By Haggai Matsiko
Party bosses reveal why youth are going for guns
Sam Mugumya, the 35-year old aide to former Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) President Kizza Besigye who is said to be in detention in DR Congo, relishes extreme political activism. He has made his name by mainly risking his life for political change, getting arrested countlessly times and being thrown into jail. He is the archetypical Ugandan youth political hardliner. Not even charges by the police of inciting violence and allegations by government security operatives that he could be involved in terrorist activities have appeared to temper the zeal of this self-confessed fan of the revolutionary icon Che Guevara. He has only one mission; to remove President Yoweri Museveni from power.
For now, mystery still surrounds Mugumya’s whereabouts. His boss, Besigye, has said Mugumya was “kidnapped” by government security operatives and transported to eastern DR Congo. The opposition leader says Mugumya is a pawn in a bigger political game in which the target is Besigye. Logically, if Mugumya is linked to an armed rebellion again the government of Uganda, it makes it easy to drag Besigye into the net. And it will not be the first time that the government has attempted to do that although the retired colonel has said he is no longer interesting in fighting as a means of changing a government.
In the past, the government has slapped tramped up charges of rape and others. In all cases, the courts have trashed them. This time might not be different. But, some observers say, they could be another side to the Mugumya story.
Could we be witnessing the cusp of youth groups breaking free from their peace-minded leaders and resorting to armed rebellion? Some observers have said youth are the most frustrated group opposing President Museveni’s government. Yet they do not see hope in the opposition’s pursuit of change through the ballot.
Most of the youth have been attracted to Besigye’s perceived militant disposition. Several opinion polls have also shown that Ugandans believe only a military person is capable of removing Museveni and holding on to power. During the last campaigns, in 2011, youths at Besigye’s rallies openly asked him to give them guns.
Besigye, in fact, on many occasions spent a lot of time explaining why another “war of liberation” is not the way to remove Museveni who has been in power for 28 years. But even as Besigye told them to use their huge numbers at the ballot, many youth openly disagreed.
Peaceful change has failed
Mugumya has not been paraded before any media so far with the usual captured guns and ammunitions, followed by a public confession to rebellion.
But Army Spokesperson Paddy Ankunda has said Mugumya was arrested in DR Congo over involvement in “rebel activity”.
The game plan of the DR Congo side is also hard to read as they have only said Mugumya is being held for entering their territory illegally and under a falsified identity. Anyone familiar with the rebel infested eastern DR Congo would know that illegal entry and falsified identities is as commonplace as the trees in the jungles. Nobody would pay attention unless something bigger is going on.
But even other opposition leaders like Joseph Bossa, the Vice President, Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC), say increasingly, “peaceful change is a harder sale amongst the youth”.
“They (youth) are calling for one thing; machines (guns),” Bossa told The Independent, “It is us the old people who are pleading with the youth against war but wherever we have been in our electoral reforms campaign, the youth clearly have no hope in elections. All they want is the machines. It is dangerous.”
Bossa says that while he is not sure about Mugumya’s case, he would not be surprised given what he is been hearing from the disillusioned youth.
Democratic President (DP) President, Nobert Mao, likes to think that the disillusionment is because of failures of the opposition.
“We haven’t given them any attractive alternative,” he says, “What do you expect?”
But like Bossa, John Kikonyogo, the FDC spokesperson believes the youth issues are beyond the internal opposition problems.
“When you talk to them,” Kikonyogo says, “they express a lot of anger. You clearly see that these are people who do not believe that change can come through peaceful means. Whether they have mustered the courage to go to war is another thing. War is not an easy thing.”
Whether they are contemplating armed rebellion or not, it is clear the youth have lost hope in the current style of politics. They are concerned about poor service delivery, corruption and, unemployment.
A poll by Research World International revealed mid this year that the youth were the least likely to vote for the opposition or to vote at all. Asked if they would vote for the opposition if it fielded one candidate, 52% of the youths aged from 17-18 said no. The same applies to 58% of youths aged from 35-44. Up to 32% of those aged from 17-18 said they would not vote at all if an election was held tomorrow. Only about 13% of the other groups said they would not vote. Although most respondents said they believe the 2016 elections will be free and fair, those who disagreed said they believe the government will rig the election (37%), elections are not transparent (27%), and the Electoral Commission is incompetent (16%).
Although the opposition FDC is less favoured than the NRM (58% of respondents said they voted NRM compared to 21% for FDC), it appears the opposition group enjoys most support among the young, urban, rich.
In a poll where about 80% of respondents in other age-groups said they “feel free” to talk politics, up to 40% of the youngest respondents said they do not “feel free”. Most of those who said they are free (55%) were supporters of the NRM government. But even among NRM supporters, up to 50% said they do not feel free to talk, way ahead of FDC supporters who were 24%. Quite clearly, feeling stifled is building up and could explode.
The youths, the poll showed, were the most unsatisfied with the President Museveni government service delivery. Up to 23% of those aged 30-34 said they were not satisfied; the highest of any age-group in the poll.
Youths constitute over 78% of Uganda’s population. About 21 % or over 6.5 million were of voting age by 2012, according to the Population Secretariat. It is estimated that this population will have grown to 7.7 million by 2015. In 2011, only 8.2 million Ugandans voted.
Wooing the youth
A quick peek inside both the ruling NRM party and the opposition parties show that they are aggressively courting the youth vote and the youth are increasingly becoming aware of their importance.
In FDC, where tension between party President Mugisha Muntu and party strongman, Nandala Mafabi, Mugisha Muntu, the National Youth Leader, Innocent Ayo, made this point to The Independent. “If the youth had not acted maturely, if they had chosen to take sides,” Ayo said, “the party would have fallen apart.”
In the ruling party, where President Yoweri Museveni and former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi are flexing political muscles, the youths support has become critical.
A smart duo, Mbabazi and his wife, Jacklyne Mbabazi sought to upstage Museveni by first infiltrating the party youth league with a single message; “your time has come to take the leadership mantle”.
Museveni’s supporters responded by accusing the Mbabazi’s of attempting to incite the youth against President Museveni.
But in response, youth MPs; Evelyn Anite (Northern region), Patrick Nakabale (Central) and Peter Ogwang are now the lead dogs in the pack against fellow youth like Adam Luzindana and Julius Omodo Omodo who lead the Mbabazi support camp within NRM. The two sit on the 12 member party youth body, chaired by Denis Namara, the presidential advisor on Youth Affairs, who also often supports Mbabazi.
The other members include; the General Secretary, Robert Rutaro , the Nakawa representative Patrick Kaahwa, Karamoja’s Peter Peex,Western region’s Justus Nuwagira , Deputy General Secretary, David Kisoro, Eastern region’s Moses Kiwanuka, Buganda’s William Seruyinda, Norah Akwir, Edwin Agaba and Alex Kaweesa.
Initially, it was only Nuwagira and Rutaro that were well known to be in the pro-Museveni group. But seven members appear to have switched sides and appear to have given the Museveni an edge in the NRM leadership. With the party slated to hold a National Conference meeting on Dec.15, the battle over youths is just beginning in the ruling party, insiders say.
The pro-Mbabazi youths, who formed a group called the NRM Poor Youth, say they are working clandestinely.
FDC’s Kikonyogo says to lure the youth; the politicians are buying their loyalty with money.
“The fact that most of the youths today are looking at making quick money plays into that strategy,” he says.
Museveni has been criticised since he gave youths in Busoga a sackful of money at a public function.
But Ayo says the influence of money is overrated. He says those who take money from Museveni “are just there to only eat”.
“If money was that important how come we [FDC] have captured almost all institutions of higher learning?” he asked.
He says the youth are organised in platforms like the Interparty Youth Platform which brings together youth leagues of seven political parties including NRM, the Allied Youth, and Unemployed youth.
“All these platforms are looking at the youths interests and pushing for change. That change is coming, it can’t be stopped.”
One of the most vocal MPs, Denis Hamson Obua, the 34-year old Ajuri County legislator, in turn says “those who claim to support Mbabazi are pretenders and time wasters”.
“Given the state the opposition is in, you would rather stay in the NRM and make your contribution there. That is why Museveni has already won the youth vote.”
Museveni has also increasingly appointed youth into critical position. Although, senior positions in cabinet are still held by senior citizens, behind them are troops of young people moving things. This is most visible in the army and police.
Denis Namara, 31, the NRM Youth league chairman, who also doubles as the President’s advisor on Youth Affairs, says Museveni has wooed the young people through their parents, “who understand the achievements of the NRM”.
“Even though there are issues like unemployment,” Namara says, “the NRM is still in position to beat the opposition on the youth vote because despite the visible challenges, the peace and security the current government has established makes it certain for the youth to survive and even be able to work and make money.”
Namara stirred debate amongst youth circles when he told a recent heated meeting of the ruling party’s executive organ, the Central Executive Committee (CEC), that youths are tired of hearing the story of “the bush war” that Museveni and the older generation fought to “liberate Uganda” in the early 1980s. He told them it is not relevant to youth.
In an interview with The Independent, Namara explained that he told them that because “it is the truth”.
“While we appreciate the sacrifices that these people made, the issues we are confronted with today are about securing our future,” he said.
Namara’s message resonates with young intellectual types like Stephen T. Kamurari, a young Havard trained lawyer who says the old-guard are driven by opportunism.
“They are incapable of causing any change,” he says.
“We are now ready for take-off; to be in position to address the real issues that we are confronted with like unemployment, education, health and others,” he says. Kamurari says youth are critical because leaders like Museveni and even Barack Obama of the U.S. took power when they were below 50.
For Kamurari, any one serious about mobilising the youth around what matters to them, will have to do it outside the current political establishment– something that can start now and set the stage for 2021. In all this talk, the issue of youths taking up guns to fight Museveni never comes up. But that too, in a way is typical; smart guerrillas rarely announce when they are to strike.