said is ahead of its campaign program.

Government Spokesman Ofwano Opondo also came out against Mbabazi on social media saying that he “started a war he will not win.” On the other side, Mbabazi supporters accuse the government of tearing down campaign posters and arresting supporters.

But many see this declaration as a game changer, which has sparked lively debate across Kampala, leaving many to wonder what Mbabazi's next move will bring for the future of government, the NRM and Uganda.

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