Uganda: 2014 in review and forecast for 2015

Uganda's 2014 in review and forecast for 2015

In a forecast for 2014 for the Kampala Dispatch, this writer wrote at the beginning of 2014:

“2013 was a continuation from all the years since 2005, not just in terms of weeks and months, but the atmosphere that has taken hold in Uganda since the lifting of presidential term limits in 2005. The population was becoming more and more resigned to the fact that there was nothing it could do about the NRM government and all efforts by the opposition so far were not bearing any fruit.”

There was no better example of the failure of the opposition to come up with enough purpose and power to challenge Yoweri Museveni’s rule than what transpired in 2014.

Speculation over Amama Mbabazi’s presidential bid

Amama Mbabazi
Prime Minister and Secretary-General of the National Resistance Movement (NRM), Amama Mbabazi. Courtesy Photo.

There had been rumours in 2013 from within the ruling NRM party and other corridors of power that the Prime Minister and Secretary-General of the NRM, Amama Mbabazi, might be considering a run for the presidency in the 2016 general election.

The public did not give it much thought until mid February when the NRM parliamentary caucus went on a retreat to the National Leadership Institute at Kyankwanzi.

On the final day, a vote was called to decide the question of who would be the NRM’s presidential candidate for 2016. 200 votes were cast for the party’s chairman, Yoweri Museveni, who is also Uganda’s head of state.

Then all eyes turned to Mbabazi to see what he would do. Mbabazi also endorsed Museveni, to jubilation among the party members. The following day, Sunday February 16, the main national newspapers led with the story that Mbabazi had endorsed Museveni.

To many Ugandans who did not know the behind-the-scenes story, these front page headlines were puzzling. Why was Mbabazi’s endorsement of Museveni being treated as news? Was anything else expected than an endorsement by one of Museveni’s most loyal officials?

As the Kyankwanzi resolution started being analysed, the public soon came to learn that there was much behind this story that they had not known. In 2003, according to Mbabazi, Museveni had committed himself to handing over power one day to Mbabazi.

Taking the president’s word at it, Mbabazi had started preparing for this day, which was taken to be 2016. Mbabazi started placing intelligence officers, Resident District Commissioners, and other public officials in key places. These were Mbabazi supporters.

Eventually Mbabazi, a meticulous workaholic, had created a system within the NRM political, intelligence and military system that was a party within a party.

Mbabazi’s wife Jacqueline and other family members were also said to be playing an active role in the building of this network of supporters for Mbabazi’s bid.

By 2013, the pro-NRM section within the NRM had become sufficiently concerned about Mbabazi’s growing clout that they came to perceive it as a political threat to Museveni.

It was felt that the Kyankwanzi gathering should be the right place to decide once and for all where NRM party loyalty lay and that is when the roll-call was made.

Mbabazi played it cool at Kyankwanzi and it seemed that the matter had at last been resolved. But there was another meeting to come, this time at State House in Entebbe where there were further efforts to pressure Mbabazi to declare his lack of interest in the presidency.

At this State House meeting, according to sources, there were further attempts at humiliating Mbabazi, with young NRM Members of Parliament denouncing and insulting him, until Museveni had to step in and rebuke the young Turks.

After this March 4 meeting in Entebbe, the rest of the Museveni-Mbabazi story was left over to the media to digest, speculate upon, write about and investigate. Mrs. Mbabazi gave a number of interviews to the media. She came across as outspoken and even more ambitious for the presidency than Mbabazi himself, who remained largely silent.

When he was hosted by Capital FM’s “Capital Gang” talk show on March 8, Mbabazi once again was vague about his alleged presidential bid. Those reading between the lines knew he had some kind of ambition but was not yet ready to go public about it. On Capital FM, he played the loyal party cadre.

In the coming weeks, the move to clamp down on Mbabazi’s power base started getting serious. The police had been arresting NRM youths loyal to Mbabazi before March, but now it picked up in intensity.

There were efforts to woo pro-Mbabazi aides and operatives back to the main NRM fold. Events of Mbabazi supporters meeting Museveni at State House and pledging loyalty to him were given publicity. Mbabazi did not publicly react to the undercutting of his power base.

Then in September, there was a surprise announcement that Mbabazi had been sacked as Prime Minister in what was termed a cabinet “reshuffle”, but in which no other cabinet member was dropped or moved to another portfolio.

Once again, Mbabazi took this move on him with calm and polite respect, thanking the president for entrusting him with the high office of Prime Minister and expressing his intention to serve in any other capacity that the president might decide to entrust him with.

In parliament, Mbabazi was jovial in praising his successor, Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda, narrating their years dating back to the early 1970s in the anti-Amin struggle and wishing him all the best.

Mbabazi’s positive tone impressed many people, who welcomed his civil manner and this started gaining him admiration among the political class and the media.

But Mbabazi had still not directly answered the one question everyone was interested in: would he or would he not run for president in 2016? Mbabazi’s silence began to disappoint and discourage some of his supporters.

Many had been arrested and many were exposing themselves to the wrath of the security agencies, all for a man who this late in 2014 was still not forthcoming about any presidential ambitions. As far as was publicly known, Mbabazi had not made a move to intervene on behalf of his supporters in police custody or coming under the surveillance of the intelligence agencies.

It was announced that the NRM would hold a delegates’ conference in mid December. Speculation immediately began that this conference was another move to purge Mbabazi’s remaining influence within the NRM. There were rumours about Mbabazi preparing a show of force at Namboole, the venue of the conference.

When the conference finally came, it proved to be an anti-climax. NRM delegates mostly kept quiet, the president addressed it and the First Lady, Janet Museveni, delivered the closing prayer.

Mbabazi was dropped as Secretary-General of the NRM, he still did not say anything. The anticipated show of force by Mbabazi did not materialize as disappointment with Mbabazi continued to mount in the media and political circles.

By the end of 2014, Museveni appeared to have rid himself of this final challenge to his power and dominance of the NRM party, with the Mbabazi camp silent and not putting up a counter move.

There were still rumours that Mbabazi planned to announce his bid, but by now many who had first invested their hopes in him were dismayed by his lack of a pro-active stance. Even his wife Jacqueline who had been defiant during the first half of the year was now quiet.

Had Mbabazi all along been overestimated?

Was it, as some commentators said, that his rise to prominence since 1986 had been because throughout his career he did Museveni’s bidding, derived his powers and prestige from being a Museveni aide and without Museveni’s supportive and official hand, there was no real Mbabazi power base?

It seemed so, because by the beginning of 2015, Museveni was speaking at public rallies in Kabale and marking the NRM’s 29th anniversary in power in Soroti, like a man who was now the undisputed leader of Uganda with no challenger in sight and with the ability to say and do anything he pleases.

Return of Gen. Sejusa

General David Sejusa
Gen. David Sejusa formally known as Tinyefuza. Courtesy Photo.

On December 14, 2014, Gen. David Sejusa made a surprise return to Uganda. Gen. Sejusa (formerly known as Tinyefuza) was until April 2013 the Coordinator of the national intelligence agencies and one of the most senior army officers since the NRM government came to power in 1986.

He had gained a reputation even before the NRM took power, of questioning the way the guerrilla organization was run. In 1996, he questioned the professionalism of the army and announced he wanted to retire. The army rejected his application, after which followed a High Court hearing than went on into 1997.

The latest expression of dissent was in April 2013 when he alleged that there was a plan to eliminate him, the Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi and the Chief of Defence Forces, Gen. Aronda Nyakirima, whom, Sejusa alleged, were marked out for opposing what had been termed the “Muhoozi Project”.

The “Muhoozi Project” was a term used for the belief or allegation that President Museveni was grooming his son, Brig. Muhoozi Kainerugaba, to rise through the ranks and eventually succeed his father as Uganda’s head of state at a future date.

Under that pretext, Sejusa fled into exile in London. Military intelligence is reported to have searched his home at Naguru. From London, the renegade general issued several statements to the BBC, Voice of America and other western media, denouncing President Museveni and announcing his intention to remove the NRM regime by arms if need be.

These bold statements electrified Ugandans, not used to seeing men unapologetic about declaring intentions of taking up arms against the government. Sejusa continued to issue statements that were eagerly read by the online Ugandan community.

He revealed details about the 2006 general election, claimed it had been won by the FDC’s presidential candidate Dr. Kizza Besigye, as well as sensitive statements about several unexplained, high profile deaths in recent years.

Several people were suspicious about Sejusa’s intentions. They believed he was a decoy created by the government itself to appear like a disgruntled officer and under that cover, spy on the Ugandan community in the U.K or convince other disgruntled officers to join him in this purported armed struggle.

Then once the other disgruntled officers revealed their identity, they would be arrested.

To others, Sejusa’s grievances seemed genuine. Several of the allegations he made, especially about mysterious deaths of leading political and military figures, were of a kind that it was difficult to explain away as an attempt to woo disgruntled officers into his camp.

If Sejusa alleged that Museveni was behind some of these deaths, a suspicion many in the public had, it was hard to see how he could still be working for Museveni.

That is what made his return in Uganda in December that much of a surprise. He returned not through a border crossing by road but through Entebbe International Airport where he was met by the Director-General of the International Security Organisation, Ronald Balya.

It appeared to confirm the suspicions of the skeptics that this “exile” had been a hoax all along and that Sejusa was just another front created by the state to divide the opposition.

However, Sejusa after a few days distanced himself from the allegations that he was a state agent all along and insisted that he had returned home to conduct his “struggle” from home soil.

His claims seemed legitimate when early in January his home was surrounded by military police. But before the public could digest this latest twist, Sejusa was pictured at a meeting at State House Entebbe with President Museveni, both men in talks at their head of their respective delegations.

Once again the question was raised about what was going on: was this a hoax or real? Was this Gen. Sejusa’s way of trying to attract Museveni’s attention, by sounding like an angry and cantankerous army officer, and by that got Museveni to sort him out with a “brown envelope”? the public remained confused about all this.

The one thing it revealed, however, was the leadership style of Museveni. In countries like Rwanda and South Sudan, a fall out between the President and senior army generals led to the break out of a serious civil war, as in the case of South Sudan, or the generals were in jail or exile.

In the way he handled Tinyefuza, Museveni showed an odd kind of pragmatism or even magnanimity. He could have back an army general who had, for all intents and purposes, mutinied. He could meet him at State House without seeking that the general renounce his statements about armed rebellion.

That kind of co-existence would be unimaginable in South Sudan, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Eritrea and most other African countries.

Closure of Air Uganda

Air Uganda

In June, Air Uganda’s operations were suspended following an audit of its safety record, leaving Uganda with one less airline at Entebbe, hundreds of Air Uganda employees and suppliers without jobs or work and as a result, the Kenya Airways two-way ticket to and from Entebbe to Nairobi becoming that much more expensive than it already was.

The year of scandalous photos and video on the Internet

Ugandan singer Desire Luzinda's nude photos were leaked by her Nigerian ex-boyfriend Franklin Emuobor and has been buzzing online.
Ugandan singer Desire Luzinda’s nude photos were leaked by her Nigerian ex-boyfriend Franklin Emuobor and has been buzzing online.

The first of these explicit pictures to make the rounds on the Internet was about six years ago when pictures of two employees, the chief engineer and one of the female staff of the phone company Zain (now called Airtel), went public Rosette.

Next, it was Cindy Sanyu, the former singer with the girl group Blu*3 in 2008.

The Red Pepper also followed those up with semi-nude pictures of the KFM’s music selector Bettina Tumuhaise.

There followed semi-nude photos of Fiona Bitariho, a former member of the singing group the Obsessions in 2009, then pictures of Shanita Namuyimba, better known as Bad Black.

In 2014, two Kampala socialites, the singer Desire Luzinda and Zari Hassan, became the subjects of videos or photographs that were distributed on the Internet by former lovers.

This public exposure of their private and intimate moments of well-known Kampala girls does not seem to have taught others to be more discreet. In early February 2015, a video of Sanyu Robinah Mweruka, news anchor of Bukedde TV, also went public on the Internet.

These scandals are different from those involving the intrusive media: they are taken by one or both parties in the privacy of a room and later when the relationship turns sour, they are leaked to the public as an act of revenge.

The fact that every cell phone over the last three years now comes with a camera and most also capable of recording video, has made it much easier for people to lower their guard.

In 2015, there will undoubtedly be many more such videos and photos to come.

By Timothy Kalyegira