When Mugisha Muntu, the former president of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), called a press conference last week, there was wild speculation and expectation that he was going to announce the formation of a new political party. Having worked themselves up to believe their own speculation, many were then disappointed that Muntu used the press conference to outline the consultative process that he, together with his colleagues, was embarking on in order to chart a course that would advance the values upon which his leadership and campaigns have been founded.
Not one to be rattled by electoral defeat or other political setbacks, Muntu is a very careful, methodical man who considers all options. Never reckless, Muntu thinks before speaking or acting, but is very decisive when he does. And when he speaks or acts, he is always truthful even when it is not politically expedient.
It is Muntu’s insistence on the truth that has partly brought him into direct collision with a faction of the FDC that successfully booted him out of office. One truth that incensed this faction, for example, was that while Dr Kizza Besigye won the 2016 presidential election, his claim to be the president of Uganda, complete with a “people’s government”, was a delusion that would not change the reality on the ground. Muntu’s refusal to be a “minister of defence” in the imaginary “people’s government” earned him the wrath of those who had already devoted enormous energy to vilifying him and lying to the world that he was a Museveni mole.
The false allegation that Muntu was a Museveni mole in FDC began when he first challenged Dr Besigye for party leadership in 2009. The falsehood was again merchandised by the campaign team of Nandala Mafabi, who was a candidate for party president in 2012. When Muntu won that election, Maj Rubaramira Ruranga, who had been Nandala Mafabi’s campaign chairman, bolted back to the NRM and into Museveni’s arms, effortlessly revealing who the real NRM mole was.
The tensions that followed the Muntu-Mafabi contest of 2012 nearly split the party, with the Mafabi faction sparing no effort to undermine everything that Muntu did. Mafabi toyed with the idea of forming a Farmer’s Party, before returning to become secretary general of FDC. Muntu, ever the cool leader, exercised great patience, humility and magnanimity and kept the party together.
Why a “Museveni mole” sent to destroy the FDC would be at pains to keep the party together was never explained by the merchants of the falsehood. They could not, of course, because they knew the truth, namely, that Muntu was one of the most loyal and determined founder members of the FDC.
The allegations of “Muntu is a mole” reached crescendo in the final days of the most recent campaign, uttered by the reckless type and left to float in the air by those who did not have the courage or integrity to unequivocally dismiss them as falsehoods. The silence of senior party leaders was more telling than the utterances of the usual advocates of “anything goes.” This silence was a subtle and, perhaps, intended endorsement of the falsehoods.
We know that Muntu’s break with the NRM 13 years ago was total. We also know that President Museveni and other NRM leaders recognise Muntu to be a deadlier opponent than the news media and many in the FDC realise. However, the falsehood about his “mission” has been merchandised so long and hard by his opponents within FDC that some may have begun to believe it. To be sure, it was a centre piece for the Amuriat campaign and may have contributed to the latter’s victory. That Amuriat and his team at Nnajanankumbi now claim a desire to work with Muntu is both hypocritical and a dereliction of their responsibility to protect the party from external interference.
If Muntu is an NRM mole, Amuriat and Besigye have an urgent duty to initiate proceedings to have Muntu expelled from the FDC. If Muntu is not a mole, the FDC party leaders have an obligation to apologise to Muntu, to the party and to all Ugandans, and state publicly and unequivocally that they deliberately lied about one of the finest political leaders in our country. They cannot eat their cake and have it. They must explain to the country why they lied about Muntu.
Such an apology wold be a positive step in healing a rift that has absolutely nothing to do with the results of last month’s party elections. The rift is a consequence of deception, malice, intolerance, untruthfulness and irreconcilable visions and strategies to challenge and end Museveni’s rule.
The challenge for the FDC is restoration of trust. But how do you trust colleagues who have knowingly and deliberately told lies to win a political competition? Is that the kind of democratic change that the FDC seeks? Gossip as politics? Lies as truth? Truth as evil? Cultism as changed democratic engagement? Aggression as leadership and defiance? Threats as argument? Libel and defamation as a substitute for factual, reasoned debate and comment? These are some of the maladies that have stretched the FDC towards breaking point.
We must reject the notion that politics is a dirty game. Let us seek a new politics in our country – one that seeks to do good; to say good; to honour and respect all, including our opponents; to tell the truth without fear; to fear falsehood, malice and slander; and to uplift the spirit of the land and effect positive transformation. It may well mean forming a new coalition to achieve this.