Thought and Ideas
Uganda’s political defections over the past 50 years
Posted Sunday, November 3 2013 at 00:00
Last week, the news of Rubaramira Ruranga’s defection from the country’s largest opposition party, the FDC, back to the ruling NRM party, spread like wildfire. Sunday Monitor’s Timothy Kalyegira digs back to history and analyses the several political defections in the past 50 years.
Major Rubaramira Ruranga, a senior official in the opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party, shocked the Ugandan political and media establishment over a week ago by announcing he was quitting the FDC for the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM).
Ruranga, 65, was once head of the FDC’s Electoral Commission and before that had been an officer in the army, member of the NRM and a former National Resistance Army guerrilla in the civil war that brought the NRM government to power in 1986.
Also an AIDS prevention activist, he had enjoyed a respectable public profile as a patriot, a voice of reason and eloquence and a principled politician, which is why the shock of his departure from the FDC shocked so many people and made major national news.
But as several FDC officials and Members of Parliament were quick to note as they put a brave face to Ruranga’s re-defection, he is not the first and the party can go on without him.
In fact, going back 50 years the instances of leading politicians defecting from an opposition party to the ruling party or entity are many and in that sense, Ruranga’s case should be understood as more of the same. It is not an earth-shaking event.
In 1964, the Leader of Opposition in Parliament, Basil Bataringaya, in a surprise move abandoned the Democratic Party and along with several DP MPs, crossed over to the ruling Uganda People’s Congress.
It was the first indication, coming just two years into independence, of what lay ahead for Africa. Even though general elections organized by the departing European colonial powers had led to independence, it soon became clear that in Africa all power belonged to the ruling party.
The opposition existed on paper and was given the dignity of debating in the National Assembly, but ultimately it played little part in the formulation of policy. General elections in Africa often lead to a situation in which the winner took it all.
The opposition parties had little financial self-sufficiency and institutions and fundraising abilities while not in power. They tended to go dormant in between elections, their campaign funds quickly drying up following the polls and their only hope for a viable status was that of getting voted into power.
Under those circumstances, it was easy to compromise opposition politicians by offering them money or jobs. Bataringaya became the Minister of Internal Affairs in the UPC government after his defection.
The reason Bataringaya became Leader of the Opposition in parliament and not the DP President-General Benedicto Kiwanuka was because Kiwanuka had not contested a parliamentary seat and so could not sit in parliament.
The situation in which the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament was not the president of the main opposition party would re-occur nearly 50 years later.
The FDC’s president Kizza Besigye, a thrice runner-up in Uganda’s presidential election was not in parliament and the Leader of the Opposition became a senior FDC MP, first Morris Ogenga Latigo and later Nathan Nandala Mafabi.
In 1971 following the military coup that brought the army commander, Major-General Idi Amin to power, most of the deposed UPC government leaders and Members of Parliament could not come to terms with Amin as head of state and chose either to oppose him from bases in exile or lay low inside Uganda.
One notable exception was the former Principal Private Secretary to President Obote, Henry Kyemba, who on returning from the Commonwealth summit in Singapore, continued to work at the same job and later as Minister of Health under Amin.