23 June 2013

Uganda: Besigye, Bukenya Plot a Coalition

Opposition kingpin Kizza Besigye and former Vice President Gilbert Bukenya are jointly working on a political movement to challenge President Museveni's long hold on power in 2016, The Observer has learnt.

Sources close to the two politicians have revealed that the ultimate goal is to create a "grand rainbow coalition" of all political actors interested in change, akin to what happened in Kenya in the 2002 elections. The National Alliance of Rainbow Coalition (NARC), which brought together an unlikely combo of former president Mwai Kibaki and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, among others, successfully defeated Daniel arap Moi's handpicked candidate, Uhuru Kenyatta.

Kenyatta would bounce back ten years later with a victory of his own in elections held in March this year. We have been told that Joseph Mulwanyamuli Ssemwogerere, former katikkiro of Buganda, is behind the initiative that seeks to incorporate other political groups before the 2016 showdown.

Indeed reports indicate that Besigye and Bukenya met at Ssemwogerere's home in Masaka in March, just before the former FDC president went on holiday in the United States, returning last week. We have established that much as Bukenya is touted as one of the leading candidates to lead such a coalition into elections, other alternatives are being considered.

On the other hand, Besigye's candidature is reported to have been ruled out at this stage, with some of the people behind the initiative keen to give potential opposition voters a new option.

"There is still a lot of soul-searching going on, we want to have a fresh candidate capable of leading the opposition so that even if Museveni rigs the next elections, we can still bring about the desired change," our source said.

Bukenya announced last month that he intends to run for president in the 2016 elections. The Busiro North MP said he would seek nomination as an NRM candidate, though vowing to go it alone if the process is manipulated. When contacted last week, Ssemwogerere, who in the 2011 elections led Ssuubi 2011, a pro-Buganda opposition pressure group that supported Besigye, said he was busy but promised an interview later.

Ssemwogerere, a historical NRM member, has served in the Museveni government in different capacities. On his part, Bukenya declined an interview with us when contacted last week. But two opposition leaders, Mathias Mpuuga (MP Masaka municipality) and Wafula Oguttu (MP Bukooli Central) had useful remarks about the proposed "rainbow coalition" when contacted last week.

Mpuuga said "rainbow politics" is not a new idea.

"It is something we have always wanted and everybody willing to work with us is welcome in the shelter," he said.

Oguttu separately added that he wouldn't be surprised by such a development as Bukenya once suggested a working relationship with FDC.

"If Besigye met Bukenya, I would not be surprised because when he came out of prison, he sent out fillers to FDC that he wanted to work with us and we discussed it at Najjanakumbi and agreed to work with him, but he later never acted," Oguttu said.

Additionally, political watchers have noted that when Bukenya's mother, Francisca Nabulo, died in 2012, Besigye laid a wreath on her casket on behalf of the former VP's "friends". Bukenya is believed to command significant following in Buganda and in the Catholic Church, two major political constituencies in Uganda.

And last Wednesday he got some curious support from the seat of Buganda kingdom when the new Katikkiro, Charles Peter Mayiga, warned those who underestimate him to draw some lessons from his middle name, Balibaseka.

"When Bukenya came back from abroad to lecture at Makerere University, people laughed at him. When he left teaching and joined politics, people laughed at him. When he was appointed Vice President, people laughed at him, and he disproved them. When he tells you now where he is going and you laugh at him, we shall laugh at you when he gets there," Mayiga said, while launching Bukenya's anti-poverty campaign at Lwantama, in Wakiso district.

FDC concerns:

Yet some people in FDC are viewing a possible Besigye-Bukenya deal as something that would weaken FDC.

"These factions, coupled with other occurrences - like Besigye meeting Bukenya at Mulwanyamuli's place and the possibility of forming a rainbow umbrella - would reduce [Mugisha] Muntu to fighting the fire within FDC rather than showing the presence of the party outside," an opposition insider told us.

Gen Mugisha Muntu succeeded Besigye as FDC leader late last year but has been bogged down by a faction in the party that supported his main rival, Nathan Nandala-Mafabi. Our sources added that Besigye, who for long funded FDC activities from his own pocket, is today unlikely to put his own money into the party's activities but, rather, channel it through the activist For God and My County (4GC).

Besigye, the sources continued, now prefers to work with activist groups such as 4GC and Uganda Young Democrats (UYD) which he believes are more likely to bring about change faster, through civic action, than the restrictive and bureaucratic political parties.


Commenting on the FDC infighting, Oguttu puts a positive spin to it, arguing that it is all part of cleansing the party.

"When you think we are fighting, we are cleansing and some people will drop off, but nevertheless we will move on," he said.

Oguttu added that FDC had tried so much to get its supporters to differentiate Besigye from the party, but this had been a tall order given the former president's charismatic appeal in the party.

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