Muntu could have simply put his foot down and said no. He could have stormed out of FDC and been the better for it. Instead, he stayed.
By Ganzi M. Isharaza
On Tuesday, I watched a video interview Besigye had with NTV about the current rumblings in the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC).
In it, Besigye denies having any influence in the party’s recent reshuffle in Parliament, saying since he no longer holds any official position in the party, he cannot be the one behind the changes
There are several problems with that argument. First, Besigye must know for a fact that influence goes way beyond position. That is the entire reasoning behind his ‘People’s Government’ initiative. Is he really saying that because he has no official position in FDC, his views, wishes and ambitions do not influence the party members? If that’s the case, then what was he doing campaigning for FDC flag-bearers in the recent round of elections? Why is the current FDC leadership constantly reminding us of how their aim is to streamline their work with that of the ‘People’s Government’ headed by Besigye? If Besigye has no influence beyond official position, how did he get to become the party’s flag-bearer in the last general elections? The truth is, Besigye has always been and continues to be the most influential factor in FDC. He knows it, we know it and that is the end of it.
The problem, however, isn’t that he is influential. It is that he has (whether intentionally or not) used this influence in such a selfish, self-serving manner that the party has irrevocably become exactly what it set out to fight. And it all started when he resigned from his official position as party president.
Besigye said he resigned two years ahead of his term’s expiry to enable the party “ to create ample time for the next party leader to consolidate him/herself in leadership early enough before the 2016 elections” Everyone praised the move as an indicator of Besigye’s commitment to democracy. Hardly weeks after his resignation and handing over to General Mugisha Muntu, Besigye was walking to work, forming all manner of pressure groups and completely ignoring the tensions going on in the party he purportedly wanted to give space to grow.
Those in the party who supported him defied the party president and Besigye said nothing. It is on record that Nandala Mafabi, who lost to Muntu refused to meet with him (Muntu) and in fact refused to set foot at Najanankumbi for almost two years.
Instead, Mafabi set about trying to form a new party, which he even registered, before party elders prevailed on him, urging him to stay and fight from within. And fight he did. Every single action by the party leadership was undercut by the Mafabi group, which was fully aligned to Besigye’s agenda. Besigye, as founding president, party elder and father figure to Mafabi could have stepped in and diffused the situation. With a mere meeting or two, he could have brought everyone back into the fold and once again galvanised his statesman credentials. But no, doing that would mean putting the party’s interests before his, which would also mean enabling Muntu to carry out his agenda. Both of these eventualities would have meant that come 2015, when the party was electing a flag-bearer, Muntu would be in an unassailable position.
So he let chaos reign.
In 2015, when the party primaries came round, the man who had resigned early to allow the next leader to consolidate him/herself in leadership early enough before the 2016 elections came calling for his rightful place. He run against his successor, forcing party members to choose between the new leadership that he had encouraged and himself. He won of course, because contrary to his public assertions, he wields a lot of influence in the party. He lost the general election (or was cheated out of the win, depending on who you ask) and the petition against the results was thrown out by court. For Muntu and those who thought like him, it was time to take stalk of what had gone wrong, regroup and live to fight another day. Not for Besigye. For him, perhaps sensing it was probably his last clear shot at the presidency; it was time to go for broke. Organise protests. Call for an election audit. Sabotage any efforts by Museveni to return the country to normality. In other words, ‘Tubalemese’. Once again, the party agenda was hijacked by the individual’s agenda and everyone was supposed to fall in line.
After One and a half years of trying to ‘reclaim their victory’, FDC found itself in a position in which they had to conduct party elections. What was supposed to be a battle of ideas for the party became a litmus test of who loves Besigye more. POA’s team called Muntu’s team NRM moles, insisted that the only way forward for the party was defiance and that anyone who did not subscribe to the idea of the People’s Government was an enemy of the people. Muntu kept talking about the party structures he had always dreamed of. Dreamed of because of course, between 2001 and 2011 as chief party mobiliser, he had had to tow the party president’s line and as party president from 2012-2016, had to spend his entire presidency trying to convince the former president’s people that he was the new president. And so when he talked, all that was being heard by the delegates were words spoken passionately by a man greatly undermined. But that is politics; candidates cast their visions and people cast their votes. Whoever wins, wins.
What is not politics as usual, however, was Besigye’s involvement in the campaign. Instead of taking the high ground of statesman and party elder and watching his successor and potential successor battle it out, he put his weight behind POA. He went on the campaign trail with him. He met delegates and urged them to vote for POA. When he was asked why he was taking sides, his answer was as disingenuous as his current position on the party’s reshuffle; only one candidate invited me to his rallies.
Besigye had his way in the party presidential elections. POA won. Defiance became the legitimate party strategy. And so those in the party that believe in party building from the grassroots up have been silenced, ordered to shut up and tow the party line because after all, they had their chance for five years and did nothing with it. Now was time for another strategy. They should give the new leadership time and space to do their thing. That is what democracy is about, right?
There is only one little problem. The so-called new leadership’s strategy was not new at all and the old leadership was never given a chance. Not really. For his entire presidency, Muntu had to deal with a rival that refused to acknowledge his presidency and a predecessor that refused to give him the space to operationalise his agenda. And now, after being ganged up on by both, he was being asked to do what he had always done: support a cause he doesn’t believe in and methods that have failed over and over again, all in the name of democracy.
Muntu could have simply put his foot down and said no. He could have stormed out of FDC and been the better for it. Instead, he stayed. And he convinced the majority of MPs and top leadership that supported him to stay. ‘Decisions should not be made in anger or emotion,’ he cautioned, ‘Let us wait a month for the temper to cool down, consult widely about whether it is possible to reconcile our differences and then make a rational, well considered decision about the next steps’.
And so, eight months into POA’s presidency, FDC finds itself in a position where the president they rejected is the party’s cornerstone...literally! If Muntu and the MPs who support his vision walk, FDC loses its majority position in Parliament’s Opposition and Muntu’s team becomes the majority. Yet instead of smelling the coffee and coming to the table of common sense, POA and his people insist that defiance is the way forward. Defiance that started the walk to work protests and yeilded nothing but bloodshed. Defiance that started the ‘reclaim our victory’ campaign that ended in nothing but hot air. Defiance that has had no effect anywhere other than Kampala and its surroundings. Defiance that is headed by Retired Colonel Kiiza Besigye Kifefe. That’s what FDC is about.
But it has got nothing to do with Besigye. He holds no official position in the party, remember?
The writer is a communications specialist and researcher currently at the University of Leeds, UK