We are back at it again. The leading opposition political party in the country, the National Unity Platform (NUP) — just like those that came before it—is mired in internal wrangling, risking disintegration. And disintegration it must as there lies the best for the country.
Truth is, while the players on either side of the Kibalama-Kyagulanyi saga have overwhelming evidence to prove their case, it does not really matter. This standoff simply represents a national condition where our so-called political parties can only exist as masquerades, as distractions.
It should be obvious for any conscious political observer that: (a) with the exception of Justice Forum (and before it, Kabaka Yekka) Uganda’s so-called political parties from DP, UPC to NRM and later are FDC, are not political parties in the actual sense of the term.
All of them lack sound ideological anchor (cultural, political or economic) beyond chanting out-of-context slogans from our former colonial masters. In truth, these are special-purpose projects that were meant and invented for a special time-bound assignment.
Sadly, for some reason—mostly the democratic trap of African countries—these special-purpose projects stay on masquerading as political parties.
(b) under an autocracy, political parties are useless for the purposes of changing course. What this means is that all those folks claiming to challenge Museveni through political parties simply reproduce the status quo. Under an autocracy, institutionalised political parties are the death of active civilian political activism.
This is because they numb political engagement of the ordinary people as they pretend to be doing something but in actual sense are simply a distraction.
Opposition politicians sadly, quickly, become content with crumbs from the autocrat, while at the same time chant their greatness and goodness. (I know, those dullards will ask: “what is stopping you from doing something?”, a question which indicates absolute baloney).
Against that, dear reader, let’s take heart in the fact that NUP is disintegrating. It is a good sign. I know, it is difficult to get over a once-promising lover who soon outlives their usefulness. But let’s take heart.
On ruins of FDC
The short history of the People Power (PP) movement is that mainstream opposition political parties had collapsed. People Power was born and thrived on these ruins.
This truly grassroots movement—disparate and unorganised as ordinary folks tend to be in everyday forms of resistance—had surely existed before Bobi Wine emerged to give it a name and propulsion. The musician was premium gas for an already formed machine.
Significantly, the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), which had championed the campaign for change in Uganda seemed to have run out of ideas. With Comrade Gen Mugisha Muntu forming a political party, the FDC was struggling to hold.
Even when majority of Ugandans, especially in Kampala, still adored Col Kizza Besigye — the towering embodiment of the anti-Museveni sentiment—fatigue had taken the place for trust and affection. Having promised to end Museveni’s long and useless reign unsuccessfully over a 15-year period, there came anxiety and suspicion about his politics.
Protracted struggles tend to bring undue suspicion onto their leaders. But the infighting within and later split of the FDC did not help matters. [The tragedies that befell Norbert Mao’s Democratic Party (DP) and Olara Otunnu, James Akena’s Uganda Peoples’ Congress (UPC) are well documented].
One ought to understand that when opposition political parties present themselves as able groups, ordinary folks tend to believe them, and hand over the struggle to the political party. That is the nature of human behaviour. But what these parties actually do is that they instead become simple shock absorbers between the state and the wananchi.
[This is why, Bobi Wine’s catchy slogan, “Mubikwase Kyagulanyi,” has become his tragic flaw. The genius that crafted it is now his undoing. His leader of opposition—brother Mathias Mpuuga—is now asking people, not to kubikwasa Kyagulanyi, but do it themselves. They are now content with the crumbs from dear leader, YKM].
The point I want to emphasise here is that when the political parties [especially the FDC and Col Dr Kizza Besigye] that appeared to embody the people’s desire to kick Museveni out of Uganda disintegrated, the people realised the urgency to take back matters in their own hands. They looked inwards, and it was in this moment, on those ruins, that Bobi Wine pulled out his head as the new symbol of the struggle.
People Power Vs NUP
As the wananchi watched FDC, DP and UPC disintegrate, they also learned that the idea of opposition political parties—with a secretariat, spokesperson and board members—was part of the problem. Thus, an amorphous and un-structured People Power movement commanded incredible amount of power and ambition before it opened office and became another traditional political party.
The wananchi are closely watching the humiliating disintegration of NUP—which started from the election of the speaker of parliament. Their very loud silence on escalating commodity prices, and then the obnoxious Shs 40m cash bonanza are exhibits in their disintegration. Five years is quite a long time, and these chaps clearly cannot survive their own structural handicaps, and Museveni’s shameless misfortunes being thrown at them.
On the ruins of NUP, a new force is going to rise and redefine the struggle for freedom under Museveni. It could be Bobi Wine repackaging himself or Kakwenza Rukirabashaija returning to the country. But all have to operate outside any institutionalisation.
Yes, while the people have power in their hands, naturally, they need a symbol around which to mobilise. This cycle is repeated until light appears at the end of the tunnel. This then means, what we are witnessing now with NUP has little to do with the party itself, but the national condition of our politics.
The author is a political theorist based at Makerere University.