Why are big guns supporting Muntu against Besigye’s Amuriat?
Kampala, Uganda | AGATHER ATUHAIRE | In the race to lead Uganda’s biggest opposition party, FDC, members are seeing a side of the incumbent, Gen. Mugisha Muntu, which they have not known before. At his nomination on Aug.14 at the party headquarters at Najjanankumbi in Kampala, he joined the bevy of dancing entertainers to wide ululations from his supporters. Although he did not go as far as doing what the FDC alpha male, Kizza Besigye, often does – and tie a dance scarf around the waist before wiggling, Muntu is getting into his own. He is smiling more often and deep. His supporters are excited that he looks so relaxed. It is almost as if he has already won the race. And he might have.
Part of the reason is the apparent strategy his opposition is using, starting with fielding Patrick Amuriat, who lost the parliamentary race in 2016 and keeping Muntu’s usually formidable challenger, party Secretary General Nandala Mafabi out of the race. Amuriat is widely believed to be a front for the Besigye camp. According to this logic, if Amuriat defeats Muntu at this stage, it will mark the end of Muntu’s ambition to be the flag bearer in 2021 and clear the way for Besigye to run again – for the 5th time.
In Whatsapp exchanges, Amuriat vows to “uproot” anyone who opposes Besigye from the party.
“Some people are fighting tooth and nail to diminish the influence of our beloved president (KB) but they won’t succeed because that power is got from the people… what we must do is to reduce their influence on the party. There are two ways to do this; uproot them from the leadership of the party now that we know them and secondly, turn our countrywide popular support against them. Let them stop fighting KB coz they will certainly loose,” Amuriat posted in March.
Although Amuriat has the backing of both Besigye and Nandala and might be hoping on playing the ethnic card of “it’s the turn of easterners to eat”, it is unclear what else he is riding on. Amuriat’s chances could also be ruined by the presence in the race of other candidates like the cantankerous Kawempe south MP Mubarak Munyagwa, little known Moses Byamugisha, and Dan Matsiko who all appeal to the same extremist fringe dubbed the “defiance” group. Their leader is Besigye. They are often contrasted with Muntu’s camp of “organisationists or strategists”. Unlike Besigye, however, Amuriat does not have deep appeal among the party faithfuls and, unlike Nandala, he does not have bags of money to cajole members with. So, in a sense, it will be an even contest between him and Muntu.
But Muntu has the backing of party bigwigs like party elders Amanya Mushega, Wandera Ogalo, Augustine Ruzindana and Maj. John Kazoora, Deputy President Eastern region Alice Alaso, Deputy President Western region Baguma Patrick, Leader of Opposition Winnie Kiiza, Chief whip Ibrahim Sseujju Nganda, Dokolo woman MP Cecilia Ogwal, Soroti Municipality MP Herbert Ariko, Bugweri MP Abdu Katuntu, Makindye East MP Ibrahim Kasozi among others.
Muntu has more going for him this time, according party Chief Whip, Ibrahim Semujju Nganda.
The Kira Municipality MP’s new found love for Muntu is critical because he has been a prominent foe in the past. But he is attempting to look ahead now.
“Why don’t you ask yourself why almost all the MPs are supporting Muntu,” Semujjju asks rhetorically and proceeds to explain why Muntu is the better candidate.
“People will always find reasons to aspire for leadership,” he says, “but most of the things they say are a concoction and an exaggeration.”
According to Semujju, he refused to support Muntu in the past for ethnic reason; he believed “power shouldn’t move from Besigye of Rukungiri to Muntu of Ntungamo.”
“I wanted us to be able to get leaders from different parts of the country.”
He says although he still holds that view, he now wants a united and stable party more. He said being a being a leader in the party has showed him that Muntu is focusing on the more urgent issues of the party that need fixing; like unity and stability of the party. Semujju is, however, conscious that his opponents are whispering that he supports Muntu because he handed him the powerful position of opposition of Chief whip which carries many perks. He is also now heading Muntu’s election campaign team. But he says those accusing and blaming him are dishonest.
“I support Muntu because I think FDC must be built as an institution and there is no one in that party who has done a better job at institutionalizing the party than him,” he says.
“I don’t think there is anyone, because not even I can go through what Muntu has gone through over the last five years for even half a day; that some children come and abuse me and I keep quiet. I either kick them out of the party or resign,” he said in praise of Muntu’s patience with dissenters.
One of those dissenters is Hamidah Nassimbwa. She says she used to revel in hurling abuse at Muntu. But everything changed once she was elected into the party’s leadership as Vice chairperson Women’s League in central region at the last Delegates’ Conference and started working with Muntu.
“I understood Muntu and realised that FDC can never have a better leader,” she says, “Muntu is a good leader and that’s why I feel he should stay at the helm of the party.”
She said. “He doesn’t hold grudges and doesn’t conflict with anyone even when he is provoked and abused. He puts the interests of the party above everything.
She says Muntu surprised her when, after a grueling contest in which she hurled insults at him, Muntu sat her down and asked her to put their differences aside and work together for the good of the party.
“This is someone I had abused. He didn’t dwell on that he said he forgave me for whatever had happened but we have to work together as party leaders,” she says.
Nassimbwa says Muntu’s opponents are wrong to claim Muntu opposes defiance to Museveni.