By Onghwens Kisangala
Democratic Party (DP) is the oldest political party in Uganda. It has competed in every national elections including the 1980 elections when (as is widely believed) it actually won elections but has never been in power, save briefly in 1961-62 as an independence transitional government. A party that was known for several landmark court victories against the NRM government is now lost in internal wars in the same courts. Why? The Independent’s Onghwens Kisangala talked to DP’s lawyer and Kampala Central MP Erias Lukwago. Below, excerpts:-
What is causing conflicts in DP?
These wrangles are fueled largely by external forces particularly NRM. We have people who claim to be DP but are actually working for NRM. Their hearts lie elsewhere, but physically they are in DP. They are not with us in terms of ideology, strategies, and our operations and in terms of the thinking generally. The other problem is ideological confusion within the party. We have some forces within the party; they are genuine members of the party but they are aligned to a different ideology and have different partners or associates outside of the country. That is largely within the framework of the UYD (Uganda Young Democrats the youth wing of the party) where you find that ideological conflict. There are those who align to the conservatives, who profess the centre-right ideology; and the socialists group, aligned to the Socialists International.
But the fights don’t seem ideological; they are personal!
Oh yes, away from the ideological conflict or external influence, there is just a culture of indiscipline in this country, which has not spared even DP. You find members of the party exhibiting excessive degree of insubordination. They don’t want to pay allegiance to the party leadership at the national level; although even the national party leadership is also lacking in its capacity to instill discipline in the members. You find a member making pronouncements that are contrary to the party position. Even councilors at various levels or even MPs, who went to those offices on DP ticket, digress from the party line or manifesto with impunity. Every individual holding an office at any level feels he is the Alpha and Omega there. They report to nobody. That is why you find them in the press even abusing the party president. We have party structures like NEC and National Council, but which people don’t want to respect.
Does DP have any ideology?
Right from inception, DP has been professing the centre right ideology. This is where there is emphasis on the issues of individual rights, fundamental human rights, less state intervention in the management of the economy, largely leaving it to the market forces, apart from key areas like security, energy, social services, the utility sectors and a few others. But, with the Socialists International, which is professed by one faction of UYD, it is more of a command economy where the key tenet is the mode of taxation. In it, the government commands the economy and tends to offer free social services but with hidden taxes.
You said there are external hands in the DP wrangles particularly coming from NRM, what evidence do you have about this?
Really the evidence is on the wall. There are individuals that I don’t even need to mention because they are known even in the public domain. They are not seen in DP activities apart from controversies. There are those who sponsor violence to present an image of a party in a leadership crisis. They are out to negate the long term image of DP, the party being a non-violent one. They want to portray DP as more militaristic than any other party; such individuals are there within our ranks.
Is Kampala mayor Nasser Ssebagala still a DP member?
It is on record that he joined KCC as an independent and this is not in dispute. Sometimes, I get baffled when I hear people say that much as he is independent, he is DP. That is a paradox! You can’t claim to be an independent and then you claim to be a member of a political organisation. The law is very clear on it; the Parliamentary Elections Act, Local Government Act, the Constitution, all say that once you choose to be an independent, you cease to be a member of a political party. Literally, it means one is independent of DP, NRM, or of any other party. It means such a person is pursuing his own career, in his own individual right and platform. So it is not me chasing Ssebagala out of the party, he moved out on his own volition.
Is he one of the trouble causers in the party?
We have said this before, and I do not need to repeat it here. We know how he has behaved in the past. It is always around this time when we are preparing for general elections that he starts his antics. He is at it again. So, I don’t need to mention it again. It is well known.
You are a party that is vying for state power. How do you achieve power with all this confusion?
We are doing all that mindful of time. Do we have enough time to prepare for general elections, can we take state power? Yes; I don’t want to give people false hope that wrangles notwithstanding, we are taking state power. No! I have to be realistic and yet I am not pessimistic about taking power. I think we have a lot to do to get ourselves prepared for the 2011 general elections. If we were to take power, there is a lot we would have to do between now and next year. Let me just leave it at that. It is a very huge task on our part.
Many observers think only a change in DP leadership could solve the party’s problems. Do you agree?
Elections are not synonymous with democracy per se. You can have elections and have poor leadership in place. It is possible. Therefore, let not anybody take the issues of discipline, constitutionalism to be a matter of elections only. I agree it is one of the elements but not necessarily all. But then what kind of elections are you talking about? The whole process in this particular case was fraught with irregularities as I told you. We found out that grassroots elections were being carried out in a few districts just here around Buganda. In fact even with Buganda, there were many places that elections were not being carried out at all. You find different party members carrying different party cards but of the same party. Now, how do handle such a situation? Do you just let the process continue because you want new leadership in the party? Yet, this is just a tip of the iceberg. There were lots of dirty things being done by different people. There is the issue of who is the Secretary General of the party? It is a whole complexity of its own. They are busy battling it in court. There are many issues really that we must first iron out.