FDC strongman says he won’t retire from struggle
After The Democratic Alliance announced last Wednesday that there would be no joint presidential candidate in next year’s election following sharp division between the leading aspirants Amama Mbabazi and Kizza Besigye, the latter was accused by some in the opposition of failing the alliance through his unwillingness to accept an outcome other than himself.
Besigye, who feels unfairly maligned, has since gone on a charm offensive to address the issue. Besigye, among other things stresses why he feels that his TDA rival, Mbabazi, though welcome to his side, doesn’t have what it takes to become opposition flag bearer in next year’s elections.
On September 26, the former FDC president spoke to Deo Walusimbi on that and other issues.
Did you fail TDA?
I was not in TDA as Besigye, but as an FDC flag bearer. I was given the flag after a very comprehensive, democratic, transparent exercise that covered the entire country and I [went] to TDA with impeccable democratic credentials.
I went to TDA proud of my background in the practice of democracy because I am proud that FDC is not only the leading opposition party, but it has also practised very clean, transparent politics and remains united as a result.
I was not the negotiator on behalf of my party, [but] the leader of the delegation of FDC [in TDA] is our party president General Mugisha Muntu.
These were the persons that were interacting with other parties in the TDA to discharge its duties. So, it wasn’t me who was the main transactor in the processes of TDA.
When a stage reached where candidates were required to sit aside and talk amongst ourselves, with a view of coming up with a consensus on the joint candidate, we did so and we produced a report of the candidates.
But you remained isolated after all your colleagues went on one side...
I am horrified to hear some members say that in our meeting there were decisions that were made and that three people were on one side and I was on another. This is one major undoing of that (TDA) process.
I think the management of information, the propaganda, and lies that have been used as a method of negotiation [by Amama Mbabazi] have been quite unfortunate.
So, in the discussion we emerged with a report that indicated that two candidates had given way and there were two candidates remaining; myself, and Amama Mbabazi.
Two people do not easily make a good basis for the judgment, but we had a very candid discussion between me and Mbabazi regarding the suitability of one of us becoming the TDA flag bearer and I have since been open about the kind of discussion we had.
I was representing the views of people who gave me the flag. In that discussion I raised mine and other colleagues’ reservations regarding Mbabazi being a flag bearer of our party.
Could you name these reservations?
One was that we were not convinced that he had demonstrated commitment to the tenets of our struggle. The struggle we have been engaged in for all these  years has been mainly relating to questions about the rule of law, [abuse] of human rights, corruption and democratization.
Our central concern has been on governance issues because we think that it is the politics of our country that has been mismanaged, which has resulted in all the other problems...and those four areas are key.
And in the last 30 years Mbabazi has been at the centre of government, he has been very influential [but] we have never heard him speak out against any of these issues in relation to what their government was doing.
Are there particular moments you expected Mbabazi to speak out and he didn’t?
Indeed there have been moments when one would have expected some kind of response. Like when the Black Mamba (paramilitary outfit) raided the High court and obstructed justice in broad daylight not once, but twice!
Some people who were in government raised their voices [against the raid] but he [Mbabazi] wasn’t one of them. There are times when there were gross violations of human rights, again we didn’t hear him, plus corruption and so on. Indeed I’m among the [TDA presidential candidates] who asked him what caused his split from Museveni.
He told us that Museveni was very “dishonest in their dealings and he undermined him”.
He said that Museveni had also told lies in relation to the [power] transition because he had promised to retire several times and had not lived up to his promises.
These were his issues. He didn’t touch any issues of concern to the opposition as being the reason he had a problem with Museveni. Indeed, even when he had a problem with Museveni, he just wanted to stand in the [NRM] primaries to change the leadership of NRM and continue.
Personally you don’t think Mbabazi can lead [Uganda] to the fundamental change the country needs?
No, I am not saying that. I am simply saying that we have not witnessed and have no evidence of Mbabazi’s commitment to these important issues.
And, indeed, he said that ‘yes’ he might not have paid attention to them [in the past], but he is now committed to them and that is why he signed the TDA protocol, which enshrines those issues. I have no quarrel if he has now embraced those issues and we welcome him wholeheartedly.
What is your problem with Mbabazi in relation to your struggle?
We welcome him in the cooperation but the question remains whether he is the best person to be the flagship of the struggle.
But you were supported when you were part of the little-known Reform Agenda in 2001.
I also support him but what I am saying is that these issues we are fighting for, he has not shown commitment to them. In 2001, first of all, the reason why I broke ranks with Museveni was over a document [‘An Insider’s view of how NRM lost the broad-base’] I wrote it in 1999. That document was precisely about these key issues.
They were about democratization, corruption, rule of law, institutional governance as opposed to personal rule. These are issues I put in a document and said these are breaking up the Movement and they are not what we fought for.
If he [Mbabazi] had demonstrated that kind of commitment to say that he has been advocating for these issues even from within NRM, I would be very comfortable.
But to say that they are now in the protocol, they have actually all along been in the NRM programme, but they are not attended to at all. So, being in the [TDA] protocol would not be any different from them being in the NRM programme. What we need is demonstration that you have been advocating for these issues and willing to advance them.
The second reservation was on the team he comes with because I have been interacting with him for almost a year, but beyond him and Hope Mwesigye (his sister-in-law who is a former minister and MP), I have not seen anyone else.
If he gets the TDA flag, he can only be nominated [by the Electoral Commission] as an independent because TDA is not a party. So, I asked him, that as an independent, what regulates his flagship and actions thereafter?
Because for me, there is the FDC constitution, which every Ugandan can read, and other leaders can control me if I am becoming a problem. But in his case, if he is alone as an independent, how do you relate again on issues of accountability to the people? So, we had issues with that.
Lastly, we had issues with his commitment to electoral and political reforms that we have been fighting for because his approach has been that ‘Yes, there are some problems, but they are not big problems. We need to change leadership and we go forward.’
And we think the state needs to be fundamentally reformed and that is why we are talking about a transitional government after NRM. We did not sense that he was inclined to these issues.
These were the three genuine issues on our part, which we expressed very politely, but we are not in the blame game; we are simply saying that you [Mbabazi] are very welcome but on these accounts; are you the best to be the flag-bearer of this struggle?
But the TDA protocol of which FDC is a signatory embraced pressure groups including Mbabazi’s Go Forward; why did you go to TDA well aware that Mbabazi who had issues would be there?
Unless you have not heard me, but I said that he is most welcome and we would want more and more people to leave the Museveni regime to join us, it’s a wonderful thing.
So, we have no reservations on their being part of us in the alliance, but being the flagship of the alliance is where we have reservations. We can work together and we should work together for the changes.
While we are working together, we can build confidence in each other and with time, they [new-comers] can lead [the opposition] once these reservations have been dealt with.
Some opposition leaders who have been supporting you are saying the struggle needs new blood like Mbabazi who knows Museveni well.
The objective of our struggle is not we and the success or failure of our struggle also is not really about us as such. We must focus on the principles that we are fighting for, which is not just the removal of Museveni.
We are fighting for a change of system of government and redistribution of resources so that power can be exercised by citizens unlike today where citizens are powerless.
It’s not enough to say that if we do this, we may change the government because we who participated in the NRA struggle have been blamed for bringing Museveni who has become a problem.
They [people] ask us that ‘didn’t you see that the man was not committed to what he was saying?’ Of course we didn’t see that. So, I wouldn’t want now to be part of a process that will make the same mistake if I can avoid it. So, this is why scrutiny is important for us and of course some people may ask that are you the only one who can do it? No.
We are simply saying that this is what we are looking for [and therefore] let us look for somebody who fits the bill. And even if that someone is not amongst the four of us who were in the room, we should say okay, we all don’t fit the bill, let us look [elsewhere]. We should be humble and do that. It doesn’t mean that it must be me, but at least I can say this is not the best way to do it.
How would you respond to an indictment against you and Mbabazi that you failed to separate the mission from personal ambitions?
First of all, as I have pointed out, the process of consensus building is a process that takes time. Unfortunately that is the undoing of this particular (TDA) process because it was pressed on time.
In the Inter-Party Cooperation [in 2010], which we had before and it wasn’t so successful, we had much more time but we didn’t achieve all we set out to achieve. In this case, there was simply no time and so I don’t think we need to be hard on ourselves that we failed because of ambitions or this and that.
Of course Ugandans are quick to vulgarize very serious matters. This was a very serious and important process, but it also had serious challenges of time, the environment within which the process itself is being handled because in processes like this one, you will find a lot of undue influences from third parties, which infiltrate the process.
What do you mean by third parties?
We are in this to try and get rid of a dictatorship, which is a very powerful machine. It is a monster with a lot of resources and competences to the extent that even when you are seated in the room, you don’t know what things are plugged in the room, to tell them everything you have discussed and they look for ways to undo them.
So, we are in a very difficult environment, which in any case made us come together because if there was democracy, there was no reason for TDA. So, third parties somehow contributed to the way we ended in TDA. The other issue is on the type of [political] parties we had on the table.
Again, these parties on the table are a result of the environment in which we are. So, you have parties on the table, which are themselves fractured with low levels of competences and busy trying to look for ways of survival.
We are in negotiations, but people are busy conducting media propaganda and all these are realities that we cannot run away from, which had a strong bearing on the outcome that we would get.
Yes, ambitions too could have played a role but I don’t think they were the main cause [of collapse] because they are always there. I think the real challenges were; there was no time, bad environment and we have parties that have internal issues.
Don’t you feel unsettled by the fact that 2016 is the first time we are going into an election when part of FDC and loyal opposition MPs are against you?
I am 100 per cent sure that none of the people that would say they would not vote for me in the elections would say so because I was not properly elected as [FDC] flag bearer.
I am sure all of them, whoever you ask, will agree that I was elected flag bearer of FDC. So, if there is an FDC person who doesn’t feel comfortable supporting the flag bearer that was democratically chosen, it goes back to the type of parties we have.
It means that person either lacks organiazational discipline or is, indeed, motivated by other things other than what our party is all about. And there are all kinds of motivations, especially for our political leaders.
It’s not only about elections, I think you know that for example, government has been bribing our [opposition] MPs with money out of nowhere. Some of our MPs returned the money; others didn’t feel inclined to. So, it depends on personal circumstances. I think it would be simply inconceivable on our side to expect that all people will behave in the same way in all circumstances.
You claim the media has been used to discredit TDA and yourself; who are those personalities rallying the media against you and why?
I talked about lies, spinning and smear aimed at discrediting me and FDC [not TDA]. Anyone who has been following the media, [including social media reports], will know what I am talking about.
This has not relented; it’s still going on. It’s not my intention to add fuel to the fire. I try to wash off any mud thrown at FDC and me but I restrain myself from throwing back the mud.
Why do you think you own the available opposition support?
I consider such a question as being malicious. No person owns another. Our political parties are membership parties. Members who have party cards own FDC. Parties also have supporters who believe in party policies and the party leaderships. I just happen to be a candidate chosen by FDC to contest in the next presidential election.
What new ideas are you bringing into this election that you haven’t advanced in the last 15 years?
Every election is different from the previous one. The opponents and their characteristics are not the same. The voters are not the same. The social, political, and economic environment is different; the regional and international environment is different, etc.
The experience, human and material resources, campaign message and strategy [among others] of my candidature also vary in every election. We have always garnered enough popular support to win the elections but our victory is always stolen. That’s why our focus now is on citizen empowerment and the demand for electoral and political reforms.
Your message seems to be confusing when you insist on no elections without reforms. How exactly do you intend to push for reforms before 2016?
Our slogan has been “Elections after Reforms.” It means that we commit ourselves to doing whatever we can in rallying citizens to force the regime’s hand to undertake the necessary reforms ahead of the elections.
Have you considered retiring from politics, and when?
All the political work I do is on a voluntary basis. No one pays me and I seek no recognition for whatever I do. I’ll retire when our country is free from tyranny and misrule or, when, for any reason, I am unable to continue struggling.