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Will Besigye vs Muntu make or break FDC?

By Odoobo C. Bichachi 

Power race heats up in FDC 

Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) secretary for mobilisation Maj. Gen. Mugisha Muntu is challenging Dr Kizza Besigye for the position of party president. Aswa MP Reagan Okumu is itching to take over from Ogenga Latigo as leader of the opposition in Parliament. Bugweri MP Abdu Katuntu is eyeing the chairmanship of the party. Rubaga North MP Beti Kamya has for the last six months disparaged president Besigye, accusing him of being a dictator and a tribalist (read anti-Buganda). Lately she has accused some of her party colleagues of planning to assassinate her. Kampala Woman MP Nabilah Ssempala too has charged her party leaders with being undemocratic and of rigging party primary elections.

Only last month, there was a fist-fight at the party headquarters at Najjanankumbi in Kampala between renegade MP Kamya’s supporters and those loyal to Besigye and the mainstream party. Recent attempts by the party to discipline Kamya and another €˜errant’ MP – Alex Onzima from Maracha in West Nile region – have been rebuffed by the duo without much consequence.

For many Ugandans, therefore, FDC is a party in disarray, consumed by wrangles that may not see it survive as a leading opposition party till 2011, when the country holds its next general elections.

Some fear that the anticipated fights for leadership positions at the Delegates Conference may be the last straw for a party that once galvanised many and was expected to provide a formidable challenge to the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) in 2011.

Naturally, the wrangles have invited gloating from the NRM. David Mafabi, a presidential assistant, told The Independent: ‘FDC will survive but not for long. It can never win any election in this country. They can never defeat the NRM and the NRM will win the 2011 election hands down.’

NRM activist and former director of information Ofwono Opondo too is hardly subdued in his excitement at the wrangles in FDC. ‘FDC is kept together because they hate President Museveni,’ he said. ‘They cannot provide any alternative leadership to Ugandans. It is a party full of people with personal egos. I don’t think they will last long. When you, for example, ask Muntu, what are Besigye’s weaknesses, he says no, let’s talk about Museveni. They are not genuine people. They may survive for some time on the money they get from donors, but by 2011 they will reduce heavily. They are confused. As other parties are organising themselves, FDC is busy fighting. What can their leaders offer Ugandans?’

FDC officials, however, dismiss speculation of imminent fracture, saying that the party is strong and there are no wrangles. ‘These so-called wrangles are all engineered by the government and blown up by the press,’ party spokesperson Wafula Oguttu told The Independent, adding ‘Muntu is running against Besigye because he firmly believes that it’s their failure to challenge Museveni from the very beginning that nurtured his dictatorship.’

But Opondo dismisses such claims. ‘Who has NRM paid to create wrangles? How much? They will say anything to explain their confusion,’ he says.

Until Muntu’s announcement last week that he would challenge Besigye for the party presidency, the question of whether the FDC is on the verge of breaking up was of little interest to the public. As founder president, Besigye has enjoyed super status, providing the moral drive and charisma for the party. His position at the helm was therefore deemed unchallengeable even though there has been speculation by sections of the party that he may give way for another person ‘ Muntu being one of those directly in line. But last year Besigye himself put the speculation to rest, saying he would take another shot at the office.

So with Muntu up against Besigye, and former East African Community secretary general Amanya Mushega and Bugweri MP Abdul Katuntu jostling for a position at the top, will the party end up in tatters after the Delegates Conference – or will it emerge strengthened?

Muntu vs Besigye

So far FDC is downplaying the contest between the two decorated soldiers who have provided the bulwark of opposition to Museveni in the last few years, presenting it simply as a democratic process within the party rather than bitter rivalry.

‘There is no wrangle in FDC or between Muntu and Besigye,’ said Maj. Rubaramira Ruranga, head of the party’s electoral commission. ‘First of all it was agreed in the party that everybody be free to vie for any position. The FDC should not be like the NRM where standing against Museveni for the party presidency is treated as a criminal act. We need to establish a new epoch where leaders compete for the same position without creating enmity against each other. The FDC must have internal democracy before it extends to others.’

Alice Alaso, the FDC Secretary General, echoed Ruranga’s stance. She said there may be internal disagreements among some members, but they do not amount to wrangles.

And this is the line being given by both protagonists. Gen. Muntu told the local press that he and Dr Besigye are both democrats who fell out with Museveni over his failure to follow democracy. ‘We are going to establish values we all believe in and wait for the delegates to decide. This is going to be the first time a top position in the party is competed for. We are going to show the country that it’s possible to have competitive politics and keep harmony in the party,’ Muntu said shortly after announcing his candidature.

Indeed, rather than huff and puff like his nemesis Museveni would do in the NRM, Besigye too is a model of nonchalance.

‘We have a free and democratic process in FDC,’ Besigye said. ‘We didn’t need to have these elections, but we decided to carry them out. This means we’re not afraid of renewing our mandate. There can be changes or some people can retain their offices. I have always said that all offices, including that of the party president, are open. We shall conduct our elections transparently and leave the public to judge us.’

Some have speculated that this contest is a choreographed affair aimed at giving the FDC a fa§ade of democracy. Is this true? Or is it a straightforward do-or-die contest that will define not just the fate of Uganda’s most recognised opposition politician but also the future of the party?

Whatever the motive for the contest, FDC delegates will have to make a choice between the two men ‘ and possibly a third, Katuntu or Mushega. What factors will influence their choice, and which regions will back which candidate?

The simple answer is that Besigye still enjoys broad support across the country and should have no problem in this contest. Buganda and Bunyoro have already said they are backing him. The Buganda group, led by Kampala FDC chairman Livingstone Kizito and Luwero chairman Bwanika Bbale, told journalists at Najjanankumbi last week that they were fully behind Dr Besigye. They argued that Muntu must stand down and give Besigye a chance to finish his term.

This was echoed by Jackson Wabyona, FDC chairman for Hoima district, who said the Bunyoro region would not abandon Besigye for Muntu. He said despite the confusion caused by the resignation of Beti Kamya, Besigye’s popularity in the region was soaring.

Indeed, Besigye seems to have more acceptability across the north and the east than Muntu. Reasons for this include his longer engagement against Museveni, his charisma, and Muntu’s perceived aloofness. Moreover, Muntu is still associated with wrongs committed by the NRA in the regions (Teso and Acholi) while he was army commander.

Be that as it may, Muntu is likely to get support from sections of western and eastern Uganda, especially from late converts from NRM to the opposition, who regard him, rightly or wrongly, as more composed and less angry than Besigye. Muntu will also get support from those who think he would behave more soberly in handling the post-Museveni period, should the party win in 2011. Still, in terms of numbers, these constituencies will hardly deliver a win for Muntu against Besigye.

As for Amanya Mushega, he has not officially announced his candidature but he is reportedly being backed by Richard Kaijuka and Jack Sabiiti, among others. Other sources within FDC, however, told The Independent that Mushega will not run for the presidency but may go for party chairmanship. Whichever way he goes, Mushega is likely to run into a wall, as he has little support outside the west. He has also been shy to show his commitment to FDC publicly, even though he played a key role in its formation, including drafting the constitution. His backers, like Kaijuka, have been quiet in opposition.

In the end, therefore, Besigye will certainly retain his job, despite the motions of competition that the country will be treated to. However, other positions in FDC are likely to see fierce competition and horse-trading between regions and personalities.

Buganda 

After the deaths of Dr. Sulaiman Kiggundu and Vincent Kimera  – national chairman and deputy chairman for Buganda respectively – Buganda’s remaining luminaries in the party are Sam Njuba (deputy president), Yusuf Nsibambi (party lawyer), and Beti Kamy (former special envoy in the FDC president’s office, but now disgraced). It is the attempt, or failure, to replace the former two that is partly responsible for the present FDC friction, with Kamya and some of her followers accusing the party of marginalising Buganda. Kamya wanted to replace the two (see story Genesis of Kamya-FDC rift).

Buganda will therefore look towards being treated well at this Delegates Conference and will be forthcoming with its demands. According to sources within FDC, Buganda wants to keep the position of chairman, and its caucus on Thursday chose Sheik Obed Kamulegeya for the job. While he matches Kiggundu’s attributes as a Muganda and Muslim, he does not match his national and international stature and could therefore be a hard sell. Instead, some delegates from other regions are mooting the name of current deputy president and Kyaddondo North MP Sam Njuba for chairman. To cater for the Muslims, they are proposing Yusuf Nsibambi – who has the additional attraction of youth – as deputy president for Buganda.

Kamya wants the position of gender secretary, but it is unlikely she will get even half of that owing to the ruckus she kicked up in the party and her snuggling with key NRM politicians.

Eastern

Two weeks or so ago, on January 26, as NRM marked its 23rd anniversary in power at Kololo, Bugweri MP Abdu Katuntu convened a meeting of key FDC members in Busoga at Timtom Hotel in Jinja. There he announced his intention to run for president or the chairmanship of the party. The response from the members was muted; there were no ululations. Katuntu has finally zeroed on party chairmanship, but he is unlikely to get support from Busoga, though he could get backing from elsewhere in the east. He is perceived as a good mobiliser – but also as someone who has problems with the truth. Whichever of these factors outweighs the other will largely determine his fate.

Other party luminaries in the east, like current FDC spokesman Wafula Oguttu and vice president Salaam Musumba, have remained ambivalent. Wafula’s name has, however, been mooted by some delegates for the position of vice president (eastern), currently occupied by Phoebe Otaala, who went into hibernation after the appointment of her husband Emmanuel Otaala as State Minister for Health.

Other bigwigs like Elijah Okupa and Nandala Mafabi have positioned themselves for the position of national treasurer, for which they will compete with incumbent Jack Sabiiti. Current secretary general Alice Alaso will, meanwhile, tussle it out with Augustine Ruzindana, Arua Woman MP Christine Baku and Kasiano Wadri.

Northern

The northern region has been the bulwark of opposition and FDC, but two names have defined the party in this region ‘ opposition leader Ogenga Latigo and secretary for foreign affairs Reagan Okumu. The pair have disagreed in public in the past, with Okumu wanting to replace the latter in Parliament. But FDC insists there is no animosity between the two; that any disagreements they have are not personal and are for the benefit of the party.

‘Reagan Okumu has the right to vie for any position, including being the leader of opposition in Parliament [Latigo’s position]. That does not amount to a wrangle. Anybody can vie for that position or any other. Of course, people in any political party may have disagreements here and there but it does not mean a wrangle. People, even in a family, can never think the same or always agree. I don’t know that there is friction between Okumu and Latigo. The disagreements that may exist are normal in any organisation,’ Ruranga told The Independent.

But when The Independent spoke to Okumu on Saturday, he said he is not keen on any position; that instead he is aiming his sights on being the party flag-bearer in the 2011 elections. So Latigo, the vice president (northern), may have no competition for the position.

It is, however, still unclear who will take the position of vice chairman (northern) currently held by Maracha MP Alex Onzima. Onzima has been one of the MPs teetering on the brink of crossing to NRM, and is therefore unlikely to retain any position in the party.

Western

The entry of Mushega and Kaijuka into active FDC politics and the mellowing of money-man Garuga Musinguzi, Jack Sabiiti and John Butime have changed the dynamics of the party in the region. Mushega, who only formally entered the party a few months ago, was thought to be gunning for the presidency, but given Besigye’s solid position and Muntu’s foray, it is unlikely the delegates will entertain another candidate for the job from the west.

Some senior FDC officials are, however, mooting Mushega for the position of chairman. Mushega commands considerable international and national influence, and is capable of fundraising big for the party. He and Kaijuka have been holding informal public political discussions (Ebiganiiro) with elders in their home district of Bushenyi. It’s hard to estimate the inroads the Ebiganiiro have made for Mushega in terms of support. This remains to be seen during the voting in the Delegates Conference.

Sabiiti will naturally try to keep his position of treasurer, while current chairperson of FDC Women League Enid Turinawe is aiming for secretary for women affairs, where she is likely to face no big challenge from the disgraced Kamya.

What it means for 2011

Whichever team emerges after this Delegates Conference, it will not necessarily be the dream team to face Museveni in the 2011 election. Another Delegates Conference next year will choose the presidential candidate – who does not have to be the party president or a member of the executive.

Still, should Besigye defeat Muntu, he will most likely be the presidential candidate. In spite of failing twice to beat Museveni in the rigged 2001 and 2006 elections, Besigye still retains wide appeal across the country.

In fact, according to our sources, a recent meeting in Mbale, chaired by veteran academician and politician Prof. Wadada Nabudere, resolved that Bugisu delegates back Besigye but position Nandala in the executive, so that come next year when the party is choosing presidential candidates he will be in pole position to emerge as Besigye’s running mate. Among the electoral reforms FDC is pushing for is the provision for a running mate, but even if Parliament does not adopt them, FDC will field a two-man team in 2011 and Nandala may be one of them.

Nandala’s presence on the team would be calculated to galvanise the entire east, which has been torn between Museveni and Besigye, by projecting him as next in line for the presidency ‘ a position never held by someone from the east.

But there are several others in the wings waiting to run for president on the FDC ticket, among them Okumu and possibly Muntu and Mushega. Do they have a chance?

-Additional reporting by P. Matsiko wa Mucoori, Steven Kibuuka, Obed K. Katureebe & John Njoroge.

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