Ugandan Drama: Dictator Museveni vs. Enforcer Mbabazi

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The dictator and the enforcer: Museveni shown with Mbabazi

A Shakespearan power struggle is underway in Uganda between the U.S.-backed dictator of 28 years Gen. Yoweri Museveni and his prime minister Amama Mbabazi.

Observers believe only one can survive. It's a battle of the dictator versus his enforcer.

Both have presided over a corrupt militaristic regime that's held power through ruthless domestic repression while causing the deaths of millions of Africans in: Rwanda; Burundi; Congo; Sudan; and the Central African Republic.

Gen. Museveni is president so Ugandans may be rooting for Mbabazi, perceived as the underdog. In the end both could be swept aside by a rising tide of demands for an end to the ruling National Resistance Movement's (NRM) iron grip.

Mbabazi also serves as the NRM's Secretary General. He has been one of General Museveni's closest compatriots since their movement seized power in 1986. He's held several senior governmental ministries including those dealing with national security.

He knows where all the skeletons are.

Mbabazi has some supporters within and outside the NRM. Some NRM members fear retribution should Museveni ever be toppled. Perhaps an MRM president other than Gen. Museveni could engineer a soft landing? Some thought Mbabazi could fit that bill.

Gen. Museveni has ears on the ground. He has spies and he has spies to spy on the spies. So Gen. Museveni struck first against Mbabazi.

In February, the ruling NRM had its retreat of the party's caucus. At the retreat Gen. Museveni cut off Mbabazi's tail. The head may eventually meet a similar fate.

Ordinarily, the party's standard bearer as presidential candidate for the 2016 vote would have been selected at next year's  gathering of delegates from all over the country. Gen. Museveni didn't want to take chances. He launched a pre-emptive strike. He engineered a campaign whereby influential party members attending the retreat, including cabinet ministers, signed a petition endorsing him as the NRM's sole candidate for president in two years.

The gathering became a Stalin-esque type display of allegiance to the "leader." Ministers and NRM apparatchick signed the petition and then publicly made it known. This became a became a resolution. Refusal would have been tantamount to declaring a rebellion against Gen. Museveni.

Mbabazi, after some apparent hesitation, put pen to paper. Later he declared that Museveni was a "great leader." The two men publicly sing the other's praises while wondering when to pull the trigger. Mbabazi's wife, Jacqueline, has emerged as his key defender with verbal blows against the regime which her husband still serves.

In the weeks following the retreat, several of Mbabazi's supporters, including youth leaders gearing to campaign for him in 2016, have been arrested and detained.

Gen. Museveni cynically claims Mbabazi is still his party's Secretary General. In the meantime, he's appointed a deputy for Mbabazi because he's a "very busy man."

Mbabazi is no angel and he is now tasting some of his own bitter medicine.  He had been Museveni's principal backer and supporter for decades. His immediate concern is not about whether he will replace Museveni. It's how to save his own neck.

Mbabazi through the years has built a reputation for corruption. A U.S. ambassador to Uganda had even recommended that his visa to the United States be revoked. In terms of corruption, he ranks, perhaps, after the First Family itself, maybe only after the country's foreign minister Sam Kutesa who ironically in June could be elected President of the United Nations General Assembly, desecrating the office, unless the rest of the world wakes up.

The United Kingdom and other donor countries cut off aid to Uganda when millions of dollars intended to rehabilitate war-torn areas in the northern part of the country was stolen from Mbabazi's office.

While Mbabazi's Achilles are the allegations of embazzlement of millions of dollars and pocketing millions in bribes from oil companies, Gen. Museveni faces higher risks.

The Ugandan ruler is keenly aware that he can one day land before judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague. In Africa's post independence era Gen. Museveni has been peerless when it comes to human rights abuses and negative armed adventurism.

Gen. Museveni's invasion of Rwanda in 1990 to install a regime led by Gen. Paul Kagame and the decision to assassinate President Juvenal Habyarimana sparked the genocidal killings in 1994. Many hundreds of thousands of Rwandans died during the ethnic cleansing campaign that followed.

In 1996 and 1997, Gen. Museveni invaded neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo. His army and that of Rwanda's Gen. Kagame occupied Congo until 2005. Thereafter both have ordered additional incursions or sponsored death squads and militias such as M23. The primary motive has always been to plunder from Congo's estimated $30 trillion in mineral and natural resource wealth.

All told, anywhere from seven million to 10 million Congolese are estimated to have been killed and the United Nations has called Congo the rape capital of the world with women, men and children all victimized.

In 2005 the International Court of Justice (ICJ) found Uganda liable for what amounts to war crimes in the Congo and awarded the country $10 billion. The ICC also launched an investigation. Fearing possible indictment, the Ugandan ruler interfered with the investigation. "President Museveni of Uganda asked U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to block the Congo investigation, according to one person familiar with the matter," The Wall Street Journal reported on June 8, 2006."Mr. Annan replied that he had no power to interfere with the court, this person said."

Within Uganda, more than one million ethnic Acholis may have perished when Gen. Museven's regime confined almost the entire population in concentration camps called "protected" zones. There were deficiencies in all the essentials for human survival: nutrition, water, sanitation and medical healthcare. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that there were more than 1,000 excess deaths per week, or 52,000 annually, above the normal rate.

So Gen. Museveni has tremendous incentive to hold on to power.

He recalls how Liberia's Charles Taylor, after he relinquished power, was tried and convicted for supporting the brutal insurgency in Sierra Leone. That's why Gen. Museveni recently launched a campaign to delegitimize the ICC, accusing it of racism, when in fact he was the one who invited the court to indict Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord's Resistance Army. While pretending to be looking out for Uhuru Kenyatta's interest -- the Kenyan is being tried by the court -- Gen. Museveni was concerned about his own fate.

In the end, other factors beyond Mbabazi could determine Gen. Museveni's fate:

>> The domestic political opposition parties and organizations have been holding joint meetings to try and forge a common playbook, which includes demands for an independent election commission and even fielding a single candidate.

>> Gen. Museveni may no longer continue to enjoy the blank check from the Western countries that bankroll his regime and train his army, following the massive corruption scandals, and his decision to sign the Anti-homosexuality law. Absent the blank check it will be more difficult to endure the fallout from a rigged presidential election.

>> He may not retain the absolute control he once had over the military, following the disastrous defeat of M23, his proxy army in Rwanda and the intervention in South Sudan.

>> Opposition from other quarters within the NRM. Last year Gen. David Sejusa who was coordinator of Intelligence Services, fled the country. Gen. Sejusa said he had had learned of a plot to assassinate Ugandan political and military leaders, including himself, who opposed a plan by Gen. Museveni to groom his son Brigadier Muhoozi Kainerugaba as his presidential heir.

>> Mbabazi has another card left which can buy him some time and ensure his health. He is reported to know many damaging secrets, including Gen. Museveni's role in the killings of prominent Ugandans whom he saw as legitimate political rivals.

And so the Ugandan political drama continues to unfold.



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