New Vision (Kampala)

Uganda: Mighty Task Ahead for New FDC Boss

Maj.Gen Mugisha Muntu is the new FDC party president. Muntu clinched the FDC presidency by beating his closest opponent Nandala Mafabi by 32 votes. ... ( Resource: Forum For Democratic Change Elects Party Leader in Uganda

When former Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) president Dr Kizza Besigye took on leadership of the opposition party in 2004, anyone realistic enough knew it would be quite a bumpy ride to the top of the country's helm. And sure enough, along the way, he staggered. Now, the same can be said of new party boss, Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu. It just won't be any easier.

Besigye battled futility for victory in three consecutive presidential elections, after which many were left wondering whether the wave of Uganda's top leadership would ever flow in the direction of the main opposition.

The very first time in 2001, the then younger opposition leader failed to beat current president, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, with the losing side crying foul over allegations of an unfair election process. Even still, FDC would later go on to lose to the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party again and again - later in 2006 (his best ever shot at it) and most recently in 2011.

Now, following Thursday's victory in a party election judged 'free and fair' by the election officials, Maj Gen Muntu is well aware of the size of shoes he has stepped in. Extra-large.

His predecessor was not only loved for his charisma and daring personality, but he was also battle-tested. Besigye's daring nature came clearly to light in 2005 when he expressed his desire to and later contested for presidency following four years in exile (South Africa) and two-and-a-half months in jail over treason charges.

Even with that amount of mental exhaustion to contain, the former Uganda People's Defence Force (UPDF) military officer never let the party flag drop. He held on tight, for a campaign against a leadership he way back in 2001 said had gone "incorrigibly off course" and that "someone had to step in and get things back on course".

Among many ventures, he has also dared to oppose the re-introduction of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill into the Ugandan Parliament by NRM Ndorwa West MP, David Bahati. Besigye's stand on the rights of gays in Uganda has inspired clear division among several Ugandans, especially among his political supporters, many of whom have been said to be fully or hesitantly supportive of the controversial Bill.

The Bill aside, 2012, like many other years before it, has been an eventful one for Dr. Besigye. He has had a share of reminiscent running battles with security operatives. He has clashed with police several times at his residence in Kasangati, he has faced off with them in the middle of the city and also out of town.

In fact, one political analyst once said that Besigye and Police will not look eye-to-eye, and that if he ever became the country's president, he would have to flush out the entire police force. Well, politically, such a decision would undoubtedly be unrealistic though.

Besigye may be off the party top seat but he is not gone for good. He has made it clear that he will continue to stand by the party's side and offer whatever guidance and support that will steer his party to political success.

He departs with a place deep in the hearts of many of his supporters who have rallied with him, fallen with him and have also sympathized with him. Many have offered him food stuffs during his rides through the downtown markets, never mind that they stand at a totally different income level with their 'man'.

That's the kind of spirit Besigye has managed to inspire in his supporters. And to take on his place, one has to create such an impact.

'Too quiet for the job':

Thursday's election presented three contenders - Muntu, Nandala Mafabi and Geoffrey Ekanya. It was never going to be a smooth victory for Mafabi or Muntu while on the other hand Ekanya had fallen predictably very low in the 'pecking order' of popularity. So it was either Muntu or Mafabi, before it would later emerge that the former military officer bettered the current leader of opposition in Parliament by some 30 votes.

Besides his contention, it was a hard-fought run for Muntu, who has come under direct criticism against his role in the army. He has been criticized for failing to improve the welfare of the army during his tenure.

He has also come face-to-face with critical assessment of his character as a potential opposition party leader.

Critics of Muntu say he is "too quiet" for a "loud party" like FDC. And that the party needed a leader who was as outspoken as Dr. Besigye - and that the closest of the three front-liners to match such character was Mafabi.

Mafabi's work experience reels back to the late 1980s then as a tax assessor, later at Uganda Revenue Authority in various positions in the '90s - revenue office (junior and senior levels) - then as the chairman of the national economy (2001-2006) and shadow minister of finance.

But his popularity index rose when he chaired the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) between 2006 and 2011 before MP Barnabas Tinkasimre took over and still holds the position.

In May last year, then FDC president Besigye named Mafabi as new leader of opposition in Parliament, replacing Prof Ogenga Latigo. Mafabi had before his appointment, lost to NRM's Rebecca Kadaga for the position of Speaker of Parliament.

But even with such a work archive, the recent party election result showed that Maj. Gen. Muntu is the more trusted person to replace party stalwart, Dr. Besigye.

Muntu has maintained before that he may not be as 'loud' as his critics argue, but that he is a focused and determined leader, and is ready to take on the challenge ahead.

Military career

Muntu is a personal testimony to a shot in the chest during his time in the National Resistance Army (NRA) rebellion. Of course he survived, thanks to medical treatment he received in Kampala.

He would later head the military intelligence - with current Rwandan president Paul Kagame under his command - following the Museveni's NRA victory in 1986. He quickly rose through the ranks in the UPDF, effectively promoted to Major General after some military training in Russia and serving as division commander in the north of the country.

How fast his ascension turned out, that he later was appointed army chief. He served as army chief from 1989 to 1998, becoming Uganda's longest serving army commander. Political analysts often attributed Muntu's speedy ascension through the army ranks to his being "incorruptible and loyal to President Museveni".

Having fallen out with his former boss, Muntu is now set to run against him in the coming 2016 presidential elections. What is uncertain though is whether President Museveni will stand for another term come 2016 or will he call it quits and step aside for new NRM leadership. For that, only time will tell.

But with or without Museveni, the new FDC leader knows what is at stake here, and looks set to disprove his critics.

Already, the opposition party has received a nod from many for its recent holding of a televised debate in which the three candidates faced off in what was termed as a sign of political maturity.

Now that's the kind of direction Muntu is expected to steer his party to.

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