The appointment of Mr Wafula Oguttu as the new Leader of the Opposition in Parliament (LoP) has triggered speculation that has, for the most part, been off the mark.
Claims by some commentators that Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu, the FDC president, removed Mr Nandala Mafabi from the office of LoP because the latter had challenged him in the party presidential elections of 2012 are utterly false.
Such claims reveal a fundamental flaw in the assumptions that drive politics and governance in Uganda. There is a severe democracy deficit in the thoughts and attitudes of many who shape public opinion. These are folks who view nearly everything through the lens of competitive politics, even long after an election has settled a contest for leadership.
Actions by Gen Muntu are assumed to be based on political calculations, on rewards and punishment, on his personal political plans. It is a culture that seeks to hold Mr Muntu hostage to a paralysing fear of upsetting the cart, so to speak. Happily Muntu has refused to yield to such negative forces. He appears to be determined to take bold actions in the interests of his party.
Had Gen Muntu placed his personal interests above the party’s, he would have retained Mr Mafabi as LoP. After a bruising electoral contest in 2012, Muntu would have been keen to avoid upsetting Mafabi supporters.
However, Mr Muntu was elected to lead and transform his party. His brief included taking very bold and sometimes controversial decisions in order to convert the FDC into the formidable party that it must become if it hopes to govern a post-NRM Uganda. The ongoing reshuffles in the FDC leadership in parliament should be understood from that perspective.
I was present at the meetings of the management committee and of the National Executive Committee during which the appointment of Mr Oguttu was presented and thoroughly discussed. I also had a lengthy private conversation with Muntu the evening after he announced Oguttu’s appointment.
I am, therefore, confident that the decision to change the LoP was a carefully considered move that had nothing to do with past or future political contests between Muntu and Mafabi.
It was not a comment on Mr Mafabi’s broader or historical roles in the party. Rather it was a strategic move to take advantage of Mr Oguttu’s formidable corporate, political and public relations skills as the countdown towards 2016 got into full gear.
The reshuffle was akin to the decision by a soccer team manager to replace a star player with a substitute in order to enhance the team’s opportunities for victory. The manager of the team makes the decision in the interest of the team, without regard for the sensibilities of the star player or his admirers.
Mr Mafabi himself acknowledged to the party’s management committee that he fully understood and accepted that the position of LoP was up for mandatory review. He acknowledged the right of the party president to appoint a new LoP and pledged his full and unqualified support for his successor. He promised to work hand in hand with Muntu and Oguttu to assuage any fears, anxieties and other fallout from his being relieved of the post of LoP.
For his part, Muntu reiterated his desire to create conditions that will enable Mafabi and other interested individuals to offer themselves as candidates for future contests in which the party president will be competing.
You will, therefore, understand, Tingasiga, why I consider recent media reports that Mafabi had said the onus was on Muntu to explain to [his supporters] why he had removed him from office, to be fabrications by over-enthusiastic journalists.
There is no way the Mafabi I know and heard speaking on Thursday, January 30, would turn round and speak as though he had been stripped of an inalienable right to lead the opposition in parliament.
There is a widely held belief in Uganda that individuals who occupy public office are entitled to their stations. Merit and other considerations are subordinated to the feudal delusions of those who hold leadership positions.
It is a false premise which assigns permanent tenure to political appointees, complete with claims that removal of the occupants from their positions is tantamount to rejection of a whole ethnic community, region or religious sect, depending on what is expedient for the individual concerned. This is blackmail. It must be rejected.
Nobody has a right of permanent occupation of any public position. I am informed that even monarchs can be removed from their thrones. Nobody holds a leadership position on behalf of his or her kinsmen or in the name of their religion. The appointment is personal to the holder, not to some imaginary collective.
This is a principle that the FDC must embrace, practice and popularise in a country where sectarian thinking has been an effective tool for control through deception over the last 28 years.