By Edgar Tushabe Muhairwe
Surge of activists at FDC Delegates’ Conference worries moderates
Opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party president, retired Maj. Gen. Mugisha Muntu, knows how to say the right things at the right time. This skill was on test on June 12 in Kampala when the FDC held its Special National Delegates’ Conference.
The special conference, which chose party leaders for the next five years, will be critical to how FDC behaves in the run-up to the 2016 national elections. The new leaders will also be part of the Electoral College that elects the party flag bearer for the 2016 presidential race sometime in September.
It did not help Muntu’s chances that his arch-rival in the party, Nandala Mafabi, was the biggest winner of the night. Nandala scooped the coveted party secretary general slot in a turn of events that could see him outshine Muntu. But Muntu,who kept his affable smile all through the day’s proceedings, in characteristic fashion, put a brave face on it.
“The people have spoken,” he said in a late night speech to worn-out party delegatesin the UMA Conference Hall in Lugogo, Kampala as Nandala supporters draped in the party’s sky-blue colours cheered and danced in the background. “Once again FDC has shown that democracy can be practiced in Uganda.”
Muntu, whose post as president was not being contested, had to endure more routing as a slew of his supporters on the National Executive Committee made way for a new team whose loyalty to him is less certain.
He lost the influential Alice Alaso, Amanya Mushega, Ogenga Latigo, Kevina Taaka, Augustine Ruzindana, Kasiano Wadri, Angeline Osege, and Winnie Kizza. In their place came Wasswa Birigwa to replace Joyce Ssebugwawo as party chairman. Other winners were Ssemujju Nganda, Ingrid Turinawe, Salaam Musumba, Okumu Reagan, and others. Most of these are what are called “the activists” within the party. Muntu’s supporters have been dubbed the `moderates’ because of their perceived preference for `quiet’ mobilization and grassroots party building as opposed to the open confrontations again state machinery favoured by the activists.
In a major debate of the issue at a workshop organized by the party youth, Besigye who is the de facto leader of the activists played down the divisions. He said activism and opposition politics are mutually inclusive but took abroad view of activist. To him, even buying party cards and speaking on talk shows is activism. However, he said, party organization is equally important and blamed the lack of it for the failure of Walk-to-Work campaign that he held in 2011.
“I would be walking from Kasangati, with mammoth crowds but nobody at Najjanankumbi would know that am walking to work. They would only find out after a while that your people have been arrested,” he said. He said that kind of uncoordinated organisation cannot sustain a struggle against any government.
“For any group to take power there must be coordinated effort to raise funds, medical officers, lawyers, sureties, and other necessities to facilitate its success,” Besigye said.
Muntu too insisted there is no conflict between activism and party building.
But while on the outside, the activists have continued criticizing Muntu’s leadership style. They swept 70% of the seats being contested. Discounting for others like Joyce Ssebugwawo and Geoffrey Ekanya whose votes could go either way, Muntu’s style barely has 20% support in the new executive. It is now not clear how they will work with or under him.
Nandala’s high horse
A lot hangs on how Nandala rides his new high horse. All National Executive Committee positions were up for grabs but the stakes were highest on the position of the Secretary General. Initially it was contested by four but Nabila Nagayi Ssempala; the Kampala Woman Member of Parliament withdrew from the race. When the Electoral Commission chair, Dan Mugarura, invited the candidates to the podium to present their manifesto to the delegates, only Kasiano Wadri (MP Terego County), and Deputy Secretary General in charge of administration, Odonga Otto (MP Aruu County) and Nandala Mafabi (MP Budadiri West) turned up.
There was deafening ululation from the delegates when Nandala’s name was called out by the EC chairman.
During the campaigns, Nandala promised to work with Muntu. But the delegates booed when Nandala rallied them with chants of “President Oyee! Muntu oyee!”
When Odonga Otto took to the podium, he flayed Muntu.
“During our time when we were under the leadership of Dr. Besigye, we were on the streets everyday in running battles with the police,” he said, “but when the election of FDC party president came, they said that radicalism and street battles cannot take us anywhere, that let us try the gentlemen, where are the gentlemen taking us?”
He sent a clarion call to the delegates to bring back activism in the party on the road to the national election. He withdrew from the race in favor of Nandala to thunderous applause.
Speaker after speaker, every one that identified with Nandala openly castigated the approach of the party leadership that had chosen a path that in their opinion had “killed the party”.
It was a clear supremacy battle between the two camps where the moderates took the beating. Soon after 04:00hrs Saturday morning, when Dan Mugarura announced him as winner, Nandala again promised to work with Muntu.
But Nandala has said many times that his candidate for 2016 presidential election is Besigye, the three-time losing candidate.
Many delegates publicly called on Besigye to run again. The triumph of Ingrid Turinawe as secretary for mobilisation, Wasswa Birigwa for party chairmanship, Harold Kaija as D/SG Administration and Dr. Julius Tindyebwa as D/SG Research and Policy, with large vote ranges signaled a clear win for Besigye should he vie for the flag-bearer’s position . Besigye, however, has constantly blown hot and cold over the election. His position; that he will first fight for electoral reforms before any talks of his candidature, appears to imply that he will not participate especially since the government has refused any reforms.
After losing thrice in the presidential election, Besigye insists that a free and fair election cannot happen in Uganda and that without it, Uganda should not waste time in an election as this is going to be the routine of “escorting the dictator to the presidency.” But Besigye has said he is not calling for a boycott.
On May 1 2015, he a started countrywide campaign against the election under the Citizen Reforms Now (CIREN) banner, to demand electoral reforms or else Ugandans reject the election. This is a position that is not harmonised among parties in the newly crafted “The Democratic Alliance (DA)”; a grouping of all major parties and activists behind a single opposition presidential candidate in 2016. It is not clear if Besigye will rally behind Muntu or any other single candidate of the DA.
Kilak County MP, Gilbert Olanya, says Besigye will follow the coalition line.
“Besigye is a respectable leader who keeps his discipline and he cannot force himself on the people. There are very clear guidelines on which we shall get a leader. He would be a very formidable candidate but we shall sit down and harmonise within ourselves to get a flag bearer,” he says.
He says, instead, a lot depends on Nandala keeping his word and respecting Muntu as FDC president.
“If he comes with a good attitude, FDC will grow into a strong party that will lead this country. But if he comes to battle Muntu like before, then it will be regrettable.
“What I advise Nandala to do is to respect the hierarchy of the party, be disciplined and follow protocol, and his work will shine. But he shouldn’t come to fight battles.”
The Nandala versus Muntu feud started from the time they contested to succeed founding party president retired Col. Kiiza Besigye in 2012. Nandala was closer to Besigye but the party chose Muntu. Nandala’s team alleged malpractice during the election and accepted Muntu as leader grudgingly. Muntu promptly removed Nandala from the powerful position of Leader of the Opposition in parliament. Now, it is Nandala’s turn to show how he behaves when he holds the aces.
When she spoke to the delegates, Alice Alaso used the analogy of the biblical Noah’s Ark to rally support for Muntu in her last speech as SG.
“The FDC is like Noah’s Ark, we have the rats, the giraffes, lions and so on. But while in the ark, the rats did not nibble away the ropes that anchored it, the giraffes did not step on the rats, and the lions did not devour Noah. Please members, now that you are members of the ark, do not eat your Noah, do not eat your party president,” she said.
The Secretary General position is historically troublesome especially when its holders do not agree with the party presidency. In the ruling NRM party, the former Secretary General Amama Mbabazi has announced he is running an acrimonious contest against President Yoweri Museveni. Historically, in the first UPC government, Grace Ibingira fell out with Milton Obote, in Kenya, Tom Mboya fell out with Jomo Kenyatta and in Tanzania, Oscar Kambona feuded with Julius Nyerere.
But in an interview with The Independent, even Otto dismissed fears of heightened antagonism just because Nandala has become party SG.
“Nobody should have misgivings that it will create conflict. We need both of them there. It is like a salad, it is best when you have a variety of fruits,” he said.
Even if Nandala keeps his pledge, it is clear Muntu will have a tough job getting party members to vote for him to be the flag-bearer in 2016. He has said he wants to be on the FDC presidential ticket in 2016, but the mood of the delegates at Lugogo and the outcome of the election to the NEC of the party could portent a rising hailstorm on his parade. Still, Muntu has shown remarkable mobilization skills within the party. The smart money is not ruling him out yet.
Agnes Nantaba and Isaac Manzi contributed to this report.