By Odoobo C. Bichachi
Last week’s momentous FDC delegates conference at Mandela National Stadium in Namboole set the party on the high road to the 2011 general elections. It also set the newly re-elected party president Col. Dr Kizza Besigye on course for a third clash with incumbent and likely National Resistance Movement (NRM) candidate President Yoweri Museveni.
So barring any changes in either party ‘ by an act of man or God ‘ the 2011 presidential elections will largely be a repeat of the previous two, 2001 and 2006, possibly with their associated violence and vote rigging.
For many observers, the high point of the FDC conference was not Besigye’s victory over Maj. Gen. Mugisha Muntu, who presented a credible challenge against him for the party presidency. Rather, it was the coming of age of a party that has strenuously built itself to emerge as the most formidable challenger to the NRM.
With over 800 delegates from across the country all recently elected through party primaries, the FDC has demonstrated that it has moved from being just an urban radio talk-show party to a national party with grassroots reach. It has also shown the importance of internal party democracy, something that has eluded many parties in the country, especially the NRM.
When, for instance, Muntu announced that he was going to run against Besigye for the party presidency, cynics dismissed it as a choreographed affair designed to show Ugandans a semblance of competition. As it turned out, many delegates at the conference remained unsure who would carry the day given the vigorous campaigning of both men.
Whether the presidential contest was a gimmick or not, the FDC has thrown down the gauntlet to the NRM. Now the country will be eager to see if the ruling party can pull off even a mock competition between President Museveni and say, party secretary general Amama Mbabazi, or vice president Gilbert Bukenya.
Many of the FDC conference delegates The Independent spoke to said the real action occurred among those vying to replace Besigye once he finishes his term, which will be his last according to the party constitution.
Top on the list was Bugweri MP Abdu Katuntu, closely followed by Aswa MP Reagan Okumu. Both were punished harshly for their unbridled ambition. Even the fate of youthful Aruu MP Odonga Otto appeared sealed when he proposed that Besigye gets a running mate for 2011.
The jostling to succeed Besigye seemed to contribute an element of political intrigue and back-stabbing to the conference. Supporters of Katuntu, who was gunning for the party chairmanship, alleged that Salaam Musumba had been badmouthing their candidate in Busoga region and among other delegates at the conference. They said there was already a quiet fight for the future replacement of Col. Besigye. â’That is why they don’t want Katuntu to be the party chairman. They think he will have the upper hand,’ said a youth delegate.
Okumu too faced silent opposition. Apparently, delegates from the general northern region met on the first day of the conference, February 12, and agreed to support the leader of opposition in parliament, Prof. Ogenga Latigo. They accused Okumu of being too ambitious. Others said the politics of ‘˜I’ must stop; that Okumu carries too much self-importance for a founding member of Reform Agenda and FDC itself.
Nonetheless, the party seems to have got on top of the problems of regional and tribal balancing that have dogged it in recent months, by carefully balancing jobs between competence, stature and region.
Besigye, the party president who has become the icon of opposition politics in Uganda, is from western Uganda, while the deputy vice presidents are: Salamu Musumba (eastern), Prof. Ogenga Latigo (northern), Yusuf Nsibambi (central), and Amanya Mushega (western).
Sam Kalega Njuba is the national chairman, and the vice chairpersons are: Joyce Sebugwawo (central), Baguma (western region), Kevina Taaka (eastern), and Anang Odur (northern).
The other top positions are: Alice Alaso (secretary general), Kassiano Wadri (deputy secretary general ‘ administration), Augustine Ruzindana (deputy secretary general ‘ policy and research), Jack Sabiiti (treasurer general), Nathan Nandala Mafabi (deputy treasurer general ‘ budget) and Ingrid Turinawe (chairperson, women’s league). The party president will appoint people to positions that were unfilled at the delegates’ conference.
Significantly, the suspension of maverick Rubaga North MP Beti Kamya and Maracha MP Alex Onzima from the party has likely not just put an end to their cancerous campaign to damage the party (especially in Buganda with regard to Kamya) but has also served to draw the line on party discipline.
Yet in the end, not much seems to have changed in the FDC, with executive posts largely remaining in the same hands. The question for many observers, therefore, will be why Besigye still holds firm in the party, in the fashion of other founder politicians Milton Obote (UPC), Yoweri Museveni (NRM) and, elsewhere in the region, Julius Nyerere (CCM) and Jomo Kenyatta (KANU), to mention a few.
In the event, the FDC delegates voted 656 for Besigye and 53 for Muntu. Many delegates said that Besigye deserved another chance because he has personally sacrificed so much for the party and the cause of democracy in Uganda. They also thought he was the best bet to unseat Museveni, having already shaken him significantly in the last two elections. But equally importantly, many saw little difference between Besigye and Muntu, as both are westerners. This camp claims that voters from the central, eastern and northern regions would find it hard to accept a westerner succeeding Besigye, as this would validate the widespread rumour that western Uganda politicians have a plan to rule the country for decades.
Interestingly, these are more or less the same reasons that have enabled Museveni to dominate the country for the last 23 years, with many of his supporters arguing that he made a personal sacrifice to go to the bush to wage a guerilla war against the Obote II government, and that he is the only person who can lead NRM ‘ and Uganda.
So in attempting to portray himself as different, Besigye still finds himself captive to the Ugandan (African?) thinking that personal sacrifice should be rewarded in perpetuity. As a result the party stuck to its founder.
FDC falters over Besigye
In an attempt by some delegates to look beyond Besigye, Odonga Otto was asked to propose that the party provides in its constitution for a presidential candidate running-mate, who would essentially serve as a president-in-waiting should the candidate win election. This position was widespread among delegates from northern and eastern Uganda, areas that are keen to break the yoke of the west on the country’s politics.
The idea was consistent with the party’s articulated position in other fora prior to the conference, including its proposal that the same be adopted in the national constitution. But it was promptly shot down with rather pedestrian arguments that the FDC constitution should not contradict the national constitution, and that a provision for a running-mate could tempt the ruling party to arrest a presidential candidate [Besigye] of the opposition party so as to create a skewed race between his running mate and the ruling party candidate.
The party therefore rejected a progressive proposal in order to secure the powers of the founder president to appoint, and disappoint. But perhaps more than that, it took off some of the shine from the party’s democratic posturing, and reaffirmed the widespread belief that Ugandan politicians are inherently selfish ‘ whether in government or in the opposition.
It remains to be seen whether in the push for electoral law reforms, the FDC will now abandon its earlier stance on a presidential running mate.