Mention the Inter-Party Organisation for Dialogue (IPOD) and two things will likely come to one’s mind, the spats between the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) and Democratic Party (DP) over the former’s refusal to attend two IPOD summits and the latter’s reluctance to hand over the IPOD leadership.
FDC skipped the December 2018 and May 2019 summits, drawing mixed reactions. Mr Jimmy Akena, the president of the Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) seemed to understand why, but NRM chairperson Yoweri Museveni and Mr Mao ripped into them. Mr Museveni questioned FDC’s democratic credentials.
“To me, dialogue is a command from God. When I come out and say I want to lead people and then say I do not want to talk to so and so, I am failing in my mandate. I am not part of those that do not want to talk; I have never been,” Mr Museveni said.
DP’s secretary general Gerald Siranda accuses FDC of hypocrisy and populism.
“This business of sitting with us in the council, only to run away during summits so that you continue looking good in public cannot work,” Mr Siranda said.
The accusation is a bit hard to understand. FDC has for quite a while now been consistent that any dialogue involving the NRM must be “on clear terms,” have a definite agenda and discuss a transition from Museveni/NRM.
Besides, in the run up to the second summit, FDC president Patrick Oboi Amuriat said FDC would not participate unless the countrywide harassment of its leaders and disruption of party activities by State security apparatus were stopped.
“If we continue to be treated the way we have been treated, it is possible that we will be boycotting that summit. This is the notice that we put to IPOD and to the rogue regime of NRM that has continued to torment the population of Uganda,” he said.
By then, FDC party rallies in Mbale, Gulu, Rukungiri, Kasese and Mbarara had either been blocked or disrupted and FM radios in Jinja, Kabale, Mubende and Lira had been switched off for hosting FDC officials.
Matters around the summit continue to kick up storm. Mr Siranda says Mr Mao has written to the leadership of FDC seeking “unequivocal commitment that it will attend the next summit meeting” before it can hand over IPOD leadership to FDC, but that the latter is yet to respond.
Under the terms of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) of IPOD, leadership is rotational and each party holds the seat for six months. DP’s term expired in September.
Mr Amuriat has publicly said DP’s new-found position is alien to the MoU and that it “collapses the entire spirit of the dialogue and defeats democracy because members are not adhering to the principles they claim to aspire.”
DP under Ssebaana Kizito was one of the founders of IPOD and it enjoyed close ties with FDC, but the relationship between the two parties has been strained since Mr Mao took charge. He declined to work with FDC ahead of the 2011 general election and famously declared that he would defeat the Inter-Party Cooperation (IPC) candidate and would come second to President Museveni.
Attacks on FDC and Dr Besigye became quite common place between 2011 and 2016.
The emergence of Mr Robert Kyagulanyi and the return of Dr Abed Bwanika and Michael Mabikke to the so-called DP block occasioned more attacks on FDC and Dr Besigye. Key among their demands was that Dr Besigye should cede ground for another person to lead the Opposition. The IPOD leadership question is fast turning out to be another flashpoint.
The objectives of IPOD include, among others, helping the membership to pursue and promote fundamental principles of good governance, democracy, human rights and non-discrimination and promote party dialogue and cooperation; fostering peaceful negotiation and resolution of conflicts; and promote and uphold tolerance of divergent political opinions.
Why then is DP so angry with what appears to be a divergent opinion that FDC has on participation in IPOD summits?
As former British prime minister Harold Wilson pointed out in the mid-1960s, a week can be a very long time in politics. Whereas the stand has been to force FDC to abandon the idea of boycotting IPOD summits, the idea of boycotting elections has started having some appeal to DP.
During the party’s weekly press conference last week, Mr Mao said the party should consider not challenging Mr Museveni for the presidency and instead focus on the lower positions if only to force him and the NRM to agree to making the political landscape better.
Why then is DP so keen on opposing FDC’s decision to skip the IPOD summit as a way of forcing the NRM and Mr Museveni to allow a well-structured and principled dialogue?
The harassment continued on Monday at Namboole and Kireka when police dispersed a planned meeting of the party and violently arrested it leaders. It continued on Wednesday at the FDC headquarters in Najjanankumbi where a women’s league training was taking place.
Of course, it would magnify Mr Mao’s image if he emerged as the man who drove FDC into a corner and dialogue with Museveni on terms other than its own.
It, however, might not be necessary to drive FDC into a corner. It will find itself in one once it takes over leadership of IPOD as it will be forced to preside over discussions on electoral reforms, amendments to the Public Order Management Act (POMA) and increased public funding to political parties, which have to be discussed before the 2021 elections, but where does the jockeying leave the two parties?
Prof Sabiiti Makara, a political science lecturer at Makerere University, says this points to contradictions within IPOD. He thinks that relations between the two parties may never normalise.
“While DP seems to believe that the dialogue should go on even without an agenda, FDC wanted them to set an agenda. Those two appear irreconcilable,” he says.
Mr Siranda insists that the disagreement is on principle and alludes to a feeling that FDC is blackmailing other IPOD member parties.
“We’ve no problem with FDC. We have a problem with how they work. We should not lament when we cannot offer leadership. One person is not going to hold the whole country or four parties at ransom. It will not work,” he says,
The country representative of Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy (NIMD), Mr Frank Rusa, says lots of money is being injected into strengthening the parties, but dismisses the thinking that it is central to the quarrel between the two.
The stakes are heightened by stringent laws that make it illegal for a party to receive foreign funding of more than Shs400 million a year.
In 2016, NIMD sanctioned an analysis of organisational and administrative strength of all parties and how they could be strengthened.
It established that women and youth leagues were ineffective; founding presidents of some parties had become bigger than their parties; and that interparty and intraparty conflicts were rife.
That culminated in mooting of the three-year Shs6 billion Political Parties’ Capacity Strengthening Project funded by the Democracy Governing Facility (DGF), under which each party will have taken Shs1b in kind over the project period.
It aims at strengthening parties in financial and administrative management, training of women and youth leagues, and training in conflict resolution. Parties plan activities and NIMD directly picks the bills, including providing party officials with transport refunds, meals, accommodation and per diem.
UPC spokesperson Michael Osinde and Mr Siranda say the funding has been very helpful in enabling their parties embark on reconciliation efforts and making inroads in the countryside.
At the same time, there is another €400,000 (approximately Shs1.65b) which the IPOD dialogue process annually receives from the Netherlands’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Some of this money goes to the office of the Leader of Opposition in Parliament and DP has never hidden its discomfort with the fact that its Whip in Parliament does not receive some of this money.
Some FDC members believe that there is a plan to push them out of IPOD so that they do not benefit from increased funding to the parties.
“A proposal was presented at the summit to increase funding for the political parties from Shs10b to Shs35b. 15 per cent of it is meant to go to IPOD, but the beneficiaries will still be the parties. It becomes interesting to be part of this and becomes a problem if you are thrown out,” Mr Rusa says.
Under the circumstances, one wonders whether IPOD is not fast turning into either an institution that lends the NRM credibility or another vehicle through which to turn the opposition against itself.
“Most of their recommendations have never been implemented. It (IPOD) does not serve its purpose. It only serves as a legitimisation tool for the NRM,” Prof Makara says.
Those interested in strong parties will hope he is not right.
How IPOD has evolved over the years
The idea of forming the Inter-Party Organisation for Dialogue (IPOD) dates back to around 2007 shortly after the formation of the Inter-Party Cooperation (IPC), which brought together the Conservation Party (CP), the Democratic Party (DP) and Forum for Democratic Change (FDC).
IPC had been born shortly after the 2006 elections.
In August 2007, following a visit by IPC officials to Sweden, Mr Magnus Ramstrand from the Christian Democratic International Center (KIC), a Swedish NGO, which was at the time running democracy assistance projects around the world, visited Uganda and engaged IPC officials. That culminated in the signing on August 5, 2009, of a protocol of cooperation.
Mr Wafula Oguttu, a founder member of IPOD, says KIC was approached because of what it had achieved in Sweden.
“KIC was part of the ruling coalition. We thought that we could learn from their experience of coming back to power after 38 years of absence. That was achieved after parties cooperated. Their leaders sat on a train and by the time the trip ended they had agreed to field one candidate and campaign together,” he said.
KIC agreed to assist IPC, but they also needed to have other partners. They approached the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy (NIMD).
In December 2000, Ghana experienced the first transfer of power through the ballot when long-time military ruler, Jerry Rawlings, handed over power to John Kufour’s New Patriotic Party (NPP), but the transition was extremely difficult. The new government failed to access vital information, which caused lots of tension.
Failure to furnish the new administration with vital information on, among other things, ministry budgets and staffing levels led to delays or cancellation of contracts of major infrastructural projects. It took the NPP government quite a while to chart out its own policy direction.
The scenario made it incumbent upon the NPP government to restructure and modernise Ghana’s public administration so as to ensure that the next post-election transition of power would be less chaotic. That required working to ensure that the team that would come in following the December 2008 elections would be well-informed.
As Mr Kufuour’s administration was working to improve procedures for transferring power, in 2007, the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) worked with political parties to develop a template for peaceful handover of power.
The template provided for, among other things, an extension of the transition period from one to two months and handed the chief justice of the supreme court the duty of collecting handover notes and resolving disputes between the outgoing and incoming teams. It also called for ensuring that the cabinet was filled within 30 days of the election.
Parliament passed the transition legislation as the Presidential (Transition) Act, 2012 (Act 845) in time for the 2012 elections. It was the law that president Mahama and his predecessor followed.
“We felt that we could benefit from the Ghana experience because Ghana’s situation looked much like ours. It had had military governments and it had also been a one-party regime led by a military ruler,” Mr Oguttu says.
A delegation from NIMD visited Uganda and agreed to help the parties, but only condition that the NRM was brought on board.
The argument was that Rawlings had played a role in the events in Ghana. Museveni would have to play a similar role if the Ghanaian experience was to be replicated here.
At the time, it was believed that Mr Museveni would not be contesting after the 2016 general election as he would have been above the constitutionally allowed upper age limit of 75 years.
The IPC was also keen on resolving the matter of the military’s deep entrenchment in Uganda’s politics, which makes it appear like the final arbiter on all contentious issues.
“There were fears that the country could go to pieces after Museveni. It would be good to talk to him and have him give the country assurances that there would be a smooth transfer of power. Since the age limit was fast approaching, we wanted the process to start early,” Mr Oguttu recounts.
In 2010, the six parties represented in Parliament formed IPOD as a platform through which they could continuously discuss the challenges facing the country.
Teams from the parties were dispatched to Ghana for a week of study on how it had transited into a nation where a ruling party can hand over to an opposition party.
A team of Ghanaian politicians led by the secretary general of the National Democratic Congress (NDC), Mr Johnson Asiedu Nketiah, alias Gen Mosquito, subsequently visited Uganda and interfaced with IPOD teams, but what was agreed upon was never to be.
“Amama (Mbabazi) was in that meeting, but he shot that (proposals) down. They said there was no need for that because Uganda was not like Ghana,” he says.
Following the 2016 election, the four parties reviewed the IPOD agreement and provided for, among other things, the inclusion of the prime minister, the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament and the chief whips. Mr Asuman Basalirwa’s victory in the Bugiri Municipality elections saw the Justice Forum become the fifth member party of IPOD.
In December 2018 and early this year the organisation held its first and second leaders’ summits, which were boycotted by FDC. But is IPOD achieving what it had been intended for? Mr Oguttu does not think so.
“As a person who spent so much time on the issue of IPOD, I feel so let down that they have turned it upside down… Those who are there do not have the spirit that the founders had when they formed it,” he says.
Mr Frank Rusa, the country representative of NIMD Uganda thinks otherwise.
“The dialogue platform is a space for continuous engagement on a variety of issues and those issues change with time,” he says.