Why the cooperation agreement between NRM and DP should form the example in the evolution of our democracy
THE LAST WORD | ANDREW M. MWENDA | The cooperation agreement between NRM and DP is an important political innovation in our country’s politics. Uganda needs this kind of cooperation between competing political parties. It should therefore become a model. Our country does not need the politics of winner-take-all. We have had enough of it and seen that it takes us nowhere. In fact, I have come to believe that it subverts democratic development in our specific circumstances. We need to construct a government that governs through a broad consensus of the different political forces that make our polity.
Yet ummediately the cooperation agreement between NRM and DP was publicised, opposition icon, Dr. Kizza Besigye tweeted sarcastically “congratulating” Mao for “arriving after a long journey.” Then he added, with characteristic defiance: “The struggle to end the junta (gun) rule continues and will intensify as the arena becomes clearer.”
I used to consider Besigye a moderate politician – and he was. Then in 2011/2012, Conrad Nkutu and I tried to promote dialogue between NRM and FDC and even more specifically between Besigye and President Yoweri Museveni. During the behind-the-scenes negotiations, I was impressed by Museveni’s willingness to compromise and was equally frustrated by Besigye’s intransigence.
Besigye sent Museveni seven conditions most of which were tough and all of which I delivered to Museveni. The president gave me only five conditions all of which Besigye rejected. Museveni graciously withdrew them – except one which we greatly watered down to secure Besigye’s consent. Besigye rejected even this watered-down version. Then to my surprise, the president withdrew even this watered-down version. He told me he did this in order to deny Besigye an excuse to reject dialogue. But it was clear to me that Besigye had staked nothing for the talks; it was either his way or no way. So, I defiantly insisted on him giving in and the efforts towards a nation dialogue collapsed – of course with new developments, details of which I will elaborate in another detailed article.
From that experience I came to the conclusion that Besigye is an obstacle to democratic development in Uganda. He sees compromise as capitulation, negotiations with NRM as selling out. He believes there is only one way forward for Uganda: the fall of Museveni and his (Besigye’s) usurpation of power – and through ultra-constitutional means. So, he seeks total annihilation of the opponent. I am aware that this view enjoys mass support and admiration among a significant section of opposition supporters. It is therefore possible that Besigye may have adopted it out of strategic calculations i.e. to keep the loyalty of this group.
The Besigye I knew in the early 2000s struck me as a moderate capable of compromise. However, I get the sense that over the last 22 years, he has become more radicalised, which is understandable. He has been beaten, tear-gassed, jailed tens of times and then tried for rape, treason and terrorism. His brother was killed in a CMI jail, his wife jailed, his sisters and some in laws chased to exile. Yet I have also always felt that this suffering has given him the needed political credibility, just like Nelson Mandela did in South Africa, to negotiate political reform in Uganda.
Besigye has ignored the path taken by Mandela and instead embraced the one pursued by Yasser Arafat in Palestine. He has helped nourish a large constituency who reject politics as an activity that might – and should – involve compromise. The battle cry is never to seek any common ground. This zero-sum approach to politics is very dangerous and can only lead to a autocratic government. This is because any government that comes to power without any negotiation or compromise will most likely to rule without any negotiation and compromise. And the reverse is true.
Robert Kyagulanyi, aka Bobi Wine seems to be walking in Besigye’s footsteps. I am inclined to believe that Bobi Wine is naturally a moderate politician. But I also think he is incapable of great courage to seek compromise. He seems beholden to the radical extremists in his inner circle supported by a large coterie of international advisors from Western countries seeking to impose their racial prejudices based on abstract theory on a complex political reality. So, they cannot see the necessity of compromise.
Mao needs to be applauded for his courage, for leading the way, for breaking this fear that to work with Museveni is detrimental to the interests of Uganda. Museveni and his NRM are a deeply entrenched reality in Uganda’s body politic. But Museveni is also a practical and pragmatic politician who is always looking out for opportunities to win over his opponents – or even to compromise them. That should not stop politicians of principle from being pragmatic, recognising that building Uganda requires some cooperation with him.
Mao has done this well by signing a formal agreement that states the parameters of cooperation and also restates the democratic principles that should guide it. It would be foolish to expect that all of a sudden Uganda will now become the leading liberal democracy in the world. In fact so many obstacles will remain; including Museveni’s penchant for beating up and jailing his opponents. But democratisation is never an event but a process and it’s progress is slow and never linear. There has to be a beginning. The problem is that Besigye makes the perfect the enemy of the good.
One can compromise with Museveni without being compromised by the president; work with Museveni without working for him and recognise his accomplishments without endorsing his failures. Besigye and those around him have exhibited inability to see this nuance and complexity. It leads me to believe that Besigye has despotic inclinations. His belief in the total annihilation of Museveni as the one and only path to Uganda’s democratization and development is dangerous.
I know most leaders of the opposition believe in dialogue. But they fear to try it, especially those in parliament, because their constituents see things the Besigye way – compromise is compromised and cooperation is cooptation. But one has to admire Besigye’s wife, Winnie Byanyima, who is a leading critic of Museveni. She often deals with the president whenever need arises. I have my own disagreements with Winnie, but I admire her courage. She has the pragmatism to recognise reality and the right intuition to see that the only way to struggle and make Uganda a better country cannot be an all-out war to defeat and destroy Museveni.