Thought and Ideas
Muntu settles into FDC top job amid challenges
Posted Sunday, January 20 2013 at 02:00
Man with a different approach. Gen. Muntu’s quick promotion through the ranks of the NRA to the helm at an early age of 29 was questioned by a section of the army. Similarly, a section of FDC members thought he was not the right man to lead the opposition party to defeat the ruling NRM, come 2016. But all the same he won party elections to become president of the biggest opposition party. Charles Mwanguhya Mpagi analyses how the soft-spoken Gen. Muntu has hit the ground, running determined to push FDC to greater heights.
In his early 20s, a young Gregory Mugisha Muntu walked out of his last examination paper at Makerere University and trekked tens of kilometres to join a budding rebel group that was to take power five years later. That was in 1981. An unlikely recruit, according to many who knew him, given his family’s connections with the then government, Gen. Muntu was to emerge from the bush to head the powerful Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence before becoming the army commander – before clocking 30 - a position he held for nearly nine years.
At least two decades later, Gen. Muntu has moved on. After disagreeing with his former Commander-in-Chief, Gen. Muntu is now in the opposition and was in November elected president, not of the party or system he fought to bring to power, but the Forum for Democratic Change.
As president of FDC, Gen. Muntu, who retired at the rank of Major General (many think he would have commanded a higher rank had he either stayed in the army or retired to a quieter existence), replaced another war-time comrade, Col (Rtd.) Kiiza Besigye.
To rise to the helm of the country’s biggest party in opposition (on the strength of votes garnered at the last two general elections and number of elected officials), Gen. Muntu fought a gruelling battle. But his victory was overshadowed by cries of foul play from his main opponent, Mr Nathan Nandala Mafabi, the Leader of Opposition in Parliament.
After a quiet December, Gen. Muntu started to emerge from the shadows of the controversy into his new role, announcing what appeared to be a major departure from the character the party has built over the last years as a militant and confrontational outfit that battled State security agencies in street battles, with Dr Besigye at the forefront.
According to Mr Francis Mwijukye, a member of the party publicity committee, under Gen. Muntu’s leadership, the party wants to “focus more on what it is for as opposed to what it is against”.
Mr Christopher Kibanzanga, the secretary in the party president’s office, notes: “Under the leadership of Gen. Muntu, we are planning to rebrand the party, in the rebranding we are trying to redefine it on the basis of the ideological, political outlook on what we want to do for the country as opposed to exposing the rot.”
Mr Kibanzanga, a former MP for Busongora South, argues that the FDC’s focus on exposing the rot has run its course. “Previously, we concentrated too much on pointing to the ills and we succeeded, it’s no longer us talking, it’s now other people,” Mr Kibanzanga says.
He adds that the party’s focus will be to pick from its platform a few specific policy ideas and party principles that will be summarised and packaged in small consumable beats that will become the key talking points for the party.
Ms Alice Alaso, FDC’s secretary general, says the move to rebrand is in part an effort to “cope with the times.” Though Ms Alaso does not explain exactly what she means, for a party whose members have been repeatedly battered and arrested in fights with the police during demonstrations, coping with the times could easily be interpreted to mean a realisation that street engagement is not a winner and cannot win the desired change the FDC and its founders have been pushing for.
The position, if true, could present the fundamental challenge that the post-Besigye leadership at the top FDC faces. Despite having two years on his term, Dr Besigye opted to retire early, announcing that he felt more comfortable engaging in civil activity, challenging the regime and particularly the police for the cringed space for the public.
The two apparent divergent positions between Gen. Muntu’s approach and that of his immediate predecessor raises the question observers have put across about whether there will be two FDCs in one and how deep a hole Dr Besigye leaves in the brand of FDC he had built is.
A section of party supporters, especially those who supported the candidature of Mr Mafabi, feared that under Gen. Muntu, FDC would be turned into another meek opposition party like older parties, especially the UPC and CP. This group preferred Mr Mafabi whom they say embodied Dr Besigye’s militant style.
Gen. Muntu supporters, on the one hand, say his perceived weakness is utterly misplaced, saying behind the calm and quiet individual lies a tough and organised persona now seeking to build the party as an institution.
Party secretary for research Augustine Ruzindana is still mourning the fallout within party ranks over allegations of electoral malpractice, which followed Gen. Muntu’s assent to power. He says the ruckus that followed forced Gen. Muntu to move more cautiously, saying it presented a “restraining aspect”.
“Our assessment was that the change of leadership (from Besigye to Muntu) was well received by the public but got undermined by the fallout,” Mr Ruzindana, a party elder, observes.
“We didn’t want to lose the momentum,” he says, suggesting the tight work plan that Gen. Muntu has now rolled out was meant to partly catch up with lost time, especially in December.
To sell his new ideas, Gen. Muntu has held meetings with, first, the four deputy presidents, on January 7, in Kampala, all mayors elected under the party flag in Mbale, on January 11, which was followed by a meeting with the party caucus in Parliament at the party headquarters, while other meetings are to follow.