Who is John Patrick Amama Mbabazi? Flash Uganda Media looks at his biography, early life, education, wife, daughter and family of the 9th Prime Minister of the Republic of Uganda.
John Patrick Amama Mbabazi is a Ugandan politician who served as the ninth Prime Minister of Uganda from 24 May 2011 to 19 September 2014.
He played an instrumental role in Uganda’s protracted liberation struggle from several tyrannical governments from 1972-1986 and is a founding member of the National Resistance Movement (NRM), the ruling political party in Uganda.
As Museveni’s right-hand man, Mr Mbabazi held a lot of power and many believed they could never rise to any government position unless they secured his nod.
Many of those who ascended to high offices including ministers and Resident District Commissioners worshipped Mr Mbabazi just like many others cursed him for “chopping them from the list.”
Early Life and Education
John Patrick Amama Mbabazi was born in Mparo Village, Rukiga County, in present-day Kabale District, on 16 January 1949.
He attended two of the most prominent educational institutions in Uganda during both the colonial and post-colonial periods: Kigezi College Butobere for his O-Level education and Ntare School for his A-Level class.
From Ntare, Amama Mbabazi joined Makerere University Kampala (MUK) in 1972 where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Laws. He received a postgraduate Diploma in Legal Practice from the Law Development Center (LDC) in Kampala.
Work and Experience
Before joining politics, John Patrick Amama Mbabazi worked as a State Attorney in the Attorney General’s Chambers from 1976 to 1978, rising to the position of secretary of the Uganda Law Council from 1977 to 1979 and as an advocate of the Courts of Judicature of Uganda.
During the armed rebellion of the 1980s against Milton Obote’s government led by President Museveni in the bush, Mbabazi worked as an external coordinator and did not fight on the frontline something which attracted criticism.
In 1981 Mbabazi, his wife and children fled into exile. First, they went to Kenya then Sweden and returned when President Yoweri Museveni’s NRA current NRM party took over power serving as head of the External Security Organization (ESO) between 1986 and 1992.
He has also served as Minister of State in the President’s Office, in charge of political affairs.
He became Secretary of the NRM caucus in the Constitutional Assembly that drafted the 1995 Uganda Constitution.
Between 1986 and 1992, Mbabazi was Minister of State for Defense. Subsequently, he served as Minister of State for Regional Cooperation from 1998 to 2001.
He was Attorney General and Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs from 2004 to 2006, a feat that earned him the moniker “Super Minister”. He was appointed as Minister of Defense in 2006, a position he held until he was appointed as Minister of Security from February 24, 2009, until May 24 2011, when he was appointed the 9th Prime Minister of the Republic of Uganda.
Mbabazi was preceded by the Late Apollo Nsimbambi and succeeded by Dr Ruhakana Rugunda.
Mbabazi served as the Member of Parliament for the Kinkizi West constituency in Kanungu District, a position held from 1996 until 2016 when he ran unsuccessfully for the Presidency.
He was Secretary-General of the NRM from November 2005 to January 2015.
September 18, 2014, John Patrick Amama Mbabazi was sacked as Prime Minister, while in February 2016, Museveni and Mbabazi met at the Serena Conference Centre for a televised presidential debate.
President Museveni once described Mbabazi as a “clean man, he doesn’t booze or involve himself with women, and he is a hardworking man”.
Not everyone was a fan of Mbabazi, some of his colleagues in Parliament described him as elitist.
President Museveni sacked Mbabazi from government amidst allegations that millions of dollars had gone missing from Prime Minister’s office something Mr Mbabazi denied.
Mbabazi during his campaigns said that Museveni broke his promise that he would step down. He went further and described the government as a (system that has become weak” and said that the country needs to “rediscover our democratic principles”.
His presidential ambitions made his wife Jacqueline Mbabazi lose his position as chair of women’s league on the ruling NRM party.
Mbabazi’s childhood friend Ruhakana Rugunda was appointed to replace Mbabazi as Prime Minister on 18 September 2014, by President Yoweri Museveni. This move was seen by many as Museveni’s way of punishing Mbabazi for his rumoured presidential run.
On 15 June 2015, Mbabazi declared his intentions to run against Yoweri Museveni for the National Resistance movement’s nomination for president at the party’s convention on 4 October 2015.
This declaration was followed by a response from President Museveni who dubbed it “bad conduct and premature”. On 31st July, after much disagreement between top-ranking party officials and Mbabazi himself, the former Prime Minister declared he would stand as an independent candidate.
His candidature was backed by The Democratic Alliance (TDA), a loose convergence of minor political parties working to win the position of presidency.
In the 2016 General Election Mbabazi received 1.39% of the vote, placing third.
Speaking to BBC, Mbabazi told the BBC that as an independent candidate who has worked closely with the president he represents “change with continuity”.
Mbabazi also made an election promise that attracted much press attention. He promised that he will repatriate the remains of former dictator Idi Amin Dada and build a museum in his honour.
But to some election observers, Mbabazi’s participation in the 2016 elections was to take away votes from the opposition strongman Dr Kizza Besigye to keep the incumbent in power.
The idealistic lawyer, his 2016 presidential campaign hit a stumbling block at his first campaign meeting in July 2015 when he was arrested, along with one of his daughters for violating public order laws by attempting to hold meetings without permission.
He was later released without charge and was quick to hit out at President Museveni, saying he was directly behind the arrest. Mbabazi speaking to the BBC’s Newsday program said that the only other time he had been arrested was in 1976, under the rule of Amin.
In a YouTube video declaring his intention to run in the election, Mr Mbabazi described his younger self as a “young idealistic lawyer with a hunger for justice” who “joined the struggle against the destructive forces that were threatening to derail our self-governing hopes.”
Mbabazi has represented Uganda in international fora, including the United Nations Security Council, where he argued for the international community to allow the Uganda People’s Defense Force to pursue the Lord’s Resistance Army fighters into the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The fall and return of John Patrick Amama Mbabazi
Early January 2020, State House released a picture of president Museveni’s meeting with the former prime minister and political challenger John Patrick Amama Mbabazi at one of Museveni’s farms in Kisozi, Gomba District on December 31 2019.
The three consecutive meetings left many in the political and public circles drawn to speculation why the former allies, then rivals are could be cooking.
The former ‘super minister’ was at one time perceived to be the final man before Museveni passed any judgment; to fire or hire anybody in strategic government positions. At one time he was the only Ugandan outside the First Family who was said to fly the Presidential jet.
Just over five years in opposition after Mbabazi was sacked as Prime Minister at the end of 2014, he was seen on his knees seeking reunion with his former ally, Museveni which was a success.
The president is said to have met many people including those that he had fallen out with, but their pictures have not been released to the public.
Despite the 4-decade friendship between Mbabazi and President Museveni, the public and others in the political arena chose to discuss the December meeting as a fallback, with some saying Mbabazi has made a U-turn, to re-unite with the giver of all seasons while others arguing, it is Museveni who on seeing cracks in his government, has chosen to bring back Mbabazi whom many believed to be a shock absorber.
Mbabazi rose to fierce cadre since his return from exile in Sweden after the victory of the NRA rebellion in 1986 current NRM. Mr Mbabazi served in different government portfolios.
When Rtd Kizza Besigye chose to take on Museveni in the 2001 election, Mbabazi accused him of “attempting to jump the queue”.
In September 2010, the election of party structures, Mbabazi trounced his competitors, Prof. Gilbert Bukenya and Gen Kahinda Otafiire to become the Party’s, Secretary-General.
In many respects, Mr Mbabazi was perceived as Museveni’s potential heir to the Presidential throne. Mr Mbabazi’s word to the President’s ear was command and the President returned such loyalty by protecting Mr Mbabazi from both public scrutiny and prosecution.
Despite several scandals such as the Oil Scam, Temangalo saga and OPM multi-billion theft, Mr Mbabazi would never be subjected to any investigation because of high-end connection to power.
Both as an MP and an officer of internal party structures, competing against Mbabazi was only a waste of time.
In his book, in the Corridors to Power authored four years after the Namboole election, former Vice President Bukenya said Mbabazi’s victory had been ring-fenced by the President. The book came at a time when both Museveni and Mr Mbabazi were at loggerheads.
Mr Mbabazi was accused of intrigue and greed as well as breeding internal divisions in the party.
But before the sacking, Mr Mbabazi was treated to a dose of humiliation. The then Prime Minister was surprised when MPs Evelyn Anite and Kasule Lumumba who were his closest allies and often shared deep secrets on the Museveni succession, mooted a move that would not only kill his ambitions but also put him several feet under Museveni’s friends’ list.
Anite went first during a party retreat at Kyankwanzi when she went on her knees begging the President to be the party’s sole candidate.
These developments were followed by public utterances by Museveni accusing Mr Mbabazi of “using a public office to fight private, proxy wars.”
Mbabazi was increasingly viewed as a dangerous ally whose impatience had finally come within the party and the government.
Before long, a resolution was passed to have a non-active politician take up office as Secretary-General; the Office was also to be left for the party Chairman to appoint.
Another blow came when the most suited candidate was Lumumba. Once in office, she took a swipe at Mr Mbabazi.
When John Patrick Amama Mbabazi was sacked and his wife Jacqueline Mbabazi was locked out of a Women’s League conference in 2014. Bukenya jubilated. He accused Mbabazi of blackmailing all his nemesis before the President.
“I am very happy that Jacqueline and perhaps her husband is beginning to reap from their very own dirty hand. Mr. works of misusing intelligence structures to engineer and doctor maligning reports against their opponents (real and perceived) to the president.
For her to cry foul of how the president was getting doctored intelligence reports and recordings against their alleged clandestine mobilization against him, was the most interesting of all, and it exposed their extreme hypocrisy.”
Mbabazi has since suffered several arrests and incarcerations by the State especially in the early days of his presidential bid. In the run-up to the 2016 elections, Mbabazi went lamenting to voters telling them how he was betrayed by Museveni.
“Before the previous election, we made an agreement with President Museveni about his retirement….we agreed that Uganda would have the opportunity of having new blood, of having new ideas; but in the course of the five years, he changed his mind,” Mbabazi said.
Mbabazi’s main mistake was his failure to control the news of his succession plan. Besides, he had trusted both Anite and Lumumba so much so that they carried his entire board game to the President who had no option but to strike back, and hard.
But Mr Mbabazi now seems to have made an about-turn.
Ms Ruth Nankabirwa, the Gov’t Chief Whip and the NRM Caucus Chair, said it should not be surprising that Mbabazi is coming back home.
“This is not the first person, we had an incident of the late Eriya Kategaya who had quit but he returned shortly after. And for Mbabazi, he has always been firm about his party allegiance, at least he has been asked on many occasions to state whether he quit NRM and he has never renounced his Party membership. But remember that these are long-time comrades. They have shared a common life for about 43 years, so why should we be speculating about their meeting? Besides, in the political playing field, you can never have permanent enemies.”
Opposition Reactions on Mbabazi’s return
Betty Aol, Leader of Opposition: Mbabazi never gave back his NRM card. When he was on our side, he was no opposition; he was contesting as an independent. I think Mbabazi is not just falling back, he has always been NRM he has never denounced his party.
You might find that President Museveni who rides on patronage has promised him something, not everyone can be strong enough to persevere the harsh life in the opposition. But he should also think about his integrity.
Joel Ssenyonyi, People Power Spokes Person: So far these are just pictures because he is yet to come out and speak. But if he has crossed back to a regime that he spoke so much about the evil they were doing, and decides to become a flip, it is his right.
I think that people make choice, Gilbert Bukenya was a flip flop and for Mbabazi it will not be news; most importantly, Ugandans are awake and they know who is on their side.
The citizens are very awake and they will deal with them politically. So far the pictures are simply pictures of old comrades.
Rogers Mulindwa, NRM Secretariat’s publicist: it would be to the advantage of every party member to have him back in the system. I have never heard him being critical of the regime he served, and he still commands respect within the house.
The available records still show him as a party member. He never returned our NRM card. It will be a great opportunity for NRM.
Col Shaban Bantariza Deputy Executive Director of the Uganda Media Centre: As a government spokesperson, I can’t tell what the meeting was about because I was not there and neither was I informed. But, I was happy about it when I saw pictures on social media. As a political actor, the meeting was good because it is an expression of what our leaders should be and should do.
Mbabazi’s meeting with the President serves as a challenge to opposition leaders who meet the Head of State at night and then posture during day to show that they can never go to him. Whether the meeting was political, economic, social or otherwise, it is a good thing for Uganda and Ugandans to know we have good leaders.
Those opposition leaders who do it in secrecy, why do it in the darkness and pretend during the day? They must make their intentions clear because they now have a good example from the former Prime Minister.
Patrick Amuriat Obi (FDC) President: It wasn’t surprising that Mbabazi met Museveni. I think that Mbabazi was acting under the influence of Museveni during TDA.
The party has drawn a lot of lessons from the recent meeting to the extent that it will need to do thorough due diligence on any presidential hopeful seeking to make a coalition with the opposition ahead of the 2021 elections.
We will move consciously on anybody. We need to look at their political history before allying. As FDC we will not form an alliance based on excitement but principles. You need to come to work with us with a clean hand but if you come contaminated with Museveni disease, we will not work with you.
Godber Tumushabe, former coordinator of TDA: Those who think it is abnormal for a former presidential candidate to meet the President are misunderstanding the essence of leadership.
Those processes must recognize that Museveni is a factor in any transition past him. Those processes must recognize that he has his fears.
Therefore, I don’t have any negative feeling about leaders talking to Museveni. They should be talking to him because he is the President but at the end of the day can they shape the narrative that helps Uganda go forward rather than individual interests.
Miria Matembe Chairperson Board of Directors (CEDU): For me, if they say Mbabazi “yagarukayo” (has gone back), I don’t know and I wouldn’t be surprised because I didn’t see him quit. What Mbabazi was doing was saying ‘has it got to be Museveni alone?’
He was offering himself even within the NRM as an alternative candidate but when they chased him away he tried to do it outside NRM but within any other party of opposition.
International connections: Mbabazi has international connections that could help him rebuild his political clout. He has a leg into the household of South Africa president, Cyril Ramaphosa given the marriage of his niece Bridget Birungi to Andile Ramaphosa, the South African first son.
He also sits on the advisory board of the Brazzaville Foundation whose goal is to work for peace, prosperity and conservation in Africa and beyond.
Other members of the board are former South African president Kgalema Motlanthe, Amara Essy, the former foreign minister of Cote D’Ivoire and the Secretary-General of the OAU who presided over the transition to AU, Par Stenback, the former foreign minister of Finland, and Dr Jose Ramos-Horta, the former president of East Timor. The patron is Prince Michael of Kent, the fourth son of King George V.
This wealth of International connections is certainly important for anybody who aspires for top political leadership.
Personal Life and Family
Like Museveni, Mbabazi does not drink alcohol nor does he smoke. He used to be a chain smoker in the 70s until he dropped the habit in Nairobi on the urging of friends including Mathew Rukikaire.
This, therefore, means that Mbabazi retains a focus and once he sets his sights onto something, he gives it his all.
In 2008 as NRM bayed for Mbabazi’s blood following the Temangalo saga, Museveni jumped to the defence of his secretary-general. Museveni told the MPs that Mbabazi is a very hardworking person and to the best of his knowledge he was as stainless.
Museveni told the MPs that unlike some of them who spill party secrets in bars, the Mbabazi he knows is always sober 24 hours a day and can never do such a thing. To manage a country, you need to be sober.
Although hated by a cross-section of the NRM, Mbabazi remains widely respected within the party and on the bigger political landscape.
This respect was on show in Nakaseke when he attended one of the Tarehe Sita celebrations on February 6th. Army officers saluted him and from their body language, many civilians’ leaders were awed by just being in the presence of Mbabazi. You could see their jaws dropping as they shook hands with him.
This, therefore, means that should Museveni tap him for the top job, many people who are convinced that he will be up to the task.
His political clout has at times overshadowed the positions he holds.
When Mbabazi was appointed minister of State in the President’s Office in charge of Political Affairs in 1996, it was not seen as major position, but his clout and pompous style quickly transformed it into a powerful one.
Mbabazi says in his youth he was hurdler, loved rugby and was an avid singer. This was witnessed in a short clip on his YouTube channel; he posted that showed him performing what looks like an impromptu piano recital.
John Patrick Amama Mbabazi is married to Jacqueline Mbabazi and together they have children and grandchildren. Children include; Nina Mbabazi, Rachael Mbabazi, Mao Mbabazi, Marx Mababazi.