Mbabazi on the challenges facing NRM

By Vision Reporter

ON November 27 the NRM parliamentary caucus discussed a paper titled, “Political challenges confronting the NRM; drawing lessons from the recently concluded elections.” Below is the Secretary General Amama Mbabazi’s edited response.

ON November 27 the NRM parliamentary caucus discussed a paper titled, “Political challenges confronting the NRM; drawing lessons from the recently concluded elections.” It was written by Frank Tumwebaze (Kibale), Margaret Muhanga (Kabarole) and Dr Chris Baryomunsi (Kinkizi East).(Read the paper under our i>Key Documents category) Below is the Secretary General Amama Mbabazi’s edited response.

May I, at the outset, thank the authors of the paper for burning the midnight candle, for commitment to the NRM, and for openness within an appropriate forum. I commend them for employing the well-tested NRM practice of open methods of work.

The paper raises many important issues on which we, as leaders of our organisation, must have a common understanding, a shared platform in the fulfilment of our various roles. I shall make remarks on general issues as well as specific matters raised in the paper.

How is a political party organised? Political parties/organisations can be categorised in terms of two broad types of party structure: cadre parties such as the political parties in the US and mass-membership parties or organisations like most political parties in Europe.

Cadre parties are people organised primarily around the goal of electoral success. They have relatively small numbers of formally committed members (though potentially many supporters) and are basically inactive between elections. In the US cadre parties used to comprise mostly office seekers and office holders, resulting in election battles between those who had the political jobs and contracts and those who wanted those jobs and contracts.
A mass membership party, on the other hand, is more issue oriented. It is an ideological and educational organisation focused on governing as much as getting elected.
Members’ participation derives in the main from their desire to translate certain policy preferences into public policy. Such parties are highly organised and disciplined.

NRM is such a mass political party and its structure as stipulated in its constitution clearly reflects that. It has established a formal leadership (through elections within the party) as specified in its constitution and requires its members to uphold the party’s political line.

As to the last elections, it is easy and alright to criticise, especially when there are problems. Self criticism is healthy and necessary for learning and has in our organisation’s history proved to be an invaluable tool. We should, however, also be full of praise when people did the right thing. So allow me to give credit where it is due.

From October 2003 when the NRM was registered up to the nomination of our presidential candidate and the general elections, we registered undeniable achievements.
We successfully carried out recruitment and registration of party members in a short time and with limited preparation. I thank the then National Political Commissar, Hon. Dr. Crispus Kiyonga and the then Acting Secretary General, Hon. Dorothy Hyuha, for the excellent job.
We won the “YES” vote in the referendum on the change of political systems in July 2005.

We successfully organised the primaries, where NRM flag bearers were elected, and canvassed for votes for our candidates in the presidential, parliamentary and local elections in February and March 2006. I commend the NRM Electoral Commission headed by Hon. Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda for the work.
And we scored another resounding victory in the general elections.
The authors of the paper argue that our performance in the last presidential elections was “not good at all”. Whereas our score of 59% was lower than the previous one, that level of victory is still more than respectable. Indeed, in many countries it would be characterised as a landslide victory.

Moreover, we performed extremely well in the parliamentary and local governments’ elections, reflecting a countrywide support for the NRM of 72% of the votes cast, as shown in the table at the end. The results do not in any way reflect a fundamental voters’ disenchantment with the NRM. This is underlined by the NRM victories in the recent elections in the new districts. The NRM, for example, decisively won the LC5 chairs and Woman MP seats in Oyam and Bukedea districts.

The voting pattern reflects a locally based “protest vote” against the conflict in the North, IDP camps, cattle rustling, land ownership and nomadic pastoralists.
The pattern also reflect an unease among the urban population, and the youth, with unemployment and poverty.

Lastly, there is the “excitement” or “novelty” factor with the coming up of new parties. For example, after the return of multiparty politics in Tanzania, support for CCM took a nosedive in the 1995 elections, with the opposition led by NCCR-Mageuzi of Augustine Mrema scoring a respectable 20% of parliamentary seats. In the 2005 elections the opposition scored a paltry 3%. The excitement is over.
The NRM clearly retained its basic support in the population at large and especially its constituencies of women, people with disabilities, youth and the elderly.

As to the president’s analysis of the results, he went beyond blaming the weather, the number of invalid votes and rigging by the opposition. He raised the critical issue of leadership and service delivery. However, there was also an element of self-preservation – hanging onto individual merit – because in some areas it was “safer” not to campaign for the President.

The authors of the paper claimed there was a failure to manage public relations, lack of a strong NRM cadre network, lack of early warning mechanisms and lack of coordination in the government.

As for the media, there was repeated guidance from the National Chairman on the centrality of the media to the campaign, in terms of accessing the population. He actually issued written guidelines.

The strategy of serious engagement with the media led to the constitution of a national media team, as well as regional and district media teams. This structure was led by Hon. Nsaba Buturo, assisted by cadres like Hon. Karooro Okurut, Hope Kivengere and Ofwono Opondo. The strategy clearly paid off.

The term “propaganda” was used. There are two major approaches to the understanding of propaganda: the Goebbels School, which advocates for repeating lies in the hope that they will eventually be believed, and the NRM approach of telling the truth. The latter is of a strategic and long-term nature, as contrasted with “agitation”, which is tactical, short term and usually around single issues.
As to the NRM cadre network, the leadership decided to utilise the party structure. Therefore, there was a large cadre network, well spread out. Movement volunteer mobilizer groups existed in every corner.
On early warning mechanisms, throughout the campaign the NRM operated strong and clear internal research structures coordinated by Hon. Daudi Migereko. We had amazingly accurate predictions of results for all the constituencies in early and mid February 2006. Similarly, we had an accurate political mapping and zoning of the country. This information was well utilised by the strategic managers of the campaign.
As far as coordination from the government is concerned, we should note that government departments are supposed to do their duty, and must be encouraged to do so. We must bear in mind that they reflect the political landscape. Government structures may not necessarily be sympathetic to the NRM.
There was also criticism on the distribution of the manifesto. It was launched in mid December 2005, on the eve of the nomination of presidential candidates. The summaries were made immediately available. In my opinion that was appropriate timing. It is true that in the beginning there were few copies for distribution, which is a reflection of the various logistical hurdles that we had to overcome. In time, however, we had enough copies to go around.
Contrary to the claims in the paper, the NRM government programmes have responded to demographic challenges. A 2006 study shows that support for NRM was high among the youth (18 – 20 years) who benefited from Universal Primary Education. Universal Secondary Education shall no doubt attract similar support.

The issue is not just the message but how to package the message to engage the “ generation”. The bottom line must remain engagement, leadership, and explanation – in the context of service delivery.

There were problems during the campaigns. Like the manifesto, posters and T-shirts should be looked at in the context of logistical difficulties we were facing then.
The conduct of primaries presented a number of difficulties. The NRM Electoral Commission has taken a lot of flak here, quite often unfairly. Part of the problem was definitely an inevitable hangover of the individual merit syndrome.

The NRM had a clear and elaborate campaign structure comprising the National Task Force and innumerablekakuyege groups. The NRM campaign structures did very well and deserve special commendation, minor shortcomings notwithstanding.
The authors make very important suggestions on the way forward. I agree with them. We must now shift our focus towards the next election, look at the lessons learnt from the 2006 elections and evaluate how best we can use our election experience to be more effective in 2011.

These, however, must be addressed in the context of two major overall tasks of the NRM. We should ensure steadfastness on the resolution of national strategic challenges. We should also rebuild the NRM as a fighting organisation or army, while balancing this with its mass character, and the multi-ideological content of its membership. This means above all, that the CEC and NEC must urgently adopt and outline to the membership, the NRM Five Year Action Plan outlining priorities, programmes and activities up to 2011. It is around the vigorous implementation of the strategic plan, that the ideological, political and organisational unity of the NRM shall be consolidated.

The NRM has a duty and a responsibility not to abdicate its leadership role. It must continue to map out the strategic path for the people of Uganda and Africa as a whole.

Changes of form and appearance may be dictated by circumstances. But the essence of our philosophy, which was the driving force behind our popular liberation struggle, must remain. We believe that actions speak louder than words. We know that we will be judged by our actions.

The writer is also the Minister for Security and MP for Kinkizi West

Mbabazi on the challenges facing NRM