For pressure group, is competition with Bobi Wine’s NUP better than cooperation?
Kampala, Uganda | IAN KATUSIIME | The People’s Front for Transition comes at a time when Dr. Kizza Besigye is marking twenty years since he first ran for president. After four grueling election cycles, Besigye sat out the 2021 race and blessed the nomination of his sidekick Patrick Amuriat as the FDC presidential flag bearer.
But the sense of anticipation of his return has been palpable among his supporters since he gave them a teaser sometime in August last year.
“Never ever imagine that I can leave the struggle,” Besigye declared to a cheering crowd of loyal supporters at the party headquarters in the run up to the January 2021 elections.
Besigye was accosted by jubilant FDC youths who wanted him to pick nominations forms as presidential candidate. For the mainly young men stomping the ground in wild adulation of their hero, it was, however, a disappointing moment as the four time presidential candidate confirmed the news of what had been floating around for weeks – that he would not contest in the 2021 presidential election.
But he is now back. The latest signal that he is not about to just quit the political scene is his new political pressure group, People’s Front for Transition (PFT). He was unveiled as the chairman flanked by comrades with whom he has endured political struggles.
PFT picks up from the People’s Government which Besigye formed three years ago, as a group that would work independently of the formal structures his party, the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC).
“This struggle has taken a very long time, a lot of words have been spoken,” Besigye said at the launch of the new group wearing his trademark blue striped hoodie that always symbolises a time for action amongst friends and foes.
The Front is made up of several parties; the Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC), Conservative Party, and JEEMA at whose offices the launch took place. Most of those present were old Besigye and some FDC allies.
But all were lightweights as far as opposition politics is concerned. It was the absence of National Unity Platform (NUP), the new leading opposition party and its leader; Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu aka Bobi Wine that got tongues wagging. The only parallel to NUP was the red card campaign FDC has unleashed in rebuke to President Yoweri Museveni and his government.
Is this an attempt for the FDC to reclaim its spot after a year dominated by NUP and its wide array of support at home and abroad? Pundits asked. Members of the Front say there are bigger issues such as the decision by Museveni to keep schools closed to prevent the spread of covid19, among other grievances.
Brian Atuheire, a longtime member of FDC who has twice stood for MP in Kinkiizi West, says the Front is a continuation of the platforms the party has used in the past.
“Cumulatively, the regime could be knocked down by the Front. The campaigns have helped us weaken the opponent further. It is why anyone can now come up and say they are taking on Museveni.”
Atuheire was talking about Walk to Work and Defiance- campaigns Besigye and FDC unleashed after the 2011 and 2016 respectively. They were street style protests after futile election campaigns and members of FDC insist that honking pressure on Museveni is the only way out.
“The Front is not about elections although we use both elections and civil disobedience,” he said, “This campaign is for concretizing masses.” He added that elections are Museveni’s template and that the Front cannot use the same template to remove him.
Atuheire’s comrade, Doreen Nyanjura, the Deputy Lord Mayor for Kampala says the Front is a rallying call for Ugandans amidst issues they are grappling with. “As a young leader, I feel this country is not working for us. Youth are kneeling before the junta not because they believe in it but because they want handouts.” she said.
“The sole purpose of this group is to discuss a transition. I am mobilising women, young people, teachers, the unemployed and all citizens,” Nyanjura who has been in active politics since her university days said.
She and other members of the Front say the numerous campaigns they have put in place were not in vain: A4C for rising fuel and food prices, Togikwatako for protesting constitutional amendments, People’s Government for reclaiming their 2016 election win, and Twerwaneko in 2019 for land grabbing, police brutality, incessant murders.
It is two years since Twerwaneko was launched and PFT seems to be the successor.
Nyanjura’s boss, Erias Lukwago, the Lord Mayor, was selected as the vice chairman of the PFT. As an FDC diehard, Nyanjura is aware of her unique position in the new campaign against Museveni after loads of young people joined NUP in various political positions.
Nyanjura says the news of the withdrawal of the 2016 treason charge against Besigye vindicates her and others in the Front. Besigye was charged with treason after he swore himself in a day before Museveni took his oath in 2016.
Besigye says he was always willing to table the evidence of his 2016 presidential election win and was shocked at the secret withdrawal of the case.
The PFT also brought to the fore the continued bickering between FDC and NUP. Partisans of the two parties have spent the last one year attacking each other on social media. Besigye urged NUP leader Bobi Wine to address the attacks he has suffered from NUP supporters. NUP on the other hand has also said it does not have to be part of the Front to advance its agenda of ousting Museveni.
“We don’t have to join every new creation but we work with different people. They don’t have to be merged. We have the People Power movement, Dr. Besigye has had the People’s Government,” Joel Senyonyi, the NUP spokesperson told the media.
At the time Besigye bowed out last year, the ground had shifted to Bobi Wine and the newly minted NUP. Bobi scored 3.6million votes with 35% against Museveni who bagged 6 million votes with 58% of the votes cast according to the Electoral Commission.
Some analysts argued that Besigye had made the right decision not to contest for a fifth time against his former comrade, Museveni, in what he and sections of the electorate have consistently called an unlevelled playing field.
A victim of constant arrests, blockades on his home, a plethora of trumped up charges, Besigye has borne the brunt of being an opposition leader in a fledgling African democracy. One of the first and youngest ministers of the National Resistance Army/Movement (NRA/M) government, and also one of its leading ideologues, he has run the gamut of what it means to fall out with a revolutionary government one helps bring to power.
From 2001 when he first stood up to 2016 at his fourth attempt, Besigye defined the presidential race. With each election, he played a different card as different circumstances surrounded almost every election.
In 2001 he had broken ranks with the Movement and stirred anti-regime forces those both in and outside government.
2006 was a much needed second chance for Besigye who had spent five years in exile. His presidential bid got electrified when he was jailed on frivolous charges of rape. His third bid in 2011 was deemed a third lucky attempt and he kept his impressive 2 million vote tally.
2016 first proved tricky for Besigye due to the candidature of Amama Mbabazi but the latter soon fizzled out. Besigye’s political skills carried the day again although he still came up short in a bitterly contested election.
Fast forward and for Besigye, elections are in the rear view mirror. At the launch of PFT, Besigye said it was urgent for citizens to rise up and reiterated a number of critical issues for which action must be taken.
“The closure of schools for two years has never been heard of. Today, Uganda is the only country in Africa whose children who are at home.”