Freedom of political parties was a cause of great debate during the recently concluded National Conference that ended on March 31. However there are all indications that soon parties will be free to operate. But are the parties ready for freedom?
Uganda Peopleâ€™s Congress (UPC)
At Uganda House, the situation is less promising. But still, UPC say they are ready for the challenge. â€œWe have been ready for so many years. Let them just say parties are free and we show the country how powerful we are,â€ says James Rwanyarare, Chairman of UPC Presidential Policy Committee.
Although Uganda Peoples Congress, Party President Milton Obote says that he has quit politics, he is still the overall leader of the party. Back home, James Rwanyarare, leads a faction, that supports Obote, while Cecilia Ogwal leads another, that has for years sought reform in the party.
In the central and west, UPC is seen as the party that tortured and killed their relatives in the â€˜80s. UPC is also seen as the party that conspired to destroy the kingdom of Buganda. This has made it difficult for them to get any support in these regions.
In parts of the West like Bushenyi, UPC support was taken over by the Movement. Moving back is a very big hurdle.
In Lango, UPC is still dominant by virtue of the fact that the Obote, party president comes from there.
UPC has support among the Acholi, but still, this support might not be there if a prominent Acholi like Norbert Mao stands for another party.
In the East once a strong hold of UPC, most members openly profess to be Movement or DP. Badru Wegulo, a historical UPC is however adamant. â€œWe are still the dominant party in Mbale and the entire eastern region,â€ he says.
Conservative Party (CP)
The Conservative party is not far away from the others in as far as factionalism is concerned.
Long time Chairman Mayanja Nkangi leads one of the factions, while Ken Lukyamuzi, the Secretary General of the party leads another.
Their offices are not known, but in Lukyamuzi, they have somebody who can make noise for the party. They drew most of their support from Buganda, by championing the Baganda causes.
Lukyamuzi has hinted at standing for Presidency in 2006. â€œ I am ready to stand in as a dangerous substitute if other parties are disorganised,â€ the Rubaga south legislator says.
Democratic Party (DP)
The Democratic party(DP) is the most active at the moment. â€œIt will not be like we were not warned. This is our chance to take over the leadership of this country,â€ Dr. Paul Ssemogerere the party president says.
â€œWe are deep in plans to capture state power come the year 2006,â€ Michael Mabikke, member of parliament for Makindye East says. He explains that this plan was in progress long before President Museveni made the statement.
Thanks to the Youth wing, DP has lived out the 17 years much more active than other parties. In the central region most youth who have joined politics in the last 17 years identify themselves more with the Democratic Party than any other party.
â€œThe idea of having a youth wing has paid off,â€ explains Michael Mabikke. With branches in most higher institutions of learning, DP has got a base, that if well handled can help them in future.
DP has got almost total control of Kampalaâ€™s administration. John Ssebaana Kizito, the Mayor, his deputy Takuba Kabuye and the speaker of the council Sarah Ssebagala are all members of DP. All the five divisions of Kampala are led by DP supporters, in addition to having three members of parliament from Kampala alone.
â€œWe are slowly but surely trying to transfer the skills we use in campaigning around Kampala to other parts of the country. We are doing this through the extensive networks, that we have created for years,â€ Mabikke says. Since the information of a possible return to party politics came out, members of the party have had several â€œretreats.â€ There are regular meetings among party members, all intended to pave the way for 2006.
Through their prolonged march to state house, DP is also looking at lessons and expertise from colleagues in Kenya. â€œ We went to Kenya to acquire more skills and prepare ourselves for exactly what will happen in 2006. It is good that our friends in Kenya have promised us total support as we did to them,â€ Mukasa Mbidde, another member says. During a recent visit to Uganda, their Kenyan colleagues promised a partnership, that will run through 2006.
The formation of a DP caucus in parliament added to their stature as a party.
However, DP has got several tasks to solve. The fact that it has two factions, one led by Dr. Paul Ssemogerere and another by Bwengye is an impediment to their success. â€œWe are trying to forge reconciliation within the party. The purpose of our various retreats is to solve all these problems,â€ says Ssebuliba Mutumba, MP Kawempe north.
Talk of DP being a partisan party, because of its foundation is still rife. The belief that non catholic will never be a party President is yet to be disproved. This is actually the fear of Muslim members in the party, like the crowd pulling Nasser Ssebagala.
DP has got a long list of people who have already shown intentions of contesting for the Presidency, come 2006. They include Nasser Ssebagala, Norbert Mao, there is even talk of Winnie Byanyima, who they say is a DP by birth.
Ssebagala is popular among the young Turks than any of the other candidates. The ambitious fellow he is, Ssebaggala has already set up his campaign team. â€œWe have several possible candidates. We shall choose the best at the right time,â€ Mabikke says.
Smaller parties like JEEMA of former Presidential candidate Kibirige Mayanja and National Democratic Forum of Chappa Karuhanga are waiting to grab supporters who might fall out from other parties.
â€œ We are a new party, we are not tainted in any way, we welcome anybody,â€ Chapaa Karuhanga says. If parties are to defeat the movement, they have a lot of work to do. A survey carried out last August, but released last week indicates that Movement support is still way ahead of parties, at 35%. Parties stand at 16%.
But as Ssebuliba Mutumba explains, the difference might lie in the fact that parties have been in prison, while the Movement has been around and mobilising,â€ he says.
Like other partyists, he hopes that the tide will turn in their favour as soon as the playing field becomes level. Explains DP parliamentary caucus leader, Kasiano Wadri, â€œonce the Movement stops getting funding from the state. We shall be able to take it on,â€ he says. According to the budget, the Movement Secretariat receives sh9b for political mobilisation.
If parties are freed, several laws will have to be amended to create a level field. Laws like the Political Parties Organisations Act, the Anti-terrorism act, articles in the constitution that affect the operation of parties will all be amended. Articles 69,70,71,73,269 and 270 of the constitution that affect the running of political parties will have to go.
The Constitutional court has ruled in favour of the annullment of sections 18 and 19 of the Political Parties Organisation Act, which adversely affect the activities of political parties.
But after a Constitutional court ruling annulling some of the provisions of the Political Parties Organisations Act, parties are legally free to carry out their activities at national level.
â€œI donâ€™t think we shall have any problem taking on the Movement on the same field, with the same boots and the same ball,â€ DPâ€™s Ssemogerere says. Parties will also be earning openly from the sale of cards and T-shirts. This will boost their incomes.
To strengthen their stand, parties are planning to field a single candidate against the Movement. However, this plan needs a lot of spinning to succeed. By nature, parties should have diverging views. The only uniting factor perhaps is that all of them want to depose the sitting President.
Objectives and goals are enshrined in their origins. For example, DP, the oldest was largely founded to fight for the rights of Catholics-at least this is a common belief. While the UPC was founded to resist and protest the machinations of the DP. CP was a child of Kabaka Yekka with the objective of conserving the pride of Buganda.
According to the survey, mistrust among parties in Uganda is very high. After 1996, DP accused UPC of leading to the failure of Ssemogerereâ€™s candidature because UPC was linked with Obote. In 2001, most party members chose to support Kizza Besigye, a candidate who had professed himself to be Movement, rather than supporting their own people, like Bwengye, Kibirige Mayanja or Aggrey Awori.
Some fear that a situation like what happened in Kenya in 1992, after KANU opened up political space might happen here. Political parties broke into more than eight smaller parties. KANU won. â€œMy fear is that such excitement might eat into our parties. If it happens, the Movement will continue ruling for the next 10 years like KANU did,â€ says a multipartist.
Talk in the corridors is of DP choosing to deal with UPC in areas were UPC is strong, and avoiding UPC in areas were UPC is tainted-for example Buganda were UPC is seen as a liability.
Another tactic from Kenya. Defect to the opposition camp, steal his secrets and come back. Infiltrating the Movement and defecting back the parties later is an option that is highly considered among party supporters. Obviously, senior party officials don`t want to admit this tactic, but the ever ambitious young youth admit.
â€œThe opposition managed to weaken up KANU in Kenya because they infiltrated it, became part of it and later went back to their parties,â€ said one of the vocal opposition members. It can also be a tactic to scare the Movement from accepting defecting members of the opposition.
Fundraising for campaigns is in high gear. In DP, members in positions of gainful employment are asked to stake some of their earnings for the party cause. â€œWe should not be let down by lack of finances,â€ a member says.
Are parties up to the task ahead?