After a bitter campaign and closely fought presidential election last November, FDC finds itself locked in another bitter post-election feud, akin to the 2012 squabbling.
The leadership and ideological crisis rocking Uganda’s largest opposition party has deepened after a top official tried to frustrate its disaffected former leader, Maj Gen Gregory Mugisha Muntu’s upcountry meetings. Party secretary general, Nathan Nandala-Mafabi’s January 10 letter to Forum for Democratic Change branch officials has stoked this phase of the internal strife pulling FDC apart.
The letter was also seen as a sly attempt to sabotage Gen Muntu’s countrywide consultations, which could result in him forming a new party.
Mafabi now faces accusations of wading into undemocratic waters, contrary to FDC’s founding principles, which champion the rule of law, constitutionalism and human rights and freedom of assembly and association, among others.
Despatched shortly before Muntu set off for Bunyoro sub-region on Monday, Mafabi addressed himself to FDC’s district chairpersons and general secretaries.
“This is to inform your office that anyone from headquarters or anywhere who intends to carry out an activity in your district in the name of the party should demonstrate that the activity was discussed and passed by the FDC National Executive Committee,” he wrote.
“This is for purposes of harmonising the party activities. All the activities of the party will be communicated to you by my office.”
No such NEC discussion has taken place. However, Muntu had, in the aftermath of the bitter campaign which saw Patrick Oboi Amuriat win a proxy fight for the FDC presidency in November 2017, promised consultations.
Many interpret his consultations as a first step towards the feared break-up of FDC, a party where his leadership was severely undermined by founding president, Dr Kizza Besigye.
In Hoima, Muntu said: “It is not easy to start a new party under the current political environment…it’s tough…I am glad we are gathering these views and I promised the new party president that we shall be transparent and even if we take a decision to leave the party, it will be done in a mature manner and that we will still work side by side to achieve the objectives.”
Speaking to The Observer, FDC secretary for legal affairs Abed Nasser Mudiobole said Mafabi was driven by political emotion.
“Mafabi’s letter was uncalled for. Not necessary. It is divisive and must be treated with contempt. There are precedents in this party. We have had many activities that have been supported by the party even when there is no single minute of NEC approving such activities. Campaigns like Togikwatako or the 4GC and A4C, and activities of individual members, were not sanctioned by NEC,” Mudiobole said.
He was backed by party elder and NEC member Abdu Katuntu who said: “I don’t think what Hon Mafabi and group are doing is right. We would appear [to be] behaving the same way NRM did when Hon Amama Mbabazi expressed interest in the top leadership of the party and he was stopped from carrying out his consultations as they were considered ‘not to be politically correct.”
“It is unfortunate that we would behave this way before we even take over power. Just imagine how some of us would behave when we take over,” he said.
A week ago, Amuriat had hinted at what his faction planned for their rivals.
“As a party we take responsibility to ask what type of consultations? Are they [Muntu] going to consult as party members? Under what formation? Because any consultation done in the name of the party, the organs of the party must be made aware and they adopt whatever activities,” he said.
This view was contested by Mudiobole. “FDC is a party whose main ideals are to champion the rule of law and promote democratic principles. It is a constitutional right for any citizen to do what Gen Muntu is doing. We should be the last to stifle his way,” he said.
Other prominent members of the opposition, among them, Democratic Party president, Norbert Mao, agree.
Mao tweeted: “It is good for a leader to keep his fingers on the people’s pulse. I trust that by listening to the people, a leader can refine his views, rise above prejudices and find his true mission. My prayer is that we all become tributaries that coalesce into a mighty river of real change.”
Mafabi didn’t pick or return our calls. Interviewed for this story, Sarah Eperu, the spokesperson for Amuriat, said, “[Mafabi’s] letter was not solely targeting Muntu but also Moses Byamugyisha who had started consulting party youths in the west.”
She said Gen Muntu is a big advocate of building party structures and strong institutions which he is undermining by going ahead with his consultations.
“What he is doing is going to break down an institution he has helped build over the years,” she said, adding that it was wrong for Muntu to write to police, and not FDC seeking clearance for his meetings.
Mafabi’s opening of a new frontline comes at a time when Amuriat is creating parallel structures to bypass party organs believed to be loyal to Muntu. Inside sources say it started with the influential office of secretary for information and publicity, which principally deals with publicity, including running the important weekly press briefings.
Kira Municipality MP, Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda, is the FDC secretary for information and publicity, deputised by Paul Mwiru. Both support Muntu. Now, Amuriat has appointed Sarah Eperu to act as the head of the party president’s press unit, an entirely new creation.
“This is why Eperu has been presiding over the most recent press briefings, including the one of last week,” said the source.
After Monday’s press briefing, Amuriat insinuated that Ssemujju may have deliberately stayed away. But Ssemujju told The Observer that he has been busy with the campaign against the removal of presidential age limits.
“What the Hon Amuriat also has to know is that people in politics are not enthusiastic with meetings like the case in the private sector and he has to live with it. For the last one year, I have been at the FDC, I have attended meetings where some departments are not represented throughout the year,” he said.
Also missing from the Monday briefing was Mudiobole yet the day’s theme was a pronouncement on FDC’s intended legal action. Last month, Mudiobole said he was sidelined for not supporting Amuriat. Indeed, another lawyer, Ladislaus Rwakafuuzi, presided over the swearing-in of Amuriat.
Amuriat appeared before the press with senior lawyer Yusuf Nsibambi last Monday.
“It should not also be misunderstood. [Nsibambi] is a prominent member of the party, who voluntarily avails himself whenever the need for his services arises,” he said.