Only mediators can help
Moderates who are looking at what it best for the party now say unless something dramatic happens, FDC is going down break-up avenue.
Wandera Ogalo, an FDC party elder, who has in the past represented the party in the EALA, says it will not be easy to solve the party’s troubles internally.
“Where things have reached, people can’t even listen to one another,” he told The Independent, “It is hard to reason with some members of that party.”
According to him, the only way FDC can be prevented from break-up is for the party leaders to bring in experts to moderate and facilitate a dialogue between the disagreeing groups.
“If they brought in experts from other countries who have dealt with those kinds of problems maybe there will be consensus,” he says, “If the party doesn’t do that, disintegration is inevitable.”
He cites ODM in Kenya, which he says benefited greatly from such an initiative.
Ogalo calls what is happening in FDC an issue of “escalated differences in approach”.
He says these differences in approach became more pronounced during the primaries for the party’s flag bearer between Besigye and Muntu.
“Besigye’s approach is from up,”Ogalo explained, “He thinks the system is biased towards Museveni and it is only defiance that can have results. Muntu’s approach is from down (grassroots) upwards.”
He noted that the two approaches are not mutually exclusive—they can work together.
The biggest problem however, he says, is that the party has failed to manage the post-election disputes.
For him, Muntu and Besigye have a big obligation to ensure that they heal the party.
“If there is any perception of unfairness by either side in November (when the party holds elections for its President),” he cautioned, “the party will disintegrate.”
Ogalo also says he believes President Yoweri Museveni has a hand in the chaos in FDC.
“There is Museveni’s hand in what is happening in FDC,” he said, “He has been taking deliberate steps to weaken the opposition. He has succeeded with all the other opposition parties and FDC is the only one which was still standing.”
Ogalo says Museveni will be stronger if FDC is destroyed.
Another moderate voice is that of Ssemujju Nganda (FDC MP Kira Municipality) who is a Besigye-leaning party spokesperson. He prefers to gloss over the turbulence.
“In every group,” he told The Independent, “there has to be different beliefs and tendencies and what you call confusion in FDC is normal in Political Parties.”
He says people form political parties not because they believe in the same thing but for focal interest aggregation.
“Everyone in FDC can’t see things the same way,” Ssemujju said, “NEC resolved the EALA issue and we are moving on. It is only in the military where people are not allowed to have a different view but FDC grows because it allows these disagreements.”
He added that in Uganda people are used to central authority the reason why they think what is happening in FDC is a big problem.
“The reason people think the NRM is okay is because it is led by a dictator,” Nganda added, “No one questions the decision of the chairman. But in FDC, our constitution is the supreme leader. So, I am not in the least, worried about what is happening in FDC as long as the internal mechanisms are there and are respected.”
Meanwhile an external observer, Crispy Kaheru, the Coordinator of the Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda, says what is happening in FDC is not surprising “because opposition parties rarely survive in strong dictatorships”.
“Look at countries which have had strong opposition parties,” he said, “Look at Zimbabwe for instance, what happened to MDC? And this mostly happens after a tightly contested election.”
He also notes that all the chaos trickles down to one thing; how you harmonise internal ideologies within a party.
“What is causing problems with in FDC, it seems, is the seniority of individuals over the party,” he told The Independent, “So Besigye becomes a power centre, Muntu becomes a power centre, Nandala becomes a power centre. And this is caused by building individuals instead of structures within the party.”
The implications are dire, he warned.
“You had FDC as a flagship opposition party, if it collapses, you are going to have a weaker opposition,” he added, “This also weakens the alternatives that are provided by the opposition. In Zimbabwe, as soon as MDC disintegrated, it was the end of the party fielding candidates across the country.”
He also suggests that FDC aims at building institutional capacities and also works around investing in membership loyalty and loyalty to the party not loyalty to members.
“I don’t see where the point of departure is,” he noted, “The two approaches of defiance and organisation actually complement each other and the leaders need to find a way of ensuring that this complementariness is seen by the party members and the voters.”
As the debate rages, many are concerned that it has become a habit for party members to threaten to walk away whenever the party leadership has been confronted with a major situation.
The Muntu-Nandala campaign was the first major test to the party’s unity. The hangover from this contest has haunted almost all other party developments including; Muntu’s decision to recall Mafabi from his post as Leader of Opposition, the party primaries in which Muntu lost to Besigye as the flag bearer in the 2016 elections and the subsequent appointment of a new shadow cabinet in which Winnie Kizza became the new LoP.
All these have been tough moments for the party. However, somehow, Muntu has managed to steer the party through these storms despite incessant questioning of his powers by internal opponents.
The real question on everyone’s mind now is whether, Muntu and the party can survive the latest storm just months to another election, where his supporters are vowing to keep him at the party’s helm and opponents are threatening to kick him out with each side looking for a win and nothing else.