18 January 2017

Uganda: Impoverished Opposition Can't Win


Mwenda's targeting Besigye ignores reality that political power aligns with economic interests and vice versa

In the last few weeks, our political space is simply polluted by a lackadaisical analysis of politics and the space causing forces that shape those spaces. Andrew Mwenda's cruel targeting of Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) leader Kizza Besigye as the problem in our politics is disingenuous. Some FDC MPs like Nabillah Nagayi (Kampala Woman) and Abdul Katuntu (Bugweri) appear off balance and pessimistic in clamouring to "work with" NRM, or adhering to a party structures while denouncing the defiance campaign. What a contradictory retinue!

I also recently saw Hon. Paul Kasana Luttamaguzi of Nakaseke South calling for opposition leaders to set aside their egos to form a united front for them to move beyond the dead end zone.

I disagree with all these individual analyses and conceptualisation of the political space dynamics. I argue that the prevailing political impasse is as it is, by a matter of historical design, and not of individual making. Blaming KB for the mess evokes a question of moral trepidation.

It would be prudent for scholars to study the impact of the ban on political parties right from the issuance of the Legal Notice #1 in 1986 to the subsequent enactment of Articles 269 and 270 of the 1995 NRM Constitution (as amended). This study would be a worthwhile venture to illuminate the magnitude of the damage caused to opposition political parties during the ban. As you recall, political party activities were restricted to party headquarters in Kampala for about 20 years.

Another worthwhile venture is to study the impact of the forceful conscription of Ugandans into NRM and to what extent this benefitted the political fortunes of the ruling Party. No matter the amount of knowledge the Mwendas of this world have, if we continue to glaze on the surface of these important historical factors, we shall never properly understand our politics.

Second, and most important, evidence from previous elections demonstrate that a united Opposition front is stale and would allow Museveni a landslide in 2021. In 1996, Dr. Kawanga Ssemogerere allied with the Opposition as a sole candidate. The NRM won, albeit, with much rigging with a solid army behind the status quo. In 2016, former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi (JPAM)again assembled all the traditional political parties under his TDA banner, and look, they collapsed very badly as compared to Ssemogerere's efforts in 1996.

In contrast, since Kizza Besigye emerged in 1996 to this date, he has proved to be the political thorn in the NRM dominated political landscape. Besigye has convincingly won at least three of the four Presidential elections, most notable in 2001 under Reform Agenda, in 2006 and in 2016. The latter being the most profound victory robbed with heavy handedness through a military coup. Note that in 2016, the opposition deliberately allied with JPAM to deny Besigye political space.

These developments are important because Uganda's opposition have never ran short of candidates for Mwenda to think it is Besigye blocking the emergence of new political forces. In that sense, I find that Mwenda's attack on KB is misleading. Besigye is on his orbital path and others are on their orbits in the same political space. Each Opposition leader has had his or her fair share in the political space. When united, they torpedo their chances of success wholesale. Mwenda should obsess himself with studying that dilemma instead.

Another factor we cannot underrate is the economy and its unequal distribution. Traditionally, poor people never vote for poor persons. It is very rare in our highly monetised political environment! Now, we have a poor opposition seeking votes from impoverished voters, which complicates the vote equation. Success from such situations can only arise from rare forms of solidarity. One driving factor that led to the impoverished opposition groups allying with JPAM was the expectation of money. None of these groups have resources to rival the hegemony of the NRM electioneering machine!

Every candidate who has contested against Museveni and secured good poll numbers broke off from active service with Museveni. Dr. Ssemogerere was Museveni's minister, and so were Besigye and JPAM. In fact, JPAM and Museveni were like the right and left arms of the NRM. In all these splinters, only KB broke off with a sizeable group to form the Reform Agenda, and later the FDC.

The regional inequality in the distribution of economic benefits under the NRM regime also reflects in who gets the votes or not. Political power aligns with economic interests and vice versa. We can ascertain that the centre of power is firmly rooted in Western Uganda where the money and the guns also reside. Notwithstanding the history of war and propaganda mounted by the NRM to alienate the North and East, these regions have produced competitive candidates. I am sure that if Norbert Mao, Abed Bwanika andElton Joseph Mabirizi were rich they would be voted.

Morris DC Komakech is a Uganda political commentator based in Canada.


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