Kampala — A common threat posed by police and mutual embrace of defiance as a key element of Opposition struggle prompted four-time presidential candidate Kizza Besigye, and People Power movement leader Robert Kyagulanyi, aka Bobi Wine, to work together, according to new details.
The two camps, whose relation until last week was marked by wrangling and name-calling among rival supporters, announced at a joint press conference in Kampala yesterday that they had agreed to bury their differences and pursue a common front to remove President Museveni.
"We took note that we are all on the same mission to free Uganda from dictatorship and oppression," read a statement co-signed by Bobi Wine and Dr Besigye.
Mr Joel Ssenyonyi, the new People Power spokesperson, and MP Betty Nambooze (Mukono Municipality; Democratic Party) announced on behalf of their principals that they had a meeting of minds on issues critical to the success of the Opposition campaign. Our investigations show that the new deal was an outcome of a protracted behind-the-scenes negotiations by emissaries before Dr Besigye and Bobi Wine, also Kyadondo East legislator, met twice within a week in Wakiso and Kampala districts to consent on broad common interest issues.
The first meeting happened on May 3 at Bobi Wine's home in Magere, Wakiso District, shortly after his release from Luzira prison.
The second meeting, according to sources knowledgeable about the arrangement, was held at the residence of Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago in Rubaga on Monday, this week.
Bobi Wine's team to the last meeting included Mr Ssenyonyi, lawyer David Rubongoya, musician Ali Bukeni, aka Nubian Li, and Fred Nyanzi, a brother to the lawmaker.
The musician-turned-politician, who has declared his interest to run for President in 2021, described the individuals as his "core team", according to one source.
On Dr Besigye's team were Mr Lukwago, MP Nambooze, the Forum for Democratic Change party chairman, Amb Wasswa Biriggwa, and Conservative Party President John Ken Lukyamuzi.
A highly-placed source said the members agreed to fight back whenever confronted by police; address joint political rallies to galvanise and empower citizens to exercise their rights since "power belongs to them, not the state"; engage with security forces to end rights violations; and, accelerate the struggle for access to media in order to expand their reach to more Ugandans.
They also agreed that Bobi Wine and Dr Besigye, in coming weeks, should address regular joint press conferences and rallies to build confidence among their supporters that the leaders are working together, and so should they.
It would be an about-turn, good for unity and strength of the Opposition, but one that puts all change-seeking forces in the country to test on compliance.
Evidence of likely cracks showed almost immediately. Hours after Mr Ssenyonyi and MP Nambooze yesterday announced, with glee, at Fairway Hotel the major breakthrough, a grouping of other Opposition leaders met a few kilometres away at the residence of Democratic Party (DP) President Norbert Mao in Ntinda, a city suburb, to plot a counter-move.
Role of DP bloc
In attendance, according to another source, was Mr Mao, Peoples Development Party's Abed Bwanika and Mr Michael Mabikke, the leader of the Social Democratic Party (SDP).
The trio, who just last month announced an alliance with Bobi Wine's camp, and to the exclusion of Dr Besigye, voiced anger and frustration over the surprise Besigye-Bobi Wine pact.
"Those in the People's Government cannot just come in and sideline us. We have been there with [MP] Kyagulanyi, we started this project while they were looking on and now they are coming to put us aside. No way!" said Mr Mabikke, referring to Dr Besigye's self-appointed cabinet.
The parallel formation, according to protagonists, is to fast-track both overt and covert mobilisation and accelerate action to bring down the government before the scheduled 2021 vote.
In comments to this newspaper shortly after last evening's crisis meeting, PDP's Bwanika, who has lately upped his public attack on Dr Besigye, said: "Our expectation from People's Government is that Col Kizza Besigye should accept [that] Kyagulanyi is the candidate. We have no any other way to work, except to have Kyagulanyi as the [joint Opposition] candidate. Anything else, we are not interested."
About joint candidate
Sources familiar with the Bobi Wine-Besigye deal said the background meetings never discussed the possibility of fielding a joint presidential candidate because members deemed it premature and divisive.
The camps also expressed reservations and deferred possible engagement with DP bloc, a moniker for the DP, SDP and PDP loose alliance, on suspicion that the latter is infiltrated by double agents.
That characterisation immediately drew the ire of other Opposition actors, with former Kampala Deputy Lord Mayor Suleiman Kidandala saying: "If all those who have worked with President Museveni are moles, then Dr Besigye and Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu [a former army commander] qualify to be called so too."
In an interview last night, Dr Besigye steered clear of attacks on him by the DP bloc, including demands that he step aside for Bobi Wine if the Opposition is to work as a common front.
"They seem to be focused on elections and we are not working on elections," he said by telephone, repeating contents of a joint communiqué they issued earlier in the day.
The four-time presidential candidate added: "We are focused on removing the Museveni regime at the earliest time; Ugandans want change urgently and we are working together to re-establish the rights of Ugandans and is across the board, including the now curtailed rights of the media. We want to regain the sovereignty and rights of Ugandans immediately."
Dr Besigye said individuals opposed to him are "perfectly" within their right to voice their dissent, but he and Bobi Wine "are focused on our work".
"I think they (DP bloc) are talking about different things because we are not focused on the 2021 elections," he said.
The differences in opinion, and on positions in opposition ranks, bubbled to the surface as Bobi Wine late last evening met the camp of Maj Gen Muntu, the interim leader of the newly-registered Alliance for National Transformation party, in intensified attempts to build a broader Opposition coalition.
Details of what the teams discussed were not immediately available by press time.
In a rejoinder, Mr Rogers Mulindwa, the spokesperson for the ruling National Resistance Movement secretariat, said there was nothing game-changing in the new deal announced by the Opposition.
"These two [Bobi Wine-Besigye] are looking at President Museveni as a problem of Uganda and the President is looking at issues like health, corruption, poverty, poor school and other infrastructure," he said.
"When these two stop looking at an individual rather than Uganda as a whole, they will then be legitimate to become presidents. For now they will not even work together because they are both power hungry; they will soon split," Mr Mulindwa added.