By Haggai Matsiko
DP President, Norbert Mao spoke to The Independent’s Haggai Matsiko.
Everyone is talking about 2016, what is Mao’s strategy?
I lead the Democratic Party (DP) which is 60-years old this year. We want a Uganda that is united, democratic, and peaceful and that is economically prosperous. We want a country that works for all citizens, we want the rule of law, and we want the protection of individual rights. So our strategy is about public education campaign. In order to get Ugandans to act they must first be woken up. Uganda is suffering from what is called a low expectations syndrome. Ugandans are satisfied with so little not just from the government but even the opposition. So we need a public education campaign and the DP is in a position to champion that.
Now as Norbert Mao, the biggest challenge is healing the divide in the party. But we are trying to deal with this north-south divide. There are those who say, well, we want Museveni to go but we cannot accept someone from the north to be president.
The worst legacy of Museveni is this anti-Nilotic sentiment—a deep seated Anyanya phobia. That is why I am one of those who are very reluctant to preach hatred against either Museveni or his family. Many Ugandans are still waiting for the one thing we have never seen; peaceful change. And that is why DP preaches peace.
Do we see Mao contesting in 2016 to bring about this change?
I am a politician and politicians run for election. Your question should have been `Do you still have any presidential ambitions’? The answer is yes. Are you going to run in 2016? That is another question.
Whose answer is?
The answer is contingent on whether I believe the environment is one that can guarantee free and fair elections. That is the only way I can look at it.
Isn’t such an answer unfair to many of your supporters who are looking to support you in 2016?
We have not said we will not contest. We have said we are going to campaign to make the environment better. It is up to us to demand those better conditions. We are talking as the opposition and we are we are willing to engage the government. We do not want elections that are bogus rituals, we want genuine competition.
What about an ordinary Ugandan, who now no longer has a connection to DP, what are you doing to attract such a person?
What should attract people to the DP is our belief in a country that works and change without bloodshed and our commitment to national healing. Now, given that Uganda has a very young population, the politics that attracts them is the hot-blooded politics of street demonstrations and protests and tough talk even if it is not followed by meaningful action.
Unfortunately, politics goes beyond this reckless tough talk and petty radicalism. I believe that our duty is to explain what will happen in their lives if DP takes power and we are doing that. Our struggle is not against Museveni because Museveni can drop dead tomorrow. We need to present something positive, something that we stand for. We must declare what we want to replace Museveni with. This regime has already collapsed, what we are witnessing is just its staggering.
Some say that seeing Museveni as wholly weak and not being able to pin him on specific weak points, partly explains the failure of the opposition in Uganda?
Our biggest weakness in the opposition is not a wrong assessment of Museveni, I think our assessment of Museveni is right. Where we have been wrong is thinking that we can have a fragmented frontline. Our fragmentation has served Museveni more than anything. I would indeed say that it is not Museveni’s strength that has kept him in power but the weaknesses in the opposition.
On a scale of one to ten, I would say that the repression of the NRM is responsible for only 60% of our wars as the opposition and we are responsible for 40% of our wars.
All liberation struggles have been at great odds. So whether we are talking about [Badru] Kiggundu, whether we are talking about election rigging, whether we are talking about police violence, those are obstacles we must surmount.
So assuming Museveni is adamant and he says Kigundu is not going anywhere, there will be no change in the electoral law, and there will be none of those guarantees we are demanding. Do we now fold our tails and say because the environment is very bad, we are not going to engage?
I do not have a clear idea of how we are going to respond. But we must be creative. If we cannot bring change peaceful, we must consider the option of violent change. After all, it is our country and it is even in the constitution that it is legitimate to resist someone who is breaching the constitution even by violent means.
There is a view that the opposition’s best chance against Museveni is in a single candidate, do you support that view?
A single presidential candidate will unleash the energies of the population. Politics is just like the market. You know if you go to the market, it is Coca Cola versus Pepsi. Now if you are number three, you have a problem. Even for those of us in politics, the market is saturated with Besigye versus Museveni.
Now, a Mao with his brilliant ideas and his youthful energy, a market entry strategy is riddled with lots of obstacles. In my case, I was able to bring in the generational argument. That is why, out of the seven districts we won as the opposition, I won three and Colonel Besigye won four, which is no mean achievement. We must make it easy for the citizens to make a choice.
The opposition has got to present a simple choice by saying all of us are pledging to come together and form a government that for a fixed period will redress the ills of the NRM.
So I take it you are actually for a single candidate?
I have written. I did not refuse to join the IPC because I did not believe in a united front, I just felt that what was being presented as a vehicle, was not capable of a achieving the goal. I thought the design of the IPC was not transparent and even those who claimed to be part of the IPC eventually abandoned it. [Mike] Mabikke eventually became the strongest critic of the IPC. Ambassador Olara Otunnu never even bothered to show up at the primaries of the IPC where the flag bearer was selected. I am a strong believer of a united front. I am a very good follower but I am also a very demanding follower. I was the most reluctant supporter of Col. Besigye, eventually.
Why were you the most reluctant supporter of Colonel Besigye?
I was reluctant because I have always believed that he and Museveni are fingers of the same hand.
Last year you were involved in a kind of war of words with Besigye and a short while ago when you were talking about petty radicalism, you seemed to be referring to him, what exactly is your point of departure?
Our aim is not to annoy Museveni, our aim is to remove him. So if all you are doing is just being an irritant, let me tell you; I believe in protests based on clear articulation of goals. So when I say petty radicalism that is exactly what I mean. When I am in a protest, I do not want to start talking about the torn shoes of the police officer or how his children are sleeping without eating. Or saying he is stupid for allowing to be used. That can make people to miss your main point. And also I think anger begets anger. That is what I call petty radicalism meaning you are spending a lot of energy, radical energy, but the goals are obscure.
If we are going to create a united front, we need a robust debate on methodology and on our message. I can tell you whoever we put as a candidate, can beat Museveni. And we do not have to restrict ourselves to only party leaders. I believe we should open it.
Many would look at your failure to bring back DP colleagues that left and formed Subbi as failure on your part?
We brought back a lot. Dr Lulume Bayigga is moving with us. There are those who play cat and mouse like Betty Nambozze, one minute she is denouncing us, the next minute she is coming to get the party ticket while advising Erias Lukwago not to get the party ticket. I can assure you I have been very conciliatory. I do not agree that we have failed; rather I think that many DP leaders have been gullible. Many of them were gullible to the extent that they thought colonel Besigye was very strong. But he wasn’t strong from day one. He became strong because of the support of the people. So by not supporting me, you cannot strengthen me. Imagine if I had Mathias Mpuuga, Sam Lubega, Erias Lukwago, Betty Namboze. If we failed to remove President Museveni, DP would be the biggest opposition political block in parliament simply because of the political work done by our predecessors because the DP brand is still the strongest brand.
You have said that DP is making 60 years in September. But for a party that old, with a foundation that strong and a support base of the biggest religious group (Catholics) and tribal group (Buganda), to find it struggling, would one be wrong to make an assessment that DP leaders have failed it?
DP has always fought against extreme odds. I have tried to be an inspirational leader that is why we have doubled the number of members of parliament. When I took over as DP leader, DP had seven MPs but today DP has 15 or 16 if you count the EALA one as well. Now you do not do that unless you rebrand the party. As a leader, I do not want to give excuses, I have my own weaknesses. But in a way I am like a guard dog afflicted by fleas, and a dog cannot fight because it is too busy scratching itself. I believe that I have not been given the real chance to lead the DP and that is the chance that I want my fellow DP members to give me now.
But when you look at the UYD, which should be the future of DP, you have had a lot of brushes with them; doesn’t that pose a serious challenge?
At heart, I am a man of peace. I believe in healing, I would like that to be my legacy. The elements in the UYD that have been antagonistic to me; they are the army that got me elected. I mean Vincent Mayanja, Kenneth Kakande, John Mary Sebufu, Sam Muyizi, Brenda Nabukenya. That is my team. My heart bleeds to see that they are the ones now being perceived as my enemies.
Now, we are not young forever, I also joined politics in my 20’s. The UYD issue will be resolved but my worry is we should not go into 2016 when we still have those internal fractures. But at the same time, I cannot compromise on the question of respect for the party constitution.
Rules are made by people and can sometimes be bypassed for the greater good. Have you reached out to these people for the greater good of the DP?
Things would have been worse if I was not conciliatory. Radical members in the party wanted them expelled. I am the one who sat in a meeting with them together with Dr. Ssemogere and said okay let us have give and take. But we must go back to do things right if we are going to renew the leadership of the UYD. I am not a contender, I do not even want to influence who gets elected but let us agree on the rules instead of this handpicking they did.