News and Views

Amama Mbabazi’s road to Prime Minister

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By Cyprian Musoke

BORN on January 16, 1949 in Mparo, Kigezi, Amama Mbabazi holds a Law (LLB) Degree from Makerere University and a Post Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice from the Law Development Centre.

He is an advocate of the Courts of Judicature of Uganda and a member of the Uganda Law Society.

Professionally, Mbabazi worked as State Attorney in the Attorney General’s Chambers from 1976-1978 and while there, he quickly rose to become the Secretary of the Uganda Law Council between 1977 and 1979.

After the fall of Idi Amin, he became the director of legal services of the Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA). He then fled to exile in 1981 where he set up the external committee for what later became the National Resistance Movement (NRM).

When President Yoweri Museveni took over power in 1986, Mbabazi was appointed the boss to the External Security Organisation, a post he held from 1986 to 1992 while at the same time a member of the NRC.

Since 1992, Mbabazi has held various political posts, which include Minister of State for Defence 1992 to 1998 and Minister of State for Regional Cooperation 1998-2001.

He is still the Member of Parliament for Kinkizi West after winning the 2011 parliamentary elections. He previously held the portfolios of Minister of State in the President’s office in-charge of Political Affairs, among others.

His early involvement in politics dates back to the late 1960’s when he was part of a group with people like Ruhakana Rugunda, Kisimba Masiko and others.

They formed a group of leftist-leaning students at a time when Rugunda was campaigning to head the National Union of Students of Uganda.

When Amin took over power in April 1971, they formed a clandestine movement and linked up with activists like Tumusiime Mutebile, Prof. Dan Nabudere and Edward Rugumayo to start Amin’s ouster.

In one incident in which they once went to a cocktail at the Germany Embassy, they met Wanume Kibedi who was Amin’s foreign affairs minister.

They tried to persuade him not to work with Amin but the way Wanume responded, they realised he was Amin’s strong man and that they had given themselves in.

So, they ran and hid at Rugumayo’s place, while Mutebile and others fled the country. But Mbabazi remained in the country.

While most of the group left the country, Mbabazi and Kahinda Otafiire were the only two left. It is at about this time that Amama became State Attorney and lay low but continued communicating with colleagues in Tanzania.

In 1974-75, he made links with Museveni and they have since been close sharing information while mobilising the anti-Amin war.

Amama had established good contacts within Amin’s State Research Bureau. His wife became a telephone operator communicating with Museveni using a false name.

In 1976, there was an attempt in Zambia to unite Uganda Liberation strugglers. The group preferred Col. Zed Maruru to lead the liberation, while Museveni and Amama, who represented FRONASA insisted on Museveni. This effort failed. People like Rugunda, Eriya Kategaya, and Prince Barigye who were part of the leaders of the group, came back and in a short time, the war against Amin started.

Amama became the local contact of the struggle and as soon as they arrived in Kampala, he was put in charge of the Western Axis front of FRONASA. Soon after, Museveni appointed him Secretary of the UNLA.

From 1978-79, Mbabazi worked as Museveni’s Principal Assistant and as the 1980 elections neared, it became evident that there would be another armed struggle.

Amama was tasked to meet with other groups like Kayiira’s for the next struggle, but they disagreed over the methods of struggle because Kayiira wanted to organise uprisings in Kampala as opposed to the Museveni option of a guerilla war.

Mbabazi’s active involvement in the NRA struggle starts on the eve of the attack on Kabamba, when he was sent to Kabamba to meet with officers who had contacts with the guerillas to inform them that the attack on Kabamba would take place the next day.

When the attack took place, all the officers who were rumoured to have met with Mbabazi were executed. The only survivor was Gen. Jeje Odong because he was a cousin to Peter Otai, who was then State Minister for Defence and an Obote loyalist.

On February 8, Amama fled the country to exile and adopted the false name of Dr. Kalyaburo.

His stay in exile in Nairobi became untenable and he was relocated to Sweden together with Rugunda and Museveni’s family, with the assistance of Miriam Black, Uganda’s current ambassador to Netherlands.

They came back after the struggle and Mbabazi set up the intelligence system. He was later appointed Minister of Foreign affairs and Secretary to the NRM caucus in the Constituent Assembly.

He then worked as Minister for the Presidency and was the first substantive defense minister in the history of the National Resistance Movement.

Mbabazi has since been the first Secretary General of the NRM, a post he has been juggling together with that of security minister.

He has dutifully stood by his master without asking questions and executed his duties brilliantly, always mindful of the appointing authority’s profile against a rising tide of negative publicity by the opposition.

Mbabazi is not without ambition himself having famously rebuked Forum for Democratic Change leader Col. Kizza Besigye that he had jumped the queue of presidential aspirants’ in 2001. The attack gave an impression that Mbabazi was probably ahead of Besigye in the queue.

It was hard to tell at that time whether he was the second or third, but remained quite at the front and waited out for his time. At one time, his role in the Government saw him handle the affairs of over three ministries earning him the title, “super minister”.

At that time he was defence minister, Attorney general and constantly showed up at the ministries of internal and foreign affairs.
Some would say his current assignment is intended to enhance his profile and cultivate public confidence in him, an indicator that he would be one of the President’s preferred successors come 2016.

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