By The Independent Team
Northern and Luwero war
Will UPC departure boost or weaken IPC?
When Olara Otunnu returned to Uganda in December 2009 after 23 years in exile, many political analysts predicted that his entry would boost the opposition interparty cooperation, which was then a few months old. The analysts projected Otunnu as a conciliatory man who would unite the warring UPC factions and rally various political players together. Despite a few skeptics who doubted he would bring any serious value to Uganda’s politics, a good majority felt he was not a power hungry man, which made him the perfect match to work with FDC president Kizza Besigye to form a resilient opposition against President Yoweri Museveni and the NRM. In 2009 The Independent ran a story titled: Gambling on Otunnu; will he make or break the opposition?’ (Issue 074, August 21-27, 2009). In the story analysts added that Otunnu’s international stature and network would broaden the sources of funding for the opposition and put pressure on Museveni to ensure democratic elections. Indeed, it was a gamble as it was called.
The UPC walkout of IPC on August 30, 2010, shows that the analysts had gotten their predictions wrong. Not only has Otunnu failed to work with the rest of the opposition and especially Besigye, he has also failed to exert any tangible pressure on Museveni to accept electoral reforms, which include changing of the current Electoral Commission.
Before Otunnu returned to Uganda, a number of meetings were held in and outside Uganda to discuss a possible united opposition cooperation against Museveni. The cooperation would comprise Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC), JEEMA, Conservative Party and Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), which had representation in parliament (with the exception of the Social Democratic Party which joined recently). One of the meetings was held in Jinja and chaired by a renowned Kenyan lawyer and political consultant, Erastus wa Mugo. Later the cooperation deal was brokered. Under the spirit of cooperation, the committee that steered Otunnu’s was comprised of members from other cooperating opposition parties like FDC. The steering committee chaired by Moroto MP Benson Obua Ogwal (UPC), also included FDC’s Salaam Musumba and Jack Sabiiti and DP’s Dr Obonyo. This membership was meant to reflect a national character and the bipartisan significance of his return. It was aimed at showing government that Otunnu, who it was widely believed would be arrested on arrival at Entebbe, had support of all major opposition parties.
On Aug 28, 2010 the IPC convened an emergency meeting on its Katonga Road offices in Kampala to iron out their differences with UPC and keep the political alliance together. By that time the IPC national conference to elect a joint presidential candidate for 2011 had already been postponed three times at the behest of UPC. After the meeting, Otunnu and Besigye told journalists outside the venue that their discussions had been cordial but there was nothing conclusive on whether UPC would remain in IPC. Asked this question, Otunnu said he would give his position after consultation with the UPC party executive. On Aug 30, the final day of the deadline for UPC to nominate its candidate for the IPC flag bearer, Otunnu announced that his party had pulled out of the opposition cooperation. The IPC proceeded with the conference and elected Besigye as their joint presidential candidate.
Otunnu alleged that IPC had abandoned the original objective to shun the electoral process until President Museveni disbanded or reconstituted the Electoral Commission. He also accused FDC of hijacking and dominating the IPC process and acting in bad faith. The other IPC members counter-accused UPC of betrayal and presenting unrealistic demands to undermine the opposition’s cause.
Otunnu’s position was that since the IPC had agreed to reject the EC, it must also reject to participate in any election activity under the roadmap of the current Electoral Commission. The other IPC parties CP, JEEMA, SDP and FDC, rejected his position.
Besigye admits that IPC agreed on fighting for free and fair elections and cooperating in elections when it was formed, but that it would be done concurrently.
‘Our disagreement with UPC was on the side of elections’whether we should proceed to prepare ourselves for elections on the timelines issued by the discredited national Electoral Commission,’ Besigye told The Independent. ‘UPC suggested that we ignore the EC timelines and focus on free and fair elections. We were not of the same view. We said even if we must boycott the election, we must prepare for that election but must not make that decision now. We stressed that we need to participate in an election organised by an independent EC that has a clean voters’ register. We said that we can continue fighting for an independent EC and free and fair elections.’
Several sources in IPC share the same position. They concur that they agreed to reject the EC and continue mounting pressure to ensure it does not preside over the 2011 elections, but did not decide on the election boycott. That option would be considered towards the elections after assessing the prevailing situation. They say that Otunnu is now presenting it as if it had been decided.
Political analysts say that boycotting elections only helps to send the opposition into further background. Looking at examples of Burundi and Sudan where the main opposition boycotted the elections but had no ultimate critical effect, analysts say it would not be a wise political strategy to take. They say that even if the IPC were to boycott the 2011 elections, it would be too early to do that now.
FDC’s Deputy Secretary for Research Augustine Ruzindana agrees with this view. He says that under the same EC roadmap, the opposition had elected their grassroots structures and urged voters to register. ‘Then how do you turn around and say you are now rejecting the roadmap? People will not take you serious,’ says Ruzindana. He also contends that even if they were to boycott the elections, they must first have structures because you cannot boycott an electoral process you are not involved in.
Suspending all election activities until EC is disbanded would put the opposition in a very complex position. ‘Suppose you refuse to elect your candidates or put in place campaign structures and the nomination period closes, then Museveni decides to reconstitute the EC and asks you to nominate your opposition representatives to the new Commission,’ one analyst questioned. ‘What do you do?’
It would also be too late for parties to call the delegates conferences to elect their candidates and Museveni would have beaten them at their own game.
According to inside sources, Otunnu had told IPC that boycotting the electoral process would cause a crisis and force Museveni to accept changing the EC. He said they would then resume the electoral process and the elections would be postponed to a convenient date. The source also said the elections do not have to be held in February or March.
However, in the present circumstance postponing the election can happen in fact, it cannot happen in law. It would require a constitutional amendment that would take a long and rigorous process. The constitution provides that the presidential elections shall be held within the last 90 days to the end of the term of the sitting president.
The UPC friction seems to have started long ago. According to inside sources, UPC initially wanted the IPC structure to remain only at national level, not to extend down to the district. But the other members refused and UPC finally yielded. But when the IPC called for the first national conference to elect the joint flag bearer on June 29, UPC asked for a postponement claiming it had not set up its grassroots structures. Yet UPC had held its national delegates conference three months before in March, which was attended by party members from the district committees. This puzzled the IPC, but nevertheless they accepted to postpone the conference to Aug 23 to accommodate UPC’s concerns.
When Aug 23 arrived, UPC said it was not yet ready and asked that the conference to elect the joint flag bearer be suspended indefinitely. The IPC was puzzled about UPC’s plans. Nevertheless, it proceeded to elect their respective candidates for the joint flag bearer’s position. FDC elected Besigye, SDP named Michael Mabikke, CP picked Prof. James Kigongo and JEEMA nominated Kyanjo. But the IPC again extended the deadline for nomination to Aug 30 to give UPC one more chance, which never came after UPC announced its ultimate decision to quit the alliance.
Strangely, sources inside UPC say that the party had never supported the idea of fronting a joint presidential candidate. They say that in March during the UPC National Council meeting leading to the Otunnu’s election to the helm of UPC, 86 members voted against having a joint IPC candidate, while only 40 supported the idea.
‘We never wanted to front a single candidate for the IPC but work together with the other parties in the IPC to fight the bad electoral laws and then move ahead with our party identity,’ a source close to Otunnu said. ‘We wanted to test our strength on the ground. Otunnu has helped implement this rejection by the National Council of the single IPC candidate. However a few individuals within the party continued pushing for what UPC had rejected.’
Sources say that UPC could only agree to a joint candidate if he/she was from the UPC. They would not accept anything short of that. This group argues that UPC has been allying with other parties and this was the party’s turn. They cite 1996 when UPC supported DP’s Paul Ssemogerere for presidential elections and 2001 when they supported Kizza Besigye under Reform Agenda (which merged with others to form FDC).
However, FDC sources dismiss this claim. They say that although prominent UPC members supported Besigye in 2001, they did it as individuals. They argue that in fact UPC had a candidate, Aggrey Awori who has since defected and is Minister for ICT in Museveni’s cabinet.
Sources say the UPC chairman, Edward Rurangaranga, had told Otunnu to convince the IPC to choose him as the joint flag bearer, a mission he seems to have failed to accomplish. Going by this information, it would mean that all along UPC has not been party to the IPC and was destined to jump ship any time.
Salaamu Musumba, the FDC Vice chairperson for Eastern Uganda, dismissed UPC’s claims that FDC had hijacked the IPC and was not acting in good faith. ‘I have been in most of the meetings and such was never brought up,’ Musumba charges. ‘If it was brought up we would have gladly debated the issue. The UPC people have betrayed Ugandans and they have to account to them; at what point were we not transparent, at what point were we acting in bad faith?’
Besigye echoes Musumba’s words. ‘Not at anyone time had they told us they had issues with the way the IPC was being run except at the last minute,’ said Besigye, ‘We had had a cordial relation with UPC right from the start of IPC in 2008.’
He said UPC raised the issues of lack of transparency, FDC dominating IPC activities and acting in bad faith only recently. He said that even then meetings were held and the matters were resolved. ‘We came to the conclusion that the accusations lacked merit,’ Besigye told The Independent.
The fallout between UPC and IPC seems to vindicate the critics and pessimists who stated earlier that the alliance would collapse because it was not based on concrete agenda other than to remove Museveni from power.
Rubaga North MP, Beti Kamya, who has since fallen out with the FDC party on whose ticket she was elected, blames the UPC-IPC fallout on failure to have a roadmap of how Uganda’s leadership will change and be different from Museveni’s.
Kamya says the opposition’s biggest advantage is that ‘people are yawning for change’ but the IPC has not offered the change the people want. She says IPC has suffered the same fate of the past coalitions such as KY-UPC and UNLF which were formed around removing individuals and did not survive long thereafter because there was lack of common ideology to keep them together.
Besigye and Salaamu refute this accusation. They hold that ideology would not mean much as long as Museveni is still president.
‘Lukyamuzi believes federal is the answer for Uganda’s problems, but Besigye believes the problems can be addressed by the central government and federal can be given to Buganda only,’ Kamya reiterates. ‘When they get to power it is such differences in ideology that will create disagreements and eventual collapse of the alliance government.’
‘Those who say we have no ideology are saboteurs. What ideology does NRM have for endemic poverty, corruption, collapsing health care, education, potholed roads? If you can’t get Museveni out of government, no ideology can go through,’ Musumba shoots back. She says those claiming IPC has no ideology are saboteurs.
‘Those who say we have no ideology are either NRM people or lazy people who simply listen to NRM dominated media. Anybody who has attended our rallies knows that is not true,’ says Besigye. ‘Since 2001 NRM has been copying what is in our manifesto, the reforms in the health and pension sectors are what we have been saying since and they are going ahead to do them.’
In regard to UPC’s allegation that FDC was electing local committees in the name of IPC, Besigye says: ‘We discussed all these and concluded that there was no merit in them. The committees were being formed by zealous people without the knowledge of the headquarters and we resolved that their formation had to stop.’
Besigye castigates UPC for alleging that FDC was dominating the process and lacked transparency. ‘We are not dominating IPC as FDC. The women’s demonstrations against the EC are by IPC and all parties are supposed to participate and no women from other parties were stopped. All they (UPC) did was nothing but mere words that we need an independent EC. Words cannot change much, we need action.’
Writing in The Observer last week IPC publicist Ibrahim Ssemujju expressed the same position. He said that while UPC might genuinely believe the FDC is using the IPC to strengthen itself, UPC must also accept its weaknesses. ‘Take, for example, the demonstrations we have been holding against the Electoral Commission. While the FDC leaders will arrive at the venue ahead of time, the UPC leaders will have kept monitoring the progress on cellular phones,’ he wrote.
The Independent has learnt from sources inside UPC and FDC that another point of departure between UPC and IPC resulted from Otunnu calling for a ‘truth telling and accountability’ mechanism to be adopted as an election campaign issue. The other IPC parties perceived Otunnu’s statement as a call on the members to adopt the position that there has been genocide going on in the north and to apportion responsibility of the mass civilian killings in the Luwero Triangle to Museveni’s 1981-86 NRA rebellion. The other IPC members rejected his call. It posed a risk of resurrecting rage among the population especially in Buganda, which would be counter-productive and politically fatal to the opposition. Saying there has been genocide in the north would also backfire on the opposition as the government could easily turn the population against the IPC saying they have been supporting the LRA rebels that have terrorised the northern region for two decades. It would spark more rage than support among the masses.
The IPC consequently threw out Otunnu’s proposal. Yet it’s an issue Otunnu and UPC hold deeply in their hearts. Otunnu confirms this during an interview with The Independent and admits it was one of the key reasons why UPC and IPC parted ways.
The second reason for the fracture, explains Otunnu, relates to the issue of truth telling and accountability. ‘In UPC we feel strongly about it,’ he says. ‘And as I keep telling the nation, our preoccupation with truth telling and accountability is not about retribution and revenge. No amount of retribution can compensate for the unbelievable suffering visited on the Ugandan community. There is no way this country can move into an era of healing and reconciliation without going through truth telling and accountability.’
Otunnu says that this issue continues to be a deep wound festering on the side of Uganda`s body politic. ‘For this nation to be whole again, to be reunified, we have to address this truth telling and accountability. We are very concerned that throughout this period, when we have been speaking on this, insisting on it, our partners in IPC have been conspicuously silent€¦ It is my insistence on pursuing this issue that led to the response ‘we will crush you’ from [Gen. David] Tinyefuza.’ (see full interview on page 14 and UPC stalwart Okello Lucima’s commentary on page 23)
The public may perceive UPC’s departure as a sign that the opposition has weakened. The UPC fallout may also reflect badly on the opposition and reflect them as a disorganised lot consumed by infighting. To that extent it will hurt the opposition standing in the public.
Former Minister for Cooperatives in the Obote II government and UPC member Yona Kanyomozi says it was a big mistake for UPC to quit IPC. However, his concern is not that UPC exit will hurt IPC’s strength, but rather that the UPC will be the biggest loser. ‘Otunnu should have stayed in the IPC. This is the only way UPC would have recovered ground from the demonisation Museveni visited onto it,’ Kanyomozi says.
However, what also cannot be ignored is that the presence of UPC in the IPC could have substantially damaged the opposition in areas where UPC or Otunnu are hated.
There is information that the anti-Otunnu following in Lango would prevent them from voting for the IPC. To that extent, the UPC departure was a huge boost to IPC.
This view is held strongly by several senior IPC officials who intimated to The Independent in confidence.
They say it’s a great relief that UPC left the alliance. They say many voices in IPC had been worried the UPC presence in their ranks, which could hurt the opposition votes in Buganda and western Uganda where UPC is not popular on account of its past. In Buganda there is a general anti-UPC feeling arising from the events of the 1966 when the Obote government invaded Buganda Kingdom’s palace and forced the Kabaka into exile.
This fear was also expressed by DP President Norbert Mao shortly after his election in February this year. He said IPC would find it hard to market itself to the electorate especially in Buganda and particularly in Luwero. Mao said this was one of the reasons why his party was reluctant to join IPC.
There is a similar feeling about UPC in western Uganda but for slightly different reasons. In the west, UPC is perceived to have been harsh especially to its opponents during its time in power. Most of the former UPC opponents are now either NRM or FDC supporters.
Museveni and NRM also could use the partnership with UPC to demonise IPC in Buganda and the west as was the case during the 1996 and 2001 elections when many prominent UPC officials supported DP’s Paul Ssemogerere and Kizza Besigye respectively. At public rallies and in the media Museveni would castigate DP for hobnobbing with ‘past killers’ to stoke up anti-Ssemogerere emotions among the voters especially in central and western Uganda.
The sources say that the departure of UPC has left IPC with dominant Buganda voices in its ranks and thus could make mobilisation in Buganda much easier and leaving the IPC image in the west stainless.
The SDP, CP and JEEMA, three of the four remaining parties in IPC, are Buganda-based. Ssuubi 2011, a Buganda political pressure group comprising monarchists like former Katikkiros Semwogerere Mulwanyamuli and Muliika, has also joined them. Analysts say this gives IPC a strong Buganda voice which would be seen as representative of Buganda’s interests such as a federal system and return of the kingdom’s property. They believe this could galvanise voters and tilt the balance of Buganda’s support in favour of the opposition. A federal system and return of the kingdom’s property have been thorny issues between Buganda and the NRM government. But is this enough to hand the IPC victory?