Author Archives: Michaela Collord

South Africa – President Zuma triggers fresh outcry after cabinet reshuffle

Last Friday, South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma kicked off a political firestorm after sacking his finance minister, Pravin Gordhan, along with nine other cabinet ministers. Gordhan was appointed following a similarly controversial reshuffle in December 2015 when Zuma was accused of appointing a relatively unknown backbencher Minister of Finance to clear the way for what many observers saw as his reckless and corrupt policy agenda. After markets sent the value of the South African rand plummeting, Zuma brought in the more experienced and well-respected Gordhan to restore confidence.

Gordhan went on to challenge the President, working to root out cronyism in state-owned companies, resisting Zuma’s calls for expensive new nuclear power plants and generally working to ensure fiscal discipline. He also intervened to curb the influence in government of the by now notorious Gupta business family, who are close friends and political allies of Zuma and are accused of meddling in political appointments, using their political ties to further their business interests.

Gordhan’s sudden removal shattered whatever confidence had been built, sending the rand into another tailspin and prompting the ratings agency Standard and Poor’s to downgrade South Africa’s credit to junk status. A political backlash also followed with criticism coming both from opposition parties and from within the ANC. Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe, among other party heavyweights, were quick to condemn the President’s move while the ANC’s two coalition partners in the tripartite alliance, South Africa’s largest union Cosatu and the SA Communist Party, called for the President to step down.

The degree of dissent within the ANC is unprecedented, but it comes on the back of numerous corruption scandals, which dogged Zuma even before he became President. More generally, Zuma and the ANC now stand accused of facilitating a form of “state capture”, a term used notably in the wake of the 2015 cabinet reshuffle to denote the growing influence of the Gupta family and President Zuma’s reliance on cronyism and patronage to shore up his support. The Gupta’s engaged the London-based PR company, Bell Pottinger, to help drive a counter narrative that Zuma is in fact fighting “white monopoly capital”. But this diversion tactic mostly seems to have stirred up discontent amongst South Africa’s business elite—not to mention within Bell Pottinger—while fuelling a more radical, left-wing critique of business influence in South Africa. As one of the indefatigable MPs from the opposition Economic Freedom Fighters recently argued, refering to the latest reshuffle: “This is not an anti-white monopoly capital move, rather it is a kleptocratic and corrupt agenda that is trying to co-exist with the equally corrupt white monopoly capitalism.”

In general, South Africans are not interested in having the wool pulled over their eyes. While Zuma’s support remains strong in many rural areas, particularly his home province of KwaZulu-Natal, the ANC is struggling to maintain its hold over many of South Africa’s cities, as demonstrated during the last local elections. What’s more, the country has seen a rise in the number of protests as people decry deteriorating services and poor economic prospects in context of ever more endemic corruption.

After the initial furore, the ANC itself appears to have opted for a strategy of damage control. Earlier this week, the party’s National Working Committee (NWC)—a body dominated by Zuma supporters—simply resolved to “discuss” with Cosatu and SACP calls for Zuma to leave while ignoring pressure to call an extraordinary meeting of the ANC National Executive Committee (NEC), which could take action to remove Zuma. While there are still rumours of internal manoeuvring to convene the NEC, other observers argue that the likes of Deputy President Ramaphosa may be biding their time ahead of leadership elections at the next party conference in December. Ramaphosa is a top contender to go up against Zuma’s former wife and favoured candidate, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. The only other formal challenge to Zuma on the horizon is a no-confidence vote in Parliament scheduled for later this month. While a number of ANC MPs have resigned, presumably to avoid having to vote against Zuma and risk party disciplinary measures, the numerical strength of the ruling party in the legislature means the vote will almost surely fail.

Still, the dust is far from settled. It remains to be seen whether the SACP and Cosatu continue to support the ANC within the tripartite alliance, and what an eventual break would mean for the ANC electorally. Meanwhile, protests calling for Zuma to leave are scheduled to take place across South Africa today. These come amidst concerns that the ANC youth league plans to confront protesters while at least one Mayor has reportedly threatened to deploy “all security agencies including police” to arrest “anyone who marches against Zuma.”

As Zuma tries to ride out the storm, clouds are gathering around the ANC. This crisis may die down, but the economic damage has been done and the factional battle lines within the ruling party have been forged even deeper. As the cost of living rises drastically and the country’s poor are worst affected, it’s unclear if the ANC will be able to retain the majority’s electoral support in the rapidly approaching 2019 elections. Zuma has promised ‘radical economic transformation’ and a turn to ‘appropriation without compensation’ in land reform – populist moves which might just be enough to retain control of the state, but will push the economy even further into dangerous territory. As noted in much political commentary of late, a famous line from Yeats suddenly seems very timely: “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.”

Tanzania – Is parliament waking up?

It is now old news that, since taking office in November 2015, President Magufuli has sought to reign in political dissent in Tanzania, be it from his own ruling party, opposition parties, the legislature, the media or private citizens. While many have denounced this authoritarian turn, there has been little by way of effective pushback.

That is starting to change.

It began with a dramatic show of strength from one of Magufuli’s close lieutenants, the Regional Commissioner for Dar es Salaam, Paul Makonda. Speaking at a televised press conference, Makonda brandished a list of 65 individuals who he claimed were in some way implicated in the drug trade. The list included everyone from prominent businessmen to religious leaders to pop music celebrities to the Chairman of Tanzania’s largest opposition party. All the individuals named were ordered to report for questioning at the Dar es Salaam Central Police Station.

The order, and the highhanded way it was enforced, prompted an immediate outcry from those whose names appeared on the list. The denunciation did not stop there, however. For the first time since Magufuli took office, parliamentarians from both CCM and the opposition parties united, unanimously resolving to summon Makonda to appear before Parliament.

It seems Makonda had crossed a red line. First, he overreached by targeting—en masse—a group of well-connected individuals from both sides of the political spectrum. While the opposition has had to contend with systematic repression, and individual politicians have also come under fire, Makonda’s smear affected a large and diverse group of prominent individuals, which made a coordinated backlash that much easier.

Second, Makonda’s actions fed into growing tensions between parliamentarians and Regional and District Commissioners. While there have always been disputes over the respective powers of MPs versus Commissioners, these have grown more acute under Magufuli. This is because the President has relied on his administrative appointees to implement the government’s local development agenda, which has led to the political marginalization of parliamentarians. Given the opportunity to shift the balance, MPs were quick to pounce.

It is unclear what comes next. On the one hand, Makonda is in a bad way. Amidst a sustained outcry, rumours of forged academic qualifications, and allegations of ill-begot wealth, the Commissioner has lost some of his nerve. After breaking down sobbing during a church service, he is now rumoured to have left on a two-month vacation to South Africa.

But whereas Makonda could fade into the background, the real concern here is Magufuli. Many were—implicitly or not—critical of the President for his role in nurturing a political environment where an official of Makonda’s rank could issue such a seemingly outrageous order. At the same time, Makonda’s intervention stoked divisions within government and CCM, divisions which Magufuli appears at increasing pains to contain. Take, for instance, his recent appointment of the former First Lady, Salma Kikwete, to a parliamentary seat. This unprecedented move has fuelled a wave of speculation as commentators mull whether the no-nonsense President is making concessions to appease potential detractors within his own party.

Whatever the realty of this situation, things continue to move fast on the ground. This coming weekend, an extraordinary meeting of the CCM National Congress is set to approve sweeping reforms to the party constitution. These will see the elimination of more than half of National Executive Committee positions as well as new rules barring CCM and government leaders from holding more than one official post. The response to these reforms, and Magufuli’s ability to manage a situation where party patronage has been vastly reduced, remains to be seen.

Presidential Profile – John Pombe Magufuli: An outsider with an ambitious (and controversial) agenda

Presidential Profile

John Pombe Magufuli

Only one year in office and Tanzania’s new president, John Pombe Magufuli, has thoroughly divided opinions. To some, he is mchapakazi (a workhorse), tingatinga (a bulldozer), an anti-corruption crusader with a vision of how to propel Tanzania to middle-income status. To others, he is a “petty dictator”, an uncompromising taskmaster bent on quashing opposition parties and curbing civil liberties in the interests of “peace” and “development”.

Whichever side you fall on, it is undeniable that Magufuli’s presidency has sent shockwaves through Tanzania’s political system. Whether he will achieve the ambitious change he desires, rooting out entrenched politico-business networks and setting a path towards industrial transformation, is another matter. But whatever the outcome, his disruptive politics are a story in their own right, which begins with his improbable rise to the top.

The candidate from nowhere  

In 1985, when Tanzania’s first President Julius Nyerere retired from office, the long-ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) instituted a two-term limit, ensuring a transfer of power from one president to the next every 10 years. Since then, CCM’s presidential nominations have become increasingly competitive. Ahead of the 2015 general elections, a record 42 presidential aspirants entered the race to become the official nominee.

This competition is largely the result of growing factionalism, which reached a new high in 2015. The main cleavage was between the outgoing President Jakaya Kikwete and his former Prime Minister turned rival, Edward Lowassa.

Kikwete threw his weight behind several candidates, his top preference being his Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bernard Membe. Lowassa, meanwhile, mobilized a carefully cultivated network of supporters to rally behind his own bid for the nomination. Among the remaining presidential aspirants, many were rumoured to be “spoilers” fronted by one side or the other to split the vote in their favour.

The uncertainty surrounding the nominations fuelled a wave of intense speculation. But amidst the many lists of supposed top contenders, one name barely got a mention. Magufuli kept a low profile through the nominations process. Although a minister for 20 years, he never held an official position within CCM and steered clear of factional politics. He had a reputation as clean politician who kept his head down and got the job done. As Minister of Works under Kikwete, he attracted some attention due to his road-building zeal. But even so, he continued to be seen primarily as an effective technocrat.

In an ironic twist, the internal party divisions that Magufuli so scrupulously avoided ultimately helped catapult him to the top. President Kikwete manipulated the CCM nomination procedure, using the vetting powers of the party ethics committee to remove Lowassa’s name from the list of eligible aspirants. The CCM National Executive Committee, which contained a majority of Lowassa supporters, then retaliated by voting out Kikwete’s two preferred aspirants from a list of five pre-vetted candidates. The National Congress then voted overwhelmingly for Magufuli. The other two candidates, both women, were presumably seen to pose too great an electoral risk.

An unusual campaign

At the start of presidential campaigns, Magufuli faced several challenges.

The CCM brand had lost some of its lustre during the Kikwete years, in part due to repeated corruption scandals. At the same time, the opposition invested considerably in extending its organizational reach countrywide and, after uniting in a four-party coalition, seemed poised to make record electoral gains.

As a candidate, Magufuli was also weak. He had no support base of his own so relied on a campaign taskforce composed largely of close Kikwete allies. Moreover, he had to square off against Lowassa, who defected and became the candidate for the opposition coalition. Many Lowassa supporters left CCM with him while those who stayed were accused of backing his candidacy.

Magufuli responded by turning his reputation as a low-profile technocrat to his advantage. His stump speech promised an end to corruption and a renewed dedication to hard work. He contrasted his own integrity with Lowassa’s alleged history of backroom deals. In positioning himself as the anti-corruption candidate, he also distanced himself from business-as-usual under Kikwete, upon whose support he nevertheless continued to rely. He promised to serve the wananchi (ordinary citizens) and referred to former President Nyerere’s fiercely egalitarian politics as his guide.

The first 100 days

Magufuli won the 2015 election with 58 percent of the vote, the lowest ever for a CCM presidential candidate.

He immediately set about implementing a populist agenda. He declared his government would slash all wasteful expenditure and followed up by ordering an end to “unnecessary foreign travels” for government officials. He then announced that the $150m saved on air travel costs would be reinvested in road construction. A series of similar gestures then followed.

Weeding out corruption, or “bursting boils” to use Magufuli’s phrase, emerged as an equally important part of the campaign against waste. Weeks into his presidency, Magufuli launched a crackdown on “big businessmen”, directing Tanzania Revenue Authority Commissioner General, Rishad Bade, to target tax avoiders. His Prime Minister, Kassim Majaliwa, later showed up at the TRA offices unexpected and suspended Bade while investigations were still pending into the disappearance of 349 shipping containers from TRA’s records. Again, these early moves were quickly followed by more suspensions, firings and threats from State House.

Magufli indicated his overriding aim was to eliminate corruption and ensure economic transformation through a soon to be revealed development plan. His shock-and-awe approach was also politically strategic, and this for two reasons.

First, it generated a wave of popular support. It also helped pre-empt any potential opposition from within CCM and government. Magufuli’s own political base was narrow at best, yet his actions threatened the entrenched patterns of rent-seeking that had come to define CCM politics. Amongst those allegedly opposed to the new President’s approach was his predecessor and erstwhile mentor, Kikwete. By acting swiftly, though, Magufuli could at least temporarily cow otherwise vocal opponents into silence. He was, arguably, further aided by the temporary confusion Lowassa’s defection caused within CCM. One of the party’s strongest factions was now in disarray and, without its leader, appeared suddenly powerless.

But those who had something to fear as a result of Magufuli anti-corruption crusade were not the only ones worried about the President’s new style.

The opposition and civil liberties

After taking office, Magufuli quickly imposed heavy restrictions on opposition parties.

The first, and most flagrant, breach of trust between President Magufuli and the opposition, particularly the Civic United Front (CUF) party, came after the chairman of the Zanzibar Electoral Commission annulled the 2015 elections for the Zanzibari President and House of Representatives. While this initial decision had nothing to do with Magufuli, his subsequent unwillingness to intervene was heavily criticized by opposition actors. The elections were re-run in March 2016 amidst an opposition boycott, thus leading to an overwhelming victory for the long-time ruling party Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM). What’s more, starting in September, the CCM government has exacerbated divisions within CUF after the Registrar of Political Parties repeatedly favoured one of two rival factions.

Tensions, meanwhile, have also grown between Magufuli and CHADEMA, Tanzania’s largest opposition party and the dominant player on the mainland. Through the Deputy Speaker, a lawyer appointed to Parliament by Magufuli, the President has seemingly tried to stifle opposition in Parliament. He has also effectively banned all opposition meetings outside of parliament, even internal party meetings. Individual politicians meanwhile, have repeatedly been drawn to court with some languishing for months in jail.

Opposition parties are not the only ones affected by the new strong-arm politics. Several Whatsapp users have been charged with insulting the President under the Cyber Crimes Act, a piece of legislation passed under Kikwete. A newly enacted Media Services Bill also promises a fresh set of restrictions on free expression while journalists have also found themselves under pressure.

The economy

Despite some impressive gains in revenue collection and cost cutting efforts, Magufuli’s economic management has raised serious concerns. His efforts to centralize control over wealth creation and to root out corruption and waste have, in many instances, had negative economic ramifications.

Some of these were perhaps unavoidable. Magufuli’s order that all government meetings be held in public offices, and not luxury hotels as was the norm, has hit the hospitality sector hard. But pouring government funds into rented conference space was, to begin with, perhaps not the best form of economic stimulus.

Other negative side-effects are, however, down to poorly conceived policy decisions. For instance, efforts to levy VAT and crack down on smuggling has led to a 800,000-tonne drop in cargo volumes going through Dar es Salaam port.

Whilst Magufuli’s push for rapid industrial expansion will depend on foreign investment, he has done little to boost investor confidence. In March, Magufuli declared he wanted a stop to the practice of ‘hiring generators’, admittedly a costly means of power generation. The Tanzania Electric Supply Company (Tanesco) responded by denying having signed a contract with an American company, Symbion, responsible for managing a gas-fired power plant in Dar es Salaam. In January of this year, while addressing a crowd at a rally, Magufuli announced that he would cancel the operating license of a foreign mining company that had already invested $26m prospecting for nickel. This came after local officials had advised the President that the best location to develop a water project was within the area covered by the company’s license.

Perhaps most worrying, there is mounting concern of food shortages and possible famine due to drought. Magufuli has, however, refused to declare a famine, alleging that the supposed threat is a media and opposition fabrication.

 

Where to from here?

With the next elections due in 2020, it is still early days for the Magufuli presidency. And yet his time in office has already caused significant upheaval.

Given the severe restrictions on opposition parties, it is unclear whether they can bounce back and build on their 2015 electoral gains. Recent by-election results suggest they are in a weak position, as is to be expected.

Regarding Magufuli’s economic legacy, it is still too early to tell. Data on Tanzania’s macro-economic performance is mixed. Signs of a significant dip in growth rates may be attributable to the negative effects of drought on agricultural production while other sectors, like construction, are expanding, possibly thanks to the President’s commitment to infrastructural development. The success of Magufuli’s ambitious industrialization agenda will, nevertheless, require more than a fiscal stimulus.

Finally, there is the crucial question of Magufuli’s support within CCM. There are persistent rumours of tensions between Kikwete and Magufuli. At the same time, some argue that Magufuli has curbed his anti-corruption zeal, treading carefully around issues that may implicate leading CCM figures, including his predecessor.

An outsider at the start, Magufuli is still walking a political tightrope. While his desire to re-engineer a corrupt political settlement in Tanzania is laudable, success is far from assured. His methods too—a mix of repression and intimidation—leave much to be desired. As with much else in the world of 2017, these remain interesting times.

Tanzania – The long arm of the law in Magufuli’s Tanzania

Last March, after appointing a fresh cohort of 26 Regional Commissioners, President Magufuli offered some sobering advice to his new appointees: “You have the authority to jail people for up to 48 hours. Lock them up so that they learn how to respect you.” He then added, “Don’t be afraid to make decisions. It’s better you take decisions. Even if they are bad, they can be adjusted later.”

Six months on, the President’s instructions have not gone unheeded. Reports of apparent abuses perpetrated by both Regional and District Commissions keep multiplying. While not necessarily breaking the law, Commissions are making the most of the 48-hour rule, which Magufuli referenced. Enshrined in clause 15(2) of the 1997 Regional Administration Act, it stipulates that a Commissioner can order that any individual be put in custody without a charge for as long as two days if deemed likely to “disturb the public tranquillity.”

Commissioners are using these powers to “discipline” public servants and politicians, primarily local councillors. In one district, the Commissioner jailed two high ranking district officials for 12 hours, accusing them of failing to find funds to pay city street cleaners, as per the Commissioner’s orders. In another district, the Commissioner ordered the arrest of four local councillors from Tanzania’s leading opposition party, CHADEMA. The district council chairman—among those arrested—spent the night in jail. The Commissioner’s explanation: “Those [councillors] were messing up my visits to see the wananchi [people] and undermining government development efforts.”

These heavy-handed interventions—and the reasons invoked to justify them—raise questions about the precise responsibilities of a Regional or District Commissioner, beyond presumably preserving “public tranquillity.” According to the above-mentioned Regional Administration Act, District Commissioners are the “principal representatives of the government” within their area and, as such, “all the executive functions of Government […] shall be exercised by or through” them. They are responsible for maintaining “law and order,” for overseeing the implementation of government policies and, crucially, for “assisting” local government authorities, including by “ensuring compliance by all persons and authorities with appropriate Government decisions […].”

Whatever the circumstances, Commissioners clearly enjoy wide-ranging authority. Under President Magufuli, however, they are increasingly using the full breadth of their (loosely defined) legal powers. They are emerging as the local exponents of the President’s “Hapa kazi tu” agenda, justifying apparent excesses by invoking the developmental value of their work. Hence their actions against allegedly non-performing public servants and, most especially, their efforts to clip the wings of local councils and their elected members.

Councillors from the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party have not been spared, also facing sanctions and arrests. But the bulk of the Commissioners’ interventions target opposition politicians and opposition-controlled councils. The most flagrant case is in Tanzania’s third largest city, Arusha, where the city council is under CHADEMA control. The District Commissioner, later promoted to Regional Commissioner, has been embroiled in an ongoing dispute with councillors for months after first announcing a drastic cut in their allowances and subsequently interfering with decisions made by the council. Tensions have also escalated between the Commissioner, Mrisho Gambo, and the Arusha city MP, Godbless Lema, also from CHADEMA. Lema has repeatedly accused Gambo of taking credit for development projects.

Top opposition leaders predictably condemn the Commissioners’ actions, and the apparent encouragement coming from the President. What is less clear is how leaders within Magufuli’s own party view Commissioners’ actions, and their growing prominence. On the one hand, many of Magufuli’s Commissioners are CCM politicians who lost out in the most recent elections. As such, they are themselves close to—or else part and parcel of—the ruling party. On the other hand, though, the Commissioners’ actions seem to pre-empt or substitute a development campaign led by the party itself, through its various structures. Under Magufuli’s predecessor—Jakaya Kikwete—, the CCM Secretary General undertook an energetic national tour aimed at restoring people’s faith in the party and its poverty-fighting agenda. That focus and vitality is currently absent from CCM, which if anything, appears temporarily paralyzed.

Magufuli, now party chairman, continues to warn fellow CCM leaders of a coming anti-corruption drive whilst promising a “new CCM” at public events. In the meantime, the President appears much more comfortable working with his appointees. As Commissioner Gambo faced increasingly sharp criticism in Arusha, it was Magufuli who called him personally on the phone to express his continued support.

Uganda – Done with one election, on to the next

After allegations of vote rigging in the February polls, Uganda’s President of 30 years—Yoweri Museveni—has adopted a placating tone, promising that this term “hakuna michezo” (no games, no playing around).

The rhetoric is certainly ambitious. Three years ago, Uganda launched Vision 2040, which projects that the country will reach lower middle income status by 2032 and upper middle income status by 2040. Now that timeframe has shrunk remarkably; President Museveni’s new wish is for Uganda to reach middle income status by 2020.

But despite the promises, politics is once again getting in the way. With the presidential elections only just concluded, attention has already shifted to the next round. The main preoccupation is how to ensure Museveni’s name stays on the ballot.

Vision 2021

In 2005, Uganda’s Parliament amended the constitution to eliminate presidential term limits, thereby freeing President Museveni to contest for a third term. Museveni is now set to run up against a second constitutional hurdle. By the 2021 general elections, he will have exceeded the age limit of 75 years.

The leadership of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) now appear to be testing the waters, gauging the response to a fresh constitutional amendment. In July, the NRM District Conference in Kywankwanzi passed a resolution urging Members of Parliament to move a motion lifting presidential age limits. Museveni later met with a group of MPs supportive of the reforms during an NRM party retreat before convening another meeting with district leaders shortly thereafter.

In late August, an NRM MPs went ahead and tabled a private member’s bill in Parliament, calling for, among other issues, the removal of constitutional age limits for judges. However, observers judged that the real focus of the bill had little to do with age limits for judges. Once parliament initiates a debate on a particular constitutional amendment, members are free to recommend additional change, for instance to eliminate presidential age limits. The MP responsible for tabling the bill, Kafeero Ssekitoleko, is seen as close to the First Family. Indeed, it is difficult to understand how else he might come to benefit from a new security detail apparently linked to the Special Forces Command, a military unit headed by Museveni’s son.

If the bill was in fact introduced to test the waters, it revealed that the time is not yet ripe for an amendment. It divided ministers when discussed in Cabinet and was opposed by both NRM and opposition MPs in Parliament. On 14 September, the Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, threw it out, declaring it was not for MPs to start playing with the constitution.

While many believe Parliament will eventually pass an amendment, more political spade work is still needed.

Priming Parliament

Above all else, elimination presidential age limits will be expensive. While the NRM may seem hegemonic and Museveni like the linchpin of the party, this should not distract from the often tense bargaining needed to retain the status quo. And Museveni’s number one tool for maintaining loyalty is money.

A key strategic focus for Museveni’s largesse is Parliament, whose members are ultimately responsible for waving through any constitutional amendments. Whereas MPs received Shs5m to remove presidential term limits in 2005, the price will be considerably higher this time around.

Already he has acquiesced to rising levels of parliamentary patronage. Over the past several parliamentary sessions, the legislature’s budget has more than quadrupled. The cost seems increasingly difficult to justify, not least when key sectors such as agriculture—which employs an estimated 40 percent of Uganda’s workforce—are only barely keeping pace (see Fig 1).[1]

screen-shot-2016-09-29-at-21-23-22

Public opinion is certainly at odds with this increase in spending. Earlier this month, activists from a group going by the name Jobless Youth released piglets outside of Parliament, painted with party colours and labelled with the names of MPs singled out as amongst the worst offenders. This action was spurred notably by news of MPs using public funds to finance seemingly unnecessary trips as well as luxuries such as iPads (Shs 2bn/USD 590k) and cars (Shs 84bn/USD 24m).

The Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, continues to defend Parliament’s spending, returning to what is becoming a recurring theme, namely that Parliament should get the same perks as the President: “If the public wants MPs to buy vehicles for themselves, let us first see President Museveni driving his personal vehicle […].” Kadaga has displayed an independent streak in the past—opposing measures backed by Museveni—and is believed to harbour presidential ambitions of her own. Given her latest move to scrap Ssekitoleko’s private member’s bill, she is an important figure for the President to win over.

In addition to Parliament’s more routine spending, rumours abound that the President—notably through his brother Salim Saleh—is distributing money to certain MPs in Parliament responsible for mobilising cliques to back government measures. These include Ssekitoleko as well as Muhammed Nsereko and Barnabas Tinkasiimire, both ‘rebel’ MPS previously expelled from the NRM but now seemingly back in the government’s good books.

Earlier this week, Museveni cast the net a bit wider. He invited all surviving Members of Parliament—past and present—to an awards ceremony where each was given a medal and a generous “transport refund.” Museveni also issued a vague promise to the 1,162 legislators present, indicating that, “On the issue of the welfare of former MPs, we have been thinking about how to solve this issue. […] We are going to sit down and discuss.”

What about “hakuna michezo”?

Despite Museveni’s promises to knuckle down, Uganda’s economy is moving at a lacklustre pace.

The latest blow came with the World Bank’s decision to suspend new lending due to “outstanding performance issues in the portfolio, including delays in project effectiveness, weaknesses in safeguards monitoring and enforcement, and low disbursement.”

The lending freeze is stoking fears of more domestic borrowing, which would drive up already high interest rates and lower credit growth.

Sadly, Uganda’s middle income dream is looking very distant indeed. Meanwhile in the political arena, the games never stopped.

Notes

[1] Data sourced from Approved Budget Estimates for FY 2009/10 through 2016/17, available at: http://www.budget.go.ug/

Tanzania – Stalemate between President Magufuli and the opposition coalition deepens

After he first took office last November, President John Magufuli’s relations with Tanzania’s opposition coalition quickly deteriorated. In the past month, they have reached new lows, with many in the Tanzanian commentariat recalling the one-party era by way of comparison.

From bad to worse

The first, and most flagrant, breach of trust between President Magufuli and the opposition, particularly the Civic United Front (CUF) party, came after the chairman of the Zanzibar Electoral Commission annulled the elections for the Zanzibari President and House of Representatives. While this initial decision had nothing to do with Magufuli, his subsequent unwillingness to intervene was heavily criticized by opposition actors. The elections were re-run in March of this year amidst an opposition boycott, thus leading to an overwhelming victory for the long-time ruling party Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM). The Secretary General of CUF most recently called for Magufuli to be tried in an international court for crimes against humanity, referring to alleged police brutality following the 2015 elections.

Tensions, meanwhile, have also set in between Magufuli and CHADEMA, Tanzania’s largest opposition party and the dominant player on the mainland. Many in the opposition accused CCM of stealing the presidential election, asserting that CHADEMA candidate Edward Lowassa won against CCM’s Magufuli.  The opposition—united in a coalition known by the acronym UKAWA—went on to boycott Magufuli’s swearing in. Magufuli in turn ruffled feathers with a succession of interventions, which many interpreted as aimed at preventing the opposition in parliament—and parliament as an institution—from effectively challenging the executive. These included imposing his preferred candidate—a lawyer who had never served in parliament—as Deputy Speaker, halting highly popular live broadcasts of parliamentary debates, and intervening in the selection of parliamentary committee members. The opposition responded to this last move by refusing to elect chairs for the opposition-headed oversight committees, including the Public Accounts Committee. Opposition MPs also staged a series of noisy protests during House debates, which led to their forcible removal by the parliamentary guards as well as voluntary walkouts.

After the first parliamentary sitting finished in early February, a series of smaller scale confrontations occurred. Temperatures again rose sharply, however, with the beginning of the parliamentary sitting in late May. Opposition MPs quickly resolved to boycott sessions chaired by the Deputy Speaker, Tulia Ackson, whom they accuse of serving as Magafuli’s puppet, quashing parliamentary debate and contravening the House rules of procedure. With the Speaker away for medical treatment, Ackson has chaired the majority of recent debates. Opposition MPs have thus abandoned the House for much of the past month, during which time parliament debated the government’s annual budget. In addition to the MPs’ protest, CHADEMA also announced a countrywide tour to protest Magufuli’s leadership style. The party leaders accused the president of dictatorial tendency, citing the firing of civil servants without following due procedure and the abrupt expulsion of over 7,000 students from one of Tanzania’s public universities. The police responded to this plan by imposing an indefinite ban on political rallies for “security reasons.” On June 22, Magufuli issued a statement of his own, declaring a ban on all political activity (rallies, public meetings, etc.) until 2020, when the next elections are scheduled to take place. He justified this move in the name of “development,” declaring, “We can’t allow people to politicize each and everything, every day. When will the people work and build the nation?”

Magufuli has since reaffirmed his stand, adding that he was elected to fulfill certain electoral promises, and he cannot tolerate any political obstacles to achieving this aim. In addition to targeting opposition activities generally, individuals have also been singled out for “insulting” Magufuli. One Arusha resident was found guilty of insulting the President on his facebook page and sentenced to three years in jail. A second man has since been charged with insulting Magufuli via Whatsapp. Meanwhile, an opposition MP spent a night in jail after he was arrested, seeming because he referred to Magufuli as a “petty dictator.”

Why the democratic backsliding?

President Magufuli’s “style of leadership” certainly differs from his predecessor’s. While in office, Jakaya Kikwete positioned himself as a democrat. Often his commitment seemed largely rhetorical, but even so, parliament became more assertive under his watch while opposition parties were left to conduct their activities in relative freedom. This raises the question, why the abrupt authoritarian reversion under Magufuli?

One possible reason is the unprecedented level of inter-party competition during the last general elections. Following the 1992 reintroduction of multiparty politics, CCM has won presidential and parliamentary elections by very comfortable margins. In 2015, however, the leading opposition presidential candidate managed to win 40% of the vote. While this official result was still a long way from Magufuli’s 58%, it came after a particularly bruising campaign. It was also a distinct improvement over the opposition’s previous peak performance at 27% in 1995 and 2010 and a far cry from the opposition lows in 2000 and 2005 when the leading presidential candidates garnering only 16% and 11% respectively.

While observers have associated rising inter-party competition with increased political tensions in other dominant party states, this factor alone does not explain the current situation in Tanzania. A second reason could be the opposition’s growing predilection for showmanship and stonewalling. Its boycott of much of this year’s budget session in parliament has certainly left some observers unimpressed. Reports that opposition MPs are now refusing to speak to or socialize with CCM MPs also suggest a particularly pernicious partisan polarization. Yet it is hard to blame the opposition when many of their actions are in fact reactions to executive interference.

This brings us to Magufuli. Since taking office, he has pursued an aggressive anti-corruption campaign, firing high ranking bureaucrats suspected of corrupt activities, slashing excess government expenditure and pushing for improved revenue collection. The flip side of this singular focus has been an apparent unwillingness to tolerate political opposition or, indeed, institutional checks-and-balances. Parliament as a whole, not just opposition MPs, has suffered the consequences. Indeed, CCM legislators also echo opposition concerns, accusing the Deputy Speaker in particular of bending House rules and limiting time for debate so as to render it meaningless. Under the circumstances, some argue that their time is better spent watching football in the parliamentary canteen rather than attending sessions.

Finally, we may ask, where is CCM—the ruling party—in all of this? To date, measures taken against the opposition have originated with the executive, coming directly from the President, his ministers, or the security forces. Magufuli, meanwhile, has yet to take over from Jakaya Kikwete as party chairman. His relations with many party stalwarts, moreover, remain ill defined. There was much speculation that CCM insiders were trying to manoeuvre to postpone the transfer. A recent extraordinary Central Committee meeting convened to put an end to this uncertainty, setting a date for the transfer to take place later this month. Magufuli did not attend the meeting, however, something which surprised many.

Development over democracy?

Ultimately, Tanzania’s new President is showing the power of his office by rewriting the rules of the game, seemingly single-handedly. His vision is one of development first, which in this case seems to imply sacrificing democracy. Incidentally, Magufuli and Kagame have repeatedly expressed their admiration for each other. But Tanzania under Magufuli is no Rwanda. Despite some notably early successes, not least his cost cutting efforts, Magufuli has also overseen some costly blunders. For instance, the snap decision to ban all sugar imports while simultaneously attempting to impose a price ceiling on sugar produced domestically had the bizarre effect of undercutting Tanzanian traders, producers and consumers alike. Although a parliamentary committee warned of a looming sugar scarcity, it went unheard.

Magufuli has ambitions to oversee a transformative industrialization process in Tanzania. But rather than there being some trade-off between these developmental aspirations and the country’s democratic growth, the evidence so far suggests the executive would benefit from a more consultative approach that allowed for opposition critique and parliamentary oversight. Yes, this tolerance comes with certain costs, but so does authoritarian intransigence.

 

Uganda – President Museveni buying loyalty of newly elected MPs

Uganda’s elections concluded three months ago, and yet political tempers remain high. Most obvious—and perturbing—is the continued state-led repression of the opposition, including most recently the treason charges levelled against opposition leader Col Kizza Besigye. All is not well within the ruling party itself either. As parliament convened this week, the National Resistance Movment (NRM) leadership were scrambling to stave off a rebellion over the party’s official candidate for the position of Deputy Speaker. While seemingly minor in and of itself, this incident shows that President Museveni has his work cut out for him handling backbench MPs. And already he has had to resort to his trump card: money.

Shortly after the February elections, the race to be House Speaker erupted in controversy. The outgoing Speaker, Rebecca Kadaga, faced a challenge from her then deputy, Jacob Oulanyah. Both NRM heavyweights organized campaign teams, and started inviting their fellow parliamentarians to meetings with promises of up to Shs200k ($60) in ‘transport’ allowances. Kadaga, a Speaker with a reputation for being independent-minded, won the support of well-known dissident MPs. She attacked Oulanyah for being new to the NRM—he used to be a member of the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC)—and for showing undue ambition. Oulanyah, in turn, questioned Kadaga’s loyalty to the ruling party.

With the parliamentary caucus fracturing into rival camps, the NRM Central Executive Committee (CEC) intervened to settle the dispute. CEC opted to preserve the status quo, recommending that the NRM parliamentary caucus nominateKadaga as the official NRM Speaker candidate and Oulanyah as Deputy. This move restored a degree of calm, and the NRM caucus approved both names to be the official NRM candidates ahead of a vote in the full House.

The twist came when one of the other contenders for Deputy Speaker, Mohammed Nsereko, refused to pull out of the race. Nsereko won his seat in February as an Independent. This come-back came after he was first expelled from the NRM, along with three other MPs, for disloyalty in the previous parliament. Ahead of the 2016 elections, President Museveni sought to mend fences with these four ‘rebel’ legislators, two of whom ran again on the NRM ticket, and all of whom were re-elected. After the elections, even those who remained Independents were invited to join NRM caucus meetings.

Nsereko’s‘rebel’ background made his refusal to withdraw his candidacy all the more provocative. Even more troubling for the NRM top brass was Nsereko’s apparent popularity within the caucus. He also showed his financial muscle, outspending both Kadaga and Oulanyah by rewarding supporters with Shs500k ($150) at campaign meetings.

With the very real threat of an embarrassing upset in the election for Deputy Speaker, President Museveni rushed to convene the NRM caucus on Sunday 15 May, four days before the parliamentary vote. He used this meeting to discipline Nsereko, who was escorted out by security after (again) refusing to withdraw his candidacy. Museveni then adopted a softer touch with the remaining MPs.He suggested he might reimburse their inauguration expenses, as many newly elected parliamentarians planned expensive parties for their supporters. He also promised to reconsider his decision to block the Income Tax Bill, which sparked a public outcry after MPs exempted their own allowances from taxation.

Seemingly fearful that money might not speak loudly enough, Museveni took a further, unprecedented step. On Thursday 19 May, he attended the parliamentary session, arriving shortly after Kadaga was elected Speaker and just as voting began for the position of Deputy Speaker.

After such an aggressive campaign, it was no wonder when Oulanyah won 300 out of 413 votes. But this clash between Museveni and the NRM caucus promises to be one of many as the 10th Parliament gets underway. It is in line with a recurring pattern in Uganda. At the start of a parliamentary term, a fresh cohort of NRM MPs—59% new in this parliament—arrive having fought a bruising and expensive election battle.  For many, loyalty to the NRM is conditional at best, leading President Museveni to buy MPs’ support at a seemingly ever more inflated price. This year the tug-of-war between Parliament and the President has started earlier than ever before.

Sensing, at least for now, that parliamentary independence is in vogue, newly elected Deputy Speaker Oulanyah urged his fellow MPs to “choose national interests over party allegiance.” Whether the irony was intentional is anyone’s guess.

 

 

 

 

South Africa – Calls multiply for President Zuma to resign

In recent months, South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma has limped from one political crisis to the next. Last December, Zuma’s decision to replace his respected finance minister with a little known backbencher met with strong opposition, and plunged the economy into a tailspin. Many feared this was a move aimed at freeing Zuma’s hand to loot public coffers and pay off his close business associates.

The President’s reputation took another hit last month when members of the Gupta family, owners of a sprawling business empire in South Africa, allegedly offered the current deputy finance minister the top post in the Treasury. Both the Guptas and Zuma denied these allegations, with Zuma affirming that he took responsibility for all government appointments.

With that scandal still smouldering, South Africa’s Constitutional Court dealt Zuma a fresh blow. The Court ruled that Zuma’s refusal to abide by the Public Protector’s binding recommendation to repay public funds used to renovate his expansive Nkandla estate went against the constitution. Zuma promptly apologized for the “frustration and confusion” that the long-running scandal caused, but this did little to calm the public outcry.

Only days later, parliament debated an impeachment motion brought by the leading opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA). While ANC MPs stood together, ensuring the motion failed, the debate itself—broadcast live—revisited all the corruption allegations levied against Zuma. Moreover, it was not opposition politicians alone targeting the president. Shortly after the impeachment proceedings concluded, a number of ANC veterans joined the chorus calling on Zuma to resign.

The public anger directed at Zuma has its roots in a more deep seated fear that his presidency has brought on a new era of ‘state capture.’ The influence of politically well-connected business elites appears to be growing as they become more embedded in predatory patronage networks. The Gupta’s embody this trend. In March, the current finance minister refused to appear at a meeting of business leaders to be held under the banner of the Gupta-owned New Age media group. Once the association was dropped, the meeting went ahead, whereby the minister warned, ‘There are many parts of transacting between government and business which have gone seriously wrong, and if we don’t stop it, we’re going to become a kleptocracy.’

Concern over spreading corruption is also reshaping the political map in South Africa. With local elections due in August, the ANC’s risks losing its long-standing hegemony across a number of urban strongholds where frustration with poor service delivery has grown. This may give rise to an urban-rural political divide. As the leader of the DA warned, ‘You could end up with a scenario… where the liberation movement governs in rural areas through patronage, and in urban areas people are making decisions on the basis of different choices.’

While many observers suggest a big loss for the ANC in August could spell the end for Zuma, others are more sceptical. Zuma still enjoys strong support among rural branches of the ANC, particularly in his home province of KwaZulu-Natal. This local level support reduces the likelihood that the ANC National Executive Committee, the party organ with the power to oust Zuma, will in fact force his resignation.

However, even if Zuma does survive through to the end of his term in 2018, he may struggle to anoint his preferred successor, his ex-wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. This could leave the path clear for the current Deputy President, Cyril Ramaphosa, which according to some might help the ANC reset. Ramaphosa is far from Mr. Clean, though, and it is uncertain whether the challenges currently facing the ANC can be remedied through a simple change of guard.

While the political malaise deepens, the economic crisis facing South Africa—whose credit rating is teetering on the edge of junk—shows little sign of abating. Indeed, the political and economic unease go hand in hand, leaving South Africans much the worse for it.

South Africa – President Zuma’s economic (mis)management

January has provided no reprieve for South Africa’s embattled President, Jacob Zuma. Anti-Zuma protests continue apace, the most recent headline-grabber being a giant ‘Zuma must fall’ banner erected by activists in Cape Town.  Economic indicators meanwhile continue to spiral downward, heralding further political unrest ahead. The IMF recently revised South Africa’s growth projection for 2016, nearly halving its original estimate to a mere 0.7%. This poor outlook is in part due to external factors—notably falling commodity prices and rising borrowing costs. Yet much of this decline is also self-inflicted. It is a testament to Zuma’s dangerous politicking, which in turn, speaks to a more fundamental malaise within the ruling ANC, a party at the mercy of competing patronage-seeking factions.

Zuma has had to fight off a succession of political scandals throughout his career. Since assuming office in 2009, criticism over corruption and policy uncertainty has continually dogged Zuma personally, as well as his government. And yet, in December of last year Zuma managed to outdo himself, unleashing market chaos after changing his Finance Minister three times over five days.

On December 9, he shocked South Africans and foreign investors alike when he replaced his respected minister, Nhlanhla Nene, with a little known ANC backbencher, David van Rooyen. Rumors quickly spread that Nene was fired due to his unwillingness to sacrifice fiscal discipline in order to satisfy Zuma’s personal political interests. Nene had opposed a bid by the lossmaking state-owned company, South African Airlines (SAA), to renegotiate an aircraft deal with Airbus. The chair of SAA who was in favor of the renegotiation, Dudu Myeni, is a close Zuma ally. What’s more, the President also felt compelled to issue a highly unusual statement, denying allegations that he is romantically involved with Myeni.

The apparent sidelining of Nene for political reasons raised serious questions regarding the credibility of the Treasury, long seen as one of South Africa’s strongest institutions. Zuma’s decision sent the rand tumbling to all-time lows against major global currencies. It wiped R169bn of equities listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange and R52bn off the local bond market. Protests also broke out across the country as South Africans called for Zuma’s ouster. Facing pressure from within his own party, Zuma finally acquiesced. Four days after he fired Nene, the President announced the return of respected former Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan to head the Treasury.

Gordhan has gone some way towards reassuring markets. He has reaffirmed the Treasury’s commitment to fiscal discipline at a time when the cost of repaying South Africa’s public debt has become the single greatest drain on the national budget. He also successfully upheld Nene’s original position, rejecting the SAA bid to renegotiate its deal with Airbus.

Nevertheless, observers and financial commentators in particular underscore the lasting damage incurred as a result of Zuma’s gamble. Recent credit rating downgrades have brought South African bonds close to junk status while investors increasingly question the lack of policy direction and the uncertain prospects for South Africa’s commodity-dependent economy.

More worrying still is the reigning political uncertainty. Zuma’s own future is on the rocks, with many citing this year’s local government elections as a key test. A poor showing for the ANC could trigger Zuma’s early removal from office.  But Zuma’s immediate future aside, a succession battle is already underway for the ANC top post. Next year’s leadership congress is likely to pit Zuma’s former wife and current head of the AU Commission, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, against current Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa. Zuma’s own preference would be to retain his current position as party leader and to see Dlamini-Zuma becomes presidential nominee. The dynastic quality of such an arrangement is problematic in and of itself, but it would also contravene ANC precedent, which dictates that one person should hold both the position of presidential nominee and party leader so as to prevent competing power centres from emerging. Ramaphosa’s potential candidacy is hardly a reassuring alternative, though, given his own checkered record. Corruption allegations abound while South Africans will not have forgotten Ramaphosa’s alleged implication in the 2012 Marikana massacres and subsequent cover up.

For now, the ANC has remained outwardly united in defending its President. However, intra-party tensions abound as competing ANC heavyweights jockey for positions. Against this troubled backdrop, it is unclear how South Africa’s ruling party can prevent what some interpret as the weaknesses of Zuma’s personal leadership style from remaining a fixed element of the ANC status quo. Indeed, Zuma is not alone in his willingness to indulge political cronies; any successor will have his or her own patronage network to satisfy. This situation means it will only become more difficult for the ANC to convince South Africans, as well as foreign investors, of the government’s political (and economic) credibility.

 

 

Uganda – President Museveni and the NRM slated to win in the coming elections, but at what cost?

Campaigns ahead of Uganda’s February 2016 general elections are heating up. The presidential race kicked off last month. President Yoweri Museveni of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) is running against his long-time opponent, Kizza Besigye of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), as well as  his erstwhile close political ally and former Prime Minister, Amama Mbabazi, who is standing as an independent.  Nominations for parliamentary candidates closed yesterday with an expected 10,000 aspirants for just over 400 elected positions, or roughly 25 contenders for every seat.

With this array of candidates, the coming elections look to be the most heavily contested—and costly—ever witnessed under President Museveni’s 30-year-old regime. Bookmakers have Museveni and the NRM down to win by a large margin. But even with a sound victory over the opposition, the expense of handling intra-party factionalism may make it a pyrrhic one. With Mbabazi’s decision to vie for the presidency, the amount of money needed to keep the NRM house in order has risen sharply. This elite rivalry has made an already existing situation much worse, and all but guarantees more financial and political trouble after the elections are done.

The ‘commercialization’ of politics in Uganda

Museveni’s and the NRM’s long stay in power has come with an ever bigger price tag. Elite cohesion at the highest levels has been purchased by allowing Uganda’s ‘aristocracy’ to take advantage of government positions to amass personal wealth. The regime has meanwhile maintained local support through a combination of patronage, public services and coercion. The creation of new districts, each with its promise of lucrative jobs and more sate resources, has proved a particularly expedient but expensive method of bolstering the NRM’s popularity.

Pressure to extend more patronage to local areas has steadily risen throughout Museveni’s rule. This is a result of competition between the NRM and the opposition parties but also of growing competition within the NRM itself. Around elections, this pressure reaches a fever pitch. After losing ground to Besigye in the 2006 polls, Museveni started touring the country a full two years before the 2011 election, distributing money and issuing presidential pledges along the way.

Pressure on MPs is also high. Ugandan legislators report spending more on routine constituency visits than their counterparts in 15 other African country surveyed, bar Nigeria.[1] This spending rises precipitously during election campaigns. For MPs from the ruling party—who make up over 70 percent of legislators in the current parliament—the hardest test is often not the general elections but the NRM party primaries. In 2010, the first time all NRM party members had the right to participate, the primaries were marred by allegations of extensive vote rigging, bribery and fraud. The party emerged bruised. Many NRM-leaning legislators entered parliament as independents after losing in the primaries while NRM MPs openly wondered what their party had done for them. The losers, either in the primaries or the general election, were left to stew, with many calling on Museveni for compensation.

Frustration with the 2011 elections and how they were handled by the party contributed to later divisions within the NRM parliamentary caucus. Faced with an unusually rebellious legislature, Museveni had to make an effort to subdue MPs, something he achieved notably through offering them bribes for votes or support to help them manage their debts.

Beyond the political challenge, the economic consequences of the 2011 elections were unprecedented in Uganda. Since the 1990s, the government has built up a reputation for its prudent macroeconomic management, reflected in overall low inflation levels. Yet after the 2011 polls inflation rates soared, fueled to a large extent by excess election spending. The Governor of the Bank of Uganda later admitted that he had been called on to essentially print money.

Mbabazi’s bid – more factionalism, more money

Amama Mbabazi, now Museveni’s presidential rival, is very much a member of the NRM political aristocracy. He previously served Museveni as Attorney General, Defense Minister and finally Prime Minister starting in 2011. He was also elected NRM Secretary General in 2009. Over the course of his stay in government, he built up a personal fortune. He was repeatedly listed in high profile corruption scandals, but always benefited from political cover. For a long time, many saw Mbabazi as Museveni’s heir apparent with the possibility of a succession in 2016.

But shortly after 2011, it became clear Museveni was still planning to run again. Moreover, he appeared to be positioning his son, wife or son-in-law to take over after him. This seeming desire to keep the presidency as a family business has stoked tensions among the NRM’s top elite. This frustration is particularly noticeable among certain long-serving members of the party’s Central Executive Committee (CEC). Observers have argued that corruption levels in Uganda are reaching unprecedented levels in part as a result of the growing challenge of keeping the NRM top brass in the Museveni camp.

And even so, that challenge has clearly not been met. Rumors that Mbabazi—tired of waiting—was planning to challenge Museveni spread around the end of 2013. Museveni dropped him as Prime Minister in September 2014 and shortly thereafter orchestrated an extraordinary NRM delegates’ conference to change the NRM constitution and effectively strip Mbabazi of his role as party Secretary General.

Both Museveni and Mbabazi spent lavishly in efforts to build their support throughout this period, and have continued to do so since, targeting various groups—and notably youth—with patronage. As the elections season got under way, the pressure on Museveni to buy off politicians willing to auction their support to the highest bidder has also grown. In May, for instance, a group of NRM parliamentary flagbearers who lost in the 2011 elections approached Museveni asking for help with their debts. Any candidate who loses a parliamentary election on the NRM ticket automatically becomes the party chairperson in their area, thereby potentially retaining considerable power to mobilize voters for or against a presidential candidate of their choosing.

Mbabazi has repeatedly offered financial support to both opposition and NRM MPs. The prospect of Mbabazi bankrolling their campaigns was among the primary reasons why opposition parties, briefly united as The Democratic Alliance (TDA), considered adopting him as their joint presidential candidates. Opposition MPs were reportedly particularly drawn by the prospect of his support. After the TDA dissolved and Mbabazi went on to stand as an independent, certain opposition parties including the DP stuck by him, again partially for financial reasons.

The NRM party primaries have offered a new set of opportunities for Mbabazi both to campaign and decampaign certain candidates. As was the case in 2010, this year’s primaries, completed last month, were heavily contested and fraught with allegations of foul play. At one stage, two top-ranking NRM leaders, both of whom had a long-standing personal antagonism with Mbabazi, accused him of fronting rival candidates in their constituencies. One then went on to lose the primary election in a major upset.

Throughout the primary process, the newly appointed NRM Secretary General claimed the party would not tolerate failed NRM aspirants running as independents. This threat quickly proved hollow, though. Shortly before the official nominations were due, over 60 incumbent MPs who lost their NRM primaries met with Mbabazi’s sister-in-law and were offered financial backing in exchange for supporting Mbabazi. Museveni then invited the 60 MPs to a separate meeting at State House, at which he declared the NRM would not decampaign them should they run as independents.

As was the case in 2011, this tolerance of independents is resented by official NRM flagbearers. It keeps the elections tight in many areas where it would otherwise be easy, and forces candidates to keep spending after already going through costly primaries. This outcome ultimately undermines the NRM’s ability to consolidate as a political party capable of encouraging cohesion or imposing discipline among its members; rather, the current set-up is more akin to a kind of ‘no-party’ system beset by costly intra-elite rivalry.

What happens next in an aging regime?

Mbabazi’s presidential bid is, to some extent, highly predictable.  Subduing elite political ambitions through patronage and a high tolerance for corruption—the Museveni strategy—has its limits. Similarly, in a ruling coalition already fraught with internal divisions, albeit lower down the hierarchy, it is not surprising that the top level jockeying between Museveni and Mbabazi is fuelling more demands for pay-outs from below. Yet as patronage spending soars, the dangers of further economic instability looms large. One only has to think back to 2011, and then multiply. Museveni may also face additional trouble from his parliamentary caucus, which at the very least, may find ways to extract more costly patronage in exchange for support.

Finally, increased violence is another clear possibility for when patronage becomes unsustainable, or no longer works. Museveni has been most careful to consolidate his support within the military and police force, and has also overseen the formation of new militias ahead of the election. Mbabazi and Besigye have repeatedly clashed with security trying to prevent them from traveling or holding rallies. The militias pose a different, in some ways more ominous threat. In past elections, especially 2001 and 2006, they were used to intimidate the opposition—as well as NRM members who’d fallen from grace.

While Museveni is still far and away the most likely winner of the coming elections that does not mean that Mbabazi’s challenge is insubstantial or that Museveni’s regime is strong; rather, as intra-party contestation intensifies, his ability to exert control comes at an ever higher price.

[1] These results are form a survey of 16 countries conducted by the African Legislatures Project.