Serunkuma: Most of the NUP leaders are inexperienced, and most of them generally broke, and seeking to build their personal lives
ANALYSIS | BAKER BATTE | It is almost 10 months since the 2021 general elections were held, bringing back to power the leader of the National Resistance Movement-NRM party Yoweri Kaguta Tibuhaburwa Museveni.
But as Museveni and the NRM continue basking in glory having won the election that many observers have billed as the most violent in Uganda’s history, the runner-up Kyagulanyi Robert Ssentamu and his nascent party the National Unity Platform-NUP are still at crossroads; not sure of which path to take.
Kyagulanyi’s vigorous campaign was hinged on the mantra that it was possible to defeat Museveni in an election, even though those who have challenged Museveni in the past had maintained nobody can defeat him in an election thanks to what they call the unlevelled playing field.
Now 10 months later, NUP seems to be recognizing the wisdom in the advice given to them by those who fought Museveni first. But the question now is, how do they proceed from here? Do they launch an aggressive campaign against the government like Dr Kizza Besigye of the Forum for Democratic Change who contested against Museveni four times or do they hang in there and wait for another round of elections in 2026?
Yusuf Serunkuma, a PhD student at Makerere Institute of Social Research says Kyagulanyi must realize that the more than three million voters who voted for him were never interested in him replacing Besigye as the leader of opposition but rather upstaging Museveni regardless of the means.
“This is why voters voted for him and people with no names, faces or public profiles. They handed him soldiers, not leaders or policy analysts. They should have used their newly acquired fame to organize demonstrations against the state because until the state recognizes that the citizens are capable of more violence, they will not act responsibly,” Serunkuma argues.
However, he adds that 10 months later, NUP as a political party has completed its transformation into another of those easily tamed and manipulatable political parties, a position worse than where the FDC was for 15-years as the leader of the opposition.
“Most of the NUP leaders are inexperienced, and most of them generally broke, and seeking to build their personal lives as was evident when these fellows actually voted overwhelmingly for the deputy speaker. NUP in parliament is bereft of the radical activism that defined their campaigns. They seem to, quote Okot P’Bitek, “to have fallen into things and are now eating meat from the chests of bulls and their wives are growing large buttocks while their voters sleep on the same earth, they slept before voting,” Serunkuma says.
Bobi Wine needs a rebrand
For Kyagulanyi, who no longer holds any political office, Serunkuma adds that he must rebrand himself if he is to continue being relevant having failed to deliver on his promise of deposing Museveni.
“There is more to Bobi Wine as an individual, singer and activist; on the activist front, he has the challenge of rebranding himself into the powerful activist of yesterday—building around the singular political challenges of Ugandans, which is overthrowing Museveni, ” Serunkuma says.
He adds that Kyagulamyi has to identify a new method, approach and renew the spirit behind his political agenda. “Starting with his MP electoral victory, he pitched the anti-Museveni fight through the language of getting the national IDs, and reawakening masses to become active political subjects. If he decides to reawaken the singing side of his politics, that is easier, and he better plan enough. As soon as the industry is opened up, he has to find ways of claiming his place,” he adds.
Journalist Andrew Mwenda, a fervent critic of NUP believes both the party and Kyagulanyi have run their race having premised their struggle on a singular aim of ending Museveni’s presidency. In an interview with Uganda Radio Network, Mwenda argued that Kyagulanyi picked political lessons from the wrong people who believe that the only aim for political contestation should be winning political power.
“I have no doubt in my mind that Museveni will run in 2026 and 2031 if he doesn’t die and he will win unless someone organizes a broad coalition against him. I think we should start discussing Uganda beyond Museveni. The problem is that we are so obsessed with Museveni and we miss the fact that we can achieve so many things even when he’s president,” Mwenda said.
He added that if Bobi Wine is ever to keep his base, he has to keep Museveni at a distance and advises that Kyagulanyi should dictate the direction of his political journey which should include engaging Museveni.
Mwenda also believes that it is a lack of strategy to continue challenging Museveni for President because that is the one position that he has concentrated all his resources to protect. Mwenda argues that if the opposition had concentrated on lower-tier positions like Member of Parliament and had required enough numbers maybe Museveni wouldn’t have martialed through the constitutional amendment that lifted a cap on the age required to contest for president in 2017.
But Joel Ssenyonyi, the spokesperson of the National Unity Platform who is also the MP for Nakawa West constituency says that although there is quietness at Kamwokya, the base of their party, this doesn’t in any way suggest that they are doing nothing.
“Not everything we doing we have to call the media because we know the government will clamp down heavily on us. So, there is a place for doing some critical work and I can assure you we are doing it. As far as we are concerned, we have several fronts like parliament which is a very critical front despite the challenges it has,” Ssenyonyi said in an interview with URN.
He however admits that they were never under any illusion that defeating Museveni would be a walk in the park. That’s why, Ssenyonyi says, they will use every opportunity they get including elections to try and push their agenda for change.
On Mwenda’s suggestion that NUP engages Museveni and probably push through their agenda, Ssenyonyi says this is a proposition dead on arrival.
As NUP ponders its next step, other opposition political parties and activists have started meeting in order to agree on a joint agenda on confronting the NRM. These have held now four meetings chaired by Jeema’s Secretary General Muhammad Kateregga.
The meetings have so far been attended by among others members of the Forum for Democratic Change who include its former and current President Dr Kizza Besigye and Patrick Amuriat Oboi respectfully, the Lord Mayor of Kampala Erias Lukwago, Conservative Party President John Ken Lukyamuzi, Social Democratic President Micheal Mabikke, former Presidential candidates, Lubega Mukaaku and Elton Mabiriizi, and former MP Ssempala Kigozi among others.
However, until now, NUP despite agreeing in principle to be part is yet to attend any meeting. One NUP senior member who talked to URN said they believe the loose coalition is an effort to rebrand Besigye.
“We can’t help Besigye overshadow our President. FDC must accept that we are the leaders of the opposition and we must be treated as such” the senior leader who talked to us on the condition of anonymity to speak freely said.
For his part, Ssenyonyi said they welcome any effort of the opposition to working together and at an opportune moment, they will be joining. “We are part of any efforts by the forces of change and there have been many meetings ever since the elections ended. But be sure we are in touch with our colleagues,” Ssenyonyi said.