By Edgar Tushabe Muhairwe
Col. Samson Mande who lives in exile fought the bush war with the President, Gen. (Retired) Yoweri Museveni, Maj. Gen. (Retired) Mugisha Muntu, Col. (Retired) Kizza Besigye, and former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi. He spoke to The Independent’s Edgar Tushabe Muhairwe about their politics.
Is the political landscape of Uganda any more conducive or more disadvantaging than you left it?
The political landscape of Uganda is very worrying. The ruling party is on the verge of disintegration because of the split between longtime friends Yoweri Museveni and Amama Mbabazi. Neither are the opposition political parties in a better shape. They face internal power struggles, the ground is not leveled for competitive politics and they have a big financial challenge. Seeds of genocide between ethnic groups are being sown as you heard the whatsapp campaign launched recently to foment trouble between the Bahima and the Bakiga/Bairu. Uganda may slide into a situation worse than what we witnessed in Rwanda and Somalia if we do not handle the situation with the political maturity it deserves.
You think the FDC party primaries are a power struggle?
For some time there has been a visible power struggle within the FDC between the party president, Gen. Mugisha Muntu and the secretary general Nandala Mafabi. This has undermined FDC grassroots mobilisation greatly. There has also been a subtle surge for power by leaders from the East for a bigger share of the FDC leadership since they have produced more members of parliament. The contest between Mugisha Muntu and Kizza Besigye is no doubt about power which is another threat to party cohesion. Simplistic minds may look at it as just an internal democratic process but there is more than meets the eye for those who read body language very well and read between the lines. Otherwise I commend the way they have pushed on despite the meager resources. The process is constitutional and looks democratic and transparent.
Do you think the FDC or any other opposition party can win power in Uganda?
The three top historical leaders of the FDC do not agree on the strategy for competing for power. Mugisha Muntu wants to try a new game, which is massive mobilisation of voters and a very peaceful way of handling the political contest while the other two believe in a militant uprising as the way forward. This difference in approaches further undermines FDCs unity in command and the cohesion required for the party to take over power and offer better governance. I hope the party think-tank will help the leaders to go back to the drawing board and rectify the situation. The situation is worse in the other traditional opposition parties. For instance the swearing in of Hon. Jimmy Akena as UPC president is highly contested. DP is yet to overcome internal divisions. The entire opposition is at its weakest and not ready to handle the volatile political situation.
In this jostling of strategies between the activists and moderates, which in your view is a winning strategy?
In view of the current political, social and economic climate in Uganda, the winning strategy is the moderate approach. Most Ugandans will settle for an approach that is not likely to provoke teargas and bullets. The approach like Walk-to-Work will be playing in the hands of those who command fear arsenals. So they have no chance of mobilising the critical mass. The moderates are likely to outreach voters easier and win. The outcome of the activist’s Walk- to-Work strategy refers. It’s time for the FDC to change strategy, tactics, and some players.
Do you think Muntu can take power if he won an election?
Mugisha Muntu is right .He has traversed the country and built structures. That is a clear power base that he can use to campaign and eventually take power. Power belongs to the people and the majority of the people of Uganda live in rural areas. It was very important for him to take the FDC beyond the streets of Kampala. If he gets the support of the party leaders to galvanise the grassroots, the FDC will easily use the structures to win the election and take power. The bottom to top approach instinctively identifies potential leaders, among other things.
There are people accusing Besigye of not keeping his word. That he said he will not stand again and he has. Several times he has said elections in Uganda are a ritual and that political organisations are irrelevant to Uganda’s dictatorial dispensation. What do you make out of his decision to vie again?
I am not sure that Dr Besigye ever said he would not stand again. If he did and broke the promise then he too has changed. Otherwise I have always respected him for being consistent. I am only getting disturbed by the fact that he is not letting leadership go. A great leader is that one who does not just create followers; he creates partners, supports them to succeed and fosters team spirit. Any leader who likes to be the only shining star is a problem in the making. Elections are inevitable and we must combine efforts to have regular free and fair elections. Political parties, pressure groups remain relevant in developing democracy and good governance. No one should undermine their role. We should work hard to strengthen them.
If Besigye is elected as FDC flag bearer, do you foresee any conditions for a fourth time-lucky Besigye candidature as happened with Buhari in Nigeria and Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal?
The situation in Uganda is quite different from what Senegal and Nigeria. In Nigeria the Boko Haram insecurity and rampant corruption plus the existing party structures worked in favour of Gen. Buhari. His military credentials gave the populace the belief that he will stamp out the Boko Haram insecurity. His zero tolerance against corruption when he was in power in the 1970s increased his chances and above all he was a flag bearer of a party that has a well-established grassroots base and is well-funded.
Do you believe the formation of The Democratic Alliance may help in bringing about change by the ballot?
If The Democratic Alliance is formed of patriotic Ugandans of high moral standards with visible or known democratic credentials, compatible with challenges of the new generation they can bring about change by the ballot. But if the alliance is like a marriage of convenience of NRMO rejects and the highly weakened traditional opposition, they can’t win. There will be cause for fear of insecurity and hence send more voters to the NRMO the devil the voters know and have learnt to live with.
Opinion holders think former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi brings new rigor to the opposition and could be the change agent in 2016. But in the immediate aftermath of his declaration, you were among the notable voices that poured scathing salvo on him. Don’t you think opinions like yours are denying Ugandans a chance at seeing a democratic transition?
You cannot be advocating for change and you present Amama Mbabazi, a major obstacle to democratic change as the new vehicle for transition for change. It’s like an extension of the status quo. How do you think that the architects of the system he whole heartedly believes in and has practiced and did a lot to entrench over decades will be happy to change it?
The only thing Mbabazi is looking for is executive power to rule Uganda for personal gain. He is playing on Ugandans’ intelligence in a deception plan that repackages him as a new and clean democrat. The smart dictatorial intellectual knows what the masses are deprived of and desperate for and knows how to articulate that. That is how he has been and how he manipulates his friends, comrades and his way to position himself for absolute power. He mastered the art of intrigue, deception and manipulation.
Once he gets state power it will be difficult to change him and Uganda’s history of dictatorship shall have been renewed. Amama Mbabazi got his chance to serve the public in government and NRMO party for a good number of years in positions of very high responsibility so we have a record his performance. He was a person who would work hard until he got what he wanted. He had executive power and favour from his longtime friend Yoweri so he influenced a lot of, if not most of, what the NRM and the country became.
He should also agree that not every leader must be a president and therefore thank God for the leadership levels he reached. He should apologize to the public for what he did wrong instead of blaming his friend for all the failures and know that it’s time for him and his mates to serve themselves, their families and the nation but as ordinary senior citizens.
The transition Ugandans can believe in is that which should remove them from a liberation struggler’s mentality to civilian governance, from the old generation politicians to a young generation leadership and from one region to another. Power has been in one region for 29 years and every considerate mind should wish to see to it that from Museveni power should be shifted to another region and preferably to a lady because Uganda has never had a chance to be led by a woman.
Are you not making idealistic demands? Regional shifts and women candidates, do you think that is what Uganda needs?
What is hard in having a leader from any other region than the western region? Don’t other regions have capable Ugandans? I believe they have many capable leaders. I also know Ugandan women have advanced and can provide the leadership Uganda deserves. Don’t you appreciate the leadership of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf the woman who took power when men had failed to govern conflict stricken Liberia in 2006 and she has stabilized it? Catherine Samba-Panza the interim president of Central African Republic where men failed is a woman. The other example is Joyce Bända of Malawi. These are days when we should appreciate the role of women in leadership and allow them equal opportunities including leadership of our country. If Rt. Hon Kadaga can manage parliament what can fail her to manage the country? We must change some mindsets and attitudes.
It’s as if you have given up on the hope for any transition.
I have high hope for the transition from liberation type of politics – the “twalwana” militarism mentality and the independence generation- “twalire” and” byafandimu” to transformational leadership and politics of the new generation. My network and I have an idea on how such a transition can be achieved peacefully and in a very orderly manner that should not cause disruption, retardation, and disintegration of our country. Watch this space.
You are also a bush war hero. How new are you from them? How will your strategy work where theirs hasn’t?
Yes I am a liberation war fighter but not recognised by the government I helped to bring to power. Look at the reasons why I don’t approve of some people’s characters and acts. We shall be judged by our fruits and not our words. Most of the colleagues I share the strategy with are on the ground. We do research and we have a lot of mistakes, failures and a rich history to learn from. Our comrades are just making history repeat itself. We have acquired a lot of knowledge and experience in our exposure. However, don’t look at it as if am demeaning them. I don’t want to demean or minimize my colleagues. Some of them for example Kizza Besigye, Mugisha Muntu have tried a lot and achieved a lot in the hard circumstances .I appreciate their efforts.
Are you soon returning to the country? Unfortunately your comrades’ homecoming has been cold. Edison Muzoora died on his way home. Anthony Kyakabale came to apologise to Museveni and get some groceries. Are we yet to see your homecoming in a different style?
All that can be achieved within the confines of the law. The situation we were in before we fled, our mission abroad, what we did abroad differs from person to person and so is our home coming. I am encouraged by the fact that all who came back in broad day light like Dr Kizza Besigye and Anthony Kyakabale are alive. So I am also going to come in broad daylight. I hope I will get a smooth landing though am prepared for even the worst .Nothing shall stop me from coming home.
So when do we expect you home?
I will make a public announcement of my homecoming 30 days before my homecoming.