By Haggai Matsiko
Leaders speak out on why London talks failed
Talks between Amama Mbabazi and Kizza Besigye meant to determine who of the two men to lead with in a united front against President Yoweri Museveni at the 2016 polls failed because of fears, suspicions, and contradictions, insiders have told The Independent. At the heart of the failure of the talks is that while publicly the two men claimed that getting Museveni out of power was their major focus, privately, equally at stake were their political careers.
My own sense is that the FDC leadership was timid, they failed to offer leadership to their supporters, leadership requires that you make sacrifices but what we saw is preference for populism rather than populism,” says legislator Mathias Mpuuga, who has in the past supported Besigye and is now backing Mbabazi.
Mpuuga, who represents Masaka Municipality, told The Independent that he perfectly understands Mbabazi’s position and supports it.
“For Amama,” he said, “if he didn’t become president, what else would he become? He has been Prime Minister and for many years he was the most powerful minister, therefore, he could only become president.” Such a stance is what critics point to say that at the end of the day Mbabazi failed to put ahead of his, the interests of majority of Ugandans whose major call was for leaders like him to find all possible ways of bringing to an end President Museveni’s 30-year rule.
But Mpuuga disagrees. “There is some partial truth in that analysis but the problem is that it fails to go beyond the two,” he said. For him, at every point in leadership, leaders must position themselves to offer that strategic canvass to the struggle and Mbabazi could only position himself as president.
Former Leader of Opposition (LoP) Ogenga Latigo told The Independent that the two (Besigye and Mbabazi) seemed to have succumbed to the rollercoaster of expectations from supporters and the fear to dampen these expectations.
“It was clear there are no disagreements on policy positions,” Latigo said, “But leaders always have people around them and there are those around Mbabazi who insisted that no this is our man and those around Besigye who felt the same resulting in a stalemate.”
Latigo added that the proposed sharing of positions between the two that he has heard about seemed untenable.
“I have heard people mention it, if that was the sticking issue, it becomes even more difficult because the two are from the same area and that was simply untenable because there are people from other regions,” Latigo said. The proposal Latigo was referring to was reportedly pitched in London where the two men held talks mediated by Kofi Annan under the auspices of the Kofi Annan Foundation and former International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor, Moreno Ocampo. Ugandan Scholar, Prof. Mahmood Mamdani, Zac Niringiye, Prof. Olara Otunnu and his brother were also at the talks. Besigye traveled with FDC Secretary General, Nandala Mafabi.
The idea of high profile international figures mediating the talks between Mbabazi and Besigye had renewed hope amongst many who felt that the initial TDA negotiations had failed because they lacked a high profile mediator of a caliber that the two principles would respect. Annan, therefore, was seen as a better mediator.
But immediately reports emerged that at the London talks Besigye had been asked to step down for Mbabazi and become his Executive Prime Minister in a subsequent government of national unity, all hell broke loose.
Besigye expressed shock at the reports. Party stalwart Wafula Oguttu even disparaged the reports as drawing from rumours and spin. Although the camps of Mbabazi and Besigye still claimed that talks were still on-going, for many, the reactions by the two officials voided the attempt. There have always been tell tale signs that it would be impossible for the two officials to agree.
Officials involved in the negotiations from the onset have said that the most significant hindrance of an agreement between the two is that they failed to balance their personal interests and those of all who are desperate to bring to an end President Museveni’s 30-year rule of Uganda.
“I think the problem here is that members failed to balance their personal interests with the overall goals of TDA and by extension the national interests,” Godber Tumushabe, the Technical Coordinator of TDA told The Independent immediately after the collapse of the TDA negotiations.
Indeed, it emerged that Mbabazi came to the talks with one objective—becoming the joint presidential candidate of the opposition. Wafula posted on his Facebook that in the last round of talks, when FDC President Mugisha Muntu offered GoForward and the parties backing candidate Mbabazi the Executive Premiership plus 60% of cabinet positions, they declined saying that they had come to the negotiations with the mandate to secure the Presidency not anything else.
Wafula explained the talks reached an impasse because both sides could not agree on a joint candidate and agreed to continue exploring possibilities of future cooperation most especially on vote protection and resisting partisan and unconstitutional police actions during the on-going electoral process.
Once it became apparent that the time left was too limited for them to agree before Nov.3 and 4—the dates set by Electoral Commission to nominate presidential aspirants, the two camps announced plans to go ahead with nominations separately.
At a press conference called hastily, Go Forward officials told journalists that their candidate would go ahead and get nominated. Indeed Mbabazi was successfully nominated on Nov.3.
At Najjanankumbi, FDC Spokesperson Semuju Nganda also called on Besigye supporters to come and witness his nomination. He said officials in the Mbabazi camp were capitalising on any opportunity of negotiations to cast Mbabazi as the winning candidate. Besigye who risked it all to contest against Muntu in the party primary when it was clear the latter was the favourite presidential candidate for most FDC leaders, could also not afford to back down for Mbabazi.
Apart from this, having contested against Museveni three times, Besigye sees 2016 as his last shot at power.
But most importantly, like Muntu has told FDC leaders, compared to Mbabazi, Besigye has for 15 years been at the forefront of battling Museveni, has a more popular appeal, has about 2 million voters and strong party structures.
What Muntu did not say is that the rise of Mbabazi threatened FDC as a party.
FDC under siege
A top FDC official has revealed fears that an arrangement where Mbabazi is selected as president with the endorsement of FDC threatened its very existence.
The official, speaking on conditions of anonymity, noted that as some see it, Mbabazi’s candidature would bring together supporters from different opposition political parties and from the NRM. After the elections, these supporters would require a new home to accommodate all of them and as a result FDC supporters who would have supported Mbabazi would likely migrate to the new home.
“If that happens,” the official noted, “FDC might not exist in the next ten years.” While such fears appear far-fetched to an outsider, they partly offer a window into the heart of the beast that failed the Mbabazi, Besigye talks. It is not the first time these fears are emerging.
As The Independent reported in the mid October issue in the story “Mbabazi, Mao gang on Besigye”, FDC official’s first point of departure with Mbabazi was the sense that the Democratic Party (DP) officials led by their leader Norbert Mao had decided to support Mbabazi, allow him use their structure in a bigger scheme that would see them topple FDC from its current position as Uganda’s biggest opposition political party.
The FDC officials, The Independent spoke to said that they knew of the plot and that under that arrangement, Mao who has been planning to contest for the Gulu MP seat would become the LoP, a position currently held for FDC.
If this was just FDC officials paranoia, the behavior of DP officials at the height of TDA’s failure to pick a joint candidate, seemed to vindicate them. Apart from announcing Mbabazi as the candidate supported by majority in TDA, Mao was campaigning for the former NRM Secretary General, in newspaper interviews and talk shows. Other DP stalwarts speak highly of Mbabazi.
For instance, Busiro North MP Merdard Segona, who has previously represented Besigye in court, now likened him to tiny and cheap silver fish (mukene) in terms of political clout, with Mbabazi as the bigger, richer Nile Perch. His DP colleague, Mathias Mpuuga, the Masaka Municipality legislator, who led walk-to-work protests with Besigye under the pressure group, Subbi, has also spoken highly of Mbabazi.
He told The Independent that the thinking that the reason he is supporting Mbabazi has to do with the scheme being talked about is simplistic.
“The fact is that we want to take power,” he told The Independent, “So, should we make confessions about that? I supported Besigye in 2011, where were his resources? That kind of thinking is insulting.”
Following the nomination of both Mbabazi and Besigye, their supporters hope that, since both are facing the same opponent, they can find ways of working together as they have promised and force a re-run.
As things stand and as happened in 2011, experts say, the failure by the two camps to agree has far reaching implications when it comes to uprooting Museveni’s government which boasts of more institutional strength, superior financing and a 30 year incumbency. Indeed, Besigye is on the record saying that voters are in the habit of punishing opposition politicians that refuse to work together. If this is true, Mbabazi and Besigye had better hope the voters do not visit that wrath on them come February 2016.