Kampala- By close of yesterday, there was little hope of an agreement being reached on who between Dr Kizza Besigye and Mr Amama Mbabazi, will be the Opposition joint candidate in the coming election as the two sides went into the decisive round of talks.
Starting just three days to Mr Mbabazi’s scheduled nomination day on Tuesday, and a day more to Dr Besigye’s, it even appeared there was too little time for the candidates to reconcile the diametrically opposed views expressed by their respective supporters in time to have a joint team for nominations.
It was evident that many of the old issues that failed the cooperation under the auspices of The Democratic Alliance (TDA) last month were still alive, with suspicion between the two camps riding high as each of them appeared not to blink to avoid being upstaged.
Our sources say FDC, whose presidential flag bearer in next year’s elections is Dr Besigye, have insisted on the old questions they put to Mr Mbabazi during the failed TDA process, particularly for him to prove that he will add substantial support to the Opposition.
To this query, a senior FDC official told Sunday Monitor on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak on the matter, “Mr Mbabazi asked for about two days to present his structure.”
The FDC negotiators, led by Dr Besigye, insisted on Mr Mbabazi proving, “by naming names and presenting tangible evidence”, that he will attract “big names” from the ruling party, our source said.
The source added that Mr Mbabazi had in the past told them that he needed to wait for the NRM processes, especially the party primaries to be concluded, in order to unveil his supporters in NRM, and the structure.
The NRM primaries, which started on Tuesday, ended this week and the party delegates conference is going on at Namboole stadium.
The FDC supporters say theirs is the biggest Opposition party, going by representation in Parliament and votes received at the last election in 2011, and they are reluctant to hand over their base to Mr Mbabazi without him proving that he has equal or even more support.
Another senior FDC source said their flag bearer stood to lose most and his political career could even be in irreversible jeopardy if he bowed out in favour of Mr Mbabazi.
“Our supporters will see it as a betrayal; they will think that Besigye has been bribed,” the official said. “You have already heard people saying that Mbabazi has a lot of money to bribe people to support him.”
The official said while Dr Besigye stands to lose the trust of his supporters should he decide to back Mr Mbabazi, the latter on the other hand would, if he chose to back Dr Besigye, “cement his credentials as a serious Opposition politician committed to change.” We could not reach Mr Mbabazi for this article because he did not pick up our calls to his known phone number. His spokespersons could not comment on the issue either.
Mr Olara Otunnu, a Uganda Peoples Congress party leader who has thrown his weight behind Mr Mbabazi and attended last week’s Besigye-Mbabazi negotiations in London, also referred us to Mr Mbabazi for comment on some of the issues. He said he would only talk about the general principles.
Another touchy issue regards the composition of Mr Mbabazi’s team. The FDC official said their party insists on negotiating with only Mr Mbabazi’s group – Go-Forward – and that the talks would proceed outside the auspices of TDA and thereafter the two parties would present their agreed position to the TDA summit.
The senior FDC official we talked to regards some of the individuals who “cling to TDA” and say they support Mr Mbabazi as having been “planted by the regime” and are “mounting a disinformation campaign (against Dr Besigye and FDC)”.
The situation exploded on Thursday night following a news item carried on NTV which the FDC hierarchy interpreted as suggesting it had been agreed in London that Mr Mbabazi will be the joint Opposition candidate, and that once the coalition wins the elections, he would appoint Dr Besigye to the position of premier.
Reactions came in thick and fast from the FDC faithful. “I am shocked by the NTV news lead story at 9pm about power sharing agreement…,” Dr Besigye posted on Facebook, “They could have checked with us.”
Mr Mbabazi stoked the fires when on Friday he unilaterally released a copy of the document he and Dr Besigye signed in London.
The document, titled “Statement of principles of Ugandans committed to democratic change,” outlined the proposed structure of government the Opposition will set up should they take power next year.
Some FDC members raised questions on why Mr Mbabazi had released the London statement singly, saying the best approach would have been for both parties to agree on whether to release the document and if so, release it jointly.
To demonstrate the lack of coordination between the two groups, FDC president, Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu, early on Friday addressed the media at the party headquarters in Najjanankumbi, but only to confirm that the talks were still ongoing and that none of the candidates, and “certainly not the FDC one”, had bowed out of the race for the other.
Gen Muntu steered clear of the details of what was agreed in London despite probing questions to that effect.
About an hour later, Mr Mbabazi released the document signed in London.
To preface the document, Mr Mbabazi released another statement on which he signed off as the TDA/Go-Forward candidate.
After pointing out that the negotiations on who would be the joint candidate were on-going, Mr Mbabazi went on in the statement to invite people for his nomination as a presidential candidate on Tuesday.
FDC members reacted by releasing Dr Besigye’s nomination programme on Wednesday, indicating he will hold a rally in Nakivubo stadium after being nominated.
In London, an arrangement akin to what happened in Kenya after the post-election violence in 2007/08 was proposed, with the president playing more of figurehead role while much of the power will be vested in an executive prime minister who will have two deputies.
This proposal sprang from the talks held in London on October 23 and 24 between Dr Besigye and Mr Mbabazi, chaired by former UN secretary general, Mr Kofi Annan, under the auspices of the Kofi Annan Foundation. A pacifist who won the Nobel Peace Prize with the UN in 2001,
Mr Annan has participated in several negotiations of this nature, including chairing the talks that led to the formation of the power-sharing agreement in Kenya following the 2007/08 post-election violence. Mr Annan’s intervention was sought after discussions under TDA, and later in a meeting chaired by Mr Raila Odinga, Kenya’s opposition leader, failed to produce a joint candidate between Besigye and Mbabazi.
At the London meeting, Mr Mbabazi was joined by Mr Olara Otunnu, the UPC leader who has already thrown his weight behind the former prime minister for the coming election, while Dr Besigye was accompanied by Mr Nandala Mafabi, the FDC secretary general. Bishop Zac Niringiye, who headed the TDA secretariat, was also in London although our sources say he did not take part in the talks.
The document signed in London was only to serve as a basis for further negotiations between Besigye and Mbabazi in Kampala. It was agreed that before the negotiations in Kampala kicked off, Dr Besigye and Mr Mbabazi would first consult with their respective groups, consultations which took place on Wednesday and Thursday.
By the time we went to press, the first meeting was reportedly underway with the FDC delegation composed of party chairman Wasswa Birigwa, party president Mugisha Muntu, Mr Mafabi, and Mr Augustine Ruzindana, the former party assistant secretary general for policy and research.
We could not establish the full composition of the Go-Forward team at the talks. However, its spokesperson, Ms Josephine Mayanja -Nkangi, said their team included Ms Hope Mwesigye, Uganda Federal Alliance’s Beti Kamya, and UPC’s Olara Otunnu.