Last Friday, Forum for Democratic Change party president, Patrick Oboi Amuriat shuffled leadership of committees held by the opposition in parliament, knocking out those who never supported him during the November 2017 presidency race. But the decision to purge was made before he became party president, as SULAIMAN KAKAIRE writes.
During the 2017 race, the pro-defiance FDC faction led by Dr Kizza Besigye was concerned that Amuriat and Mubarak Munyagwa running separate campaigns could divide their support and favour the then incumbent party leader, Maj Gen Gregory Mugisha Muntu.
“We banked on the group that voted Dr Besigye during the FDC presidential flag bearer race in 2015…We thought that if this number was to be divided among the two; it would automatically favour Gen Muntu who already had a consolidated figure that was between 400 and 500 votes.”
“It was to this end that Munyagwa pulled out in Amuriat’s favour.”
Party sources say that the deal had a caveat: Amuriat promised to make Munyagwa opposition chief whip in parliament, replacing Muntu loyalist and Kira municipality MP, Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda, among a string of changes.
This new shadow cabinet was supposed to be communicated around March or April. Besigye and group were reportedly careful not to totally alienate party members; so, it was important to have other posts open to ‘fringe supporters’
After Amuriat won, the sharing was expected as promised but this had to wait until last week. Their rival, Muntu, who had been defeated by 200 votes, despite being backed by 27 FDC MPs, had embarked on countrywide consultations.
Muntu was asking how his group would work within the FDC party where they have been slandered as moles and non-Ugandans? How is the party going to reconcile the defiance strategy with the strategy of exhibiting democratic credentials before taking power? And, what is the position of FDC founding president, Besigye in the party?
Besigye’s continued domineering presence bothers some of the Muntu group, who argue that if left uncontrolled it can be counterproductive to FDC’s internal democracy and potentially grooms dictatorship in the opposition.
After Muntu concluded the first round of consultations and some senior members were pushing for a split, Besigye initiated a meeting with Muntu and some senior members of his group, including Ronald Reagan Okumu (Aswa MP), who is FDC deputy president for Northern Uganda.
Muntu confirmed the said meeting that happened around March.
“Just know that the meeting took place and there were concerns raised that some members, who agree with me, were raising issues that should be resolved internally,” the retired general said this week
For fear of what the Muntu group was planning, Besigye advised Amuriat against shaking things up in parliament.
As they watched for Muntu’s next move, they also continued to assess possible choices. William Nzoghu was considered for the LoP position but he turned it down for fear of being castigated back home in Kasese by FDC supporters amongst whom Kiiza enjoys considerable support.
Buhweju county MP Francis Mwijukye was tapped next but he was dropped in favour of Gulu Municipality MP, Betty Aol Achan. Munyagwa turned down the chief whip post for fear of antagonising Muslims in Buganda amongst whom Ssemujju enjoys favourable reviews. He was considered for COSASE.
Habib Buwembo, who is the FDC secretary for labour, said Tuesday “the delay could be attributed to the president himself because members have always asked him why he was delaying to change the leadership. These people don’t agree with the defiance strategy and they are not only enriching themselves with these positions but they are funding activities that are against the party.”
Each of the MPs was reportedly contributing between Shs 1 to Shs 2 million every month towards Muntu’s activities. Around May, this information leaked to the Besigye faction.
It was also revealed that the Muntu group was closely working with the individuals leading the Democratic Party’s reunion and providing solidarity to Kyadondo East MP, Robert Kyagulanyi’s countrywide tours. The DP’s reunion has considerably undermined Besigye’s wow factor in the wider opposition.
Buwembo, who is an insider within the Besigye group, said these concerns were considered last week.
“On Thursday, there was a demonstration after a team from nowhere came and refused members from leaving the party offices. They locked us from outside. Even, the party chairman who was supposed to meet a doctor was refused from leaving before they could sort out their demands,” he said.
According to Buwembo, this group stormed the party headquarters in Najjanankumbi after Amuriat again delayed announcing the changes in parliament.
“The changes were supposed to be made on Monday but they delayed to make them due to some issues that were pending before NEC. Among the issues was the Bugiri municipality issue. It is the reason why a significant number of MPs were at the party headquarters.”
However, when the matter was not considered in the Wednesday and Thursday NEC meetings, the youths stormed the party offices on Thursday.
Buwembo says that the youths alleged; “there was some money channelled to Asuman Basalirwa. In fact, it was alleged that on the voting day, Shs 27 million was collected by that leadership and given to [Jeema party president] Asuman Basalirwa which he used to defeat our candidate [in Bugiri municipality]. The other allegation was that all the people who supported Muntu, except Kira municipality MP have never stepped at the party headquarters and yet they don’t even want to table reports to the party about what takes place in parliament.”
Consequently, on Thursday night Amuriat called up some of the individuals that were to take the positions. Among them was Ssemujju. Ssemujju was reportedly reconsidered for two reasons.
“One, he is the party spokesperson who had to communicate this decision or explain it to the public and if he is fired, it would be difficult to explain some of these things. In fact, some people said he would put everything about our move in the media. Secondly, having him in would be a counter balance of criticism from the Ssuubi group [a loose coalition of Buganda politicians including Medard Sseggona Lubega (Busiiro East), Muwanga Kivumbi (Butambala)and Mathias Mpuuga (Masaka municipality)],” FDC defiance faction sources said.
At first Ssemujju, turned down the offer to retain his chief whip post on grounds that he will not be comfortable working with people he does not agree with. Secondly, he does not believe in working with colleagues who will feel they are being undermined by him.
Amuriat, however, persuaded Ssemujju saying he sees him as the loop that will strengthen the new team since most of his choices were newcomers or weak. When contacted , Ssemujju refused to comment.
“I can’t comment about that, please. Call the party president. I was called like anyone else,” Ssemujju said.
When the NEC was summoned on Friday evening, only the LoP position was discussed. Abed Nasser Mudiobole, the FDC secretary for legal affairs, said “the discussion was only on the name proposed for leader of opposition. There was concern raised that why would you appoint someone from Acholi yet it has ever had that position and why not some other region,” Mudiobole said.
Amuriat stood his ground.
“I am appointing people who have been loyal to the party and these people have been despising me,” he said.
Some concerns were voiced that if this was the basis for changing the leadership, then Amuriat would be personalising the party or victimising people.
At this point, Salaamu Musumba, the FDC vice chairperson for Eastern Uganda, intervened by advising Amuriat: “Don’t explain yourself. These are your powers and you have used them.”
While announcing the changes on Friday, the FDC leader told the media that his changes were made so as to realign the parliament leadership with the defiance strategy. However, Mudiobole says that even if that is the case, everything must be done in accordance with the party constitution and practice.
“There was no minute or resolution made, contrary to the ideal way of doing things. Everything was rushed through NEC. The party constitution and practice has always been that a name or individuals are proposed, then they are debated by NEC because the practice is that the president appoints with the approval of NEC. If NEC is not allowed to debate or discuss the president’s appointments or proposal, then NEC, which is ideally meant to be a check and balance on the president’s powers, is being reduced to a mere rubberstamp,” Mudiobole said.
“There is also the issue of accusations being raised against some people. It is also fair to have them heard on those accusations before you turn the party organs into a jungle. Ideally, practice should be that you inform them about it and let them be heard about it.
“And this is not that people are meant to serve forever in whichever position, but let’s make sure that we follow the right processes and procedures because that is what distinguishes us from the crowd of other parties,” Mudiobole said.
On Monday, Kiiza told the media that she had learned of her firing from press reports.
PURGE NOT RESHUFFLE
Former COSASE chairman, Abdu Katuntu confirmed Amuriat’s line that this reshuffle was a purge.
“This is about purging those who don’t agree with the way things are being done. You cannot victimise one for holding a view contrary to yours. They formed this view since last year; that they will be sacking those who don’t agree with them,” Katuntu said.
“A political decision like this has political consequences and it can be responded to in a political way. Time is there to vindicate us. We are not fighting for positions but we should understand that this party was formed by those who were victimised for not supporting the removal of term limits. I hope we are not walking towards that path.”
On Monday, Muntu told like-thinking FDC members in Iganga that whatever decision they make must be made in a mature way.
“We have to be patient about this. From the 17 consultations that have been carried out across the country, there are voices that are saying we should leave and form a party of people who believe in the values we espouse. There are others saying that the issues we are raising can be resolved from within. To reach a good decision the results of the findings will be tabled before the party before a final decision, is made,” he said.
Jinja Municipality East MP Paul Mwiru, Muntu ally, told The Observer that the continuous victimisation of their group is pushing them to one end point.
“These people are showing us that our differences are irreconcilable. And some of us don’t believe in wasting time in a political formation without playing any role, which our colleagues want us to do. It is better to form another formation after all we have the same ultimate result of changing government, although we also believe in changing governance,” he said.
Whatever the outcome, the Muntu group seems to have gravitated towards Kyagulanyi’s (Bobi Wine) so-called ‘third way’.
When the break comes, those in the know say, it will be triggered a year to the elections to avoid the MPs having to lose their seats on account of the law on changing political alliances midterm. The group has close to 60 MPs, including some in the NRM.