Fatigue, intrigue, corruption, violence while Museveni lingers on
Kampala, Uganda | IAN KATUSIIME | The National Resistance Movement (NRM) is marking its 38th anniversary amidst creeping fatigue, grinding corruption, worsening human rights abuse and the ever present puzzle of succession.
The NRM came to power on January 26, 1986 when its fighting force the NRA defeated Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA) government forces in a five year battle fought in Luweero. Hundreds of guerilla forces marched on Kampala on the historic day and the NRA leader Museveni was sworn in three days later on the steps of parliament.
President Yoweri Museveni, the party chairman, will be 80 this year as he gears up for a record breaking seventh election.
To signal his readiness, Museveni has renewed the mandate of the Electoral Commission–he has re-appointed Justice Simon Byabakama to serve another term, alongside four new Commissioners. As the party marks 38 years, it is celebrating another victory as it has seemingly co-opted the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), the party that gave it a run for its money over three election cycles; 2006, 2011 and 2016.
Last year, the FDC had a major public bust-up over allegations that some party honchos were receiving money from Museveni to sell the party to NRM. The year when FDC is marking twenty years, it is a shadow of its former self as one of its founders and pillars, Dr. Kizza Besigye has distanced himself from the party he worked hard to start after quitting NRM.
The former FDC president caught wind of the dirty money being funneled into the party in 2020 but he dropped the idea over fears that it could drown the party on the eve of the election. Besigye is now schmoozing with the National Unity Platform (NUP) under a new arrangement dubbed ‘United Forces of Change.’
With Besigye, a four time presidential candidate, not looking like he would run on the FDC ticket again, NRM is toasting to another anniversary with smug satisfaction of having neutered one of its oldest foes. FDC however had been on a down low since the emergence of the National Unity Platform (NUP) in 2020 which is now the largest opposition party with 59 seats in parliament.
NRM MPs like Herbert Ariko who won a by-election in 2022 for Soroti East Division, say the party is at its best. “I think at this point in time, as a party and a political institution, NRM is very strong and the most formidable organisation in the country,” he told The Independent.
“On the part of governance, the NRM needs to work hard for its socio-economic transformation agenda, he says. “For businesspeople, there is an extremely difficult fiscal policy and the tax regime is very hard.”
Ariko says the NRM as the party in power needs to diversify the economic environment for the masses to reap some gains.
Yona Musinguzi, Ntungamo Municipality MP, says the NRM has done its best to keep the country together. “Given the history of the country, we cannot take that for granted.” Musinguzi adds that the country passing a budget of Shs50 trillion in the present day is a symbol of how far it has moved but also says where the party needs to pull up its socks.
“Where the party has failed is identification and deployment of cadres like used to happen in the 1980s and 1990s, he says. “There are other shortfalls; there is a lot of corruption in our primaries, a lot of nepotism, the greed and corruption are the vampires that will devour our party.”
A number of those who fought in the war the brought Museveni and NRM to power went on to serve in the government as ministers, administrators and others stayed on as army officers. Later there would be disgruntlement for those seeking to be retired from the army after over twenty years of service while the Commander in Chief denied them their wishes. Some officers like Besigye and David Tinyefuza openly challenged the establishment while others endured silent frustration.
Over the years, Museveni learnt to play a balancing act to keep the army as his bulwark against political opponents while also ensuring army officers do not get dissatisfied. NRA Veterans have been deployed in Operation Wealth Creation (OWC), an agricultural scheme that supports farmers in villages across the country.
Huda Oleru, the minister of state for Veterans Affairs, says her ministry has some programmes that are trying to engage all those fought in the war. Oleru says the four acre model of farming championed by President Museveni has helped most of the ex-fighters to adjust to civilian life.
“Not all of them can be absorbed but we have those who are active in politics like Jim Muhwezi, Kahinda Otafiire; RDCs. The idea is to make them economically active,” she says.
Oleru says she is proud of the NRM and the difference it has made in the peace, security and stability of the country. She was a five year old when Obote took over and adds that the UNLA government forced her family into exile where she spent eight years.
In the last few years, some of the most prominent NRA bush fighters were retired from the army. These include Gen. Pecos Kutesa, Gen. David Sejusa, and Gen. Kale Kayihura. Among those that launched the guerilla war on February 6, 1981 only ten are surviving including the NRA founder Museveni. The others are Rwandan President Paul Kagame, Col. Julius Chihande, Col. Fred Mwesigye, Brig. Andrew Lutaaya, Brig. George Mwesigwa, Brig. Charles Rutarago Tusiime, Col. Anthony Kyakabale, Maj. Topher Agaba and Andrew Kangaho.
Since the 2021 election, the NRM has been dealing with the rise of the MK Movement led by Gen. Muhoozi Kainerugaba, Museveni’s son. The MK Movement is built around the personality of the 49-year-old army officer and has sprung from NRM structures with some NRM members like Kasambya County MP David Kabanda, Igara County East MP Michael Mawanda pledging loyalty to Muhoozi.
As a result, the NRM has been battling intrigue because of Muhoozi’s political rallies campaign for the 2026 presidency. The veterans led by Internal Affairs Minister Kahinda Otafiire have not taken well to Muhoozi’s rise through the ranks and they have said they are determined to fight the First Son.
In 2022, Otafiire, Vice President Jessica Alupo, Defence Minister Vincent Sempijja and a host of senior NRM cadres endorsed President Museveni as the sole candidate for the 2026 polls. The move may not have surprised Muhoozi and company but it signaled what is at stake—the generational dichotomy at the heart of Museveni’s succession.
Early endorsements of Museveni by members of the NRM are not new but previously there were never fiercely competing factions in the NRM as seen with Muhoozi’s countrywide campaigns. Alupo is the second highest ranking person in government as vice president, Otafiire is the most senior government official from the NRA owing to his status as a member of FRONASA, the first political outfit Museveni founded in 1971, to fight former dictator Idi Amin. Sempijja, relatively new to government, is no small player by virtue of being defence minister.
Museveni has dispatched malcontents from within from Besigye, Gilbert Bukenya, Amama Mbabazi, Rebecca Kadaga, Henry Tumukunde, David Sejusa but Muhoozi presents a different challenge because he is his own blood. Muhoozi has defied his father in some instances such as the controversial social media posts and has kept on campaigning and building a power base within the country.
Museveni has lingered on throughout the different threats to his power in NRM and in the country. NRM supporters speak of Museveni fatigue but equally lament the lack of an alternative to the old man. For all intents and purposes, he will run in 2026 and Muhoozi will most likely be reduced to waiting for his turn longer since he would be banking on running under the NRM ticket.
With the FDC out of the way, pundits are predicting a re-run where Museveni and NRM square off with Bobi Wine and NUP. The young party is being watched on how it will perform after the 2021 election where Bobi Wine got 3.6million votes against Museveni’s 6million. NUP registered 59 seats in the House where NRM had more than 300 legislators building on its super majority from previous elections.
In the 2006 election, after the country adopted the multiparty system of government in 2005, the ruling party had 205 MPs, after the 2011 elections that shot to 263 and after the 2016 polls that number hit 294. Museveni also maintained a 5 million vote mark from 2006 to 2016.
To contain its newest adversary, NUP; the NRM trough state machinery has deployed violence through arrests, kidnaps and torture to subdue opponents. A week to the NRM anniversary, the state is employing its usual tactics–police have surrounded the homes of Bobi Wine and Besigye– to bar them from staging protests in the city.
In the last election, the government created over 60 constituencies handing the NRM an edge over its opponents. As the party nears its 40th anniversary, many expect it to stop at nothing to extend its reign.