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Cash squeeze, intimidation rock FDC vote-guarding plans

Time is running out for Power 10, the opposition party's election mobilisation task force, because it is undermanned, underfunded, and misunderstood, writes BENON HERBERT OLUKA.

Adam Mulwana, the singer of Besigye's Toka Kwa Bara campaign song entertains Kasese

A Kizza Besigye campaign rally does not end without the FDC presidential candidate explaining the important role ‘Power 10’ has to play if the party is to win the February 18 election.

“Our power works when we are together; so, we need to move together throughout this process of the election. And that is why we asked you to form yourselves into groups of ten, ten in your villages, and there will be a coordinator of those who want to regain power in every parish,” Besigye told a rally at Kyarumba sub-county, Kasese district last Thursday.

In Ongiino sub-county, Kumi district on January 13, Besigye explained that Power 10 will primarily serve as its vote-protection vehicle right from the villages.

“The most important thing is that nobody should touch our votes. Anybody who wants to play with our votes should touch fire and get off,” he said.

Besigye says Power 10 will comprise a separate committee of people in each village, parish and sub-county. Its three key roles are to mobilise people to go and vote, monitor the electoral process and observe the ballot counting process to foil vote-rigging.

In the last six weeks, whenever Besigye spoke about Power 10 at campaigns rallies, The Observer would conduct a simple experiment. It involved turning to a random FDC supporter at a rally and ask what they knew about Power 10 groups.

Most people knew little or nothing. In Hoima district on January 23, Petero Sheizana said he was hearing of Power 10 for the first time when Besigye spoke about it. In Ongiino, Robert Akol, 30, and Francis Engole, 28, echoed similar sentiments.

“The biggest problem is that the people who we vote as our [party] leaders don’t come back to tell us what is happening,” said Akol, a farmer.
“We need to be taught what to do,” added Engole. “You can’t join Power 10 without knowing what it is supposed to do or who to follow.”

With just days to polling day, Cyprus Kule, the FDC chairperson for Kyarumba sub-county, told The Observer that they had just started forming committees and they had no idea when the training would be done.

So, how come the initiative is not known to some party supporters with just days to the general election? Why are committees just being formed? Odea Apedel, who is an FDC regional coordinator for Teso, argued that only few supporters will be privy to details because of the sensitivity of the tasks to be undertaken by Power 10 recruits.

“Power 10 is FDC’s winning strategy. A winning strategy is carefully made known to the electorate by the leaders because we know the opponent NRM is known for two bad things in politics; using money to buy votes and violence. So, the recruitment of members to constitute Power 10 is slowly but surely led by trusted party leaders. When you find that it is not known to some people, it is not true that the recruitment is not ongoing,” he told The Observer.
 
PREPARATION STATUS

Evidence that The Observer has gathered from across the country during the presidential campaigns suggests that the process of building Power 10 committees has suffered some hiccups along the way.

On January 13, the FDC chairman for Bukedea district, Charles Michael Opolot, conceded that the training exercises for their Power 10 committees had not begun.

“We have chosen the members of Power 10 but we have not yet begun to teach them what to do,” Opolot said.

In Mbarara on February 2, the training of Power 10 committee members had not begun, according to Geoffrey Musiime, the FDC treasurer in the district.

“In my parish, we have finished forming committees at the village and parish level. But we are yet to educate them because the sensitisation is yet to

begin,” he said.
Among the FDC officials interviewed, only Francis Mwijukye, the Buhweju MP aspirant, said training of Power 10 committee members had started in his own area. However, Mwijukye said the sensitisation they had carried out was not sufficient to produce effective results.

“We need to do more training on what these groups of 10 are going to be doing before, during and after polling,” he told The Observer on February.

The delay in training the Power 10 committees could cripple the opposition’s efforts to ensure the results of the February 18 election reflect the will of the people.

In court petitions against the 2001 and 2006 presidential election results, courts agreed that there was rigging – although the judges felt the malpractices were not substantial enough to justify ordering fresh elections. Yet despite claims of widespread rigging, in 2006, Besigye garnered 39 per cent of the vote.

This has shaped FDC’s thinking – that everything must be done to “protect” the votes.

THE DELAY

On January 22, the FDC chairperson for Hoima district, Jackson Wabyona, told The Observer that the delays in training Power 10 committees in Bunyoro were down to the slow pace at which the party’s headquarters was dispatching trainers of coordinators.

“What delayed is the rate at which the training group is going because we have not yet trained the coordinators. They were supposed to be trained two weeks back, although in Kibaale district they have trained,” he said.

‘Besigye guards’ in Rukungiri

However, Wabyona remained optimistic that by polling day, they will have done enough to prepare the Power 10 committees at all levels to perform their duties effectively, without external interference.

“In Hoima, when it comes to mobilising, things take a short time,” he said, adding: “But also, the delay will help us because there will be no time for our counterparts in the NRM to disorganise our systems.”

Musiime said some people dropped out of the Power 10 committees after the police and other authorities claimed FDC was using the exercise to recruit rebel fighters in case the opposition party lost the February election. As a result, the officials spend more time recruiting new members.

“There were threats from the ruling party. They were telling people that Power 10 is a rebel group, which actually is not the case. It is just an organisation which is meant to look at how the votes can be safeguarded,” he said.

The FDC national coordinator for Power 10, Samuel Makokha, told The Observer that they were due to meet officials led by inspector general of police Kale Kayihura, to explain the essence of P10 groups.

“We are meeting the IGP to resolve the question of him and his officers going around claiming that P10 is a subversive network. P10 is basically a group of civic teams that will ensure there is order and no fraud at the polling stations. That is what we want to impress upon the IGP,” he said.

In an interview published in The Observer on Monday, FDC president Mugisha Muntu sounded optimistic that by voting day all districts would have been covered. But he hinted the P10 project had been delayed by lack of money.

“It has been a tough exercise that has been full of challenges – logistical and financial – but we are grappling with all those challenges and I believe we will be able to overcome,” Maj Gen Muntu said.

HOME STRETCH

Makokha added that they have so far completed training Power 10 committee members in the majority of the 112 districts. Those not yet covered are Kiboga, Mubende, Kanungu, Kibaale, Kyankwanzi, Hoima, Kibaale and Mubende.

“Our biggest problem in the cattle corridor districts has been intimidation. For example in Nakasongola, our team was nearly thrown out by the police.

But it was headed by [FDC vice president for Buganda, Joyce] Ssebugwawo, who stood her ground and eventually they overwhelmed the police,” he explained.

The FDC official said they have also faced intimidation in the districts of Kibaale and Serere. In the latter, he said the RDC sent out radio announcements dissuading people from joining Power 10 ostensibly because it was a platform for recruiting rebel fighters. Both cases were reported to police.

Makokha added that in the districts of Budaka, Kibuku, Tororo, Busia, Butaleja and Namutumba, they are retraining the coordinators because the initial effort was not comprehensive.

Responding to complaints by district FDC officials that it was the headquarters delaying the exercise, Makokha said they have a skeleton team.

“We are deploying one person per district to do the training. So, one person has to visit all the sub-counties,” he said.

Makokha also conceded that FDC is short on money to ensure that every aspect of the Power 10 mobilisation process goes smoothly.

“The challenge we have is the resources to gather all the information in the more than 7,000 parishes around the country. We facilitated teams to go and do the training but we have to make another round to collect the forms and we continue to struggle to get all the resources that we need. We really need resources,” he said.

However, according to Makokha, FDC will eventually have its Power 10 groups ready for the election by accelerating the communication between the centre and the different P10 coordinators across the country.

“We have basically done the most difficult part of this job and that is to ensure that we have the infrastructure,” he said. “What is left is to build that infrastructure, strengthen it and pump it with information. We think we are now going to the easier – and yet most critical part – of this process.”
 
hobenon@observer.ug

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