By Agather Atuhaire
Just six years ago, Henry Peter Mayega was a member of the opposition Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) party. Then he switched sides to the ruling NRM party. Today he is Uganda’s ambassador designate to the Peoples republic of China. At any time these days, Mayega is all scorn for the opposition and the recent fiasco created by the failure of The Democratic Alliance (TDA) to name a single joint candidate to challenge President Yoweri Museveni in the 2016 election has merely cemented his attitude.
On a recent talk show, Mayega announced that he was surprised by the conduct of the TDA and, in particular the behavior of the leaders of traditional political parties like his former party, UPC, and the Democratic Party (DP) to support NRM cadres, retired Gen.
Mugisha Muntu, retired Col. Dr. Kizza Besigye, and lately, former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi. In Mayega’s view, this showed that the opposition is ideologically bankrupt.
Launched in June, the TDA was founded by myriad tiny political parties, prominent personalities, and civil society organisations, with an ambitious agenda; to field a single joint candidate for all electable positions in the 2016, presidential, parliamentary, and local government election.
The first test of TDA’s ability to deliver on its promise came this September when its leadership met to name a single joint presidential flag-bearer. After huddling for weeks in the conference rooms and gardens of the Royal Suites boutique hotel on the edge of Kampala City in Bugolobi, TDA failed in spectacular style. Words to describe the fiasco vary. Instead of naming a single joint candidate, the leaders scattered in disarray. Semujju Nganda, the spokesperson on one of the front runners for the slot, Kizza Besigye of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) acknowledged TDA failure. The FDC carried voice in the TDA because it won the highest percentage of opposition votes; 26% in the last election and has the most opposition MPs in parliament; with 34. But Norbert Mao, the leader of the Democratic Party (DP) which won just about 2% of votes in the presidential and has just 8 MPs attempted to squeeze political capital out of TDA’s floundering by insisting that it had, in fact, named a candidate – the sacked former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi.
Semujju said Mao knew he was peddling mendacity. But, he said, he had the most scorn for Mbabazi who he had held in high esteem, until he appeared to be a party to Mao’s duplicity. Mayega said he was disgusted by the behavior of the old parties. “I always thought the traditional parties like UPC and DP stand for certain ideological positions,” he said on the talk show, “for them to not only join but actually accept to be led by NRM cadres like Muntu, Besigye, and now Mbabazi is disgusting.”
If a poll had been held, Mayega’s view would possibly have been echoed by many. There were many others losers from the TDA’s collapse. But there also have been some winners. The Independent lists some of them.
The Opposition (generally)
In the last three elections, from 2001 to 2011, the combined vote tally for all opposition presidential candidates has been less than 50% of those garnered by the winner, Yoweri Museveni. In a bid to break this jinx and, hopefully at least force Museveni into a re-run, opposition groups have in all elections toyed with the idea of having a single joint presidential candidate. The question, however, has remained on how the dismal individual candidates’ results will, somehow, morph into a win for the opposition. The most optimistic insist that the sum of all opposition support is greater than its parts. It is claimed that a united opposition will breathe new energy into the disinterested, disengaged, and disillusioned voters to participate. Since low voter turnout has tended to favour Museveni, it is argued that a surge in voting resulting from a single joint candidate would be good for the opposition. That is why the failure by TDA to name a single joint candidate is being seen as a major set-back. Collectively, the opposition is being branded as “unserious, disorganised, and lacking focus”. Perennial participants in the saga, like FDC flag-bearer Kiiza Besigye are being labeled spoilers for refusing to give way for new players. One unhappy person said it clearly: “You old men are the problem”. Amama Mbabazi and Besigye, the two front liners who refused to cede to each other are being labeled `greedy, selfish, egoistical, and power hungry’. That perception is likely to dent their appeal before voters as we head into the 2016 campaign and voting.
Godber Tumushabe’s NGO, Great Lakes Institute for Strategic Studies, was behind the formation of TDA. According to one commentator, one measure of the potential of any move to defeat President Yoweri Museveni is measured in the efforts that Museveni puts in snuffing it out. At the height of the TDA efforts to name a single joint presidential candidate, operatives of security agencies raided the GLISS offices and Godber’s home over allegations that he was involved in activities subversive to the state. After ransacking them, the operatives carried off files. Godber appeared unfazed and went about his activities calmly with his usual smile splattered across his face. He had been there before in ACODE before being haunted out by the government. Despite its failure, TDA’s ability to bring together almost all the top opposition politicians and CSO leaders, raised Godber’s credentials as a good governance power broker. But as he confessed to The Independent, “choosing a potential future president of Uganda was never going to be easy”.
Bishop Zac Niringiye
Before he got involved in TDA, retired bishop Zac Niringiye was associated mainly with the anti-corruption fight, especially the `Black Monday’ movement. Before that he had led the Uganda chapter of the African Peer Review Commission which monitored the performance of the government effort to fight corruption and ensure good governance. With this background, Niringiye inspired a lot of respect and hope when he emerged as the head of TDA. Expectations of integrity, transparency, and accountability were high. Unfortunately, TDA failed to meet this bar. It proved to be a very opaque organisation, plagued by allegations of below the table deals and self interest. Niringiye was specifically said to have orchestrated the entry into TDA of former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi. Some members of the public found it odd.
“Just a few months ago, Bishop Zac was leading processions of protesters carrying posters of Mbabazi as one of the corrupt government officials. Since when did Mbabazi change?” someone asked.
Niringiye was also said to have pushed the allegedly unprincipled position of allowing Mbabazi into TDA even though he initially had neither signed the TDA protocol nor renounced his membership of the ruling NRM party. Not even Mbabazi’s insistence that he still belongs to NRM was questioned by Niringyiye or any other leader of the Alliance. The TDA protocol says that a person who is a member of a political party who opts not to participate in the primary selection process shall not be considered eligible for nomination as candidate of the Alliance. As debate of these oddities rage, Niringiye – as the head of the TDA secretariat, has not offered the public any explanation. His lack of accountability and transparency, and his willingness to dine with people he vociferously accused of corruption just yesterday has stained Niringiye’s star.
The President of the Democratic Party, Nobert Mao was among the contenders for the Presidential joint candidate having been the second one to be nominated after former Vice President Gilbert Bukenya. When it turned out that the actual race was between Mbabazi and Besigye, he became one of Mbabazi’s campaigners. His preference for Mbabazi (or any other person for that matter) over Besigye was not surprising. He had previously said that `Besigye specialises in failure’ because he had failed to defeat Museveni after three attempts. Some say he had gotten the perfect opportunity for getting back at Besigye for his closeness with Kampala Mayor Erias Lukwago who now leads a faction of DP that disagreed with Mao. He is said to have persuaded members of his party not to support Besigye saying that he was responsible for divisions and disunity in their party. His stance on Besigye was so strong that when the summit started toying with the idea of having two candidates, he took to his Facebook page to condemn the idea and went on two say that if the Alliance allowed two candidates they would all stand. When TDA accepted to have failed to reach consensus, he told the media that the Alliance had actually chosen Mbabazi. But what this earned him was criticism from opposition supporters who say he has changed from a serious politician with commanding oratory to a comedian. In reality, Mao was a major beneficiary from the TDA. He managed to position himself as a serious power broker, especially after he came second to Mbabazi after the initial vetting and Mbabazi was third.
FDC’s calm and gracious President Mugisha Muntu did not say much during the entire commotion. He would come and just smile at the journalists who would rush to him with question and tell them to be patient. Even in the summit meetings, sources say, he did not say much. But back at his party’s headquarters in Najanankumbi he would call for calm and faith in the alliance. He told the FDC supporters that there’s a reason they came together and there was need to wait patiently as the Alliance pondered on the “winning formula”. When some members of his party were clamoring for the withdrawal of the party from the Alliance, he insisted that the party was there for a reason and would not withdraw its membership until that objective is achieved. Many construed that to mean that he was among the people who supported Amama Mbabazi against his party’s flag bearer, Besigye. But those who know him well say they knew Muntu would never do. Even after his defeat to Besigye during the party primaries he promised to throw his weight behind him. It appears all that Muntu wanted was to keep his party and the entire opposition together. When other members of the FDC on the summit, including Besigye refused to agree with the majority’s choice of Mbabazi, he stuck to his party’s decision and to his word. However, while many have seen that as a strength and trait of a good leader, others see it as a weakness. There are even theories claiming Besigye came back to contest for the FDC flag because he did not want to leave a `weak candidate’ (Muntu) for Museveni and Mbabazi to devour. One of Besigye’s loyalists told The Independent that Muntu is too weak for the struggle. But other members of the party like Kitgum Woman MP Beatrice Anywar say Muntu has exhibited traits of a leader that Uganda deserves. A leader who will not be feared to want to die in power because he has shown that he is selfless and will accept to make concessions and compromise.
Col. Kizza Besigye
The FDC leader and flag-bearer, retired Col. Kizza Besigye was part of what became known as the TDA quartet. It comprised DP leader, Norbert Mao, Amama Mbabazi, and former vice president Gilbert Bukenya. According to the TDA secretariat, these four were the leading contenders for the position of single joint presidential candidate for TDA in 2016. In reality, even as they sat around a tiny table in a conference room at the Royal Suites hotel and haggled and horse-traded as equals, they fooled only themselves. To all other eyes, Mao and Bukenya stood no chance at all. The race was between Besigye and Mbabazi. And even among these two, that he was being weighed by opposition colleagues against Johnny-come-lately Mbabazi was an early sign of how low Besigye has sank in ranking. His onetime colleague in the FDC, Beti Kamya mocked him for it. “I don’t know whether KB realszes how much the ground has shifted around him,” she said. For anyone listening who knew the history between these two, it was pitiable that Besigye was now sitting as an equal to Kamya, even if it was only in a radio studio. Besigye is an icon of the opposition struggle against Museveni, while Kamya runs a one-woman party called the Uganda Federal Alliance (UFM) and got less than 1% of the vote in the last presidential election. Besigye is an eloquent debater, passionate politician, and charismatic leader with the scars of the struggle etched in the deep furrows on his brow and possibly on each vein of his unseen heart. But he has recently made some mistakes. Among them are breaking a pledge not to contest in another election, returning to scuttle FDC President Mugisha Muntu’s plans, and offering an incoherent call to boycott the election if Museveni did not allow prior reforms and refusing to acknowledge that his double-speak was giving the opposition double vision. It was Mao, another minion of Ugandan politics who has been elevated to bandying words with Besigye who said is best. “Voters are feeling Besigye fatigue”. Even devout Besigye supporters will disagree but only the2016 elections will reveal the extent of Besigye’s loss of lustre.
Many say former Prime Minister Mbabazi is the biggest winner from the TDA drama, although attempts to officially name him have been proved fraudulent and opportunistic. His calm demeanor has made him come off as the candidate that the opposition needs to wooas he appears to appeal to both the fence-sitters in the opposition and the NRM members that might be unhappy with Museveni’s leadership. It was exciting how he managed to woo the entire opposition to his side in such a short time. Some TDA officials have said that if a joint candidate was to be selected by voting, Mbabazi would get more than 80%. Indeed, of the eight parties that make up the Alliance, only Ken Lukyamuzi’s one-man party, CP, and FDC supported Besigye’s candidature. Even people that blamed Mbabazi for their fallout with President Museveni, like former Vice President Gilbert Bukenya, seemed to have forgotten that when they chose him over Besigye. According to sources who sit on the summit, Mbabazi was seen by many as the best candidate because he knows the strengths and weaknesses of Museveni’s government and knows how to use them to his advantage. One of the members of the summit said Mbabazi has brought a new lease of life to the opposition. He added that Besigye’s support was dwindling and the opposition supporters were getting demoralised which is why they have lost many of them especially in the North to Museveni.