- Wipe out Opposition. One cannot help but wonder what President Museveni meant when he used the word “completely” because what the NRM has been enjoying is complete dominance. So was he talking of targeting individual actors in the Opposition for recruitment? Or was it sowing confusion to factionalise them and make dominant factions depended on the NRM for survival, writes Isaac Mufumba.
It is two years and eight days since the chairman of the ruling NRM, President Museveni, famously declared that he would be working to annihilate the Opposition between 2016 and 2021.
“I am going to wipe out the Opposition completely in the next five years,” he said, adding that “the “NRM is going to be stronger.”
That did not come as a surprise. He has always been working towards that since 1986 when the NRM rose to power and confined the Opposition’s operations to their head offices. The return to multiparty politics did not mean that they were free to operate in the countryside. They are still inhibited by laws such as the Public Order Management Bill (POMB), behind which the police has been hiding to bar the opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) from holding rallies in western Uganda.
It would suffice to say that the parties operations are dependent on Mr Museveni’s benevolence. The Electoral Commission (EC) has been giving money to the parties, but the distribution mechanism is based on the number of MPs that each party has in Parliament, which was always meant to benefit the NRM.
Under the circumstances one cannot help, but wonder what he meant when he used the word “completely” because what the NRM has been enjoying is complete dominance. So was he talking of targeting individual actors in the Opposition for recruitment into the NRM? Or was it sowing confusion to factionalise them and make dominant factions depended on the NRM for survival? So far it is looking like the latter.
Soon after his declaration, he appointed Democratic Party’s (DP) Florence Nakiwala Kiyingi, Uganda Federal Alliance (UFA) president Beti Olive Kamya, and UPC party president Jimmy Akena’s wife Betty Amongi to his Cabinet.
UPC member and former MP for Kole, Ms Joy Ruth Achieng, was named High Commissioner to Canada while the national chairman of DP, Muhammed Baswari Kezaala, became deputy High Commissioner to India.
It is only UPC that has a semblance of an understanding with the NRM.
“We (NRM and UPC) drafted something which one of the parties did not ascent to. Our (UPC) cabinet had issues with some provisions of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). They approved that part on Betty Amongi taking the Cabinet job, but did not approve the formal working relationship with the NRM,” UPC party spokesperson Mr Michael Osinde told this newspaper.
The deputy director of the Uganda Media Centre, Col Shaban Bantariza, has previously defended personal deals between Museveni and some individuals in the Opposition.
“One doesn’t have to have a structured engagement. That would require the parties to nominate who the President includes in his Cabinet. What if the President does not believe in that person’s competence?” he argues.
Handing Opposition figures jobs has always served to not only bolster the NRM’s ranks as people like Maria Mutagamba, Prof Gilbert Bukenya, Dr Speciosa Wandira Kazibwe, Mr Gerald Ssendaula and Prof Ephraim Kamuntu who joined the broad based government ended up stuck in the NRM, but also served to fuel confusion within and among the parties.
DP, UPC and FDC members have been at each other’s necks with some accusing others of working as “moles”, which fits in well with Mr Museveni’s agenda.
In the wake of Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu’s decision to leave FDC and form another party, six other youth leaders: Mr Iddi Ouma, Mr Isma Kasule, Ms Zeridah Kakayi, Mr Khan Sultan Izati, Mr Jonny Eribu and Mr Ouma James Peter were kicked out of the party for allegedly working as moles for both Gen Muntu and the NRM.
Mr Iddi Ouma has since dragged the party to court for wrongful dismissal, which plays well into the NRM’s agenda.
Gen Muntu’s departure was in part informed by the suspicion with which he was viewed.
“The current party leadership needs to be given the opportunity to pursue their agenda untethered by the constant worry of sabotage or suspicion,” he said.
Even before then suspicions had been running high that some members of the party had been bought but ordered to stay in Najjanankumbi to spy for the NRM.
The former Leader of the Opposition in Parliament (LOP), Prof Morris Ogenga Latigo, who is one of those viewed with suspicion because of his “conspicuous silence” says the accusations have not been handled well.
“We have been suspicious of one another and we have been reckless with that suspicion. There has been no sitting people down even in my own party (FDC). This has resulted into bitterness. It has eroded interest on the part of many people, including me. I am not interested in spending my time with people who think poorly of me,” he says.
Trouble in DP
DP has been in turmoil since February 2010 when Mr Norbert Mao beat Nasser Ntege Sebaggala to the party presidency. DP members like Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago and Masaka Municipality MP Mathias Mpuuga, campaigned for the Inter Party Cooperation (IPC) presidential candidate, Col Dr Kizza Besigye, even when Mr Mao was a candidate in the 2011 elections.
The tensions have never let up. Some members remain opposed to Mr Mao. The situation was exacerbated by Mr Museveni’s 2017 NRM day speech in which he described Mr Mukasa Mbidde, one of Mao’s right hand men, as a “good DP man”.
That led to accusations that Mukasa Mbidde and Mao were working to “deliver DP” into the hands of the NRM. Mukono Municipality MP Betty Nambooze started the “Good DP Bad DP” campaign “to make DP great again”. It took the intervention of the police on the side of Mr Mao to snuff out the fire that she had ignited.
It was ironical that Mr Mao and his section of the party had to fall back to employing the very tool that the NRM has been using to suppress him and the rest of the Opposition to contain the threat that Ms Nambooze posed.
Mr Akena has always defended cooperation with the NRM saying that UPC needs it in order to be able to operate without the police blocking its activities, but the problem is that some developments in the Obote family have left Akena’s UPC looking like an appendage of the NRM.
First of all government picked up the cost of renovating the Obote’s homes in Kololo and Akokoro.
Then on June 15, 2016, President Museveni told NRM leaders from the Lango Sub-region that the NRM had been having a “clandestine relations with UPC” since 2011. It should, therefore, not have come as a surprise that first the police and later Deputy Chief Justice Steven Kavuma helped in blocking the execution of a ruling by High Court judge Yasin Nyanzi, that his election was illegal.
The political parties have always failed to work out a common front against the NRM. They are either sniping away at each other or taking positions that send them further apart.
Last month DP, Social Democratic Party (SDP), People’s Development Party (PDP) and the pressure group Truth and Justice announced that they were working to form a “unified electoral platform”, which would see Opposition parties field candidates as per the parties’ regional strength. However, the plan was immediately dismissed by FDC with the party’s chief mobiliser, Ingrid Turinawe, taking to social media to bash the plan which seeks to lock some parties out of fielding candidates in certain regions.
In May 2018, FDC accused DP and UPC of betrayal after the two parties baulked out of earlier understanding not to nominate candidates for the East African Legislative Assembly elections to protest NRM’s insistence on taking a lion’s share of the seats.
In January last year UPC accused FDC of fomenting “division and intrigue”. FDC’s crime had been to call on the public to isolate the 317 MPs who endorsed lifting of the lower and upper age limits for the presidency.
Early last December DP joined FDC in announcing that it would not be attending the Inter Party Dialogue (IPOD) Summit only for that position to change dramatically. Mr Mao blames the confusion in the Opposition on the NRM.
“NRM has invested heavily in keeping the parties divided. It uses mostly manipulation and propaganda. The chaos in the Opposition is what feeds into Museveni’s machine. He turns to the public and says do you want those people to bring their confusion in government?” Mao says.
Uganda’s ambassador to China, Mr Henry Mayega, who quit UPC in 2009 to join NRM, does not agree with Mr Mao.
“The biggest problem in my view is not the NRM. Who came to UPC and instructed some of them, and very senior members to say that UPC Meggwa (is ours)? When Mao became president of DP and some went tribal against him was it the NRM was distracting them?” Mr Mayega asks.
The confusion is what has fuelled the formation of an alternative force. It explains why some sections of society are enthusiastic about Gen Muntu’s upcoming party and also explain why MP Robert Kyagulanyi’s “People Power” had gained momentum.
“General opposition against the regime has been growing exponentially, but the leadership has not grown,” says Mr Mpuuga.
There are many more people voting for the Opposition. In 2001 the Opposition took 2.2 million or 30.5 per cent out of the 7.5 million votes. In 2006 the total haul rose to 2.8 million or 40.74 per cent of the 7.2 million votes cast. In 2011 the figure dropped to 2.5 million or 31.61 per cent of the 8.2 million votes cast before it rose again to 3.8 million or 39.37 per cent of the 10.3 votes cast. Would the Opposition be able to build on it?
Mr Mayega thinks not. He says it is not possible for it to build the kind of cohesion and high level of organisation required to take power.
Gen Muntu has been singing about organisation and though the “mole label” has been difficult to shade off, he does not come with the kind of extra baggage that bogs down other leaders in the Opposition. He just might be the new kid that the Opposition needs.