The Independent (Kampala)

Uganda: Besigye's Last Chance

analysis

On May 8, a top ring of supporters of Gen. Mugisha Muntu, the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) President held a very special meeting at an undisclosed place in Kampala. The meeting was exclusive to strictly top Muntu supporters because of the matter it was dealing with. Alice Alaso, the party Secretary General and Muntu attended. This was the first time Muntu was attending although several informal meetings of his supporters had been going on.

Up for discussion was Muntu's image as party president but also as the party's flag bearer at the 2016 presidential elections.

Muntu's supporters were unhappy about statements party spokesperson Wafula Ogutu had made just two days ago at the party headquarters.

Wafula had told journalists that Besigye was still the best candidate they could offer come 2016 elections.

"Besigye remains the number one for FDC," a local daily quoted Wafula, "The party has not yet decided on the candidate, but our constitution allows Besigye to offer himself for the race provided he is given the flag by the party's delegates' conference.

This riled Muntu and his supporters who feel that he (Muntu) is the FDC candidate for 2016.

To avoid such a situation in future, the officials resolved to hire a spokesperson for Muntu and another for the party secretariat. The hunt is on-going. This would kill two birds--increase Muntu's visibility in the public and reduce Wafula's dominion over party positions.

By making such a statement, sources told The Independent, Wafula had officially proved that he belonged to that group of party officials that have not been very supportive of Muntu and most importantly, who still harbour a lingering desire to give Besigye a last chance come 2016.

Unknown to Wafula, he had stoked fires compounding a crisis in FDC that was sparked by the November polls and that have been fanned by a controversial call for fresh party presidential elections by the truth and reconciliation committee come 2014.

The controversy over this recommendation, sources say, boils down to a fight in the party by Muntu's supporters who are busy strategising and molding a Muntu candidature for the 2016 polls and those who feel Besigye is still the party's best shot.

High up in the ranks of this group are the Leader of Opposition, Nandala Mafabi, who lost to Muntu, Jack Sabiiti, the party Treasurer and Rubaramira Ruranga, Nandala Mafabi's former campaign manager among others.

Nandala, insiders say, was meant to allow a smooth return of Besigye as the party flag bearer. They point to where Nandala launched his campaign, Kasangati, Besigye's home town and also the version of Tahrir square for his supporters.

It is because of this that when Nandala lost, several top party officials in this group did not switch their allegiance to Muntu.

At the height of the Muntu, Mafabi fallout, FDC strongman and bankroller Musinguzi Garuga had invited Nandala and Muntu for talks. It is not clear whether Musinguzi had alerted the two officials about his intentions but the moment Nandala, who was the first to arrive saw Muntu approaching, he stood up and stormed out of the venue without much of a word, sources say.

For some members it was simply that Nandala was not prepared for a loss.

"The problem is that when people join an election with only a view of winning a loss is unacceptable," Party Defence Secretary, Maj. John Kazoora, told The Independent, "that is why some people even die after losing an election."

Besigye's invisible hand:

But for others, the root-cause was the invisible force that was behind Nandala's bid. This force was believed to be Besigye although he never declared his support for any of the candidates.

To solidify this claim, officials argue that Besigye, being Nandala's close confidant, had the ability to rein him in after he lost the election but chose to keep quiet. As such, Nandala and his followers either kept on the fence or acted openly against Muntu.

Finally, when Besigye appeared before the reconciliation committee, he recommended consideration of fresh polls for party president in 2014.

Indeed when the committee released its report on June.19, re-electing the party president was high ranking amongst their seven recommendations.

"In a bid to promote interparty democracy and Party cohesion the Party should hold a general election for all offices from grassroots to Party President in 2014 or as soon as practicable," the six member, Laudislaus Rwakafuzi-led committee recommended. The other members on the committee were; Peter Sempala, Athanasius Rutaro, Stephen Okwalinga, Elizabeth Abongo and Abed Nasser Mudiobole.

Of these, only Rutaro, did not agree with this position. Rutaro argued that the party had to take into account the reasons why the former party president retired early.

Besigye had stepped down to allow an in-coming president more time to prepare for the 2016 elections. 2016 is around the corner. But while appearing before the committee, Besigye said that the term for which Muntu was elected was five years; the full constitutional term.

He added, however, that "with hindsight" he sees "that it may not be practicable" because the party presidency will be hanging without supporting institutions.

"Therefore, the practical thing might be to prepare grassroots elections, for fresh delegates and office bearers and then for party president by February 2014," the report quotes Besigye.

Dividing the party:

By recommending this, Besigye seems to have thrown a stone into a bee hive. While the Nandala team has welcomed the recommendation, Muntu's supporters swear there cannot be fresh polls for party president.

Party SG, Alaso has ruled out fresh presidential elections as "financially untenable and politically suicidal". FDC Secretary for Legal and Constitutional Affairs, Wandera Ogalo, also says contesting the party presidency again at next year's delegates' conference would tantamount to undermining the constitution.

Rwakafuzi told The Independent that the problem at hand in the FDC is that each group has supporters that have failed to agree.

He finished his report on March 13 but was forced to shelve it for two months hoping the tempers would calm down. But they could not and they have not. And to his disappointment, his report appears to have flared them the more.

Yet he even called on top legal and political brains, professors Fredrick Jukko and Jean Barya of Makerere University law school to intervene and talk to the warring parties.

He defended the idea of fresh presidential polls with the fact that the delegates were not told that they were electing a candidate for five years.

Besigye made this position. And now Muntu's supporters look at it as Besigye's position and they are biased against Besigye. In effect, the reconciliation team's recommendation threatens to throw the party into worse turmoil.

Rwakafuzi was already conscious of this.

"Not that this (presidential polls) will solve the problem," he told The Independent, "it can sink the party deep into conflict; therefore ultimately, warring parties have to reach a compromise."

For him, it was also a duty of senior party leader to come and instill order in the party. For him, the FDC "problem is not big but it is bad enough that the problem is not going away".

The recommendation now pits Besigye against Muntu's supporters who are suspicious of Besigye's game plan.

Besigye has had his three shots at the presidency; in 2001, 2006, and 2011 and failed to remove President Museveni. Muntu's supporters say Besigye's time is up. This time is for Muntu, they say.

"How is it that the same person [Besigye] who made this argument is now saying that there needs to be fresh elections?" a senior Muntu supporter said.

"The election of the party president is already a fait accompli", he added meaning they will not allow new elections.

To him, the mandate of the committee was to investigate elections and they found nothing implicating Muntu in any wrong-doing.

He added that Muntu had been urging his supporters to tread cautiously so as to allow a healing process and win over the support of the majority.

"But there is no way anyone is going to accept that recommendation because it is illegal," the official said, "If the side against us refuses to co-operate, we shall overwhelm them."

Muntu's 2016 strategy:

Like this official, the Muntu supporters have built their formidable belief in a successful Muntu bid on three factors come 2016.

They argue that Muntu will win because circumstances outside the party are working for him. They argue that to trounce Museveni in 2016, an opposition candidate needs to eat deep into the NRM support base and capture voters that sit on the fence and do not vote.

These voters, Muntu's camp argues, are not attracted to Besigye's "extreme opposition". Instead, they say, they would vote a moderate. As a result, their strategy involves selling Muntu as a 'moderate' in whom even NRM supporters can find a safe haven.

In 2011, voter turnout was a paltry 59%, the lowest since the first elections Museveni contested in 1996. Of the 13.9 million voters, only 8.2 million voted leaving six million people that did not vote. Considering that only 68% or 5.5 million voted Museveni, an opposition leader who can win the vote of the remaining 8.4 million or 60% of all eligible voters in 2011 that did not vote for Museveni, would trounce him [Museveni]. Muntus' supporters are betting on him.

"Everybody knows that Muntu appeals to the moderates and these divisions we see in the NRM are a big harvest for him too," another Muntu supporter says, "Don't doubt Muntu's political skills, he is already working and he has an advantage of a clean record and nobody doubts his intentions."

Even within the FDC, the official added, it is a matter of time, those against him, will soon come knocking.

The officials added that Muntu also boasts of support from the party advisors, who have always found it hard to work under Besigye.

Besigye had approached these senior officials before exiting the NRM and they had poured cold water on his plans saying he was jumping out too early. They later found themselves following him after learning the hard way. Although they joined the FDC as advisors, there has always been that uneasy feeling.

Kazoora also vouched for Muntu.

"I have worked with both men [Besigye and Muntu] and I know what Muntu is capable of," Kazoora said, "those who say he is boring, do not know what he is doing, I know it but it is not for the press."

Despite his strengths, Muntu says he appreciates Nandala's value.

Talents are different, he said the day he became president, Besigye is a natural activist, let him keep doing it because it exposes the rottenness of government. Mafabi is good at exposing corruption let him also keeping doing that. I am also going to build the party and extend its frontiers of support out of its current confines. This way FDC will be shooting with three barrels of the gun.

But the last less than 240 days he has spent in office have seen these barrels shooting at cross-purpose.

His biggest test is to reverse this and yet this test seems un-accomplishable.

People's careers are at stake. While Nandala will not stop eyeing the party president seat, Besigye who has risked his life severally, by re-starting his protests is also strategising.

And many party faithful still relish his confrontational politics. Some observers say he brings real life to the opposition. That is why despite several trips and meetings with several grassroots members trying to marshal party support including from NRM backyards in several districts, Muntu's punch is not being strongly felt.

Ibrahim Ssemuju Nganda captured this best at the height of the Muntu, Nandala campaign. He noted that while it was hard not to like Muntu, he [Nganda] had crossed to Nandala's side because of Nandala's methodology.

"An opposition leader today more than before must be one ready to roll and be rolled in the mud," Nganda wrote, "Anyone who saw pictures of Nandala Mafabi in shorts exchanging kicks with men in military uniform in the last general elections knows why the whole of Sironko from LC III to LCV is FDC."

He argued that while Muntu had a richer national profile compared to Mafabi, time favoured Nandala.

"The reason Col. Besigye has remained a darling of many opposition supporters is because he is leading from the front," Nganda added, "The kind of a situation we find ourselves in requires that kind of a leader."

According to Rwakafuzi, Dr. Besigye has tried to show a presence on the street, whether it has worked or not is not the question. The question is what could have worked better for FDC as a whole. He thinks the answer might just lie in a multiplicity of approaches and collaborations. To Rwakafuzi and others, it is painful to watch top FDC officials concentrating on fighting each other instead of uniting their varied talents behind one leader just two years to the national presidential elections.

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