After a few months of political calm, opposition figures and activists are holding meetings to launch a systematic challenge to President Yoweri Museveni’s sixth term administration.
In meetings chaired by Justice Forum, opposition figures say President Museveni has been given a carte blanche to do as he pleases without any challenge since he returned to office after the January 2021 general election.
“The struggle cannot stop simply because the elections are over; we want to build a resistance outside elections because every attempt at opposition unity comes during election time. That’s why after elections, people go back to sleep. So, we want to meet all the players who believe in change and we start planning for the next five years so that when we decide to participate in the next elections, we should have a uniform message, uniform and focused leadership; that is the intension of these meetings,” a source who attended the three meetings so far convened told this newspaper.
He said there is general consensus that political activity fizzled out after the January general election, allowing the ruling NRM government to run roughshod on many things including human rights violations.
The meetings, a brain-child of former presidential candidate Samuel Walter Lubega Mukaaku and Mike Mabikke, are attended by Forum for Democratic Change-FDC president, Patrick Oboi Amuriat, FDC chairman, Wasswa Biriggwa, former presidential candidate Dr Kizza Besigye, former opposition Chief Whip Ssemujju Ibrahim Nganda, former Leader of Opposition Wafula Oguttu, Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago, Conservative Party President, John Ken LuKyamuzi, former presidential candidate Mabiriizi Elton, former NUP mobilizer Sulaiman Kidandala, Omar Kalinge Nyango, Jeema secretary general Muhammad Kateregga who chairs the meetings, former Makindye Ssaabagabo MP Ssempala Kigozi Ssajjalyabeene and former Jeema president Muhammad Mayanja.
Interviewed for this story, FDC spokesperson Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda confirmed his party is participating in the meetings.
“After elections, we kept asking ourselves, what we should do next. These preliminary discussions are trying to get us together and begin discussing. We got into an election, which was rigged like all the rest but we can’t stop fighting Museveni and free our people. I’ve attended at least two meetings and the aim is to try to see what can be done to bring this government to an end,” Ssemujju said.
Justice Forum president and Bugiri Municipality MP Asumani Basalirwa confirmed that his party is playing host although he’s yet to attend the meetings.
“I have not attended any meetings because incidentally every time they have been held, I have been in court over election petitions. But when we were contacted to play host, we didn’t find any problem. It was proposed that each meeting has a different chair but for us we made our facilities available for a national cause,” Basalirwa said.
NUP MAKES NO SHOW
The National Unity Platform, NUP, which has the largest number of opposition MPs, has not attended any meeting. Two insider sources told this newspaper that NUP views the meetings as a ploy to catapult Dr Kizza Besigye back as the main opposition force.
“NUP said they first want to understand the objectives of these meetings before they join. But some people in NUP look at this move as a Beisgye come- back and they cannot allow this,” the source said.
He added that although opposition members were told that Dr Besigye has met Kyagulanyi and both agreed that unity of purpose is an important issue, which they must all embrace, Kyagulanyi later reportedly said that some of his people asked for more time to understand the agenda of these meetings.
“I think they also believe that they are the biggest opposition grouping, therefore, they must be the leaders of any activity in the opposition and as long as they are not leading, they don’t want to be part,” the source added.
Both Basalirwa and Ssemujju believe that it’s important that everyone in the opposition is part of any effort to have a united front against Museveni.
“I hope they will finally come because no single person or organization can defeat Museveni. There is need for all of us to work together,” Basalirwa said.
“You want everybody to be there because this is not limited to one group or to some individuals. The fight for freedom doesn’t end even if some of us are dead. [Paul Kawanga] Ssemogerere fought, Besigye came in 2001, Kyagulanyi has come in 2021, maybe there will be some other people in the next election. So, you do your part during your time. For us, we will continue at- tending all those meetings and we hope all those col- leagues will come and participate,” Ssemujju said.
Nakawa West MP Joel Ssenyonyi, who doubles as the NUP spokesperson, said they are always in touch with other forces of change.
“There have been several engagements before, during and after elections and there are still many more to come. We have not attended every meeting because there are many engagements. Like right now most of our leaders are out of the country. So, we might not be able to attend some meetings but we are in touch with our colleagues...You see what’s happening in parliament, we are trying to unite as forces of change and so far, we are doing quite well. I admit there is a lot of work to be done but we are still on course,” Ssenyonyi said.
He also dispelled suggestions that they can’t engage in any activities if they are not the leaders. He said NUP believes in equal partnership.
“We have been to the home of Dr Kizza Besigye several times, the home of the Lord Mayor [Erias Lukwago], we have been to Jeema and all these colleagues. And as you know, Hon Kyagulanyi and the other team members are now in South Africa currently trying to buttress the struggle that side. From there, they will be going to the US to connect with our diaspora team. So, our team is everywhere and when we are not here, we are outside the country but eventually we shall reconnect,” Ssenyonyi said.
He also dismissed as false the suggestion that they have failed to offer leadership in challenging President Museveni after the elections.
“We have different fronts; you see what is happening in parliament, we have local councils but the struggle is not only in Uganda. So, when we go to meet these people, we are there to connect with these Ugandans who are also part of the struggle. But you will also realize that during elections and after, Covid-19 has been used to suppress our activities. There are numerous impediments but we keep pushing back, we don’t stop,” Ssenyonyi said.