Kampala — Is Uganda's main opposition party; the Forum for Democratic (FDC) worried over the recent departure of its former president, Gen. Mugisha Muntu to form a new political formation?
Some analysts say FDC has every reason to be worried. They estimate that Muntu might have departed with over 70% of its members; among them the majority youth and prominent leaders.
Muntu's departure comes on the heels of his completion of nationwide collection of the views of the FDC rank and file on the future of the party. At the centre of the so-called consultation was one question: Should I, Muntu, stay or quit FDC.
According to Muntu's own report, which he submitted to the FDC leaders on the same day he announced he was quitting; the majority of FDC supporters told him not to quit.
"Fight for a place from within," they reportedly told him. Others wanted him to remain in the party and devise ways of resolving the problems facing the party.
Sources say Muntu considered the option of urging the party leadership to devise mechanisms of resolving these issues but he eventually went with those who wanted a split.
"We honestly do not want to spend another day in rope-pulling," said a source after the meeting of Muntu and his team on Sept 13, "We have wasted enough time yet the country is yearning for change."
He was possibly referring to a wave of anti-establishment sentiments that has seen the ruling NRM party lose several key parliamentary by-elections, forcing President Museveni to deploy military force against a surging opposition led by youthful political debutante, musician, and Kyadondo East MP Robert Sentamu aka Bobi Wine.
But Muntu had also had enough.
"As someone who lived through that kind of internal friction first hand during my five-year tenure as President, I can authoritatively say it is of no use to anyone. It neither advances the party nor benefits any of the warring groups. All it does is distract the entire opposition into spending our energy on internal power struggles that only benefit those in government," he said.
Muntu's procrastination, many say, could have been caused by the attempts by his nemesis and FDC stalwart Kizza Besigye. The Independent could not confirm that Besigye himself reached out to Muntu. But FDC party president Patrick Oboi Amuriat aka POA urged Muntu's supporters on the party's whatsapp platform to be open to reconciliation.
"Friends, where is the bitterness coming from?" Amuriat asked on Aug.22 as the clamour for Besigye to quit grew, "Can't we do something to reconcile any differences we may have?"
Muntu's supporters on the platform were skeptical.
They said Amuriat was being dishonest to pretend that he was just awakening to the need for reconciliation. Some were peeved that he suggested talking about the party's issues "over a cup of tea". They felt Amuriat was trivialising the issues. But Amuriat defended his tea talk.
"Comrades my thinking on proposing a meeting over drink is that we can break the ice by engaging even informally to no detriment." Amuriat explained. "An elders committee will be set up very soon to commence the process of reconciliation."
Muntu's supporters were unmoved.
"I don't take these calls seriously," said one of the members. "While POA keeps talking about reconciliation, he doesn't stress the need for working together."
Others said his actions and those of other leaders did not reflect genuine commitment. Muntu quit anyway.
It is now not clear if his move will be supported at the grassroots. There is no evidence yet of the support Muntu commands. But analysts point at the law, which makes it risky for an MP to publicly declare membership of a political organisation other than that on whose ticket they are in parliament for the reluctance of MPs to endorse him. Any breach of this condition could trigger a bi-election. And no MP wants that.
Article 83 (g) of the constitution provides that MPs who cross from the parties on whose tickets they were elected to Parliament will lose their seats and go back to ask the voters to vote them on the ticket of the new party they are joining. This applies to the Independents too. There are also reports that Muntu has advised his supporters in elected positions not to resign.
"It is an act in futility that doesn't advance either my interests or theirs," he reportedly said.
Anecdotally, however, the analysts claim Muntu could have over 30 MPs in Parliament. They point out that during the internal FDC presidential race in November 2017, over 20 MPs out of FDC's 36 supported Muntu. Then they point at possible support of some Independents including Ntungamo Municipality MP Gerald Karuhanga, newly elected Arua Municipality MP Kassiano Wadri, and youth MP national Ann Adeke Ebaju.
Sources say Muntu has also won the hearts of some NRM MPs who unhappy with their stay in the NRM, were not keen on FDC, but lacked an alternative. Many point at the results of the 2016 presidential elections in which only 66% of voters turned out and President Yoweri Museveni won 61% of those and FDC got 35%. Museveni's opponents argue that Museveni was elected by only 40% of the electorate and the 60% shunned him. But the 33% voters did not vote for the opposition candidate, FDC's Kizza Besigye, either. Muntu's supporters believe he, as a moderate, has a higher appeal than Besigye across the board.
Two NRM MPs; Manjiya County's John Baptist Nambeshe, and Mbwa Tekamwa Gaffa of Kasambya, are mentioned. In reality, the speculation is built on thin sand - the MPs' appearance at the press conference where Muntu announced his departure from FDC and way forward.
Apart from the MPs, other big wigs in the party are said to have left with Muntu.
These include; the party's Vice President for Eastern region and former secretary General Alice Alaso, former FDC electoral commission boss Dan Mugarura, the chairman youth league Iddi Ouma, Deputy secretary for the Presidency and elder; Sewava Serubiri, Rajab Kaaya, chairperson youth Western, Ismael Kasule; chairperson women's league Central, Hamida Nassimbwa, Kakayi Zelda, Mary Frances Kabatereine, Nasasira Happy, Phiona Busingye. Others are Ibbi Florence, Abola Jane, Mary frances Kabateraine, Pastor Sandra Ngabo and more.
As the unverifiable assertions rage, the FDC leaders and members have not taken Muntu's departure as well as many would have expected; especially since they rejected his leadership in 2017 and have labeled him "mole" of the ruling NRM party of President Yoweri Museveni. Many of them have been attacking Muntu in the media, both mainstream and social media for abandoning the party and pushing him to leave. There are reports that FDC has sent groups to campaign against Muntu in the countryside. It is an unexpected twist.
Instead of celebrating Muntu's departure, forinstance, Buhweju County MP Francis Mwijukye sounded angrier than excited. Muntu is leaving because of greed and selfishness, Mwijukye said.
Former Leader of Opposition Wafula Oguttu, who had carved a career of dishing Muntu also did not sound relieved and instead continued the criticism as if Muntu remains his problem.
"The biggest beneficiary of the MM exit is the dictatorship that promised to destroy opposition in Uganda by 2021," Oguttu posted on the party's whatsapp platform. He continued that by quitting FDC, Muntu was aiding Museveni destroy the opposition as he promised.
Perhaps implying that Muntu should not have left, Oguttu told the media that Muntu's problem was his failure to run the party for 10 years.
Another Muntu foe within FDC, the party's secretary General Nandala Mafabi said what Muntu did by quitting was "unfair to FDC". Muntu's act, he said, showed that Muntu has never worked for the best interests of the party.
As the vitriol gushed, Muntu was flashed his vintage smile, albeit sympathetically this time.
"We believe that this action is mutually beneficial to both the FDC and those of us leaving," he said, "In fact, if handled well, this could be the beginning of greater cooperation within the opposition.
"Instead of fighting each other over strategy, our departure will allow the current Party leadership to pursue its agenda unencumbered while we also pursue the same objectives in ways we feel better reflect our values. At the end of the day, we are all working towards the same goal".
But Muntu's supporters were not so diplomatic. Many questioned why the FDC was bothered by Muntu's exit, considering that he has always been accused of being a mole that was not able to achieve anything in the party.
During the race for party Presidency against Mafabi in 2012, the latter's campaign chairman Rubaramira Ruranga told voters everywhere they campaigned not to vote Muntu because he was a mole.
Those allegations have been repeated several times by other members of the party's top leadership including; the Secretary for Mobilisation Ingrid Turinawe, Mwijukye, and Joyce Sebugwawo
Many accused Muntu of killing the party when he was its President and it was the reason many gave for not supporting him when he sought re-election.
When Muntu rose up to speak in May 2015 at an opposition joint retreat to agree on their response to the government's rejection of electoral reform proposals, Mafabi, said he could not listen to a person who has never participated in any election.
So when the tone changed recently after Muntu's departure, some of Muntu's supporters could not spare Mafabi, Oguttu and others.
"Why are people condemning Mugisha Muntu's move yet they said he was a mole?" asked the FDC secretary General in Kamwenge George Muhimbise, "If the mole talk is real, FDC should slaughter a cow and celebrate his exit."
Muhimbise wondered why the departure of a mole who has been selling party secrets, is now being regarded by FDC as a loss.
"What does the party lose?" he wondered, "Why were they willing to stay with someone they never trusted or wanted? Isn't it hypocrisy of the highest order?"
"Hon. Wafula with all due honesty, how would the FDC function properly with a chief mole?" another Muntu supporter asked Oguttu. "Why are you seemingly bothered by the exit of a stumbling block? Do you want us to believe that his stay in FDC as a mole would precipitate the dictator's exit?"
"But WAF (Oguttu) and group have worked tirelessly to bring about this incident, which now he claims to be benefitting the dictatorship." said another Muntu supporter.
"For sure I don't know what FDC wants," said another, "I thought you would be jubilating that Chief mole and his spies have left the party."
Crispy Kaheru, the head of the Citizens Coalition for Electoral Democracy (CEEDU) who has been watching the back and forth, says it is not good for the opposition in Uganda.
"I think this is a serious crack in the opposition. The opposition generally needs to reflect deeply on what this exodus and splintering means in the current political space."
"The reality is," he adds "politics is a game of numbers. Political parties, movements thrive on numerical strength."
He says Muntu's exit should bring to an end the mistrust and suspicion that had paralysed the FDC party.
The decision by Muntu and his supporters followed bitter wrangles that rocked the party for years that reached peak during the party's presidential elections in November 2017, where Muntu lost the Presidency to Amuriat.
While they say the main cause of friction has been the difference in strategies-defiance and organisation, the party had not known any peace ever since Muntu took over the presidency after Kizza Besigye's early retirement in 2012.
The animosity started with the challenge of Muntu's election as party President in November 2012 where he defeated Budadiri West MP Nandala Mafabi and two other contestants.
After Muntu's defeat, his supporters who had tried to dissuade him from seeking re-election and leaving the party even before the November 2017 elections insisted it would not be wise to stay in the party. His supporters' worry was that Muntu would win the election and spend another five years putting out fires denying him the opportunity to pursue the strategy he always advocated for-building structures.
But Muntu did not listen to his supporters and even after his loss to Amuriat, refused to leave the party right away and opted for country-wide consultations.
The consultations which ended in early September and as he had promised, Muntu met the party leaders. But apart from informing them about his consultations, he also announced his departure.
Renowned constitutional lawyer and FDC stalwart Wandera Ogalo says Muntu could now pursue the strategy he has always believed in of building structures.
Ogalo is also hopeful Muntu would tap into the support of the moderates both in FDC and the ruling National Resistance Movement party who do not see either party as the best alternative.
The FDC has dominated the opposition politics since political parties were reintroduced in Uganda's politics in 2005. It has been the only party to appoint the opposition leadership in Parliament and has had the biggest say in proposals for joint opposition candidates. Now, if Muntu's gamble succeeds, his political formation could pose a threat to the FDC's position.
Appointing the leader of the opposition has become coveted since the position started attracting perks equivalent to a cabinet minister; including huge emoluments, chauffeur driven official car, police escorts, and endless travel and visibility opportunities.
It is so important that it is said to have sparked Muntu's exit. According to this line, although Muntu had for over a year toed with leaving FDC, his resolve turned into action after the FDC President, Patrick Oboi Amuriat on Aug.03, shuffled the FDC leadership in parliament and kicked out Muntu leaning MPs.
All, except Kiira Municipality MP Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda (who maintains an ingenious presence in both camps), were replaced with those loyal to Muntu's nemesis; four time president candidate Kizza Besigye and Amuriat.
The reshuffle saw the dismissal of Kasese Woman MP Winnie Kiiza as the leader of opposition and replaced with Gulu woman MP Betty Aol Achan, Bugweri county MP Abdul Katuntu from the leadership of the Committee on Statutory Authorities and State Enterprise (COSASE) Soroti Woman MP Angeline Osegge and Ntungamo Municipality MP Gerald Karuhanga and Chairperson and Vice chairperson of the Public Accounts Committee respectively.
Dokolo woman MP, Cecilia Ogwal, was also dismissed from the parliamentary Commission and replaced with Buhweju MP Francis Mwijukye.
Muntu's group took decisive and deliberate steps to leave the party, starting with defying Amuriat and openly campaigning for an independent candidate Kassiano Wadri in Arua Municipality where the party had an official flag bearer.
Now, it appears, an unnamed FDC member who posted online that Muntu had just taken the struggle against Museveni backwards by more 10 years, could have the final word.
"History will judge Muntu. It's clear we are going to have NRM Vs FDC Vs Third force," the member said, "Who is the beneficiary here?" That must wait until the 2021 general elections, at least.