Tuesday, May 14, 2013


Former Vice President Professor Gilbert Bukenya last week announced his bid for the highest office in the land.

It did not take anyone who is anyone by surprise.

The good doctor had previously stated that in the event that President Yoweri Museveni stepped aside he would present himself as a candidate.

"Whatever has prompted him to go back on his previous resolution – advancing years, dimming presence on the national scene or pre-planned agenda, is for him to know and for us to guess....

Over the last 27 years we have seen challenges to Museveni’s hold on power many have been heat of the moment declarations, which collapsed as soon as they were mouthed. Some have been frivolous, fizzling out as soon as the heat was turned up and one has been persistent, irrepressible and a thorn in the side of the NRM for the last decade.

It is too soon to categorise Bukenya’s challenge but it raises eyebrows on several accounts, not least of all that he intends to wrest from Museveni the role of NRM flag bearer and ride the party’s momentum to state house.

Here are the four things that will have to happen for the former vice-president to launch a credible challenge against his mentor, not necessarily in the stated order.

1.      Evidence of senior party member support

The NRM is a clannish operation with Museveni as its head. Opposition to him from within is more likely to be frowned upon as betrayal than say Norber Mao, Olara Otunu or even Mugisha Muntu taking him on. To take on Museveni – and hence the patriarch, in the NRM, senior leaders with the gravitas that comes with historical contribution dating as far back to at least the bush war, will have to throw in their hat with Bukenya as a signal to the rank and file that an open consensus is growing towards a change away from Museveni.

2.      The ability to ride out the inevitable sniping from the holier-than-the-pope crowd

By the time of publishing one can expect that criticism of Bukenya’s planned bid would already be loud and incessant, like hail on a tin roof from the usual suspects. It’s hard to tell many times whether this heckling is sanctioned from the top or whether it is  party officials looking to find favour with the top, but it can often be vicious and unrelenting. Bukenya has not been a paragon of virtue (who is?) and his underbelly is fatally exposed. The true test will not be whether he can he ride over these attacks and come out unscathed but whether he can turn opposition to his bid  around and show the attacks as unjust persecution of a man who thinks it is his turn in the queue.

3.      Pander to some archaic constituency and let them come out openly in his support

Uganda is not Kenya. So pandering to tribal allegiances is unlikely to be successful. Religious divisions have also lost their potency with the rise of the Pentecostal movement and the increasingly younger population. That being as it may, the Catholic church coming out openly to endorse their son for a run at State house, if only for its symbolic value, may add some credibility to his run. The long term repercussions in terms of a return to religious factionalism, which has been rolled back over the last 30 years, may not however seat well with the an older generation who have seen its debilitating effects.

4.      Museveni winks in his direction

But the surest deal for a successful challenge is for Museveni to step aside, indicate that he is the intended successor and back him to the hilt against all other comers. This last eventuality may be prompted by Museveni’s desire to personally manage a smooth transition to the next generation of leaders, spit in the eye of his critiques who claim he is orchestrating a handover of power within his family and live up to his reputation of unpredictability and dislike of being second guessed.

Bukenya has been in the system for a long time now. He knows it is unlikely that Museveni, his lieutenants or possible rivals will usher him into state house without a fight.

"To mount a credible challenge the honourable member from Busiro North will have to muster the political cunning, personal flexibility and the intestinal fortitude for the fight of his life. Everything he has experienced before this is just a prelude.

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