The Forum for Democratic Change, Uganda's largest opposition party, is making 12 years this year. With the party leadership up for grabs in November, Jerome Kule Bitswande speaks to the current FDC president, MAJ GEN GREGORY MUGISHA MUNTU, about the party's journey and what the future holds.
FDC has been around for 12 years; what achievements do you have to show for more than a decade of existence?
For the last twelve years, our main concentration as a party has been building organizational capabilities; we have also focused on establishing our branch networks. We initially started upwards from national level to districts, sub-counties and eventually downwards to the villages although we have not yet fully succeeded because of some challenges.
The next phase of our exercise, which we are about to embark on, is to concentrate on those areas and ensure that we are constituted by having committees at the different leadership levels. I believe that is where the strength of the party lies – building a strong foundation. The foundation is not physical; it is intellectual, psychological and managerial.
We have also been working on changing perceptions of the public about FDC. I want people to support us not because of what we are against, not to see us as a party that has positioned itself just to oust Mr Museveni and his dictatorship.
People should understand us for what we stand for, and that is the reason we launched the policy agenda. Unfortunately we have not been in position to pursue it as vigorously as we should have because immediately after that we went into an internal election for the presidential flag bearer and the general national elections.
That is going to be an area of focus, for people to understand that on education, governance, health, etc, FDC stands for this, and keep working on that until the people realize our policy to be our main identity as we build our capacity to oust the regime because the two are not in conflict.
We also embarked on carrying out recruitment and training of leaders. We were able to field a significant number of candidates for political offices at all levels although not at the level we desired because we only got 36 MPs and 06 district chairpersons.
That is an effort that we shall keep focusing on, to build numbers because I believe the more we grow strength at the village levels and be able to take a majority of those seats, we shall have capacity to not only take the presidency but also manage the country well.
Talking about recruiting new leaders, since 2006, the party has not been in position to attract a big number of political actors, why?
I think it is indecision on the side of the elite because they continue seeing two contending strategies within FDC, they see defiance and what they think is party development and they assume that the party is in conflict.
They thus look at the party as organizing just to oust Mr Museveni other than through the electoral process. That is why we have not attracted 100 per cent candidates for leadership positions; but slowly there has been a shift. Last year many people were willing to hold our flag for political offices at different levels much more than in 2006 and 2011.
In 2012, during FDC presidential campaigns, you pledged to build party structures but here you are with not much done on that front!
In the first three years of my tenure, there was deep contention on whether we concentrate on the grassroots or on dislodging the presidency. So, we didn’t have enough time to go to the ground and focus on creating structures.
It is this time especially after 2016 that the people now recognize the need to have huge numbers of people on the ground across the country.
FDC has been trying to remove Mr Museveni – as a major objective – for 12 years and some of your members appear to be suffering fatigue of fighting without tasting victory; what would you tell them?
It simply means that we have not yet reached that level of marshalling our capabilities altogether and oust him. It is not a matter of debate. It means there are certain areas where we are still weak and we must acknowledge them.
That is the reason I don’t go into blame games when we fail to solve a problem; we must assess our performance and if you realize your weaknesses, work on them.
Don’t focus on the other side because we surely know that Mr Museveni is a dictator who has built machinery to ensure he remains in power because we know that he is not going to hand over power through an electoral process unless we overwhelm him. And the only way to overwhelm him is to concentrate on overcoming our weaknesses.
Your critics think your non-confrontational approach cannot do much in ousting military governments like the NRM.
I have heard that argument for some time, but I have not stopped anybody from using confrontational means. So, I don’t think whoever wants to use another approach should use me as an excuse.
However, one thing I know for sure is that for any method to work, there must be good organization behind it and for me that is what I invest time in.
Dr Kizza Besigye’s personality still hovers around FDC; how has this affected you as party president?
It does not affect me in any way. I keep focused on the things that I need to do. My focus is to build systems in the party so that when I leave, I know for sure that the party will live on its own because I recognize that our generation of leaders is going to step out at some point.
That is why I want the next generation to be well equipped to continue running the party because of the culture and ideology that we will have established. So, I don’t get distracted by anything personal. Dr Besigye continues to do whatever activities that he wants to engage in; I don’t contradict them. Actually I keep giving him and other activists the necessary backup.
Your youth activists are routinely arrested and even taken to court; what has the party done to assist them?
One thing I know for sure is that this party ensures that we follow them up and do everything humanly possible to secure their freedom. We get lawyers where we can to pursue all those cases and we also individually get involved. We don’t want to abandon anybody in the cells because we know that kills morale.
Yet FDC activist Sam Mugumya has been abandoned in the DRC...
DRC is out of our reach, we are a party and not a government; but we have done our best through different channels to see how it can be resolved and I will not go into the details of what we have done and what we continue doing.
The FDC presidential elections are coming up in November; what are you doing to avoid the bickering that almost tore the party apart in 2012?
One thing we have done is to have a timetable ten months before the election. We are a young party yet we have the confidence to streamline our activities with clear guidelines for whoever would like to become party president. That shows you how we do not want to manipulate information.
I am confident about our internal processes because I have been part of them deliberately because one of the things I have been doing is to establish an internal atmosphere where people get used to competition because it is healthy.
I have no fears about contradictions that come up after elections because the intensity of the contradictions is a reflection of where we are at. We have had several elections, and other than the first two in which I contested with Dr. Besigye, the others have been very contentious but we continuously meet until we resolve those contradictions.
People should not see the quarrels in the press and think that is a sign of instability; it is a sign of indiscipline and it also shows the level of growth that we have reached. The most important thing is that it will also be another opportunity for us to learn how to manage our differences and grow. I, however, do not expect a lot of contradictions in November because we shall be doing what we have done before.
What are you doing about the indiscipline, about your leaders fighting in the press?
Indiscipline will have its own time when we will deal with it decisively. We have done it at different times, but not consistently. We are focusing on the institution first more than the individuals.
If Muntu does a mistake and you move to punishing him, most people won’t look at my mistake but instead they could think I am being punished for what I stand for and not for the mistakes that I have committed, but we are overcoming it because there is more demand for disciplinary action to be taken implying that we are moving to a point where somebody can be punished and people will appreciate the mistake that the victim is being punished for.
Of course, there are times when people want immediate action to be taken but as a leader who has a helicopter view of the organization, I realize it may divert us from our major objective of ousting the regime.
Where do you see the FDC in ten years’ time?
First of all, we shall be in power, and I believe in ten years we shall have run this country in a very good manner that people will start asking themselves why FDC had not gotten the opportunity to run this country earlier. There will be a positive radical change in the way we manage the affairs of the country.
Are you saying FDC will take the presidency in 2021?
I have no doubt in my mind about that. We are doing everything possible to ensure we win the next election.
How is that going to happen when you have members in the FDC who have shown willingness to work with Mr Museveni because he controls the national purse?
Like who, for example?
Well, your former deputy treasurer Anita Among did say she works with the president!
Hon Anita Among is an independent member of parliament, the only relationship we have with her is that, she deputizes an opposition-led committee in parliament. Of course some individuals may not be strong enough to continue taking on the struggle.
There are some people who are not grounded on long-term objectives. So, at every five years especially after elections, there are people who simply give up, for example Alex Onzima, Beti Kamya and Rubaramira Ruranga, among others, fell out and you cannot avoid that. The FDC is no prison and if there are people who have no “mettle” to continue fighting, you let them go but the party continues to grow.
We shall make attempts to recover some leaders, but if they are irrecoverable, we shall carry out actions decisively. There are some guiding principles to me, and they are: there is a beginning and an end to everything; you reap what you sow; and everything has its time.
So, who is going to lead the FDC to State House? Will it be you holding the FDC flag in 2021?
How can we talk four years down the road, there are still a lot of things to do. I will certainly run for the party presidency in November and I really hope that the delegates have known me better to give me the trust that is needed for me to build the party into a strong organization that will overwhelm and oust President Museveni and his dictatorship.
Recently, veteran journalist Andrew Mwenda waged a social media war on what he called radicalism and fanaticism about some FDC members; as a leader are you not concerned about this radicalism?
I don’t usually follow externally generated debates; an organization cannot be organized from the outside. The cohesion of the party can only arise out of its good management of its own internal dynamics. So, I don’t care what anybody says from the outside.
You see, sometimes even the ruling party uses internal security organization to sow seeds of discord among us. We can only put to test what we hear and see if it is the reality; and if we have a weakness, we find mechanisms of dealing with it. If it is not real, we do not allow it to divert us.
Looking at your tenure, where do you think you could have done better?
If we had not been sucked in our internal contradictions, we would have marketed the party better and been identified for what we stand for, and not what we stand against. If you do a poll now, you will realize that most people look at us as a group that wants to oust Mr Museveni.
The perceptions have also caused us problems when it comes to fundraising, sometimes because of the contradictions; possible donors are hesitant to support us. We would now also have a wider reach in terms of branch networks.
My concentration has been on building cohesion, that is why sometimes I let people walk over me and I do not carry out legal and administrative measures to avoid things that could cause more instability; in that way, we are able to resolve our contradictions politically. I am glad that we are now stable despite our internal contradictions.
Any last words?
Leaders should have confidence and keep focusing on party development for us to be stronger and be able to salvage this country. We are standing at a historical moment and, by God’s grace, we will be able to utilize the vantage position that we are in, not only to take power but also use it to radically transform this country.
As the FDC, we know for sure that all the chaos, coups and deaths of people that we have had in this country have been as a result of the failure by the leaders to manage contradictions and we are working on that. For a country to be managed on a sustained basis, there must be a political culture that manages contradictions, enhances accountability, fairness, transparency, justice and equality before the law.
If anybody starts a party now, it would also be hit by the same contradictions that we are going through. That is why we ask people not to lose heart or panic because we are bold enough to recognize this dynamic and we are dealing with it.
We also want to ensure that these managerial skills are transferred to all leaders at different levels across the country because that is the only guarantee that we are going to have a stable country.