Silence, they say, is golden. Well, could that be said of former Prime Minister John Patrick Amama Mbabazi, a man of serious political clout who has not issued any political statement for about four months now.
Mr Mbabazi is famed for having played a big role in the survival of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) for about four decades, beginning in 1973 to September 2015, when he was dropped as Premier.
But known as a suave and reclusive operator, Mr Mbabazi has been silent for the past four months since the February elections, prompting lingering questions regarding his whereabouts and what he has next up on his sleeves.
The elections were won by his erstwhile friend and long time political ally Mr Yoweri Museveni of the National Resistance Movement (NRM), further putting a wedge between the two men who at one point were politically inseparable.
Indeed, while still bosom friends, submissions by the NRM Chairman Museveni usually pointed to the fact that Mr Mbabazi was instrumental in the campaigns to rid Uganda of the various dictatorships, beginning with Iddi Amin’s regime in April 1979 up to January 1986, when the NRM came to power.
At the time Mr Mbabazi had participated in various clandestine operations sanctioned by the NRM, both within and outside Uganda, using different pseudonyms including among others Dr Karyaburo and Ahmed Mbayo.
The smoothness with which he executed these covert missions caught the eye of the guerilla commander Museveni who, in 1986 as President, appointed Amama Mbabazi the first Director General of the External Security Organisation (ESO). Subsequently, he served in various ministries including Justice/Attorney General, Foreign Affairs/Regional Cooperation, Defence and Security. He also served as NRM Secretary General.
Insiders say that during all that time Mr Mbabazi, despite mostly operating in the background, was synonymous with the NRM espionage system, an undertaking carried out through an elusive career chain that was to be brought to a halt in May 2011, when he was appointed the Prime Minister.
Observers intimate that while serving as PM, Mr Mbabazi became ‘exposed’ to Uganda’s political class and the masses, in the process losing his reclusiveness.
Indeed, it would not be long before a member of the political class, Ms Evelyn Anite, burst Mr Mbabazi’s bubble by asking President Museveni to offer himself for the NRM presidential candidature for the 2016 elections.
The February 14, 2015 incident at the ruling party’s retreat at the National Leadership Institute (NALI) in Kyankwanzi left Mr Museveni smiling, while a seemingly stoic Mr Mbabazi was left shell-shocked! And, as if to prove his displeasure at Anite’s ‘ambush’ Mr Mbabazi refused to append his signature to the Museveni candidature petition, saying it was premature for the NRM to start discussing the matter. He was wrong; 200 members signed the document, a development that signaled his downward political spiral. Mr Mbabazi swallowed humble pie and signed in at number 201. But the move did not deter his detractors; they followed him to several meetings organised by Mr Museveni, demanding that he apologise for the ‘delayed signing’ and, for not towing the party line in respect to its position regarding the flag bearer. During the meetings Mr Mbabazi protested while Mr Museveni tried to convince Mr Mbabazi’s pursuers that the matter would be sorted out through internal party dispute resolution mechanisms.
That was never to be as in December 2015 Mr Mbabazi was hounded from the position of Secretary General, inevitably ending his 40 year direct association with the NRM. But before the NRM decided to terminate its relationship with Mr Mbabazi, he pulled one of his masterstrokes, announcing that he would stand for presidency, to challenge Mr Museveni and any other contender. The announcement made on YouTube on June 15, 2015 took the political class by surprise!
The Mr Mbabazi went ‘viral’, declaring that he would hold his first political consultation rally in Mbale, a hitherto assumed political backyard of the NRM. The Inspector General of Police General Kale Kayihura swung into action, swearing the Mbale consultation rally scheduled for June 19 would take place over his dead body. The rally never took place as Mr Mbabazi was stopped in Jinja, brought back to Naggalama before eventually finding himself at the Kira Road Police Station, from where he was released at about 8pm, without any charges preferred against him. That was the ‘baptism of fire’ for a man who had earlier in 1999 ‘reminded’ then NRM renegade Dr Warren Kizza Besigye Kifefe that the party had a ‘queue’ and that by authoring a dossier that sought to analyse Mr Museveni’s continued stay at the helm of national affairs, Dr Besigye had in effect ‘jumped the queue’.
But now it was Mr Mbabazi’s time to constructively reflect on the NRM queue, and he declared he would go for the presidency under the banner of the NRM. His pursuers in NRM did not go to bed, insisting that the issue of NRM flag bearer was sealed and that Mr Museveni was the party choice.
Left with little or no option, Mr Mbabazi joined the opposition under the banner of The Democratic Alliance (TDA), where he would come face-to-face with Dr Besigye and a number of opposition figures including Dr Besigye, Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu, Norbert Mao and Olara Otunnu.
The loose association did not stand the test of time, and Mr Mbabazi moved on to form the Go Forward, a new political vehicle that he wanted to help him ascend the presidency.
He then set off to campaign, once again beginning in Mbale where he addressed a huge rally that had mouths twitching in his favour as presidential material. His subsequent campaigns around the country were generally incident-free and even when the election results were announced on February 20, giving him 1 per cent of the entire vote, Mr Mbabazi was stoic.
It is this demeanour that borders on deafening silence that is now disturbing the political class, both in government and the opposition, who would want to know Mr Mbabazi’s next political move.
And this begs the question, are we set to see another episode involving Dr Karyaburo or a certain Ahmed Mbayo, the two imaginary men whose proverbial nine lives always caused ruckus!