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Opposition must jump three hurdles – Barya

By Onghwens Kisangala

Dr John Jean Barya, associate professor in the department of public and comparative law at Makarere University, comments on the political events in Uganda in an interview with The Independents Onghwens Kisangala. This is the second in a two-part series.

FDC experienced some internal upheavals in the run-up to its recent delegates conference. Might this be repeated in other parties, particularly NRM?

I dont see any such confusion in the NRM, for two reasons. First, it has never been run as a political party. The leadership, particularly President Yoweri Museveni, does not wish to have a strong and functional party.

The president prefers to act through informal networks, because if the party became strong it would make him accountable. You know very well that the NRM as a party does not hold meetings; the organs do not function at any level. Instead, the president prefers to use informal networks or state structures, like local government, resident district commissioners and intelligence organs, because he has control over them. There are a few top leaders who are strong – because they hold government positions rather than party positions, and are wealthy  and are likely to fight to retain influence, but I dont expect ordinary members of the party to challenge either the president or the secretary general.

What effect do you think the shake-up in parliamentary committees will have on the performance of parliament?

This would matter if Parliament was an important check on the president, but now I don’t think the leadership of those committees is very significant. There are a few exceptions who may have an impact on certain issues, like Nandala Mafabi in the public accounts committee. But even then, as long as the Parliament is made up largely of people who support government, do not expect real changes, in spite of changes in committees.

Will the committee changes have any impact on 2011 polls?

The moves in Parliament are not going to be important. What is going to be important will be what takes place in the political parties and how they position themselves vis-à-vis the electorate: how well organised the party machinery is, whether leaders can raise funding, but above all whether they will be interfered with by the state machinery.

You have reiterated the need for opposition parties to co-operate. But some parties, particularly DP, fear that supporting FDC might eat away its own support. Isnt the high level of organisation that FDC demonstrated at its recent delegates conference going to be even more cause for fear?

I am familiar with this problem from my time in The Free Movement (TFM). It is natural for parties to fear that by cooperating with bigger or more influential parties they may be weakened, but the truth is that they have no alternative. The political landscape is not level for all of the opposition, therefore they must work together to ensure that, for instance, the Electoral Commission is acceptable, that the laws and the institutions governing elections are proper, and that there is no interference from intelligence agencies, the army, or local NRM functionaries or local council leaders. Failure to work together on these issues will ensure that you remain perpetually in opposition. As a party, you may gain a few more supporters, but this will get you nowhere as far as gaining state power is concerned.

My view is that the most important thing now is not whether members within the opposition shift, but whether different parties in the opposition recruit from the government side. Also, other than the FDC, I think most opposition parties are unlikely to see much rise in support, apart from maybe DP in Buganda if it can get better organised.

What is special about the DP?

DP has been able to popularise itself in Buganda mainly because of an association with Mengo, not through independent action. As far as Buganda is concerned, at least, it is how that relationship is managed that will be significant for the opposition. This is the reason Museveni will do everything to make sure he does not lose Buganda; without Buganda he loses elections. The other point is that opposition parties no longer have significant national presence. DP’s base is mainly in Buganda, in fact around Kampala, and the UPC is in Lango I think parties that used to have a national presence face a Herculean task to regain it, faced with a government that rides not on political mobilisation or party structure but rather on state structure, corruption and patronage.

You say that opposition support may not increase significantly nationwide. But FDC particularly would like to think otherwise, especially after assessing their performance in recent by-elections like Busoga.

No  I was saying that the FDC has a bigger chance of mobilising nationally. The other opposition parties are not likely to do so.

Does that mean FDC can boost its popularity between now and 2011?

I think it can, depending on how it manages what I have called that tripartite relationship between itself, DP and Mengo. And also on whether it will have the resources and the human capital to mobilise all over the country something they have been doing more than any other party. But FDC faces three major problems in the run-up to the election: lack of resources, state harassment, and the fact that it does not have a coherent ideological message that can appeal across the nation.

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