By Julius Odeke
`Next FDC leaders should maintain public support built by Besigye’
Nandala Mafabi says 1996 was a political turning point for him. The Leader of Opposition in parliament and MP Budadiri West says it is the year he met his leader in the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), retired Col. Dr Kizza Besigye.
At the time, Nandala as an officer of the Ministry of Finance, was investigating tax fraud in an organisation called Danze.
“This organisation was run by high-profile people in government and business moguls, “ he recalls, “Goods imported by this company would be registered as ‘goods on transit’ yet they were being sold here in Uganda.
“The government officials would falsify stamps from exit points like Koboko and Mutukula, claiming the goods had left the country. When we did the investigation, the Government of Uganda had been defrauded of Shs152 billion.”
Nandala Mafabi says that during this investigation his team even met President Museveni, since it had received information that some of the players were soldiers.
“It was only later that we learnt of the President’s involvement in the whole scam, and that Danze had been formed to mobilise money for his 1996 presidential election.”
Dr Besigye was different. Although he was still a high ranking member of President Yoweri Museveni’s government and was expected to give the team information about Danze only, he ended up offering key detailed information about thefts at another government agency, the Coffee Marketing Board (CMB).
At that time, there were numerous reports of coffee disappearing from Kampala en-route to Mombasa or sometimes on the high seas. Interestingly, the trucks, the drivers and the ships would never disappear.
“It was Dr Besigye who told us that disappearance of coffee was a Museveni venture meant to cheat the taxpayer. After declarations of disappearance of coffee, the government would pick money from the Treasury to pay farmers,” Nandala says, “By then, their methods were not as advanced as today’s, where the Governor Bank of Uganda is simply ordered to release money.”
Nandala Mafabi says when Dr Besigye disclosed this information, it dawned on him that there were still some honest people in this country.
“A senior official of the Coffee Marketing Board who was involved in that scam is currently chairing the board of a bank which was also bought from government at zero prices,” he says.
Nandala recalls that three years later, in 1999, Dr Besigye penned an article criticising the NRM government for veering off the course they had set out to achieve in the 1980 Bush War.
“For his honesty, he had been threatened with a Court Martial,” he says. A year later, in 2000, Nandala who was working at the World Bank heard that Besigye would contest for the national presidency in 2001.
“That was when I affirmed that he would be my candidate,” he says.
So when in 2001, Dr Besigye declared that he was going to run against Museveni, Nandala says he did not hesitate to support him.
Together with Garuga Musinguzi and others, he says they mobilised resources to run that campaign. At the end of the race, they lost. But, he says, the loss was not genuine because of the combination of factors.
“Dr Besigye’s candidature frightened Museveni so much that he unleashed all manner of brutality against his opponent. In western Uganda, voter turn up was 120%. As the courts later ruled, that particular election was a pack of irregularities. “
Besigye’s loss and the glaring electoral irregularities propelled him into elective politics, if not for anything, at least to make a humble contribution in changing the way our country was being run.
“I decided to run for the Budadiri West parliamentary seat, in a race where my opponent mocked me for being “too light”. He chided me, saying nobody would waste a vote on a person who can’t stand on and break a dry banana leaf. However, at the end of the campaign, I emerged winner,” Nandala says.
When he joined Parliament in 2001, he was the only new MP tasked to chair a committee as Chairperson of National Economy Committee. It was during this tenure that he discovered how government was using the common person to get loans which would never reach the intended beneficiaries. Together with his team, they changed the rules, demanding that no loan would be procured unless the intended beneficiaries were aware.
“The committee I chaired rejected 11 loan requests we thought were simply going to burden the tax payer. Of course the State never liked this,” he says.
But he recalls another significant, but low development in this time; the lifting of presidential term limits in 2005. He calls it a “dishonourable act” committed by his fellow MPs to amend the Constitution and offer Museveni a shot at life presidency.
“I was approached by State operatives with an offer of two billion shillings and a ministerial slot if I could back the “third term” project,” Nandala recalls, “I told them my conscience had no price and I later learnt, this angered the powers that be very much.” It was also in this period that he moved a motion in Parliament against selling Uganda Commercial Bank, arguing that this was a “people’s bank”. “It was a hot debate, but while we lost, we are sure history will one day bail us out,” he adds in his usual optimistic belief that one time Uganda will be “a free country”.
Courting state violence
During this time, Besigye’s political organisation, Reform Agenda, merged with the Parliamentary Advocacy Forum (PAFO) that brought together radical MPs, to form Forum for Democratic Change (FDC).
“Our courtship with state violence had begun,” Nandala says.
He recalls how while at a PAFO popularising event in the eastern town of Jinja, the government mobilised thugs to attack them and they hit his jaw so badly that he had to undergo serious medical treatment.
Then in December 2004, FDC was registered and they hit the campaign trail the following year. He recalls that it was a difficult campaign. Our chief mobiliser, Dr Kizza Besigye, had been arrested on trumped-up charges and he was behind bars. During the nominations, some people were of the view that two sets of signatures be sought so that if Dr. Besigye was denied registration, FDC would front another candidate. Nandala Mafabi says he was one of the people who objected to this arrangement, because in it, he saw a ploy to condemn their leader, Dr Besigye to eternal jail.
He says upon realising that FDC were unlikely to front another candidate, the Electoral Commission accepted to register Dr. Besigye while he was in jail. In its typical confusion, Nandala recalls, the government through the Attorney General had indicated that Dr Besigye could not be nominated whereas his junior gave a contrary view—which thankfully was upheld.
“More hurdles, however, awaited us,” says Nandala Mafabi,” Our campaign suffered a shortage of funds. We were on the verge of humiliation. To salvage the situation, I decided to mortgage my petrol station for Shs700 million which we used to run the campaign as we sought other support elsewhere.”
Unlike in 2001, the presidential and parliamentary elections in 2006 were conducted concurrently.
“Little did I know that as I sought to defend my Budadiri West seat, my actions and decisions in the National Economy committee had hurt President Museveni so much that among others, he had blacklisted me against returning to Parliament together with; Augustine Ruzindana, John Kazoora, Jack Sabiiti, and Salaam Musumba among others on that list.
“A lot of pressure was exerted on me and fearing that I was going to be killed, both my parents developed low blood pressure and died. My father died on January 19, 2006, and a month later on February 14, 2006, my mother also died. Nine days after my mother had died, the people of Budadiri massively voted me back to Parliament. I got over 40,000 votes as my closet challenger got 4,000 votes.” In the 8th Parliament, the party gave him an opportunity to serve as Chairperson of Parliamentary Accounts Committee (PAC). He says when he assumed leadership of PAC, there was a backlog of incomplete work dating to 2000 but by the end of his tenure, they had cleared that backlog and attended to their own work.
“As you know, it was at this time that the anti-corruption fight took a national character as we took many heavyweights to task over stolen money including causing the imprisonment of a Vice President Prof Gilbert Bukenya.
But if winning the election in 2006 was gigantic, five years later, he would come against every form of state-inspired violence, intimidation, militarism and bribery as he battled a cabinet minister, Beatrice Mukaye Wabudeya, for my parliamentary seat. Sironko, his home district, turned into a barracks of sorts in February 2011 as army tankers and mambas were deployed on village paths all in the name of denying him a parliamentary seat.
“A vote in my constituency was going for Shs50, 000 as the NRM broke the coffers to buy nearly each voter in my area. But being the wise people they are, my voters saw a golden opportunity in recovering some of their stolen taxes, but while firmly sticking to the issues. They would pick the money and later joke among themselves, at drinking joints, how Nandala had given them money.
He says they had done enough mobilisation and sensitisation before voting, mainly by telling voters that the bribes thrown at them were simply their money and they were under no obligation to be swayed by it. They also had people were monitoring polling stations as early as 5.00am.
He says when they realised that rigging would not work; the army scaled up the violence; arrested his agents and roughed up the people who, unwilling to stand the oppression, retaliated, cornering soldiers and beating them. In the melee, Nandala was shot in the leg and a journalist who was covering the fracas was shot in the stomach.
“Even as the army fought and shot at me, they stayed in the queues, swearing to vote for me, even if I were dead,” adds Nandala Mafabi. When the final results were announced, he had more than triple the votes his opponent.
“Our party won all the three parliamentary seats in Sironko District; we won the LCV seat, we have 21 LCIII chairpersons out of the 28 in the district and 41 councilors. Of the 127 polling stations in the constituency, we won at 124 of them. If there is any lesson we learnt from this race, it was the fact that we can never get victory on a silver platter. Organisation and mobilisation are key if our party is to take power.
“And that is why I am saying that I will deliver my party to new heights,” he says, “I am telling Ugandans that I am a servant who they can rely on.”
Nandala’s party manifesto
- When elected party president, Nandala Mafabi pledges to do nine things for the party.
- Build party structures from village level across the country within two years of election.
- Open party offices across the country.
- Mobilise and avail computers and internet to all districts to ease communication gaps between party headquarters and districts.
- Conduct trainings for party executives beginning with district executives in management, financial and communication skills.
- Ensure that FDC constitution, Party Platform, manifesto and other party documents are printed and distributed to members of the party.
- Translate these documents in different key languages.
- Concretise and popularise the party ideology to ensure that FDC members have the same outlook for the party and the Uganda we want,
- Organise party leagues (Women, Youth, Workers and People with Disabilities) into FDC cooperatives to enable them get survival skills.
- Support leagues to contest for mainstream seats within the party structures and on constituency seats during the main elections.
Now a strong critic of Museveni and his ruling NRM and now in the race to lead FDC, Nandala says the next FDC president must have built a public profile to maintain public support built by Besigye.
“He will need to be a person of high integrity, free from any implications of corruption and be willing to take the tough decisions on accountability, and make internal reforms, even when in the short term, such decisions might not appear popular, and be a person willing to sacrifice both time and financial resources for the party,” he says.
“I offer my candidacy for the good of the party and Ugandans where I will bring to the party a wealth of experience in mobilisation, result-oriented leadership and the anti-corruption fight: skills that will lift FDC to the next level,” Nandala says, “I bring desirables that will rejuvenate the commitment, sacrifice and zeal that characterised Reform Agenda and later FDC in its formative years even when the organisation had little resources.”
“If you recall, in 2001, with little resources and heavy rigging, we got 27%. In 2006, with weak structures and a little more campaign resources, we got 38%. In 2011, with structures on paper, and with more resources than available to us in 2006, we got 26%. We must therefore build tangible and functional party structures right from village level. We can work together, you and I, to enable FDC take over state power and change people’s lives for the better,” he says.
Battles with Museveni
Nandala Mafabi also narrates his battles with Museveni over Bugisu Cooperative Union.
In 2008, when union members took a decision to have new board members, government postponed elections six times because, according to him, they feared he could win. Finally, when they had no alternative but to organise the election, his opponents ferried all delegates to hotels in neighbouring districts of Tororo, Iganga, Jinja, and Soroti with just four days to elections.
On voting day, five of his group members lost before his turn to be voted on came.
“Some people urged me to shift from my queue, saying it was jinxed, but I told them I would go down with my colleagues.
“Events, however, took a strange turn. One old but vocal member who had been given Shs20 million to vote against me, probably battling with his conscience, boldly declared, `I cannot sell Bugisu’, and crossed over to my side. He added that the cash inducement given to him was taxpayers’ money, before scores of other members switched to my line. My opponent in this race, like it was in the 2011 parliamentary election, was Minister Beatrice Wabudeya.
“She had never sold even a kilogramme of coffee, but here she was masquerading as a coffee farmer, seeking management position in a coffee farmers union. When votes were counted, I had sailed through as board member for my zone,” says Nandala Mafabi.
Nandala says when President Museveni, who had camped in Mbale, was informed that he been elected as BCU Board Chairperson, he fled.
“Mr Museveni did not wait for the declaration of the winner we simply saw his helicopter take off,” Nandala says.
He boasts that when he assumed leadership of BCU, it was indebted to the tune of Shs 1.7 billion but within two years, it had turned a profit of over Shs 2.5 billion, the price of coffee rose from 800 to 12,000 shillings a kilogramme.
“People built houses, bought cars and yes, others married more wives,” he says
No surprise then those farmers decided to rename Arabica coffee as “Nandala coffee”.
But he says, perhaps the most important contribution to the community was that BCU revived the students’ scholarships for over 200 students in higher institutions of learning every year. This too scared Museveni said. “He accused me of using BCU money to finance FDC activities just because the previous board that was NRM-inclined had done exactly that. He has caused endless inquiries that have failed to find any mud to throw at me,” Nandala says, ““The fate of our union hangs in balance as Museveni does everything within his means to kill it.”
The desired FDC Party
Nandala Mafabi says, as the government-in-waiting, FDC must strengthen its structures, root-out cropping malpractice and incompetence, and project that image of an alternative government.
He says in order to familiarise himself with the realities of the party, he has traversed the country and everywhere he goes, the complaints are the same. Members make reference to neglect from the party headquarters, the absence or weakness of party structures making it easy for the NRM rigging machinery, weak or non-existent communication between headquarters and lower structures, and vice versa, internal conflicts resulting from lack of meetings and guidance, lack of district offices in three quarters of the districts, the desire for training in basic skills and, leaders who have not appreciated the ethics of accountability.
“Corruption is not only when a government official diverts money intended for other use,” Nandala says, “corruption is also when people take up offices and fail to perform and serve to the expectations of those who entrusted them with these offices.”