The Observer (Kampala)

25 November 2012

Uganda: Can Muntu's Military Credentials Bring the Needed Change?

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opinion

I am not an FDC card-carrying member but I identify with my contemporaries in the party.

FDC is the largest opposition party in Uganda today and should any misfortune occur to the NRM, certainly the odds that FDC will become the next manager of state affairs would get enhanced. The dice has been thrown and come to rest, and Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu has emerged as the new leader of FDC, beating Tororo MP Geoffrey Ekanya and Leader of Opposition in Parliament, Nathan Nandala-Mafabi.

Proponents of Muntu's candidacy have all along argued that since he was a decorated soldier and an army commander for nine years, then he is the best-suited leader to replace Dr Besigye, as if FDC is a military outfit. They also argue that given Muntu's military background, he is best-suited to challenge President Museveni.

The implication of these arguments situates the military at the heart of governance of Uganda. It tells us that unless you wear a uniform, your chances of becoming president of Uganda are that much diminished. I have issues with this kind of thinking. The world over, democracy has required constitutionalism to prevail in countries where power is vested in the common man.

The military is not expected to be partisan as has been in Uganda since independence. Uganda has never had a truly national army and this has always given our democracy a lot of stress. It is this culture of militarizing politics and civil life that has placed Uganda in a vicious circle of violence and conflict. Unfortunately, as real as it is, I find it very obnoxious that a section of FDC still believes that they can win over a composite of Museveni's personalized military support when a person with a military background becomes its leader.

The contrasting reality proves otherwise. Col Besigye was a celebrated leader in the NRA with a lot of clout, influence and prestige. When he fell out with President Museveni, his army connectedness was decapitated. His record of service in the army became a reference that only appealed to civilians who bore the brunt of the chaos that descended on the country and have deep-seated apathy towards the army.

If being in the army could create a balance of power, certainly FDC's fortunes should have improved each of the years they contended for state power. To the contrary, Besigye's percentages waned and so was his real support, even amongst intellectuals, because such expectations were never realized.

FDC could have thought about these unfortunate developments to enable them transform the candidacy of Col Besigye to that of a civilian victim of state machinations. I still believe that the true support for Besigye struck the highest pitch when he was manhandled by that tiny, ruthless and warped undercover cop, Gilbert Bwana Arinaitwe.

So, does being a military man or having a military past make one a viable presidential candidate? This is debatable, but it is also a cultural thing borne out of fear, yet we all know that Muntu would never dare challenge the system as much as Besigye did. This is because none of the presidents of Uganda have been able to effectively demilitarize Ugandan politics. Instead, they have ridden on the backs of their armies to procure long and cumbersome tenure in power.

I think FDC may need a leader who is grassroots-oriented and is as astute in mobilizing the grassroots as in reaching out to the middleclass, the unemployed and the wealthy. I am certain that across the Ugandan society, everyone yearns for personal safety and that of their property. I believe that Besigye was positioned and gifted with such a trait.

Although Muntu is calm, sober-minded and a disciplined person, his military background alone may not inspire many to guarantee their allegiance to FDC. Furthermore, sustaining the militarization of our politics provides a recipe for further confrontation and chaos. I contend that past membership in UPDF has never been and will never be on its own a viable asset for shaping our democracy without other pertinent attributes.

Indeed, there is a strong degree of agreement across our society to disagree with the NRM regime and its appendages such as the UPDF. The real challenge is that we have failed ourselves by always opting for rather small pushes towards the windows of opportunity that beckon on us for a real change.

The author is a Ugandan social critic based in Toronto, Canada.

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