By Joan Akello
Dr. (Rtd) Col Kizza Besigye Kifefe, 58, talked to The Independent’s Joan Akello about his life after retiring as Forum for Democratic Change and the current political landscape.
What have you been doing since your retirement as party president in 2012?
It was not a paid job and neither was I getting any allowance as party leader; I was rather providing my fuel, my vehicle, and putting money and my time into the party. I farm, I do business, and I have a lot of other activities though I must say indeed political work has been taking a lion’s share of my time both as party leader and when I am not.
It is said that political parties can weaken or collapse when founding members leave party leadership. Do you see the ongoing intrigue causing this to National Resistance Movement (NRM) and FDC?
Intrigue or rivalries within organisation is not a function of the old and young generations. Even within the same generations there are those rivalries. Those who have been competing for power within NRM and FDC are all founding members. So it is not true that problems come because founding members are leaving, and younger and newer members are aspiring to take up leadership positions.
I think it is only natural that in political parties there is competition because they are political organisations and every single individual has got his own political ideology different from the next.
What political parties do is to aggregate the different political thinking and bring them closely together and get a minimum alignment over areas we agree on. Each view seeking to be dominant is natural. In a political party there is a lot of debate, disagreement, criticising, and competition. If those are not there then it is not a political party. What distinguishes a political party that is stable and successful from one that may disintegrate is how that is all managed. If it is managed transparently, and democratically; in other words the disagreements are above board and they are recognised and given space, mediated democratically by people choosing which one at a particular time they favour. If they are not managed or are managed by manipulation, unfair means, then you will have problems in the party.
You know all these men Hon. Amama Mbabazi and President Museveni, Nandala Mafabi and (Rtd) Maj. Gen. Muntu, is there a likelihood of them reconciling?
The NRM is not really a political organisation, it is an organisation which Mr. Museveni sees as his, having founded by himself, and started with him. In fact anybody else just joined him in struggle. He traces the NRM struggle to himself in Ntare High School where he started developing views and other people have joined him since then up to now. That is his world view of politics; it starts with his political actions. He views all that goes on within the NRM as rotating around him and controlled by him. Even in traditional African societies parents have more equitable say in the running of the home than you will find in the perspective of Mr. Museveni. So either you work according to his dictates and if you satisfy his dictates he rewards you as he wishes and if you do not do that he thinks you should be outside not within his circles and that is why those of us who opposed what he was doing opposed from within the NRM and then he said you cannot be in NRM if you disagree with me. He views himself as the NRM so if you oppose him, you are opposing NRM. What amazes me is what I see in the struggle between him and Mbabazi. It seems that by now; so long after Museveni has been around, there are people who do not appreciate that. There are people who think that NRM is a political organisation like FDC. NRM has only one owner, the rest are employees. When you disagree with the owner, you leave.
Any lessons leaders can learn from Mbabazi’s troubles in the NRM?
I don’t think there are any lessons to learn from the NRM. If you undermine your rights in an organisation you are doing a disservice not only to yourself but to the common good and those who continue to service or have been servicing the irrational ambitions of Mr. Museveni hoping that may be at some stage he would give way or whatever have not only realised that they have not only been doing a disservice to themselves in the process, but also doing a disservice to the common good.
Some observers say NRM is currently weak because of the ongoing intrigue and infighting but FDC is not getting any stronger. Why?
The strength of NRM has for a long time not been from popular support. NRM had significant support for the first ten years (1986-1996) and that was a completely different NRM; it was broad-based with all political actors like UPC and the Democratic Party. But once the broad-based, all inclusive NRM broke in 1996, that popular support collapsed also with it. Its source of strength has been monopoly of controlling state institutions and the control of national resources and information including the media.
So it is basically a dictatorship. Dictatorships have these strengths which can cause them to remain in power but because of no popular mandate they are inherently weak. So they can use terror, money, patronage to buy support but people resent the dictatorship and it is only therefore a matter of time before disenchanted people overwhelm the tools that maintain the dictator. It can happen in a split second like what happened recently in Burkina Faso. It has happened many times over and over again in history; people reach a point and saying ` no, enough is enough’. So that is artificial strength which can melt away in a second.
What should opposition parties do or be doing prior to the 2016 elections?
Opposition needs to make it very clear to the people that the elections that the dictatorship organises are no free elections. What needs to be done is for citizens to unite and defy the dictatorship; to get rid of the dictatorship through a defiance campaign and then set out to have a transition to a democratic dispensation. It must be clear to citizens that a lion cannot deliver a goat; a dictatorship cannot deliver a democratic dispensation. They will never have proper healthcare, decent education, freedom.
A dictatorship cannot take itself away. Citizens should defy the dictatorship. You must first get hold of and remove the lion out of the kraal and then start rearing goats or sheep. Secondly, the opposition should be organised and work together; their power is effective together. Thirdly, they need to review the constitution and laws to make them just so that they serve everybody equitably. They must build state institutions that would be provided under the constitution and those laws so that they are independent, competent and efficient serving everybody equitably. It is those institutions that can organise free and fair elections. The Electoral Commission is one of the many institutions that must be liberated. All that can only happen in the context of the transitional process after the dictatorship has been taken out.
What is your assessment of the currently political landscape in light of the electoral reforms you and other activists are advocating?
Nov.26 was the conclusion of the national consultation which saw the crystallization of the most critical constitutional and legal reforms that are needed to be undertaken by the transitional process. Frankly, I do not expect that this regime will pay attention to these reforms. So we should not spend a lot of time engaging it to implement those reforms. We should spend the time now increasing the awareness of the population and rallying everybody together so that we push out the dictatorship. This can be implemented and it should not take long to do that. It is achievable because, fortunately, the popular discontent in the country is immense. It only requires a little more organisation and the changes we want will happen.
What have you learnt having stood and lost thrice in the consecutive presidential elections?
First of all if the elections are not free and fair, it is wrong to use loss and win. We have not had free and fair elections and that is just not my assertion but there is a unanimous verdict of the Supreme Court. It is a shame that even when the courts were clear and unequivocal that the elections were not free and fair, they were not able to set them aside. But my struggle for freedom did not start under the NRM or my engagement over the three elections. It started in 1980, not as a candidate but as one aspiring for justice; in the war I participated, where many of our colleagues died. The phases we are going through are simply a continuation of the struggle for justice. I am committed to continuing at whatever cost until it is achieved.
What is your message to youths who do not understand Uganda’s history nor been to war?
Injustice is the same whether you have experienced war or not; it is painful. The kind of injustice the young people are suffering is far greater than when we went to the bush. By that time I had finished university, was working in a hospital in Uganda. Though there was no freedom, there were opportunities and a stableeconomy for one to survive. The 84 percent of our population who are the youths live in the margins and life is unbearable and anybody fighting in the forest is better than them. That is why people who are serious about forging a way ahead should reverse the things that have led to this kind of situation.