Kampala, Uganda — Kizza Besigye's recent launch of a national campaign dubbed Twerwaneko (Let's defend ourselves) is being seen by some as a strategy for the veteran politician to launch himself right back into the political fray after close to three years of a Bobi Wine tidal wave.
Government spokesperson Ofwono Opondo said as much to Besigye when the two squared off on a popular television talk show.
On the previous four occasions; 2001, 2006, 2011 and 2016, Besigye has stood on a strong quest for change. But now it may beg the question; will his campaign plank still be change on the his fifth shot at the presidency when there's a 39-year-old Bobi Wine on the same 2021 campaign trail?
Besigye calls Twerwaneko a "clarion call" to address the enormity of challenges and injustices the country that is facing; incessant murders, police brutality, kidnaps, poverty. The campaign will be kicked off with a citizens' national convention.
He also told those present at Katonga Road that there is an existential threat to Ugandans adding "new people" could take over Uganda.
He says his new campaign is premised on Article 3 of the Constitution which gives a right to Ugandans to defend the constitution in case anyone tries to overthrow it or abrogate it. The article puts agency in the hands of Ugandan citizens.
Besigye launched Twerwaneko on Oct. 24 at a press conference at his office on Katonga Road in Kampala flanked by members of his 'People's Government' like vice president Erias Lukwago, who is Kampala City Lord Mayor and other senior members like Rubaga North MP Moses Kasibante.
Besigye said those seeking change in Uganda should find convergence in Twerwaneko.
Roland Mugume Kaginda, Coordinator of People's Government in Western Uganda and 'Minister for Trade' in the same government says the people's government is ready to work with all forces to bring change and he does not appear to be using the same radicalism like Kaija and Besigye or most of those in FDC have.
"What Besigye is trying to say is that we need to first level the ground. He is saying, how can we work together to level the ground?" he told The Independent in an interview.
"The government is trying to create a problem between and People Power and us. We just want to put the country in order."
He says if the government accepts reforms, it would be a good starting point. He adds, "if the government refuses and keeps on doing what it is doing, like recruiting crime preventers, then you cannot do much."
Kaginda an otherwise hardline member of the People's Government spoke with a resigned tone during the interview. Sources within People's Government say not everyone is on board with the Twerwaneko campaign.
If Besigye is targeting the 2021 presidential elections, then his timing looks perfectly set as campaigns start next year.
It also means the ruling party, National Resistance Movement (NRM), the opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) and the latest political vehicle, People Power, led by MP Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine are likely to slug it out in what promises to be a swashbuckling clash in February 2021.
President Yoweri Museveni with NRM enjoy incumbency and have state machinery at their disposal. FDC with the indefatigable Dr. Kizza Besigye has thumped NRM in by-elections in Jinja East and for the Rukungiri Woman MP seat in 2018 and is the only opposition party worth its heft.
On the other hand, the People Power under Bobi Wine have been testing their appeal, and quite successfully on some occasions, like with the by-elections held in Arua and Bugiri last year.
Museveni is bent on keeping power at all costs, which is his motivation for running in 2021 and Bobi Wine is eager to prove his star appeal as a new player in a scene dominated by politicians from a fast fading Bush War era (1981-1986). Therefore it leaves Besigye in sort of a bind. Although he has not explicitly stated that he is contesting, sources in FDC say he will aim for a fifth shot at the presidency.
In 2001 he had broken ranks with the Movement and stirred anti-regime forces those both in and outside government.
2006 was a much needed second chance for Besigye who had spent five years in exile. His presidential bid got electrified when he was jailed on frivolous charges of rape. His third bid in 2011, it can be argued was due to the absence of any potent challenger to Museveni.
2016 proved tricky for Besigye due to the candidature of Amama Mbabazi. He was lackluster but initially got everyone talking with the belief that he would attract the neutrals who were caught between the Museveni-Besigye horse race. But the torture and brutality meted out on Besigye during the Walk-to-Work protests seemed to have re-awakened the adoration voters had for Besigye when it came to nomination time.
2021 is two years away and Besigye's firepower has been neutered by a young and likeable politician whose election to Parliament in 2017 created new talking points for the next general election. At times, Besigye has become a bit-part player in the political process as the NRM regime unleashes its wrath on Bobi Wine.
Police has blocked his concerts, the army has outlawed his red beret outfit which People Power partisans defiantly don, leaving Museveni and the singer-turned politician locked in an inter-generational battle. With President Museveni unveiling murals of himself as a man of the Ghetto, he is showing that he is ready to apply any tactic as long as it is countering Bobi Wine.
Meanwhile Besigye; a four time presidential candidate has hailed 2019 as the year of action. But his critics say it is not the first time he is making such proclamations. In 2009, he said a political tsunami would sweep the NRM government from power.
In January 2018, Besigye launched Tubalemese (let's fail them) which was aimed at shunning businesses owned by members of NRM.
FDC hits back
Harold Kaija, the FDC deputy secretary general says the Bobi Wine team does not have a "working formula" adding that the latter group is doing what FDC has been doing over the years.
"We have been at this game for long. We should be looking for a way of retiring Mr Museveni" he tells The Independent. "He organises elections and he decides the winner. How do you unpack him? We are looking at a way of ensuring Museveni does not appear on the ballot" he says.
On the seeming impossibility of this event, Kaija has a quick answer. "Bashir thought he was going to be on the ballot in 2020. The same with Kabila" Both are no longer president albeit in different circumstances; one having been pushed out and the other quit after a negotiation with his would be successors.
Kaija tells The Independent that the infrastructure of an incumbent is something ordinary Ugandans must deal with and not just those in the opposition.
"We are stuck. How do we get out of here?" he says. "I always challenge people. We are not living in a normal situation. There is wining and being declared a winner."
Kaija states that he is more worried about the political dispensation in Uganda. "There is no provision for transition in the constitution." He says the fact that the Ugandan constitution only states that when the president dies, the VP shall take over leaves a lot of trouble for a post-election period say in the event that Museveni is defeated at the polls.
"We would have a constitutional crisis when another candidate wins, how does the incumbent hand over?"
Kaija tells The Independent that Twerwaneko is not an election platform as it appears to some people. Echoing Besigye, he says, "This is meant to empower Ugandans to stop the abuse of freedom of speech, stop the killings, the land grabs. All this has been going on without serious accountability."
Kaija took a swipe at DP, Uganda's oldest party, for riding on the Bobi Wine wave. "They (DP) always want someone to campaign for DP while contesting as an Independent. It started with Mbabazi whom they knew was an Independent but kept on associating with him"
He says it is the same with Bobi Wine. "But now they have fallen out with Bobi Wine and they are nowhere to be seen."
According to Kaija, the failed dalliance of Bobi Wine with DP is proof of Besigye's mettle as a candidate. He also dismisses the argument of those saying Besigye has run four times without getting the desired change with the analogy of an untiring job seeker.
"If you apply for a job ten times, does that mean that you are doing the job itself?" he asks. "We calculate your tenure when you are in office not when you are out there trying to get the job," he adds. "If you are asking Besigye to leave then you are being unfair because you are not asking Museveni who is in office to leave.
As Besigye and FDC look beyond elections, Bobi Wine has been trying to shore up support among his base looking at the 2021 polls as a way of delivering change. Besigye and Bobi Wine exchanged words in April this year when Besgiye dismissed the chance of an alliance between Democratic Party (DP) and Bobi Wine.
Bobi Wine wondered why a four time presidential candidate was discouraging those who intend to use the same path of elections to achieve change. "For a leader to say a vote can never oust Museveni without offering a solution is disappointing... Don't talk about democracy and stand four times and on the fifth time you say it doesn't work, we believe it works," Bobi Wine said.
Bobi Wine has found favour with the '1986 children' as they are called. These are Ugandans born in the Museveni era, when a 41-year-old Museveni captured power on January 26, 1986 after a five year guerilla war. The oldest Ugandans in this generation are 33 years old, a few years younger than Bobi Wine, who is 37.
Museveni cheekily calls them 'Bazukulu' (grandchildren) as he addresses them in his regular letters on Facebook and Twitter. Ironically, the Bazukulu are the voters Bobi Wine is banking on to oust Museveni in the next election. He has been urging them to get National IDs and register for voting day.
So the emergence of Bobi Wine, a popular musician, on the political scene presents a direct challenge between Museveni and the Bazukulu who are Bobi Wine's peers.
This demographic dynamic leaves Kizza Besigye in a tricky position. In 2021, he will be 65 with hopes of adding to his three million vote tally. In his defence, Besigye says he has never stopped anyone from standing.
Besigye polled an impressive two million votes in first three elections he took on Museveni, and notched one million more votes in the 2016 election. It could be a real test though for the former FDC president to bag the same vote tally with an insurgent Bobi Wine, who has galvanized a disgruntled and bulging Ugandan youth population, on the same ballot.
When Besigye and Muntu faced off in a televised debate for the FDC presidential flag-bearer in 2015, Besigye told Muntu that he was guaranteed of two million votes when he stands for President at the national level, given that he had scooped the said number of votes in the three elections he had contested in.
Besigye was directly challenging Muntu, then party president, on his potential for attracting votes. But now the ground seems to be shifting from under Besigye's feet, four years later.
Research World poll
A poll survey released in May by Research World International (RWI) placed Besigye behind President Museveni and Bobi Wine. The poll indicated that Museveni would score 32 per cent, followed by Bobi Wine with 22 per cent and Besigye with 13 percent. RWI surveyed 2,042 respondents aged 18 years and above across Uganda.
FDC spokesperson Ibrahim Semujju Nganda said the poll was inaccurate but admitted that he would use its findings for internal research.
The poll was instructive because RWI is headed by Patrick Wakida, a known sympathiser of FDC. Critics of Besigye have also pointed out his anti-election rhetoric which is said to leave his supporters in confusion. Often, he has told the masses that the NRM junta cannot be uprooted using elections only for him to stand.
This was the message Besigye gave right before and after the 2016 elections. Before the 2016 elections, which Besigye says he won with a margin of 52%, he said he would guard his votes against the NRM state machinery.
So the criticism aimed at Besigye has been denouncing the viability of elections while at the same time claiming victory in the same elections.
Brian Atuheire, an unwavering supporter of Besigye says there is an anti-Besigye campaign in the media. "We have seen new candidates before. We saw it with Mao and Otunnu in 2011 and with Mbabazi in 2016. The new candidates with the support of the media have not won."
Atuheire adds that people should focus their efforts on Museveni who first stood in 1980 and in 1996 before asking Besigye who came in 2001.