By Agather Atuhaire
Why experts want both Besigye and Mbabazi to contest
Journalist Daniel Kalinaki starts his book titled, Kizza Besigye and Uganda’s Unfinished Revolution with an April 2011 meeting between former FDC President Kizza Besigye and Western donors and diplomats. At the meeting, the author says Besigye was scolded and humiliated and accused of failing to build a party, to write manifestos and propose alternative policies. “Besigye’s brash and aggressive style had never really endeared him to the West,” Kalinaki says. “Many Western observers accused him of being populist and confrontational rather than rational and persuasive. That meeting arguably marked the end of Besigye as a ‘formal’ opposition politician.”
That depiction would come back to haunt Besigye four years later as sources say the leaders of The Democratic Alliance (TDA) are not in favour of his candidature because the donors seem hesitant to fund the Opposition when he is fronted.
TDA is a loose alliance that brings together opposition political parties, pressure groups and individuals who are opposed to President Yoweri Museveni and his NRM government.
Faced with that challenge, the architects of TDA had to get another strong candidate that will be agreeable to the donors. Apart from an FDC candidate, another Presidential aspirant that has been seen to be a heavy weight in next year’s race is former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi.
Although Mbabazi had been sending representatives to the Alliance’s meetings, he had neither officially joined the alliance nor signed their protocol.
When he, for the first time appeared at the Alliance’s headquarters in Naguru on Sept. 03, he expressed disagreements with some of the provisions of the protocol, proposed its amendment and asked for more time to study the protocol and come back later for nomination.
The alliance’s leadership then moved the deadline for nomination from Sept. 05 to Sept. 10.
Mbabazi then hit the road for his consultations in Eastern Uganda where some of the TDA leaders are said to have followed him to persuade him to join the race.
At that point, the race had only Pressure for National Unity group’s Prof. Gilbert Bukenya, DP’s Nobert Mao and Besigye who was nominated on Sept. 09.
Mbabazi sent his lawyers on Sept. 10 to ask the alliance to give him a two-week extension.
At that point, Besigye was already becoming jittery. He suspected something wasn’t right. The alliance wouldn’t continue bending rules for Mbabazi when it could easily select him – arguably the strongest opposition candidate.
He had already started persuading his party to withdraw from the alliance. He and his supporters argued that the Alliance lacked the competence of transparently selecting a suitable candidate.
At a press conference on Sept. 10, Leader of Opposition Wafula Oguttu, who doubles as the Alliance’s spokesperson, had contradicted the Alliance’s Director Zac Niringiye on the issue of Mbabazi.
While Niringiye insisted that they were sure Mbabazi would be nominated, Oguttu stated that someone who wasn’t a member of the alliance didn’t have a right to demand that the alliance’s protocol be amended.
“How can someone who is not a member of an organization demand that its constitution be amended?” He asked. “You first become a member and then make suggestions.”
A source at FDC said the party was already sensing foul play. Party President Mugisha Muntu, being the calm democrat that he is, didn’t want to act drastically by pulling out of the alliance.
The party however took a decision that the FDC candidate must be in the next year’s race whether chosen by the Alliance or not. But that would be going against the Alliance’s Protocol, which requires all candidates to pledge to support and campaign for the candidate that the Alliance has selected as the flag bearer.
“That’s just a paper,” said a source at the party who didn’t want to be named. “For us our position as the party is that we must have a candidate in next year’s election.”
The source says the party believes that their candidate is the most suitable one. He says Mbabazi hasn’t done enough to prove his commitment to the opposition and that he could still be working for Museveni.
“What if Mbabazi pulls out of the race midway?” He asked, “Then we leave Museveni to contest against Abed Bwanika and Baryamureeba?”
These are indeed the concerns of most opposition members considering that Mbabazi is still a registered member of the NRM party.
But the leaders of TDA don’t seem to be bothered by those concerns. They finally nominated Mbabazi at 10 pm on Sept. 11 after failing to beat two more extensions that had been made in his favor.
Besigye said during his party’s press conference that Mbabazi was being disrespectful of the alliance and its timelines. He wondered why it would take the latter that long to sign nomination forms when they were both at the alliance headquarters for the first time on the same day.
“You all well know that the first time Mbabazi appeared at TDA was actually also my first time,” He said. “He was present in the meeting when the TDA timeline was clearly stated. He knew when the closing date would be but he didn’t take action until the last hour.”
But according to sources, the TDA leaders who are in favour of Mbabazi don’t mention the donor factor. They argue that Mbabazi has something new to bring to the table unlike Besigye who has contested and lost to President Museveni thrice.
They also think Mbabazi might come with some of the NRM party supporters.
One of the top leaders of the alliance who is said to openly support Mbabazi says Mbabazi has the capacity to convince the ruling party members to vote for change, which he says Dr. Besigye lacks.
There are people within NRM, he argues, that would vote Mbabazi against Museveni but would never vote Besigye. This, he reasons, is because those people fear that a Besigye presidency would make them lose everything but look at a Mbabazi presidency as some sort of continuity.
As FDC and Besigye insist on contesting even if TDA doesn’t select him as the opposition’s joint candidate, observers say Mbabazi won’t give it up if he is not selected either.
They say that Mbabazi has already given up everything to challenge his erstwhile ally-Museveni and will not be easily talked out of having his name on the ballot paper.
Some say the crowds he got at his first consultation meetings in Mbale and Kapchorwa before Police suppressed them must have given him the confidence that he actually stands a chance to unseat Museveni.
Political analysts skeptical
Makerere University historian Mwambutsya Ndebesa says there are already concerns on whether TDA can deliver the change that many Ugandans are desperate for.
He says their approach has not helped matters and that the way they have shown preference for Mbabazi left many of its members suspicious.
He says however that a successful campaign against Museveni’s regime doesn’t have to be fought by one person.
“The Pan-Africanists say, ‘one struggle, many fronts’” says Ndebesa. “Since Mbabazi and Besigye have different approaches, one might want to engage both of them and see which one will be successful.”
Ndebesa says having to choose between both men wouldn’t be an easy task. He thinks both men bring different contributions to the race.
“If TDA selected Besigye, how will they get members that would follow Mbabazi from the NRM?” He asks. He also wonders what would happen to Besigye’s supporters and FDC which is the biggest opposition party if the alliance selected Mbabazi.
“You have to remember that TDA is not a legal entity,” he adds, “if it selects Mbabazi he will be running as an Independent, if it selects Besigye he will be running as the FDC flag bearer because the Electoral Commission doesn’t recognise TDA.”
Ndebesa’s view seems to confirm recent studies that have shown that both Besigye and Mbabazi need to be in the race to slash Museveni’s vote haul.
The argument is that Mbabazi would eat into Museveni’s votes and Besigye will keep the staunch supporters of the FDC that wouldn’t trust someone that has recently defected from NRM.
But Ndebesa says the alliance might select Mbabazi due to Besigye’s no-reforms-no-elections-stance.
“Besigye says this electoral regime is not acceptable to him,” he says, “Mbabazi and TDA seem willing to participate in the elections under the current political and electoral conditions. They will most likely choose the one who will follow their path.”
Indeed, sources say that the reason the alliance was willing to do anything to have Mbabazi nominated was because they want someone who they are sure would participate in the elections.
Most of the summit members don’t seem to be following Besigye’s approach. The summit, which is mandated to select the alliance’s Presidential candidate, comprises the heads of all the political parties and organizations that are members of the alliance, the secretary generals of these parties and organizations, two representatives of each of the pressure groups or citizens’ formations that are members of the Alliance, and “eminent” Ugandan men and women constituting two thirds of the number of representatives of political parties.
The members of the alliance include; FDC, DP, UPC, JEEMA, CP, PPP, UFA, former Vice President Gilbert Bukenya’s Pressure for Unity and Mbabazi’s NRM pro-change group.
Bukenya has openly said he will not work with anyone who wants to boycott the elections. “I am not a believer in no reforms no elections,” he said. “We shall embark on meaningful reforms after changing the government,” Prof. Bukenya said.
Speaking on a talk show, Uganda Federal Alliance leader Beti Kamya said she has no other need for the alliance other than elections.
“What brings me together with other forces is the election not the campaign for reforms,” she said. “According to Besigye his focus is election after reforms, which view is not viable.”
DP and its President Nobert Mao, who is also in the race, can’t be expected to support Besigye either. Mao has previously described Besigye as ‘an expert in losing.’ He reportedly told his party’s National Executive Committee that they should not support Besigye because he is the one responsible for the factions within DP.
Even some members of FDC’s top leadership do not support Besigye’s approach. In two NEC meetings last week, the members told Besigye that they don’t agree with his stance.
“The majority disagrees with Besigye’s no reforms no elections talk,” said a source. “They think that what he is advocating will not benefit the party in anyway. While Besigye thinks he can mobilise crowds to disrupt the elections, the rest of the members think he cannot out power the State.”
He added, “Those against Besigye’s approach say we are better off participating in the elections and increasing our presence in Parliament and other positions than not having anything at all.”
But with the pressure that is mounting, FDC might not wait to see the candidate that the Alliance will select on Sept. 18.
Rukiga County MP Jack Sabiiti has officially petitioned the party’s leadership to have the party’s membership in the Alliance “reviewed.”