TALK that the opposition in Uganda is gunning for a coalition that shall front a single presidential candidate in 2006, has gained momentum in the last few weeks.
There have been reports of secret meetings between the opposition who now call themselves the â€œGroup of Sevenâ€ (G-7), in which an agreement to form a coalition and have a single candidate in 2006 was reached.
Clearly, there is suspicion among the opposition. This is the highest huddle they have to jump over before a coalition is set up. Some are afraid that there are those who want to ride on their backs to victory. Others are not sure of the credibility of their colleagues.
It is no wonder that the rest of the group is blaming the Democratic Party (DP) for trying to fail their coalition. Ominously, DP has been accused of helping President Yoweri Museveni stay in power.
â€œThose who do not want a coalition want Museveni to stay in power. The only way he can be removed is through a coalition,â€ says Sam Njuba, the vice-chairman of the Reform Agenda and one of the champions of the coalition.
DP is reluctant to join the other opposition leaders in a coalition because it considers itself the most powerful among them. Officially, DP says that they are not against a coalition. However, they say that political groups need to organise themselves before they start talking about forming a coalition.
â€œWe cannot allow a coalition championed in haste, that seeks to ride on the back of parties without consideration for their support and history,â€ says Mukasa Mbide, DPâ€™s secretary for mobilisation. The word â€œhistoryâ€ is probably in reference to the Uganda Peoples Congressâ€™ tarnished past.
According to some DP members, it can only join the coalition if it has the leading candidate. But for now, DP Prefers to refer to what is going on as â€œco-operation,â€ rather than a coalition.
Among the DP members who have expressed interest in running for the presidency are Nasser Sebaggala, Norbert Mao and John Ssebaana Kizito and Paul Ssemogerere himself.
DP is better organised than any of the other parties. They have a parliamentary caucus with over 15 Members of Parliament, they hold the mayorship of the capital city and have a number of councillors throughout the country.
In 1996, DP was the central pillar of the coalition, then known as the Inter Political Forces Co-operation. However, they consider this to have been a great mistake, 8 years later.
â€œWe lost a lot of votes because we allied ourselves with dented parties like the UPC. That is why we are treading carefully this time round,â€ says a DP official.
Another DP official says that in Kenya, which the G-7 refers to fondly, it was Mwai Kibaki, the Democratic Party candidate, who delivered the beef.
â€œThat is why there should be no debate on who should be the candidate for 2006,â€ he adds.
In 2001, Colonel Kiiza Besigye, the coalition candidate then, was not a member of their party. DP feels that they would have performed much better than they did, had they got their own candidate.
Besides, DP has been the loser in the previous two coalitions. By the end of it all, it lost supporters to the Reform Agenda after 2001 and lost a degree of credibility after it joined hands with the UPC in 1996.
â€œThis time, we have started early enough. We have got our strong candidates and we think that one of them should be the joint coalition candidate,â€ says Mukasa Mbidde.
The split is so ominous that when Ken Lukyamuzi and Nsubuga Nsambu, the Conservative Party bosses, called a rally involving the G-7 members at Queens Way on February 21, DP called another at Abayita Ababiri on Entebbe Road, as if in direct competition with the G-7.
Compared to the DP, UPC remains the second most recognised political party in Uganda today. Though with a dented history, UPC maintains a wide network in Lango and eastern Uganda.
Among the UPC members who have expressed interest to run for the 2006 elections are Dr James Rwanyarare and Aggrey Awori.
UPC is the most tarnished of all old political parties in the race and so siding with the less tarnished parties is a sure way for it to regain some of its lost glory.
The Reform Agenda is a pressure group that is vehemently opposed to being known as a political party. However, there is no doubt that they would also like their candidate to lead the opposition. Of course Colonel Kiiza Besigye is their man.
RA is deeply involved in the coalition. In fact, the Jinja retreat was planned and financed by Change Initiative, an organisation closely linked to the RA.
There is little doubt that the RA has a network of its own. In 2001, the RA largely depended on the networks of the DP and the UPC to campaign. Without these, the RA remains a group of political elite. A tree without roots.
It is of not surprising that Sam Njuba, its first vice-chairman is bitter with all those trying to undermine the coalition.
Of late, the Parliamentary Advocacy Forum (PAFO)has been edging nearer and nearer the G-7. PAFO is a collection of Movement supporters, who are opposed to the lifting of the presidential term limits. Although Abdul Katuntu, one of its members, refered to the talks with the G-7 as a wider plan to join hands with every body in the country including the National Resistance Movement Organisation, NRM-O, there is no doubt that PAFO has something up its sleeves.
In their arsenal are the likes of Amanya Mushega, Eriya Kategaya, Mugisha Muntu and Augustine Ruzindana, all of whom have been mentioned as presidential material.
The main problem, however, lies in the fact that all of them lack credibility at least in the eyes of traditional opposition parties.
â€œThey have been part of the system that has been harassing us for so many years. I donâ€™t think it is in our interests to see one of them leading the official opposition,â€ says a DP member.
Further more, because all of them come from western Uganda, they might turn out to be more difficult to sell to other parts of the country that would like to see a change in leadership.
According to Sam Njuba, the coalition should be made early enough in order to avoid problems like those facing National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) in Kenya.
â€œWe need time to understand each other in order to avoid embarrassing splits like those happening in the NARC coalition,â€ says. Njuba.
But according to Mbidde, the Ugandan situation is different from that of Kenya. He says in Kenya, the disjointed opposition used to get at least 62% of the votes combined, while in Uganda the opposition groups get less than 30%. What is surprising is that the same Mbidde was so buoyant about the Kenyan experience last year and kept saying that it should be imported to Uganda.
Parties: Coalition Or Cooperation?