13 November 2017

Uganda: Opposition, NRM Should Utilise Their Opportunities

opinion

The debate about whether to amend article 102(b) of the Constitution to lift the presidential age limit continues but no one seems to focus on the lost opportunities for Uganda.

The ruling NRM has drawn the line and it's clear that without its founding leader Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, it could crumble if one listens keenly to the statements being made by some of its key leaders.

For instance, the NRM, or rather government chief whip Ruth Nankabirwa, asked a journalist to tell her if there is a single political party that would legislate itself out of power.

In other words, failure to amend article 102(b) would directly mean the NRM is losing power. Indeed, her fears are not farfetched. The dominance of Museveni over the years has blocked any possible successors from emerging.

Those that have tried were fought from the onset. The lack of internal democracy in the ruling party has also blocked the vibrancy that one would expect within a political party.

In fact, many pundits have repeatedly said that if Museveni retired, the centre would implode and the NRM would have several splinter groups and that some members would even opt to return to their original political parties. This would be a great loss to the young generation and the country at large.

So, what are the lost opportunities for the NRM in that kind of situation? The party has failed to ensure continuity, not only for itself, but for the country at large.

Some NRM members who do not want to be quoted have quietly suggested that if the Constitution is amended, Museveni would use the 2021-2026 term to organize the party. One would wonder why he has failed to do that for many years that he has hard full control.

It's widely known that a political party built around an individual instead of its ideology and membership is bound to suffer from the founder's syndrome.

At a given point, the NRM might follow the same trajectory the Kenya African National Union took. NRM leaders who believe in a vibrant political party and the future of Uganda should start internal mobilization to reform the party and prepare it for a transition.

They can begin now by pushing for a transitional committee and, if they are equal stakeholders in the party, their views must be listened to. There will be consequences at the start, but this will result in a more organized, stable and vibrant political party

Turning to the opposition, have they taken into account the fact that using its numbers and other measures, the NRM may have their way on the age limit? If yes, are they preparing better to face off with Museveni again?

My answer is a big no. The opposition is still sharply divided yet they need unity to convince other people, especially from the ruling party, to join them. The bitterness within the opposition fold can at times leave one wondering if they would, in fact, provide a better alternative or not.

Currently, they are united under the red ribbon campaign popularly known as Togikwatako. This campaign against the plans to lift the presidential age limit has captured the support even in some NRM strongholds.

Has the opposition thought about growing this unity and perhaps build a national red ribbon alliance? If they are not thinking about that or planning to do that, then this will also be a lost opportunity.

Most of the NRM members who will most likely support lifting the age limit due to pressure will face it rough at the next elections. A well-organized opposition would now be drawing up strategies targeting such constituencies and who to jointly front. This would be an opportunity for them to bring about the change they preach or to at least reduce the dominance of the NRM in parliament.

The opposition should also start thinking outside the box; if the current top leaders cannot deliver, why not consider a wild card as a presidential candidate?

If the top leaders of the opposition truly believe in the liberation message they are spreading, then they should be able to overcome their cheap disagreements and embrace and rally behind a new candidate who might be able to provide a fresher platform and agenda for the opposition.

As this debate on the age limit continues, from whichever point you look at it, there are great opportunities for both the ruling party and the opposition that should not be wasted.

The author is a journalist and chief executive officer at BuzyMinds Ltd.

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