Internal crises are threatening to bury Uganda’s oldest political parties with both UPC and DP now grappling with two rival presidents each.
On Monday, a splinter group comprising mainly Baganda politicians tapped embattled Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago to lead the party, having lost confidence in Norbert Mao’s leadership.
This followed a hastily-convened delegates’ conference at Lugogo that installed Jimmy Akena as UPC president, a move rejected by Olara Otunnu, the outgoing leader. These developments have split the two parties into factions from which some analysts say they might never recover.
“The NRM has weaknesses but the revolutionary parties are supposed to be better organised,” Dr Sabiti Makara, a political science lecturer at Makerere University, said on July 21 in a telephone interview.
Makara added that UPC and DP’s confusion erodes the electorate’s confidence in the two parties.
“If you cannot put your house in order, how can you be trusted with a much bigger community? They need to work on their internal organisation even before they join the bigger opposition alliance,” he said.
The state of affairs in DP and UPC was on top of the agenda as leaders of The Democratic Alliance (TDA), a coalition of forces seeking to create a joint front against President Museveni in next year’s elections, held a meeting this week.
TDA comprises DP, UPC, Forum for Democratic Change, Conservative Party, Justice Forum (Jeema), Uganda Federal Alliance, People’s Progressive Party, and pressure groups aligned to former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi and Prof Gilbert Bukenya.
Jeema president, Asuman Basalirwa, the chairperson of TDA’s committee in charge of campaign strategy and coordination, told us on Tuesday that they will not be affected by the confusion reigning within individual parties.
“We cannot interfere in the operations of parties. But we know that whatever happens will be addressed based on what the protocol says,” Basalirwa said.
However, talk is rife that Mao’s supporters have threatened to abandon TDA if it recognises Lukwago’s break-away group. During a phone interview with KFM radio’s Hot Seat talk show on Wednesday , Mao repeated his threat to quit the coalition if it recognises Lukwago’s faction.
“The alliance is not an alliance of individual leaders; it is an alliance of political partrties,” Mao said, maintaining that DP is a fully-fledged member of TDA – for now.
In response, Basalirwa described Mao’s threat as speculative. “The protocol is very clear; we cannot just admit a pressure group. Mr Mao, I doubt, can even contemplate that,” he said.
According to Article 2 of the protocol, the alliance comprises registered political parties, recognised pressure groups, eminent persons and other citizen formations vetted and admitted in accordance with the protocol. Article 8 provides that the summit may admit any other member to the Alliance, if their application meets specified criteria.
This month began with a coup d’etat in UPC when a section of members convened a delegates’ conference at UMA show grounds and installed Lira municipality MP Jimmy Akena as the new party president.
Akena, the son of Apollo Milton Obote, who led UPC to power twice, is to succeed Olara Otunnu. However, the outgoing president insists the district conferences election that Akena purports to have won was not free and fair.
By the time Otunnu asked the party’s elections review board to investigate, Akena and his supporters had declared themselves victorious and assumed office at Uganda House, the party headquarters.
While Akena maintains he is the rightful president of the party having been the only candidate seconded by the UPC district conferences for onward approval by the delegates’ conference, an inquiry ordered by the party released a report last week indicating that Akena had been illegally seconded by the district conferences.
The inquiry, chaired by Prof Patrick Rubaihayo, said Akena’s election had been marred by irregularities. Senior lawyer Peter Walubiri, the secretary to Rubaihayo’s committee, said Akena’s presidential claim is illegal and calls for disciplinary action.
“They went ahead to declare themselves winners before the rightful organs of the party could do it. They proceeded to occupy the party premises and convened the delegates’ conference without any authority. These were all illegal acts,” he told The Observer, adding that their committee has ordered fresh elections.
For his part Akena said he would ignore the Rubaihayo committee.
“That committee is not independent. It was put together by Otunnu to do that task, which was performed,” Akena said. “The reality is, whatever it wants will not happen.”
Higenyi Ikemba, the acting UPC administrator, said whatever Otunnu’s group is saying is idle talk.
“It is idle for them to sit on the roadside and claim to be the leaders yet we are occupying the party headquarters. Let Otunnu and group go to court,” Ikemba said.
Otunnu couldn’t be reached to tell us his next course of action.
Similarly, with only days left to the DP delegates’ conference set for July 24, during which a new party leadership would be elected, a group of DP leaders convened at Bativa hotel on Monday this week and picked Kampala Lord Mayor Lukwago to lead their group.
Lukwago’s group includes MPs Mathias Mpuuga (Masaka municipality), Ssebuliba Mutumba (Kawempe South) and Latif Ssebaggala (Kawempe North). It argues that the delegates conference should be suspended until their concerns are addressed. “Our concerns are that we cannot go on with a delegates’ conference whose composition is illegal,” Mpuuga said.
Mpuuga argues that most party structures did not hold elections as required and as such those holding out to be delegates are mere dummies nominated by the party headquarters. “The arranged delegates’ meeting should be postponed for six months or more to make sure that clear structures are established in accordance with the DP constitution,” he said.
Interviewed on July 21, Lukwago told us that his group is expected to meet DP president Norbert Mao’s team at Pope Paul VI Memorial hotel to discuss their concerns.
“In case we fail to reach a consensus, we shall announce our next course of action,” Lukwago said.
Subsequently, Lukwago’s group failed to turn up. In Elections In A Hybrid Regime, a book that analyses the 2011 elections, scholars note that part of NRM’s victory in electoral processes is explained by the weaknesses of opposition parties.