The first two parts of this series published in the last two weeks examined how the Reform Agenda pressure group ensured that Dr Warren Kizza Besigye would lead the opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party, and how he wanted his people to run FDC.
In this part, SULAIMAN KAKAIRE considers the retired colonel’s dominance over FDC, which has forced some senior members (largely former members of the Parliamentary Advocacy Forum, PAFO) to sit back and Besigye’s subsequent love affair with activism.
After his failed attempt to become party national chairperson in 2009, Bugweri MP Abdu Katuntu withdrew from some FDC activities, especially those which would have placed him on a collision course with Besigye.
“I had to do my roles as a member of NEC [National Executive Committee] and parliament. That is all,” Katuntu says.
Abed Nasser Mudiobole, who was the national youth leader but kept on the fringes under Besigye’s leadership, decided not to seek a new mandate after his term ran out.
“I learnt that we were working with a group that did not understand what we were doing. I [only] came back to seek leadership in 2015, when Gen Mugisha Muntu was made party president,” said Mudiobole, who is now secretary for legal affairs.
Others who withdrew from party activities included Martin Wandera, whose election in 2009 as secretary for labour was reversed by Besigye. Former FDC deputy president, Nuwe Amanya Mushega also remained a low-key presence in the colonel’s shadow but later began to loudly voice his dissent.
In an interview published in The Observer on August 10, 2015, Mushega took a swipe at Besigye for running in the 2016 general election yet he had announced he wouldn’t participate anymore in any election organised and supervised by President Museveni.
“You get a problem of people losing the element of shame, whereby leaders say things and [then] say I have never said them. It’s unfortunate,” said Mushega in reference to Besigye’s spirited defence of his change of heart.
Mushega, who later severed ties with Besigye, went further to observe: “you step down as a leader, but you continue not to cooperate with your colleague [Muntu] who has taken over. Actually, you begin organizing parallel structures. To me, those [things] will not contribute to building harmony. If I stopped being a secretary general [of EAC], I will continue supporting any person who takes over from me.
If I stop being a minister of education, any minister who seeks advice, I will give them honest advice whether NRM or DP… So, these fights are part and parcel of a fracturing society of dishonesty in the land and we need to address it.”
Besigye responded to Mushega in an interview published in The Observer on August 28, 2015:
“I have pointed out all through this campaign that I [came] into this campaign for two reasons. The first one being to galvanize the big support we have built over the years of my previous candidature. Recognizing that political support for one’s candidature is among other things a result of the trust voters have for a candidate. [That] trust is not necessarily transferable to another candidate of the same party, and I recognized there was that deficit of popular trust in my absence.
Secondly, we rally support for a purpose; the purpose people have rallied behind my candidature is so that some fundamental changes can take place in our politics. For those changes to [happen] will require fundamental reforms. The central one is dismantling the military dictatorship that has been crafted over our country by the NRM/ NRA organization. I noted that there was insufficient resolve amongst our colleagues to fight for those reforms.”
On the question of parallel structures, Besigye said when he stepped down from the party presidency, he pledged availability but; “there is absolutely no moment that I have been called to render any form of support that I have not rendered. Whenever I have been invited to accompany the president [Muntu] anywhere, I have not hesitated. I have even offered money to the party because it was in difficulty. I have in all my public engagements rendered support. I have never in any form or manner undermined the new leadership.”
But Mushega wondered: “If it’s [voters’ support] personal to you [Besigye] as if new voters have not come on board and some in the old voters register passed on, then this is in itself failed leadership. When you stepped down, I told some leaders at that time that you had stepped down tacticfully in order to come back with a bang as flag bearer. So, your coming back was not a surprise to me; what surprised me was the spurious reasons you advanced.”
By the time this very public outburst happened, some other prominent members of the party had also withdrawn from party activities. These include Richard Kaijuka, Augustine Ruzindana, and James Garuga Musinguzi.
The frustrations of these gentlemen highlight how Uganda’s largest opposition party came to lose the core of its senior cadre. Most, if not all, largely sat back as their leader increasingly courted low-profile rabble-rousers in their stead.
The party’s mobilisation efforts and institutional building ground to a halt. By 2009, there was no clear database of the membership of FDC and its structural presence could barely be felt in more than 60 per cent of Uganda.
Muntu, who was the secretary for mobilisation at the time, speaks about being stuck at a crossroads.
“Whereas you cannot blame the individuals for what was happening since these disagreements are expected in an organisation, the unfortunate part of it was that we were not building institutional structures to manage some of these fall-outs. Consequently, this affects mobilisation and funding for the party. People come to you based on how you look like and we were failing on this test,” Muntu said.
During the 2015 internal race for party presidential flag bearer, Besigye laid the blame for FDC’s limited presence on the ground at the feet of Muntu. However, this was only half of the story. Muntu said he would not “accuse any secretary for mobilisation for not setting up structures because this is about how the party thinks”.
“The secretary for mobilisation does not direct how resources are allocated. Now, if the party president was not directing resources to you, you can’t accuse me of not having done the best work. If you are given resources, you can be blamed.”
Poor or non-existent mobilisation would partly be responsible for FDC’s gloomy returns at the ballot box in 2011. Besigye’s votes declined from 2,592,954 votes (37.39 %) in 2006 to 2,064,963 (26%) out of 8,272,760 votes counted (representing 59.3 per cent of registered voters, according to the Electoral Commission).
Total opposition representation declined from 37 seats to 29 seats in parliament. At a post-election review workshop held in Kamwokya weeks later, Muntu, speaking as secretary for mobilisation, and other colleagues, discussed the internal weaknesses of the party and what needed to be done.
Party elder and former EALA MP Dan Wandera Ogalo says “when I look back on 2006 and 2011, I think we were weak because we concentrated on the presidency.”
Ogalo thinks it is at this point that; “divergent views of Muntu and Besigye began to emerge. [Those who believed in structures against those who were interested in results].”
In their book titled “Elections in a Hybrid Regime: Revisiting the 2011 Uganda Polls” the authors, who are majorly senior scholars at Makerere University, note that “the opposition also lost political ground because of its continuous inability to tackle its structural and organisational weaknesses.”
It was this reality that Muntu wanted addressed that would later deepen his differences with Besigye. Around this time, Aswa MP Reagan Okumu dropped out of sight. Okumu, it will be recalled, was a bosom ally of the colonel going right back to the Reform Agenda days.
So, it was with some consternation that Okumu was heard telling journalists at a well-attended press conference in the parliamentary canteen that Besigye’s joining of forces with [Buganda-learning] Ssuubi essentially isolated the RA.
Ssuubi was a loose grouping of Buganda nationalist politicians, including Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda, Mathias Mpuuga, Muhammad Muwanga Kivumbi, Erias Lukwago, Betty Nambooze and Moses Kasibante. The group was led by former prime minister of Buganda kingdom, Mulwanyamuli Ssemwogerere.
Okumu claimed that Besigye was pumping resources into Ssuubi at the expense of FDC, and yet FDC’s name was invoked at fundraisers. Okumu’s concerns were reflected upon during the post-election review sit-down.
“Well, it was unfortunate at the time that Reagan addressed a whole press conference about that but we internally raised it. In fact, it is during that meeting that we even punched holes in the so-called opposition coalition,” said a participant in that meeting.
Besigye would later tell a meeting of his National Executive Committee (NEC) that the Inter-Party Coalition (FDC, Conservative Party and Justice Forum (Jeema)) was forced on them by donors.
Asuman Basalirwa, the president of Jeema, said it would be naïve for anyone to think that you can be alone fighting a military dictatorship.
Today, Ssemujju is Kira Municipality MP. In 2011, he was the treasurer for Ssuubi. Interviewed last week, he said: “It does not make sense to have structures in Masaka, if Mpuuga is there or Butambala if Muwanga is there. Our situation is unique and we must understand that it is the only way we can make real big wins. What is the difference between us and Mpuuga or Muwanga?”
About Ssuubi taking Besigye’s money, Ssemujju says “FDC MPs were mistaken. Actually, our funding came from somewhere else. Even the beneficiaries don’t know since it was an arrangement I had with some of the funders that there should be non-disclosure of these people. Besigye may have weaknesses like most of us but this is not something he should be blamed for.”
As noted earlier, the gradual ascendency of the radical elements alienated what one would refer to as the ‘intellectual core.’
People like Prof Morris Ogenga Latigo, who was leader of opposition in parliament until he lost his Agago seat, never felt comfortable around ‘Besigye’s radical elements.’
Former secretary general Alice Alaso remembers one illuminating day at the party’s headquarters in Najjanankumbi. Latigo, who was then a deputy president, had come to attend a NEC meeting and Alaso remembers how “Professor told me one day that if this is the quality of people we are working with, then we are headed for a real crisis. In fact, I never saw him again after that day.”
When Latigo bowed out as LoP, Besigye swooped in and drew FDC’s parliamentary caucus and shadow cabinet closer. For the five years, when Latigo was LoP, Besigye had failed to sway him as he wished.
So, with the professor out of the way, a plan which caused Alaso, one of Besigye’s closest allies then, to re-think her priorities, was set in motion.
Contrary to the 2006 NEC resolution directing that the LoP should be an MP who occupies the most senior position in the party hierarchy, Besigye instead settled for Budadiri West MP Nathan Nandala-Mafabi.
Mafabi had cultivated a profile as chair of parliament’s aggressive Public Account Committee. He was deputy treasurer FDC, almost five steps below secretary general Alaso. The choice of Mafabi was not what upset Alaso. She says it was the manner of his appointment, which led her to cut ties with Besigye.
“It helped me understand his method of work as a person who does not respect rules or structures but also who believes in cliques or wants to see people fight,” she told The Observer.
Alaso recounts how she was surprised to see people campaigning for LoP, contrary to the very spirit of the 2006 resolution.
“I saw people travel to Nairobi when Doctor was admitted after being pepper-sprayed. When I saw delegations going, I said I would not go to beg for what is mine. We have rules through which I derive my hope,” Alaso said.
A few days before Besigye announced his choice, Alaso said she was invited for a meeting at his home in Kasangati;
“He told me that I know the guidelines and you know that you’re the most senior. And I want to appoint you the LoP but your brothers from Teso claim that they don’t want you as LoP but I will calm them.”
Alaso responded: “As far as I know, I don’t have any problem with anyone from my region. If any, I am not aware of that. But most importantly there are rules to determine that and as you rightly pointed out, they should be followed.”
Eventually, the meeting ended without a position.
Alaso says when the matter went to NEC, Besigye first presented the name of estranged Uganda People’s Congress faithful, Cecilia Ogwal. Ogwal had only just joined FDC.
Former secretary for publicity, Wafula Oguttu, a man who is still firmly with the colonel, had this recollection of the events. “When Besigye came from Nairobi after he was tortured by the policeman… and in his list was Cecilia Ogwal [as LOP], he had put Nandala-Mafabi as deputy which did not exist. But with a view that we can ask parliament since the government side also had a deputy… Cecilia had just been one-year-old in the party, so they asked him, you mean you have no confidence in the people you have been with for 10 years in this party that you are bringing this one to be our representative in the parliament?” said Oguttu.
Oguttu says Mafabi became the consensus choice.
“[Besigye] said what do we do then? Then somebody said this Nandala you put can be LoP. Somebody went and called Nandala and said Nandala we are doing this and yet Nandala hadn’t even applied for anything. Nandala accepted; Doctor said ‘okay we will go with Nandala. That was the working committee.”
Alaso’s view is that “this was all drama. He brought [Ogwal’s] name as a smokescreen.”
“How did he immediately come up with Nandala? What were the justifications for throwing me out? He had worked with me as secretary general for 10 years. Was I that inept or had I not performed well? What about the rules? For gender purposes, I even reasoned that give it to Winfred Kiiza.
“That is what changed my understanding of Doctor. No following regulations, I gave my party all my time and resources and this is how I would be rewarded. He cut an image of lack of transparency. He wanted me to clash with my people from Teso, by accusing them that they were responsible for denying me the opportunity,” she said.
Alaso joined the ranks of the disillusioned. She declined to serve in the shadow cabinet.
“I even stopped paying rent for some of the FDC offices in Teso until Gen Muntu arrived,” she said.
Alaso’s Teso sub-region accounts for close to five percent of Uganda’s voting population. Lying in the far eastern part of Uganda, Teso is considered to be a swing vote -- neither absolutely pro-opposition nor pro-ruling party.
Daniel K, Kalinaki writes in his book, Kizza Besigye and Uganda’s Unifinished Revolution that after the unsuccessful 2006 presidential election petition, Besigye’s political outlook changed.
He started thinking outside the formal structures of political opposition, to the broader platforms of popular resistance, civil disobedience and citizen agency.
“We shall continue to vigorously fight the unfair and undemocratic political dispensation in Uganda until the essential reforms are achieved…we shall be calling for boycotts, peaceful demonstrations and other political and legal actions. We shall show our people how to fight for their rights in a way that black mambas and tear gas can’t harm them,” Besigye is quoted from one press conference in the book.
Months into 2012, Besigye suddenly informed FDC senior leadership that he was quitting the party presidency.
“When Dr Besigye opted to cut short his term and resign, many of us pleaded with him; in the working committee, national executive committee, even the national council. We pleaded with him not to resign,” Wandera Ogalo says.
“We thought that we could build the party and make it strong so we can capture power. I remember him saying there are certain things he would like to do but sometimes he is constrained by being party president; the structures…Now, to an extent, therefore, if a man is going to quit his political party, because he believes that he can get us nearer to our objectives outside the party structures, to an extent you can say yes. He may not be a believer in structures as much as people may want … This is what also shaped the divergence of opinion in our party. The two tendencies between galvanising support around an individual as opposed to having grassroots structures.”
Alaso said, “I physically knelt before him and told him that he should stay. All that fell on deaf ears. But in retrospect, this was not his intention to let FDC evolve beyond him if you look at the events as they unfolded.”
Unseen in the background, the Nandala- Mafabi plan was still in play. Elections were called to choose a replacement to finish Besigye’s term. Muntu defeated Nandala-Mafabi, an outcome that almost tore the party apart with the Besigye wing absolutely livid.
Alaso says Muntu never received a hand-over report. Was Besigye, therefore, leaving without leaving?
“I witnessed no handover and there was no handover report. Gen Muntu had to start from scratch. As the most crucial office, there should at least have been some documentation of the activities that had been done and those pending. What of the partners, what would Muntu tell them when he takes over? All this had to be in a handover report,” she said.
Alaso said that, as FDC secretary general who served under Besigye, she saw that he was the chief fundraiser of the party and chief mobiliser, “and in that respect he should have documented something for Gen Muntu, guiding him on who our funder is, how we fundraise because none of us knew how most of the money came to the party, save for the Electoral Commission contributions and our alliance with the Conservatives of UK and maybe the contributions by the MPs and individual members, which contributions were negligible compared to Doctor’s budgets. But, he also did the disbursements.”
Muntu says “the party was indebted; we had to close [offices] all over the country due to rent arrears. I had only four staff at the time. Even the databank of membership was not in place. Whereas we had documents, all that had not been sorted out.”
A few months later, Alaso and the top leadership of FDC learnt that Besigye was still in touch with some international partners and had also set up a parallel structure based at his office on Katonga road in Kampala.
Many firebrands followed him to Katonga where the Activists 4 Change (A4C) pressure group came into its own as a hotbed for breeding civil disobedience. The ‘Walk to Work protests’, is one of the signposts of this heady period in opposition politics. Startled by how it quickly captured the public imagination and became a popular rallying platform, the government moved on A4C.
On the morning of April 4, 2012, the then attorney general invoked Section 56 of the Penal Code Act, declared A4C an ‘unlawful society’ and banned the group.
NO REFORMS, NO ELECTIONS
At the beginning of 2014, Besigye took off time to analyse the political context for the opposition. As a former, National Political Commissar, Besigye concluded that it was impossible to win under the current structures.
In a paper shared with FDC’s NEC, Besigye argued that; “Uganda is presently a military dictatorship under a ‘presidential monarchy’…state institutions have been either fused with the amorphous NRM or grossly compromised through lack of institutional independence and political patronage.” (See: ‘Exposed: How public purse funds partisan NRM, The Observer, March 14, 2014).
Besigye further argued that the military and security organisations, resident district commissioners and local councils, have been co-opted into NRM for political mobilisation.
“These were the institutions that were either a part of the NRM in 1986, when it assumed state power, or were espoused, built or restructured under the 20-year NRM single-party rule,” Besigye noted.
Other vital state institutions such as the Electoral Commission, Directorate of Public Prosecutions, Uganda Revenue Authority, Bank of Uganda and the courts have lost their independence, he said.
Wandera Ogalo listened and agreed as the paper was presented.
“I represented Dr Besigye as lead counsel in the 2006 presidential elections [Supreme Court petition]. I was head of the campaign bureau. I can confidently say that I have got sufficient information about the process of elections in this country to have supported Besigye when he said if there are no reforms, it is useless going for elections. I supported him in the working committee, I supported him all along when he was saying that without reform of the law, you are going to an election you will never make it….Seeing what had happened when I was managing the campaign in 2011, I knew that he was right.”
This proposal to boycott the 2016 elections split both the FDC and wider opposition. Some people figured that abandoning participation in elections, however rigged or contrived, was comparable to political suicide.
Along the way, Besigye suddenly reversed his position, shocking people like Wandera Ogalo.
“I was taken aback when he decided that he was going to stand again...I think that if you are going to change your mind on such a fundamental issue which you have been public about, not just in Najjanankumbi, you need to explain why,” said Ogalo.
Alaso says it gradually dawned on them that Besigye’s resignation shouldn’t be confused with retirement.
“He remained actively involved in seeing that Mafabi becomes secretary general, but also seeing to it that all prominent people of his group take senior positions of the party in preparation for the presidential candidate race,” she said.
PAFO old girl Salaamu Musumba (FDC vice president for eastern Uganda), recognises that while the ‘elite, intellectuals’ may have walked away from Besigye and his version of what FDC has become, “it is the ordinary people who have made him what he is”.
“They can say anything but as long as the people want him, he can’t be written off. Instead, those complaining are the ones who have been phased out,” she said. Besigye’s U-turn also surprised some of his activist colleagues within the broader opposition.
Basalirwa told The Observer that when Besigye said he would not stand without reforms, some of them built alliances with other people.
“As the events unfolded during the TDA process and my party supporting former prime minister John Patrick Amama Mbabazi, I was shocked when people belonging to the defiance group started accusing me of betrayal. Whereas it was okay for KB to change his views, I maintained my view that I am not a political pendulum.”
After the 2016 election, Besigye tried to mend fences…they have kept him waiting.
Continues next week.