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Rebel ghosts haunt DP’s Norbert Mao

His 2021 plan now involves dealing with Mabikke, Bwanika return

Kampala, Uganda | FLAVIA NASSAKA |Michael Mabikke is a distinctive figure in the Democratic Party (DP). Chatty and squat and plumb with mid-age, he recently returned to his “mother party”, DP, after a long sojourn. And that, a DP insider who knows Mabikke well recently told The Independent, means there is trouble ahead for DP.

Apparently, it is a generally held belief within DP that whenever Mabikke shows up at the City House party headquarters in Kampala, it usually signals trouble ahead. So when we met him on Jan.30, we asked him if his recent return to City House, once again spells trouble. He smiled briefly, and then curtly said: “Not this time”.

It had been ten days since Mabikke announced that he had returned after a long sojourn that begun in 2005. Over that period, he had entered parliament as an independent, formed his own party in 2010, attempted to change its name in 2014, was sued, joined an amorphous coalition in 2015, and backed a presidential candidate who flopped in 2016.

Mabikke’s fumbles often happen around national election time. He had left the party in 2005 just before the 2006 national elections after disagreeing with then-DP President General, John Sebaana Kizito. Then, Mabikke said Sebaana Kizito was a conservative who had no space for vibrant members like him. He says the party had sectarian tendencies, and moved at a very slow pace. The 2006 polls were the first election under the multiparty dispensation and DP did not name him its flag-bearer in his Makindye East constituency. So Mabikke ran as an Independent candidate and trounced both the DP and ruling NRM party candidates.

A year to the next election in 2011, Mabikke formed his own party; the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in 2010. He ran for parliament and lost. Then in 2014, two years before the 2016 national elections, he first attempted to change the SDP name to the `Party of National Unity’ and in 2015 switched to join The Democratic Alliance (TDA) coalition with former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi’s Go Forward group.

This time, it appears, he has set his sights on finding significance in the 2021 elections with DP as his base. He announced his return to the DP in the company of another perennial presidential election figurehead, Abed Bwanika; the president of the Peoples Development Party (PDP) who got 0.9% of the vote in the 2016 presidential race – his third attempt. Together, with Mabikke, they believe they are natural leaders of DP; having been founder members of the party youth wing – the Uganda Young Democrats (UYD). That is partly the reason they walked out of DP when, in 2010, Norbert Mao who some consider of lesser DP pedigree won the party presidency at a controversial delegates conference.

UYD regroups

Mabikke says his group has realised that UYD has been around for some time and has groomed leaders who are everywhere – even in the ruling NRM party. For him, that cadreship alone is enough to create change.

In May last year, Mabikke who has struggled for relevance since losing his parliamentary seat in 2011, silently championed a meeting of DP members from across the country. His agenda, he said, was to attract those that had left to return and solve the party’s internal wrangles.

Many defiant DP stalwarts, like Masaka Municipality MP Mathias Mpuuga and Butambala MP Muwanga Kivumbi who have for long been opposed to Mao’s leadership at City House attended the reunion meeting at Makerere University Rugby Grounds in Kampala on Mabikke’s persuasion. Later, in September, another reunion was held in the party stronghold region of Masaka. Opposition politicians from other parties attended but it ended in chaos.

Mabikke says they had planned a number of caravans across the country but were briefly put on hold following the violence in Masaka. Since then, he says, he has been working behind the scenes on his “greater plan” to ensure that come 2021, the opposition gives the ruling NRM a tough defeat.

“Even if we didn’t want to reunite, the circumstances now dictate that,” he told The Independent. In his book, he says, returning to DP is step one to achieving his greater agenda.

Since Mabikke’s departure from the party, many others; especially vocal members of parliament and other politicians either left the party or came up with pressure groups within the party.

Opposition firebrand and Kampala City Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago, Mpuuga, Kivumbi and Mukono municipality MP Betty Nambooze Bakireke in 2011 formed the Ssuubi Coalition with top figures of the Buganda kingdom establishment. They agreed to support FDC presidential candidate Col Dr. Kizza Besigye even when their party, DP, had fielded Norbert Mao.

But Mabikke says those shenanigans are now behind them. This time, come 2021, he and colleagues have thought it wise to reunite.

He says the need for a return to the DP fold was started by deceased Secretary General Mathias Nsubuga in the lead up to the 2016 elections. Nsubuga, says Mabikke, left the work half done and the mantle was handed to Issa Kikungwe who has also since passed on.

When the unity plan was recently reignited, Mabikke says they tested it on the recent by-elections where they resolved to initially lookout for UYD members that are scattered all over.

“We went to Jinja, DP had a candidate but we put our weight behind Paul Mwiru even as his party FDC wasn’t supporting him. In Bugiri, we chose to rally behind JEEMA’s Asuman Basalirwa. In Arua, we decided to back Kasiano Wadri. He wasn’t a UYD but he played a great role in the DP parliamentary caucus,” Mabikke says.

Some cynics would say Mabikke is clinging on other people’s victories, after all success has many fathers.

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