By Andrew M. Mwenda
Although NRM seems to be in disarray, there appears to be nowhere to turn for an alternative
Last week, the wrangles inside the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM), hit an all-time high. Mrs. Jacqueline Mbabazi, the chairperson of the party’s Women’s League said NRM had been taken over by fascists who are now witch-hunting her husband, the party’s Secretary General and our nation’s Prime Minister, Amama Mbabazi. This is the second time a top serving NRM leader gives us their view of the quality of persons in charge of our country. The first time was in 2005 when then Vice President Gilbert Bukenya said the party was controlled by a mafia. Incidentally, Mbabazi was among people Bukenya accused of being part of the mafia. Is the current factional infighting within NRM between the mafia and the fascists?
There was a grain of truths in Mrs. Mbabazi’s accusations. Youthful NRM Members of Parliament (MPs) were let loose on Mbabazi. During an NRM Caucus meeting at State House Entebbe, these youthful MPs were yelling at their party’s SG and our nation’s Prime Minister as if he was a little schoolboy or a common criminal. They shouted him down and literally read him the riot act. I have never understood practical politics or the internal dynamics of NRM. But I feel that whatever wrong Mbabazi did, treating him with such levels of disrespect given his seniority in the party and country was beneath contempt. It sets a stage on how even leaders like President YoweriMuseveni would be treated were he to lose power.
Yet it would be wrong to assume that this conduct is only restricted to the NRM. It is common in opposition ranks and seems to be a political culture in Uganda that has evolved over the years. Therefore, although NRM seemed to be in disarray as it has always seemed, there was nowhere many could turn for an alternative. The very forms of extremist political infighting inside NRM are alive and worse in our opposition parties where any difference of opinion is criminalised. There cannot be meaningful debate within the opposition to correct internal weaknesses and adopt a different strategy.
Over the years, the opposition has grown intolerant as well. For many in the opposition, Museveni is a thug whose only job over the last 28 years has been to systematically destroy the country. They also believe that he is bitterly hated by the vast majority of Ugandans and therefore stays in power by repression and fraud. So anyone who argues that Museveni has many achievements to his credit, that a significant cross-section of the electorate continue to support him; that opinion polls show that a large number of Ugandans say they support NRM, then such a person has been bought by Museveni. This accusation has scared many leaders of the opposition with a more realistic approach to our politics. So they have gone silent; afraid that being realistic about the situation will lead to accusations of having been bought.
In essence, it is not Museveni who is compromising our opposition politicians but the extremists in these parties. Thus, as the mafia and fascists consolidate in NRM, their carbon copies have taken charge of the opposition, especially the FDC. The opposition in Uganda can never take advantage of the internal weaknesses inside NRM unless it conducts a brutal internal self-examination and a painful external examination of Museveni’s performance. Museveni has many achievements to his credit and equally many failures. The challenge is how to craft a message that acknowledges his accomplishments and shows how to transcend them while exploiting his failures to make inroads.
For example, Kizza Besigye (now supported by Gen. David Sejusa aka Tinyefuza) has been claiming that he won the elections in 2001, 2006 and 2011. If Besigye believes these delusions, he is unlikely to build support because he assumes the entire country is behind him. He mistakes his personal feelings and judgment of Museveni to be shared by the majority of Ugandans. So deeply entrenched is this belief, and tragically so, that in 2010/11, he campaigned on the platform of “change is coming” assuming that people want change. Yet in all opinion polls, voters were expressing apprehension about change, fearing that it may stimulate civil strife.
If Besigye and his ilk had listened to the voters, rather than to their own delusions, they would have crafted a campaign that dealt with this fear. Besigye could have used his military record to argue that he has historical connections with the key players in the military establishment and equally a rich experience in matters of security. This therefore, he would have said, gives him credentials to manage a peaceful transition. Equally, if Besigye were not deluded, he would not have claimed to have established “vote-protection-brigades” to protect votes he did not have. He would have established “vote-mobilising-brigades.”
The extremists of the opposition have been Museveni’s trump card. They have alienated many Ugandans who, skeptical about NRM, have withdrawn from politics. In an Afrobarometer survey of 2011, NRM’s support had declined from 63 percent to 47 yet support for DP and UPC also went down while that of FDC increased from 13 to 15 percent. If you consider a margin of error of plus or minus two percent, FDC did not grow. Equally, in 2011, only 58 percent of registered voters voted. Museveni got 68 percent of the 58 percent, which was actually 38 percent of the registered voters. Can these extremists explain why the 42 percent did not vote? And whatever reason kept them home, how can they be mobilised to vote?
Why did Besigye get 82 percent in Lira in 2006 against Museveni’s 12 percent and yet in 2011, Museveni got 63 percent in Lira and Besigye only 13 percent. If Museveni rigged, what made it possible in 2011 that had failed him in 2006? Or what had FDC done right in 2006 but did wrong in 2011? In 2010, NRM mistreated many of its aspiring MPs in its party primaries. None of them quit the party to join the opposition. All of them, without a single exception, ran as independents. Yet in 2000 and 2003, the vast majority of those who left NRM joined Reform Agenda and later PAFO (which became FDC). Why was the opposition still an unattractive destination for NRM dissenters? Why has FDC now become toxic?