By Joshua Kato
The Democratic Party is the oldest political party in Uganda, yet it has never taken the mantle of leading this country before. Most of the time, the Democratic Party (DP) talks about taking power in this or that election with a lot of gusto.
However, by the end of the elections, DP remains were it was before, or even farther behind.
One of the main reasons for DPâ€™s failure to capture state power is its inability to organise, as well as its inability to resolve long standing disputes and disagreements within the party.
Although the partyâ€™s slogan calls for â€˜Truth and Justice,â€™ there is very little of it within the party, which apparently is the underlying problem. Nearly every party member agrees that leadership change in the party is long overdue. However, all attempts to change the leadership have been met with confusion.
Last week, reports indicated that one of the factions of the party led by Francis Bwengye was planning to register the Democratic Party under the Political Parties Organisations Act.
This came after Gulu Municipality MP Nobert Maoâ€™s declaration to stand for President on a DP ticket. Mao had also talked of creating a Democratic Network, intended to purify DP. Both these moves did not go down well with the DP mainstream. They simply added to a pile of problems for the party.
The faction led by Paul Ssemogerere says this is impossible and if Bwengye is registering any party, he is not registering DP. â€œThe leaders of the Democratic Party are well known: Under the PPOA, a registering party is supposed to present a list of their leaders,â€ Joseph Balikudembe, the DP lawyer explained. He also adds that there is a court injunction stopping parties from registering.
However, Zachary Olum, a long time DP member, says Bwengye is the legal leader of DP: â€œThe elections in November 2000 were held legally under the partyâ€™s constitution and at the end of the day, Francis Bwengye was declared DP candidate. As far as I am concerned, Bwengye is the legal leader of the party,â€ he says.
Robert Kitariko, another of the DP heavy-weights, explains that the fact that Ssemogerere and Ssebaana Kizito did not go to court to contest the results of the polls in 2000 means that Bwengye is still the legal leader of the party: â€œBwengye is thus free to conduct any activity on behalf of the party,â€ he says.
Ssemogerere is accused of being a hypocrite in the course of the polls: It is he who revoked article 269 of the constitution, and told the Police that an illegal gathering was taking place at DP headquarters.
The Bwengye faction is now accused by the Ssemogerere faction of conniving with the Movement to destroy DP by registering it.
â€œWe have uncovered a big plot to destroy DP,â€ spokesperson Jude Mbabali says. He points out that the plot was hatched by the movement government, because DP is the main threat to state power. All machinations of this registering is a movement ploy to send DP into confusion.
In 2000, however, the same Mbabali made similar claims against Bwengye. He said that at the time, Bwengye had received sh100m from the movement government. Bwengye did not take that allegation lightly and took Mbabali to court.
The biggest problem is the tribal divide. Most members of the party from outside Buganda supported Bwengye for the leadership position. The same group is likely to support Maoâ€™s candidature if it goes ahead.
Mao has already told the party faithful that by supporting him, they will have ended this talk of DP being a Baganda party: â€œThis talk of DP being a baganda party is a big sore on the eye. Now is the chance for the party to show the world that this is not the case,â€ he says.
To Olum, Drametu and Kitariko, DP needs an immediate overhaul if it is to have any chance of capturing power. They also see no moral right for DP to continue telling Museveni to leave power, when they have themselves failed to leave it.
â€œWe are practicing hypocrisy if we continue telling Museveni not to stand for a third term, yet we have also refused to leave the leadership of the party to more vibrant people,â€ Kitariko says.
The fact that Bwengye was able to convince more than 100 delegates to come for the 2000 delegates conference is cause for concern for the Ssemogerere group. There is no indication that Bwengye and his supporters will not be able to get the same support as they did in 2000.
However, some people opposed to the registration of the party on principle are planning to take advantage of Bwengyeâ€™s action: â€œWe are against this registration in principle, but if Bwengye registers, it might turn out to be a blessing in disguise. We shall seize the chance and carry out our activities without fear of the Police. We shall be carrying them out under DP, a registered party,â€ one member of the Uganda Young Democrats points out.