By Joan Akello
FDC boss says his plan is ready for roll-out
Retired army major general Gregory Mugisha Muntu says he is ready to deal with challenges to his leadership of Uganda’s biggest opposition party, the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), but does that include facing off with party top guns; Kizza Besigye, Jack Sabiiti, and Nandala Mafabi? The Independent asked him about that following an acrimonious National Council in which Nandala and Sabiiti sprung surprise resignations on him, and Besigye who is the immediate past-president of FDC went on air to call for fresh elections.
Muntu, 56, told The Independent that the party is preparing fresh elections of party leaders, from the National Executive Committee to the grassroots.
Although Muntu’s term runs up to 2017 and election of party president is not on the agenda, political party activities are known to spring surprises.
Sabiiti, who quit as party Treasurer General, has already spoken openly about his ambition.
“I would also like to be Secretary General, deputy president or president,” Sabiiti said in an interview with The Independent, “No one can chase us from FDC.”
He added: “Dr Besigye admitted that all offices should have been up for election when he retired before completing his term in 2012. We shall elect new leaders except the party president whose term ends in 2017 in the delegates’ conference next year.
“But it does not mean that the party president will be the flag bearer. Anybody can stand against Maj. Gen. Muntu; just like he did when Dr Besigye was president.”
Other sources from the Muntu camp say top party management is yet to decide on whether or not the party’s National Delegates’ Conference slated for February 2015 will include electing the party’s flag bearer. But the gauntlet has been dropped and Muntu, who has declared intention to be the party flag-bearer, had better be prepared for surprise maneuvers.
The decision to hold the party National Delegates Conference on February 27, 2015 is part of milestones leading to the 2016 national presidential elections which FDC, under Dr Kizza Besigye, has contested and lost two times with 37.4 percent and 26.01 percent of the vote in 2006 and 2011 respectively. Before 2004, as president of Reform Agenda, an umbrella of disgruntled NRM members that found FDC, Besigye also lost with 27.82 percent of the total votes as Museveni’s only challenger in 2001. Muntu says he can do better, but some party faithful are not convinced and are openly speaking about alternatives.
Many in and out of FDC point at the man Muntu defeated in the FDC presidential poll, Nandala Mafabi, as FDC’s best bet.
Until recently, Nandala Mafabi who once held the lofty position of Leader of the Opposition before being cut-down by Muntu has been holding the lowly position of party Deputy Treasurer General. But he resigned that, together with Sabiiti, at the National Council held in Luweero in mid-October.
The meeting whose theme was “Advancing FDC ideals through cohesion and building Party structures” instead turned fractious as Nandala and Sabiiti quit.
Nandala, Besigye and Sabiiti told the meeting that FDC’s current leaders “are holding offices illegally” because their terms elapsed.
“I have served as deputy treasurer since 2005 so I did not resign because my second term expired last year,” Nandala who is the Budadiri West Member of Parliament told The Independent in a phone interview on Oct.26.
Other signs of the continuing frosty relation between Muntu and Nandala were exposed at the meeting.
While the event was well attended, with 220 delegates, including 95 chairpersons from 112 districts, two critical chairpersons from Mbale and Sironko districts were absent. Polly Mugoya, the FDC chairman for Sironko district and Abdu Masaba of Mbale are staunchly in Nandala’s camp. They declared intention to form a splinter party as soon as Muntu removed Nandala from the position of Leader of the Opposition in Parliament.
Although Besigye, Nandala, and Sabiiti say they are not quitting FDC, several party faithful that spoke to The Independent said, the trio’s taking a backseat might cripple the party as they are the known party `money bags’. Unlike Nandala and Besigye who have in the past used their own money to fund party activities, it is not clear how Muntu plans to approach party funding gaps whenever they arise.
Under the FDC constitution, party MPs are obliged to make contributions to the party out of their emolument but the bulk of party money has usually come from donation by individual and institutional well-wishers, local and international. Muntu is seen by some to be not so good at raising money. Initially it had been hoped that donors and individuals who were opposed to Museveni’s long hold on power but were unwilling to support Besigye’s aggressive politics would back FDC with Muntu as leader. That has not happened.
While commenting on FDC’s financial woes, Prof. William Muhumuza, a lecturer of political science at Makerere University says all parties have financial problems but the onus is on their management to mobilise money from supporters. He says this requires the leaders to be “active on the ground”.
Muntu has now succumbed to their demand for the party to organise a National Delegates Conference (NCD) to elect new leaders. Will that prove a miscalculation? Can the Besigye, Sabiiti, Nandala camp spring a surprise coup?
Before that, the secretariat is organising a “Special delegate’s conference” to amend the party constitution and pass the party budget. Details remain a heavily guarded secret but The Independent has learnt that it is slated for November 21 at a yet undisclosed venue and is to be attended by about 1,000 people. Could this meeting reveal Muntu’s own strategy against the Nandala camp? What amendments does he have lined up? Can he garner the numbers to push them through in case the Nandala camp opposes them?
Killing or winning?
“Muntu is fighting this battle and will win,” says Apollo Sunday, Muntu’s personal assistant and member of the FDC Youth League.
He says Nandala’s scoffing at Maj. Gen. Muntu’s claim to be building party structures are the grassroots is misplaced. Nandala is quoted saying that Muntu is maybe “working for underground people.
“But for us, we are on top of the ground and we can’t see anything. Can he show one example of a structure he has built?”
Sunday says Muntu has been touring Ankole and Kigezi regions in Western Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni’s stronghold where FDC and the opposition generally has posted poor results in the past elections.
“People are used to radical politics of getting funds externally, holding rallies but why do they not translate into votes?” says Sunday, “Confrontational politics is not delivering results.”
Nyakato Rusoke, deputy chairperson of the Women League representing Western Uganda, and vice chairperson FDC Forum Western Forum recently created for mobilisation, adds that while the party concentrated on the presidency and parliament in past elections, it is going to field candidates at all levels.
In the February 18, 2011 elections, National Resistance Movement (NRM) fielded 350 candidates, FDC, the biggest opposition party had 290 for 373 directly elected MP positions. Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) 135 and Democratic Party (DP) had about 120 MP candidates while the number of those who stood as independents were higher than both, with about 370 people. Muntu is hoping to win over such independents come 2016 to oust NRM.
In 2006, FDC nominated 139 out of the 215 slots for directly elected MPs, DP had 68, UPC fielded 76, JEEMA 6, CP had 5 candidates, People’s Action Party had two and six other small parties such as LDP, FIL, and NRP had a candidate each. 294 stood as independents. NRM nominated a candidate in each constituency.
Muntu’s strategy is to increase the numbers both in membership and votes which, he says, is what many people are anxious to see. He says his team is working to mobilise from national level to the grassroots.
Meanwhile, party elders like Augustine Ruzindana and Jack Wamanga-Wamai, the Mbale Municipality MP, are eager to play down the ongoing conflict.
“I think it is minor and has been resolved,” Ruzindana told The Independent.
Muntu, on the other hand, is willing to confront it by rationalising it. He says infighting and uncontained internal problems are not an FDC-only problem. He cites it as a major factor in destabilising political parties across the continent including the NRM where there is a rift between the party president, Yoweri Museveni and the Secretary General Amama Mbabazi. It is not only NRM bleeding. UPC, DP was or is still in the same state where the president and some members or party leaders neither meet nor talk, he says.
“I know that people are saying Muntu has gone into hiding or that I have killed the party but they are going to see when we roll out,” Muntu says. Many observers hope that whatever he is planning to roll out will strengthen FDC and also convince members like Nandala and Sabiiti to stay.