In real democracies, it is opposition political parties and groups that keep governments in check and criticize executive failures or excesses.
To do so, they must be principled, constitutional and vigilant in the affairs of the state. Such opposition offers itself and behaves just like the incumbent government in waiting. It has counterpart structures and credible leaders and is seen as a possible, and not merely a probable, next government.
Like the incumbent government, the alternative shadow government has a presence and supporters throughout the country. The population accepts it as part of its governance and tradition.
This has not been the tradition in Uganda. It can be categorically stated that, perhaps with the exception of the short-lived administrations of self-government of Benedicto Kiwanuka in 1961, the UNLF under both Professor Yusuf Lule and Godfrey Binaisa, all of which were weak and dominated by opposition parties or groups, Ugandan governments have been all powerful and authoritarian.
This characterization applies equally to the colonial government that ruled the country from 1894 to 1962. Immediately following the attainment of independence, in 1962, there was some semblance of democratic rule for several years when political organisations such as the Uganda People’s Congress, the Democratic Party, the Conservative Party, and the transient Kabaka Yekka operated with some success.
However, after defections and ineffective leadership weakened the Democratic Party, Kabaka Yekka ceased and the Conservative Party made no headway in recruiting converts, the UPC appeared to swallow everyone around it, and converted the country into a de facto one- party state.
The total period of the short-lived administrations of Kiwanuka, Lule, Binaisa and those of the military juntas of Paulo Muwanga and General Lutwa Okello is less than three years.
Incidentally, the latter two were also authoritarian. Be that as it may, it can be discerned from this that for more than 100 years, Uganda has been ruled largely by monolithic, authoritarian and non-democratic governments. This has been the case notwithstanding that for about half of the period, Ugandans have been led to believe or have been told that Uganda was or will be a democracy. Both the belief and the message have turned out to be false every time.
Thus, in a working democracy, opposition parties and organizations are the reverse side of the coin of which the government of the day is the other. In an earlier work, I described a political party as a body of men and women united for promoting by their joint endeavors, the national interest upon some particular principle in which they are all agreed.
I also noted that during the colonial period, such people were considered by the rulers as dangerous agitators since those rulers had arrogated to themselves the prerogative of determining what principles and accompanying policies were in the national interest. In Uganda, the idea that opposition parties are necessary for democratic governance has never taken root.
At best, for any stage of its constitutional and political development, Ugandan political parties have always been perceived by the ruling oligarchies as subversive, anti-government and, therefore, adverse to the interests and needs of the population. At worst, they have been branded treasonable and become proscribed.
Indeed, repressive measures against opposition parties and preventing them from operating normally have been resorted to on many occasions. In order for the National Resistance Movement to perpetuate itself in power with a belief that other political parties will never have a chance to replace it, its leadership put in place protective mechanisms.
The NRM was conceived and structured as a state organism to the extent that from the grassroots with its RCs, then LCs system to the national level with the national convention, caucus and High Command, the NRM party is not distinguishable from the state of Uganda. Over the years, the organism has become exclusive, monolithic, self-perpetuating and hostile to any opposition to it.
Its critics are not perceived as political opponents but as enemies of its leaders and of the state of Uganda. Its leaders identify its continued existence and survival with those of the nation of Uganda. They have gone all the way to operate and manipulate the Constitution, laws and practices of governance of the state of Uganda in order to strengthen and protect the NRM organism.
For the sustenance of the organism and its leadership, government has been ready to harass, torture and imprison its opponents, issue inaccurate information, spend billions of shillings in the defence of the organism and even to annoy and defeat its own supporters whose loyalty it regards as suspect.
It has looted the treasury, intimidated businessmen and women to cough up billions of shillings for its survival. It prefers to spend trillions of shillings on elections and billions on celebrating its disputed electoral victories rather than on schools, hospitals or social and economic development.
Between 1981 and 1986, the ten-point programme and its methods of work during the civil war of that period had made the NRM and its leadership the most popular and desirable political organization Ugandans had ever had before independence. Museveni dwarfs all other political leaders and activists and traverses the Republic of Uganda like a Colossus while denying or dispensing goods, posts and justice to all, in unequal measures.
Much has been said, written and broadcast about the NRM rule since 1986 and perhaps nothing can excel what other Ugandans and the world know already whether with gratitude or regrets. I will, therefore, limit this analysis to modern Opposition leaderships in Uganda.
I am of the view that Uganda should now stop blaming President Museveni and the NRM and seriously re-examine the failures and blunders of opposition party leaders as major contributors to Uganda’s misrule and misery.
The opposition leaders have been part and parcel of the NRM ruling establishment in Uganda for decades. Since 1986, opposition party leaders and supporters have embraced and legitimized the rule of the NRM and given credence to the lie that Uganda is free and a multi-party democracy.
In 1986, UPC, still intact and principled, refused to join the national bandwagon of the NRM but DP, which had hitherto fought the excesses and wrongs of UPC, willingly merged its leadership with that of the NRM.
From then onwards, the NRM has been able to suck the political blood out of DP, UPC, CP and other minions of budding political parties that may surface in the country from time to time. No one has written the obituaries of the UPC and DP but for practical purposes they both have been politically terminally sick for a long time.
Finally, between Olara Otunnu and Jimmy Akena, the UPC has been rendered politically moribund. That is why they each sought sanctuary in the NRM and the FDC, respectively. The two UPC rival party leaders appear to hate each other more than the leaders of the NRM.
They did slightly better than Norbert Mao and his original DP faction who rushed to become Amama Mbabazi’s political slaves hoping to find gold in his Trojan horse only to be slaughtered beyond recovery by the NRM political machine.
Akena humiliated the ghosts of UPC by becoming a beneficiary and supporter of the NRM. The other DP faction led by Erias Lukwago, Lubega Medard Sseggona and Betty Nambooze did better than Mao and his followers when they sought fortunes with FDC. That party and its leader fared better in the elections of 2016 than Amama Mbabazi.
Without the Colonel, FDC sought advice as to whether their leader should petition against the declaration that candidate Museveni had won even though the Colonel was under house arrest and unable to sign the petition. Their member, Cecilia Ogwal, received the advice and excitedly revealed that they were on their way to file the petition.
She later called in panic and sought further advice whether FDC should take the petition to the chief justice or elsewhere. They were directed to the registry of the Supreme court. Surely, FDC must have some lawyers of its own. A few hours later, Hon Ogwal triumphantly disclosed that FDC was on its way to the Supreme court registry to file Kizza Besigye’s petition.
Apparently, FDC never reached there. However, the former iron lady of the UPC called the inquirer and made an appointment to come with two lawyers to explain why FDC lost its way while proceeding to file Kizza Besigye’s petition. Cecilia failed to honour her promise. Since then, Cecilia Ogwal and her colleagues have made conflicting statements about the petition but prefer to parade a stillborn political baby called independent audit.
Two weeks after the decision of the Supreme court, a senior leader of FDC, Abdu Katuntu, sought the opinion of an expert on elections and the way forward. During the meeting of the two, the learned FDC member answered every telephone call that interrupted the meeting and spent more time talking to whoever called than with the advisor.
At one time when the would-be advisor suggested that Katuntu reveals to his caller that he was with the advisor, Katuntu declined to do so revealing that his phone, like so many of his colleagues’ in FDC, was bugged by the state and they are very careful not to disclose the persons they interact with. However, Katuntu admitted that most of his callers were newly-elected opposition members and he was to join their meeting shortly.
He hurriedly left the unfinished meeting and promised to return and resume the conversation the following Friday. He never turned up or telephoned to say why. Since then, he refuses to answer his telephone just as Cecilia Ogwal refuses to answer hers. Many opposition MPs hope to be appointed to some post either by Parliament or the NRM. They are therefore afraid to keep company with people they believe their potential patrons do not wish them to associate with.
It would seem that newly-elected or re-elected opposition members of Parliament are in a cutthroat competition to get posts in Parliament or, better still, in the NRM government so as to enjoy the crumbs from the national cake left under the rich tables of the mighty NRM.
In consequence, until those expectations are realised, many opposition MPs and members are frightened to be seen with Ugandans they think the NRM or its leadership does not approve of. Many opposition flag bearers in the 2016 elections have stayed firmly in Kampala with no intention of going back to their home areas to thank or console their constituents until they get what they are waiting for.
Shortly after Parliament assembles in May, the country will receive news of jubilant, submissive, compliant and grateful opposition members who will have been lucky to be appointed to posts in Parliament or the NRM government.
In the new Parliament, the combined opposition membership will be less than 70 members. Therefore, the 10th NRM Parliament which per capita will be the largest in the world will eclipse the opposition. A tiny band of Opposition members cannot hope to make any significant impact on any policy the NRM wishes to adopt or implement. The country knows that opposition parties have failed to make any iota of difference on how the country is governed for the last thirty years.
Since 1986, Uganda has not had any opposition to speak of. Even when Ugandans were persuaded by the international community to choose democracy and multipartyism and the NRM was coerced to accept what it called that bitter political pill, the country remained firmly under authoritarian rule.
An opposition which is afraid of shadows of the ruling party or to establish its own institutions or mechanisms for its own propaganda and is unable to found and sustain local branches or its own newspapers or media is doomed into perpetual incapacity.
Presently, Uganda has only phantom opposition parties led by ambitious and often arrogant politicians who are only interested in their own importance, status and personal interests.
Many of them often run to the ruling party leadership for cover at the smallest sign of trouble or inability to earn a living without the patronage of the president. It is not a principle of democracy that a leader of a political party should regard an electoral loss, whether rigged or not, as personal loss and not a loss to the party or better still, the country. Politicians like Hon Ssemujju Ibrahim Nganda are recognized as principled.
It is, therefore, strange that he should bother getting entangled in the NRM internal quarrels about who should be the next speaker of Parliament. FDC claims that their leader won the presidential election race but has shied away to tell the world the margin of that victory especially as FDC and Mbabazi claimed to have their own devices of tallying the results.
The media recently quoted Kizza Besigye saying that he will not rest until he becomes president. It would have been preferable for him to say that his party and Ugandans will not rest until there is change of government. Incidentally, do Ugandans remember Mary Karoro Okurut, Prof Kamuntu, Rebecca Kadaga, Jacob Oulanyah and Ofwono Opondo who were UPC diehards and used to be my tormentors when I was minister in the NRM?
On the other hand, Kizza Besigye, General David Sejusa, General Muntu, Hon Ruzindana, Miria Matembe and millions of other Ugandans were the founders, members and darlings of the NRM. Space does not permit to narrate what happened to the members of DP and CP, dead or alive.
The author is a former Supreme court judge