KAMPALA, Uganda: He has lately been in the news as having authoritatively and confidently uttered that most stupid are those in the opposition. It remains unclear though, when he exactly crossed off the ‘most stupid’ Ugandans’ truck! And this piece is not in response to the same either but, rather when he jumped into the center of power to become President Museveni’s number one strategist.
Andrew Mwenda is one of the most known Ugandan journalists who has cut his teeth through print and broadcast media and at the same time managed to rise into the corridors of power in two separate countries.
He is one man who can wine in state house Kampala in the morning and have dinner in state house of Kigali in the evening. He has brokered state to state deals, the most notable one being reconciling president Museveni and Rwandan president Paul Kagame in the aftermath of the clashes between UPDF and RPF in Congo.
He can substantially be the only African journalist who has the ears and eyes of two powerful African heads of state. But how did he get there?
At first Mwenda made his name out of criticizing President Yoweri Museveni. Without posturing as anti-Museveni, Mwenda would never have got a quarter of what he has today. While at the Monitor newspaper, Andrew published damaging stories about the first family by exposing the ostentatious lifestyle they were living.
He is the man who broke the story that Museveni’s daughter was flown to German to deliver a child. The story had a damaging effect on the person of president Museveni because of the way he had postured as a frugal man during his early days in power.
In 1986 the Ugandan president had wondered why the previous presidents had lived in luxury when everything they needed was here in Uganda. He then posed for camera, taking tea in a locally made plastic cup popularly called Tampeco. He also told the country that he would sleep on locally made beds from Ugandan timber. At that time Museveni wanted to posture as a socialist nationalist who cared for his country.
But Mwenda practically exposed him as a wasteful president who never cared for his country. He also published stories that revealed all Museveni’s relatives who were holding high positions in government. By doing this, Mwenda was trying to show that Museveni was not immune to nepotism and sectarianism. By doing this Mwenda endeared himself to sections of Ugandans who were opposed to the NRM regime.
Why Mwenda Hated Museveni
What motivated Mwenda’s attacks on Museveni was actually informed by the fact that he was ideologically linked to former Ugandan President, Dr. Milton Obote’s political party, the Uganda Peoples’ Congress.
In fact he was the only Ugandan journalist who managed to get an extensive interview with the former leader who had been exiled in Lusaka, Zambia. Mwenda spent months in Obote’s house having a good time lambasting and belittling Museveni with the aged former Ugandan president.
All this created a big hate-gap between him and Museveni. When the Ugandan army clashed with the Rwandese army in Kisangani in the late 90s, Mwenda took it upon himself to praise the Rwandan army for giving the Ugandan army a bloody nose.
He at the same time poured scorn on the Ugandan army and questioned Museveni’s choice of army commanders like the Late Maj. Gen James Kazini – whom he always regarded as an illiterate man. His attacks on his country endeared him to Rwandan President Paul Kagame who brought him closer as his expert on media issues.
His close association with president Kagame gave him a very big lift because the Ugandan government had tightened the noose on him by influencing the Aga Khan to sack him from the Nation Media Group where he wrote for the monitor newspaper and as a broadcaster on one of the radio stations.
President Kagame encouraged him (Mwenda) to start his own publication, and he willingly came up with The Independent Magazine. He never needed to rely on copy sales because Rwanda was giving him enough adverts to foot the expenses associated with publishing it. Andrew continued to use The Independent Magazine to fight Museveni’s government by exposing scandals of corruption and mismanagement of state resources in Uganda.
But around that time, some concerned members of Museveni’s family started courting Mwenda to join the fold in Kampala. They asked him why he willingly worked for Rwanda and at the same time tarnished the name of his country.
It must be recalled that while he was openly known as a Museveni critic, Mwenda was in an enviable position of being very close to some of Museveni family members like Gen Salim Saleh and son, Brigadier (as at the time) Muhoozi Kainerugaba, as well as the First Lady, Janet Kataha Museveni.
They were the people who sweet talked Mwenda into working for the Ugandan government. But even then, President Museveni was reluctant in allowing Mwenda into the system. But during the run up to the 2016 elections, Mwenda did a few things that impressed the Ugandan president.
One, he exposed a very damaging report that implicated three Ugandan ministers in taking a bribe from some oil barons. Mwenda impressed president Museveni when he revealed that the oil bribery report was a fake. Two, he also took it upon himself to expose and weaken the efforts of opposition leader Dr. Kizza Besigye. Soon Mwenda was getting closer and closer to the center of power.
The Amama Mbabazi Departure
However, the incident that worked in Mwenda’s favor and literally took him to the actual center of power was the departure of Prime Minister and the ruling NRM Party Secretary General, The Right Hon. John Patrick Amama Mbabazi aka JPAM.
For many years, Mbabazi had been the chief strategist and planner for the National Resistance Movement in general and President Museveni in particular. He is the man the President would consult when faced with sensitive national issues.
So when Museveni fell out with Amama Mbabazi, he remained vulnerable, with no one to advise him about strategic national matters. When an incident of a controversial nature took place, he (the president) would task Mwenda to do a background check on the cause and effect and advance possible solutions.
Closure of Makerere University
One such incident was the strike by lecturers of Makerere University that took place late this year. Mwenda quickly wrote a report to the president informing him that the Makerere lecturers had no genuine reason for striking because they were relatively better paid than their counterparts from universities around the country.
He went on to tell the president that the lecturers were probably trying to blackmail the First Lady Janet Museveni (who is the education minister) as someone who had failed to handle issues in the ministry. That statement (of deliberate sabotage and blackmail of the first lady) incensed the president and he quickly ordered the immediate closure of Makerere University!
Earlier on Mwenda had advised the president to sack his Private Press Secretary Tamale Mirundi because he was allegedly semi-literate. Mirundi almost lynched Mwenda in front of the president! It is also in corridors of power that it’s actually Andrew Mwenda who influenced the president to work with some few bright members of the opposition.
That is how Betty Olive Namisango Kamya got the slot as Kampala minister. Mwenda’s list of opposition members included Christopher Kibanzanga, Betty Anwar, Cecilia Ogwal , Abdu Katuntu , and Salam Musumba. The objective is to cripple the opposition and weaken Besigye.
Mwenda is also, actually believed to have advised the president to create a law that made Kampala city an authority that is not dictated upon by electoral politics. That law gave birth to Jennifer Musisi and her group in the Kampala City Council Authority.
The Moment Of Truth
Mwenda is actually believed to be part of the mafia group that created a rift between Amama Mbabazi and the president by hawking and cooking-up JPAM’s presidential bid.
As per now, he is losing grip on the Museveni because most decisions seem to have backfired on him (president). For instance, the president has just realized that it was not necessary to close Makerere University because it did more harm than good. He has since ordered that Makerere gets opened as soon as possible.
Secondly, the president is now more than convinced that Amama Mbabazi was not creating a power base to upstage him from the presidency. There are credible rumors that the president actually wants to reconcile with Amama Mbabazi because he was misled into believing lies. In the next edition we shall examine the behind the scenes’ moves that will see Mbabazi bounce back in a different version within NRM.