"The fundamental question here is; why personally attack NRM supporters for expressing themselves, if at all pluralism makes meaning?"
By Frank Tumwebaze
FDC presidential flag-bearer Dr. Kizza Besigye has once again resurrected their (opposition) old but failed habit of attacking certain known NRM leaders when he campaigns in their backyards, with the hope of intimidating them so as to scale down their pro NRM activism.
He attacked me when he recently campaigned in Kamwenge a few weeks back calling me a toddler of yesterday and was at it again in West Nile, attacking Evelyn Anite. And before leaving West Nile, he also opened a tirade against Ayivu MP Bernard Atiku, who has ditched the FDC and chose to support President Museveni. Other young cadres like musicians that came out at the beginning of this campaign to endorse and show support for President Museveni's candidature, were harshly attacked by social media opposition squads.
When those Uganda’s top artists comprising of musicians, fashion designers and comedians congregated at Speke Resort, Munyonyo to premiere a song, Tubonga Nawe, that extols not just the gains they (performers) have made during the NRM regime but also the milestones the country has reached under President Museveni’s stewardship, opposition activists and their sympathisers took it to social media to smear and insult them. Hours after the colorful function, opposition activists, in a synchronised manner, took to online platforms to demonise the musicians.
Those attacks dominated online discourse for a couple of days, with diva Julianna Kanyomozi, being the key subject of attack. Of course they were being attacked unfairly. Had they given their endorsement to any other anti NRM figure, some partisan sections of our media and the political elite would have saluted them as “independent heroes".
The fundamental question here is; why personally attack NRM supporters for expressing themselves, if at all pluralism makes meaning? What NRM supporters ought to know is that this Intimidation is not new; it is meaningless. It has been on for a while but always in vain. It has a background that NRM cadres ought to understand.
In the mid and late 90s, a few of us in our various university campuses started forming strong opinions and deciding which political views to espouse and support. Two famous political actors that more or less were of our generation greatly inspired our student and youth movements then.
These were the late Brig. Noble Mayombo and Norbert Mao.
They had equally convincing but opposite views. The late Brig. Mayombo was a polished Movement cadre and had strong views justifying the Movement system and its parent revolution of the NRA. He was always eloquent and articulate in all his political lectures to our various university symposiums and, therefore, a great source of inspiration to many of us. On the other hand, Mao was critical of the Movement system.
Unlike the opposition politicians of recent times that only vend emotive hate speech, Mao’s critical views then were logical and good enough to provoke a good debate. And it indeed did stimulate good debate among us. We rose up along those two contrasting political lines. While some of our colleagues followed the Mao line, some of us (myself, Todwong, Kidega, Kajwengye, Mbahimba, Taligola, etc) took the Mayombo line of being pro Movement.
But even as early as during those days of our university debates, there was a tendency by many sections of the opinionated and partisan media, civil society, academia led by people like Prof Frederick Jjuko, late Prof Akiki Mujaju, Prof. Oloka Onyango, among others; to try and control the political conversation in favour of the anti-NRM voices. They would portray anybody that spoke in support of the NRM and President Museveni as an opportunist and political stranger.
A few of us that would boldly speak out during those debates/political dialogues, would suffer outright intimidation, booing and ridicule from the presenters, their audiences and debate organisers. We would be labelled as sycophants and opportunists. Real political blackmail. So, over the years, and by using a highly liberalised media, they sold a very deceptive and fraudulent notion that for any upcoming young professional to be seen to be independent minded, he/ she had to be anti NRM and Museveni.
Many known lecturers mainly of Makerere Law School and political science department would dominate classroom-lectures taking off good amount of time to sell this anti NRM dogma at the expense of various course content. In fact, that is how university student guild politics got largely influenced against NRM aspiring student leaders.
Some students began fearing to profess what they supported for fear of this branding and victimisation by their lecturers. Some even feared to propose research topics that sought to discover the fundamental works of the NRM for their thesis. This is the battle some of us have been engaged in since our university days, defying all odds of political blackmail. We have used our mouths to speak for, our hands to write in support of and our minds to think for the Movement, just like other actors do for their own political beliefs.
Of course, these anti-NRM groups exploited one major weakness of the NRM.
Media activism was never an area of interest for many senior leaders of the NRM. This left almost no one telling the Movement's story in the liberalised media industry. However, with many groups of young NRM cadres rising up with time to the occasion to break this silence, the NRM foes are getting panicky day by day and resorting to this personal intimidation with hope of subduing them.
Besigye has been leading this failed tactic of theirs. They try to target with attacks and smear campaign against any political activist who is seen to be professing NRM and propagating its ideology. This is why Besigye targets and hates some of us with extreme passion and obsession.
A critical study of these carefully planned vitriol attacks reveals a deliberate narrative that the opposition is trying to weave in a bid to bar NRM supporters, especially the young people (who dominate the online population), from publicly showing support for their party and candidate.
It is the same narrative we saw when former Vice-President Gilbert Bukenya announced that he was ditching the lame Opposition alliance to return to the NRM and support President Museveni.
The script is to portray whoever makes a public show of support for the NRM and President Museveni as either a hired gun only motivated by money or trying to attract the principal’s eye with a view to winning a monetary favour. Yet when certain political groups or individuals do so for other anti NRM groupings it is portrayed as normal political behaviour.
It is okay for Mao, for example, to support and praise Mbabazi (a man he spent a decade disapproving in all leadership aspects) and is not accused of taking bribes but when Prof Bukenya re-unites with the NRM, it is portrayed as shockingly immoral.
Of concern also is the way some of our media outlets openly go falling for these skewed spin stories. NRM supporters must be aware of these blackmail schemes and come out boldly to resist them. I have personally been targeted with similar malicious attacks hoping to cow me down and dampen my pro NRM activism but it has all been in vain. Of course these attacks, which are meant to make support for NRM look immoral, are not spontaneous. They are well-calibrated with a central command whose duty is to look out for which NRM officials or supporters to harass.
The desperation of the Opposition, therefore, is understandable though not forgivable. Even when their political messaging has been tailored to incite the youth either into popular uprising or opposing the NRM and President Museveni, they have failed to gain the numbers. In frustration, FDC presidential flag-bearer Kiiza Besigye has labelled them the “unbothered elite”, whom he keeps accusing of refusing to follow him to his street battles.
The truth is that the youth are bothered and are active in the political dispensation. Looking at the huge numbers of young people contesting for leadership positions and others registering as majority voters, Besigye's charge on them of being the "unbothered elite" becomes misplaced. May be they are unbothered about his deceptive rhetoric that tries to mimic our country in a situation it is not.
A comprehensive opinion poll published by the New Vision in July this year, showed that President Museveni enjoyed 68.6% of support among the youths (18-24 years), while Besigye and Amama Mbabazi each posted less than 10%. Even polls done by opposition-leaning pollsters have confirmed this trend. Of course the fortunes for the opposition are even worse when it comes to the older voters.
Cognizant of this weakness among a critical voting bloc, the opposition has now designed the “victimisation” strategy as was seen in the case of Julianna and now with Besigye throwing empty threats at some of us on his campaign trail. The idea is to primarily demonise anyone who shows public support for the NRM and President Museveni. Vigilant activists are the ones targeted most.
Besides these attacks of Besigye and entire opposition folk, whose choice of target and intention is obvious, is his old failed rhetoric about the strength of NRM that he now packages in imagery. According to Dr Besigye as he goes around campaigning, he says that he has been shaking the NRM tree, which is now weak and shaky with its roots exposed. He now urges Ugandans to give him one last push so that he can pull the tree down. This is perhaps the most laughable imagery in relation to our politics and the current campaign. Just perfecting the art of comedy and perhaps one of the reasons people come out to watch him at rallies is for comic effect. His messaging, the gestures, and of course their emptiness would leave even the hardest face lined up with smiles.
If Besigye chooses to confront reality, this is what he would tell his supporters. In 2006, when Besigye contested for a second time, he polled 2,592,342 votes (37.59%) of the total vote against President Museveni’s 4,071,879 votes (59.04%). This was Dr Besigye’s best showing. His arrest before the election shored up the sympathy element. The conflict in the north, which was just subsiding, was heavily exploited by the opposition to discredit President Museveni.
The same with insurgency in Teso perpetuated by Karamojong rustlers.
When President Museveni and the NRM government fixed these concerns, adding to them a foundation for economic growth through increased funding to areas of energy, roads, education, health, among others, it became difficult for Besigye and his cohorts' propaganda to hold. In 2011, President Museveni gave him a white-washing. Whereas President Museveni’s support shot up to 5,428,369 votes, Dr Besigye saw his votes reduce to 2,064,963.
It was the attendant disappointment that saw him ditch the FDC presidency a year after the election and publicly declare that he would never take part in another election organised by the current Electoral Commission. Of course as we know, Dr Besigye is now busy running around in an election he vowed never to take part in again. So one wonders whether it is the NRM or FDC tree which is about to collapse?
Already the polls, including those done by opposition-leaning agencies, show that President Museveni is destined for a landslide victory. Northern Uganda, where Besigye and his acolytes exploited the insecurity there to win votes, is fully pacified, so is the whole of the country. In Yumbe, where Dr Besigye had always made it a point to talk of insecurity, this time he was attacking the power voltage, saying it is too dim. He, however, should not think people there are too foolish to notice that not only are they secure but now actually have electricity and good roads coming to them.
This is the reality Dr Besigye and company should accept. Uganda's progress is unstoppable!
The writer is the Minister for the Presidency and Kampala Capital City Authority, and also an NRM parliamentary candidate for Kibale east- Kamwenge district.