Why their alliance is an inconvenience
Kampala, Uganda | MUBATSI ASINJA HABATI | Did youthful music superstar and Kyadondo East MP Robert Sentamu Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine commit a political blunder by appearing beside opposition strongman Kizza Besigye recently?
The leading opposition duo appeared on the same podium on June 15 to announce an alliance; the United Forces of Change (UFC). Its purpose appears to have been an announcement that the two leading opposition figures want their supporters to stop attacking each other; especially on social media.
Under the UFC arrangement, the two opposition political heavy weights agreed on a strategy for joint political activities starting with the “No, Nedda” campaign. The campaign is aimed at showing dissatisfaction over the manner in which the government has handled the COVID-19 pandemic.
It was a day before the Uganda Electoral Commission launched a revised 2021 election roadmap. The EC’s revised roadmap includes a ban on mass political rallies due to the coronavirus, arguing that it is following the Ministry of Health guidelines on social distancing. But opposition politicians accuses the EC of laying the ground for “mass rigging” in the 2021 presidential election.
The opposition politicians say the majority of Ugandans are suffering because of the measures brought about by the lockdown imposed due to the COVID-19 restrictions.
The “No, Nedda” campaign wants Ugandans who go hungry, are locked down in their homes, cannot open their businesses, or are dissatisfied with the government for what reason to make protest noises every day at 1 pm. They want them to bang empty saucepans, blow whistles, or honk a horn in protest against the government.
But what has caught most attention is the political symbolism of Bobi Wine appearing to be in Besigye’s shadow. Many observers who The Independent spoke to say while unity or an alliance among opposition political parties is good for Uganda’s democracy, Bobi Wine must move beyond photo ops with Besigye.
“For a movement like People Power, the strategic political focus should be on digging more into the NRM perceived or real support,” says Crispin Kaheru, the former coordinator of Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda.
Bobi Wine has since broadened his target by announcing that he is courting “all forces of change in this country” but Government spokesperson Ofwono Opondo still poured cold water on any Besigye and Bobi Wine formations.
“Bobi Wine is simply copying what Besigye has done in the so-called people’s government,” he said, “l still believe Bobi Wine and People Power is a blowing wind that will pass.”
He said MPs and other politicians are joining Bobi Wine in the “false believe that his con celebrity image, populism, and bravado” are attracting money from donors into which they can tap and also use him for mobilisation in their own elections.
He said other politicians, especially from NRM and Independents, think schmoozing with Bobi Wine is one way to attack NRM and catch President Yoweri Museveni attention, especially going by past experiences.
“”Generally, NRM is not panicking over opposition formations and schemes, although it should listen and pay adequate attention to and address public grievances,” he said.
The Besigye-Bobi fight
While they speak of unity, most opposition leaders appear divided on two critical issues; the choice of who will lead the united opposition in the 2021 election and the strategy to defeat Museveni.
On strategy, Besigye and his group from FDC appear to favour protest and defiance to defeat Museveni. Banging pans, blowing whistles and hitting the street in protest is clearly their style. The “No, Nedda” campaign and banging of saucepans is not the first time Besigye is attempting to rally Ugandans to protest against Museveni’s government. In the run up to the 2011 elections, the FDC again embarked on the hooting and blowing whistle campaign.
In terms of strategy, Bobi Wine remains unclear. That is why he appears overshadowed by Besigye on message.
The other party leaders, in the Democratic Party especially, appear to think persuasion on the democratic campaign platforms will shift voters away from Museveni and are happy to do that once every five years.
But others, especially in Muntu’s Alliance, appear to think long term. If you cannot defeat Museveni in one election, pull the rug from under his feet gradually by winning as many of the lower elections as you can through proper organisation.
Why the alliance?
Although he appears s unclear on strategy, Bobi Wine appears determined to be the opposition flag-bearer in 2021. To do that Bobi Wine must out-muscle his political mentor; the legendary opposition alpha, Besigye. And choosing between them becomes more urgent for the opposition as the presidential election nears.
The alliance announced on June 15, therefore, appears to be the latest strategising by Bobi Wine to impose himself as the new bull in the opposition kraal.
Bobi Wine, as the new hope of the opposition appears to have the momentum and his supporters under the People Power movement dismiss Besigye as a four-time losing presidential candidate.
In rebuttal, Besigye says he has not blocked anyone from contesting for presidency. But he says he will not retire from the struggle. Political observers say that this impasse will lead to flopping of the Bobi-Besigye alliance.