This week’s election for president of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) offers welcome relief from the dark countrywide spectacle of pseudo-consultations about lifting the presidential age limit to ensure Yoweri Museveni's continued reign.
Over the last three months, the candidates for the FDC presidency have crisscrossed the country in search of support from the delegates, who will elect the party leader on November 24. Whereas the candidates have been disciplined and civil towards each other, their campaigns have been severely hampered by the State machinery. Muntu and Patrick Amuriat Oboi, his main challenger, have faced interference, sabotage and other shenanigans by the State’s armed agents. Of course, Kizza Besigye’s active support and campaign appearance with Oboi has given the State operators a great excuse for physical assaults and arrests of their campaign team members. They have done this for two main reasons.
First, Museveni and his people know that the FDC presidential election, is a contest between the Besigye and Muntu visions of the party. Besigye favours a popular defiance, including street protests, along the lines of what happened in the so-called Arab Spring. Muntu favours a combined strategy of defiance and party organisation and entrenchment as a foundation for electoral victory at various levels of government.
The State has a pathological fear of any Besigye public appearance. But Muntu is the man whose potential presidential candidacy in 2021 gives Gen Museveni sleepless nights. The president recognises that Muntu can become a rallying point for opposition and moderate NRM forces that want real change in Uganda.
As a result, State operators have invested very heavily in a disinformation campaign that seeks to paint Muntu as a more acceptable candidate to them than anyone else. By pretending to favour Muntu, these State agents hope to sow seeds of doubt in the minds of FDC delegates. It is a game the ruling regime has played for years. Part of the State’s strategy has been to physically attack and arrest Oboi and his campaign team members, while using less overt measures to sabotage Muntu’s campaigns. It has worked to some extent, with a few FDC members and supporters rhetorically asking why Muntu’s rallies have not been violated as much as Oboi’s.
The truth is that the State is as afraid of Muntu as it is of Besigye. The folks at Rwakitura recognise that left unchecked, Besigye’s defiance campaign could trigger a public uprising with unpredictable short-term consequences. However, they also recognise that Muntu’s strategy of building and entrenching a well-organised opposition party throughout the country threatens the long-term survival of the NRM. The FDC delegates should not fall for the Museveni regime’s tricks. Both Muntu and Besigye are formidable, long-standing foes of the NRM regime, with complimentary strategies that should be supported by all who believe in peaceful change in this country.
Of course, Besigye is not on the ballot this time. So, the FDC delegates have a choice between Muntu and Oboi. Both gentlemen are good candidates. Like Muntu, Oboi, a former MP with good legislative experience, has a very agreeable demeanor. Whereas he lacks national leadership experience, Oboi has the potential to become a key national player in the years ahead. However, with just more than three years before the next parliamentary and presidential elections, the FDC needs a president with a proven track record of big organisational and national leadership experience.
Muntu’s distinguished record as one of the longest serving army commanders gave him valuable executive leadership skills. His years in the National Resistance Council and 10 years as a member of the East African Legislative Assembly, gave him formidable legislative experience and awareness of the larger community in which the FDC and Uganda operate. His seven years as the FDC secretary for mobilisation and five years as party president have given him both national exposure and excellent opportunities to engage with Ugandans of all socio-economic stations across the country.
His commitment to the FDC and the democratic process has been unwavering. The most recent demonstration of this was when Besigye challenged him for the party’s flag bearer position for the 2016 presidential “election.” Muntu, who was party president, welcomed the competition with a trademark eagerness that baffled some. Besigye defeated Muntu. The latter then threw his full support behind Besigye and was frequently by his side throughout the gruelling campaign.
With Besigye under house arrest following the “election” of February 18, 2016, Muntu became an indefatigable comrade of his besieged political competitor. He provided the leadership that the Ugandan opposition needed at that very difficult time. Muntu had already demonstrated his leadership skills following the FDC presidential election in 2012. That election was followed by serious tensions and conflict that threatened to tear up the party. Muntu was successful in holding the party together because he worked with leaders on both sides to reach mutually acceptable accommodation.
Muntu is a genuine democrat, an advocate for transformative politics and a team player who enjoys respect across the entire political spectrum. Many Ugandans believe that he is highly qualified to be president of the Republic of Uganda. However, many still underestimate him because of his reserved and non-confrontational nature. Some have criticised him for being too much of a gentleman to lead Uganda. “He is fit to lead a Nordic country,” someone commented in a Facebook conversation.
If being an honest and accommodative gentleman disqualifies one from leading Uganda, then our country is in a darker place than we realise. Happily, Muntu, a war hero and professional soldier, is a gentleman that is made of great steel underneath. He has what it takes to redirect Uganda to a path that has seen the Nordic countries prosper as genuine democracies that respect their diverse populations. Muntu is the leader that the FDC and Uganda deserve.