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Who is next after Ruranga defects to NRM?

By Ronald Musoke

Anxious times as NRM camp claims that Ruranga is coming along with other FDC big wigs

When Maj. (rtd) Rubaramira Ruranga, the former head of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) Electoral Commission, announced his defection to NRM late last month—the ruling party celebrated.  But many opposition colleagues say they saw it coming and are not at all surprised. Some top leaders within FDC have even called it ‘good riddance.’

Ruranga who has been a vocal opposition voice since the 2001 presidential elections when he joined Dr. Kizza Besigye’s Reform Agenda accusing President Yoweri Museveni of stigmatizing people living positively with HIV/Aids, says the endless wrangles in the party had frustrated him, and because he did not see any progress after a long struggle, he chose to quit.

Ruranga, who heads an HIV/Aids advocacy group—the National Guidance and Empowerment Network, also claims he has crossed to the ruling party to look for a way of mobilizing people living with HIV and boost awareness against the deadly disease which according to the 2011 national HIV Indicator survey  is said to be resurging.

Ruranga said before crossing over, he thought about the increasing HIV/Aids rates in the country and how he would contribute to the fight and when it dawned on him that President Museveni was crucial in the fight, he met him and decided to join NRM to work with him.

“If you want to see change, you work with someone who can cause it. If I am to make any significant contribution in the HIV/Aids fight, I have to be in the NRM,” he said. But it has not been lost to observers that he quit NRM because the government was not supportive of the anti- HIV campaign, so what has changed now that he thinks the same government will champion his interests? That of course does not matter to Museveni, what matters is that he has caught a ‘big fish.’

Ruranga’s defection came days after a group of about 400 “FDC supporters” alleged to be from Rukungiri—the home to former FDC president Rtd Col Kizza Besigye, crossed to the ruling NRM and were received by President Museveni at his country home in Rwakitura.

Though the identity of the group has been cast in doubt by some people who claim that they moved in buses from Kampala, the well-publicised event and now the crossing of Ruranga has created a perception among voters that FDC is getting weaker and not stronger going into the 2016 elections.

But does Rubaramira Ruranga’s defection weaken FDC further and is it a boon for the ruling NRM?

Not exactly says, says FDC Secretary General Alice Alaso, whom Ruranga had a go at in one of several parting shots to his erstwhile allies.

Similarly, Kassiano Wadri, the MP for Terego County and one of the founder members of the FDC, shared a similar view saying with or without Ruranga the party can survive. “Following Ruranga’s departure in 2007, did FDC die?” He asked.

According to Wadri, Ruranga has not been with the FDC for the last seven years, though he was in charge of Nandala Mafabi’s campaign, which saw their candidate beaten by Mugisha Muntu in the the acrimonious elections last year. But Evelyn Anite, the NRM Caucus spokesperson, was excited about Ruranga’s crossing, saying the FDC’s leaders’ comments are down to “panic” that has engulfed their party.

Indeed, FDC has not been the same following the acrimonious presidential elections that were held last November to replace former President Kizza Besigye.

Former army commander Maj Gen. Mugisha Muntu emerged victorious even though his victory was contested by one of the candidates, Nandala Mafabi’s camp, the current Leader of Opposition in Parliament. In those elections, Rubaramira Ruranga was Nandala Mafabi’s chief campaign manager and it was clear he was never going to see eye to eye with Muntu.  Alaso understands why. She told The Independent that Ruranga’s performance in the party became ‘shaky’ six years ago.

“He probably realized it; that is why he wrote to me then telling me that he would no longer be publicly involved in FDC activities,” she said. Alaso said it is after Ruranga’s recent defection that she realized what he was up to when suddenly in 2012, he resurfaced during the campaigns to canvass votes for Nandala Mafabi.

NRMs ‘mole’

In Ruranga, Alaso remembers a man who seemed to be “on a mission to tear the party apart.”

“He ran a very divisive campaign,” she recollects.

During the acrimonious presidential race last year, Ruranga’s vicious attacks on Muntu smacked of a mission that was quite far from the interests of the party, she added. In fact in the heat of the campaign, there were claims that Nandala’s camp had received money from the NRM, which both Nandala and NRM denied. Ruranga’s crossing appears to give credence to those claims.

Apparently, that election campaign continues to be like a monkey on the party’s back. On Oct.21, the FDC party executive refused to succumb to pressure from Ruranga and the Nandala Mafabi camp and announced that the party president, Mugisha Muntu would remain in office until 2017.

Interestingly, the same Ruranga who brusquely labeled Muntu an ‘NRM stooge” is the one who has absconded to the NRM camp. The FDC faithful see this as sweet irony in that it is Ruranga who has formally returned to the NRM while Muntu continues with his work of building the FDC.

Sources within FDC insist Mugisha Muntu was chosen for being an excellent leader who is a genuine democrat, a humble listener, a good team player who believes in harmony. Muntu is seen as a party president who offers the party an opportunity to be the focal point around which a revitalized leadership team and membership can rally and offer Ugandans a serious and viable alternative to the fossilized NRM.

According to Alaso, Ruranga has been the one fanning the blazing fire of wrangling at the Najjanankumbi-based opposition party.   For example, she says the Rwakafuzi Committee found Ruranga’s allegations were all baseless and after maligning and blackmailing the party’s Secretary General, he felt sidelined.

“His departure is a welcome relief to the party; it is very difficult to deal with a person of that nature,” Alaso said.

Alaso says because FDC is at a critical stage of development, it is better off with honest members however few they are. She added that during Ruranga’s “return” to FDC, there was no value he brought to the party, apart from attempting to tear it from within.

“You would rather face NRM directly than have someone within the party who is preaching tribalism and blackmail,” she added.  Yet Ruranga appears to be unrepentant for his much publicized defection to the NRM.

“I approached the president and he helped me with my NGO, and as time went by, I felt that staying apart would not help us,” Rubaramira told the press on Oct.26.

But there is a worry that other bigger fish including Nandala Mafabi, as well as the outgoing PAC Chairman Kassiano Wadri could be on the way to boarding the NRM’s Yellow Bus.

Evelyn Anite, the NRM Caucus spokesperson, said she would not be surprised if it is the Leader of Opposition to cross next. “The campaign manager is the person you have your faith in,” Anite says, adding that, “I strongly believe that he is going to move with some others within the party.”

But Nandala dismissed the rumours saying Ruranga was his campaign manager for four months and his term expired as campaign chairman.

According to Nandala Mafabi, anyone expecting him to cross should know that if he were to do so, he should have done it in 2004 when President Museveni gave him a bait of Shs 2b to pass the term limits but he did not.

“I have invested a lot in the reform and FDC,” he told The Independent on Nov.3.

Nandala, however, cautions his party to search for answers regarding the defections. He says FDC should to try to find answers to the question of why so many of its members are crossing back to NRM. Nandala says the reason there are so many fights in the opposition is because of greed yet 2016 is so near.

On the other hand, Wadri says there is no justification for any FDC member from the opposition to defect to NRM.

In any case, there is more justification for people from NRM to join the FDC because if you are to look at a ‘few documents,’ you will realize that NRM people need to jump away from the “sinking ship.” Ironically, there has been no high profile defection from NRM to the opposition in the recent past.

Dr. Kizza Besigye, the former FDC president, put a brave face to the situation saying defections would not weaken the party. He said people usually support leaders whom they consider to be working in their interest, however, as soon as they detect that a leader is pursuing other interests, they abandon him; which is what happened with former Kampala Mayor Nasser Sebaggala.

Sebaggala, Besigye said, thought that people would follow him to the NRM even when he was clearly going against their interests. He said leaders who succumb to the “monster” [read dictatorship] die politically and spiritually and are in effect devoured. However, many political observers believe the defections point to a serious public perception problem for FDC and the opposition in general for which solutions are needed sooner rather than later.

Indeed, Rubaramira’s defection definitely comes as a blow to a party that has sought to assure Ugandans that they are a better option than the current government. As recently as Oct.23, in a bid to restore the party’s unity, FDC’s National Executive Committee (NEC) ordered the party president, Mugisha Muntu, and Nandala Mafabi to hold a one-on-one meeting to discuss and iron out their differences.

How much further the differences will split the party further is what remains to be seen. As FDC bosses keep an eye on each other to see who will be next to exchange the blue umbrella for the yellow bus, what is clear is that NRM – its own internal squabbles not withstanding – is getting stronger as the Opposition is getting weaker ahead of the 2016 elections.

Recent high profile defections to NRM

  • Henry Mayega
  • Chris Rwakasisi
  • Badru Wegulo
  • Mwaka Emmanuel Lutukumoi (former DP spokesman)
  • Nasser Ssebagala
  • Maj. Rubamira Ruranga

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