On Tuesday, Jinja Municipality East MP Paul Mwiru, and his Ntungamo Municipality counterpart Gerald Karuhanga, became the first Members of Parliament to cross over and join Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu’s Alliance for National Transformation (ANT).
Mr Mwiru was elected MP on the ticket of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), where Gen Muntu was the leader until late in November 2017 when he lost the party top post to former Kumi County MP Patrick Amuriat Oboi.
That was the fourth defeat Gen Muntu suffered in FDC.
The previous three losses had been at the hands of Dr Kiiza Besigye, who had beaten him once in 2009 for the party presidency and twice, in 2010 and 2015 for the party’s presidential flag bearers’ slot.
Mr Karuhanga, a former Youth MP for Western Uganda, is an FDC-leaning Independent MP.
The fear that party leaders would quit and join ANT was at some point so big that the leadership hit the panic button and announced an unprecedented “membership audit”.
In an October 1, 2018 letter, FDC secretary general Nathan Nandala Mafabi gave all party leaders a 14-day ultimatum to indicate in writing where their allegiances lay, saying failure to respond would be considered to be a renunciation of one’s membership.
The number of party MPs and members who turned up as Maj Gen Muntu announced his departure from FDC, and as he unveiled his ANT party and later its leadership, led to high expectations that FDC would have by now been experiencing a massive exodus of its members to ANT.
“Everyone had expected some kind of stampede on the way out of FDC,” the party’s vice president for Eastern Uganda, Ms Salaamu Musumba, says.
Mr Mwiru has so far been the only FDC MP to join ANT. Is he only a pathfinder? Or have others opted to stay put?
Mr Francis Gonahasa, the Kabweri County MP (FDC), had been expected to join ANT due to his association with Gen Muntu but did not.
“I haven’t walked out of FDC, but I stopped associating with them. I stopped contributing to the party’s coffers. Right now, instead of joining hands to fight Mr Museveni and the [National Resistance Movement] NRM party, they are fighting me. So I will contest as an Independent candidate,” Mr Gonahasa said.
Moments after the fractious party election in November 2017, Soroti Woman MP Angelina Osegge (FDC), who had backed Gen Muntu’s re-election bid, pointed to the possibility of forming a party.
“We can form a new political party,” she told some pro-Amuriat supporters who were mocking her after Gen Muntu’s defeat.
Gen Muntu was to later announce nationwide consultations, which culminated into the announcement at Hotel Africana in Kampala, on September 25, 2018, that he had quit FDC to pave way for the creation of a new party.
While detailing the reasons why he had quit FDC, Gen Muntu said the decision to form a new political party was aimed at filling a vacuum occasioned by dashed hopes inside all political parties, including the ruling NRM.
He argued that the calls for the formation of a “third force” that followed his loss to Mr Amuriat and the rising number of Independent MPs were testimony that a big percentage of the population was distrustful of and weary of political parties. Those, along with many youth who are critical of the NRM, but skeptical of the Opposition, he seemed to suggest, would be happy to embrace a new party.
The spectrum of MPs, including the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament (LoP) at the time – Ms Winnie Kiiza (Kasese Woman, FDC), Karuhanga, (Independent), Mwiru, (FDC) Anna Adeke Ebaju (National Youth, Independent), Elijah Okupa (Kasilo County, FDC), Osegge (FDC), Simon Oyet (Nwoya County, FDC), Herbert Ariko (Soroti Municipality, FDC), Gaffa Mbwatekamwa (Kasambya County, NRM) and John Baptist Nambeshe (Manjiya County, NRM) – who attended the Hotel Africana meeting seemed to suggest that his reading of the situation was right.
ANT was subsequently formed on March 19 last year, and its leadership unveiled on May 22 at the Kampala Serena Hotel, during a function attended by FDC MPs Prof Morris Ogenga Latigo (Agago North), Kiiza and Abdu Katuntu (Bugweri County).
Arua Municipality MP Kassiano Wadri and most of the leaders that were unveiled were former members of FDC. They include Ms Prossy Naikoba, Dan Mugarura, Iddi Ouma, Sewava Serubiri, Rajab Kaaya, Kakayi Zelda, Florence Ibbi. Others are Dan Wandera Ogalo, Dr Munini Munera and Yokas Bihande.
During the FDC internal elections, it was believed that Gen Muntu had the backing of at least 20 out of FDC’s 36 MPs. Those 20 had been expected to leave with Gen Muntu.
Sources in ANT told Saturday Monitor that ANT leaders have been on a charm offensive and engaged many of the FDC MPs with a view of recruiting them, but that some such as Kasese MPs Centenary Robert (Kasese Municipality), Godfrey Katusabe (Bukonjo West), Jackson Mbaju (Busongora South), Harold Muhindo (Bukonzo East) and William Nzoghu (Busongora North), had declined to cross to ANT.
One of the Kasese MPs who talked to Saturday Monitor on condition that he is not named said the decision was based on conditions in Kasese, which rejected all NRM candidates in the last parliamentary elections.
“The politics at base (Kasese) is very clear. The district is for FDC. The people do not understand it when you start talking about NRM or any other party. Those of us who have tried to talk a different language have faced resistance and there is likely to be a backlash,” the MP said.
Information available to Saturday Monitor, however, indicates that at least 10 other FDC MPs will in the course of the week announce their decision to quit FDC. It was not possible to establish who they are, but it is worth pointing out that some of the party’s most prominent names had by Thursday not picked nomination forms from the party.
Some of those who had not picked the forms include Prof Latigo, Reagan Okumu (Aswa County), Kiiza, Okupa and Osegge.
At the time Gen Muntu unveiled ANT, it was thought that most of the FDC MPs opted not to quit the party because the Constitution required MPs who wished to cross from one party to another to first vacate their seats in Parliament.
However, Parliament found a partial solution to that hurdle when they allowed for an amendment to Article 83 of the Constitution to allow for Independent MPs to join political parties or MPs quitting their political parties 12 months before a general election.
We are well within that period, but the kind of mass exodus that had been expected has not occurred. Why?
Ms Alice Alaso, the ANT national coordinator – finance and administration, acknowledges that many of their former colleagues had initially shown keen interest in their activities, but hastens to add that ANT “never really had them”.
“We maintain an open door policy and receive Ugandans from all walks of life as they come. We hope to receive more, especially MPs, including those from the NRM,” Ms Alaso said.
Prof Sabiiti Makara, who teaches political science at Makerere University, attributes it to three developments on the political landscape.
ANT, he argues, was formed shortly after the passing of the presidential age limit Bill on December 20, 2017, which saw the upper age limit of 75 years for a candidate for the presidency scrapped.
Anger and resentment in some circles, he says, fed into the fanfare that came with the launch of the ANT, but this soon died out and with them went the initial support that ANT had built up.
“It (ANT) did not capture the imagination of the public. If it had caught a lot of fire and captured the imagination of the public, maybe many MPs and other prominent members of the public would have joined in, but that did not happen,” Prof Makara argues.
During his time at FDC and in the days leading up to the formation of ANT, Gen Muntu made “organisation” his mantra.
He always argued that nothing much could be achieved without properly constituted structures, adding that focus had to be on building structures in the villages through which people could only be mobilised to vote nationwide, but also to be able to field strong candidates.
Prof Makara’s assessment is that ANT has not achieved in that direction.
“He promised grassroots structures, which he has not been able to put in place,” he says.
Given the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic, it would be foolhardy to expect ANT to have built any serious structures in so short a time, something which the mother party, FDC, has not achieved in more than 20 years of existence.
However, Ms Musumba argues that it has been more because of the strength of the party that has enabled it weather the storm.
“We have built a political brand that is vibrant and viable. The threats to multiparty democracy, which are threats to stability, remain real, but we have held our tuff and we continue to offer alternative leadership,” Ms Musumba says.
The days to come will prove whether it is FDC’s strength or ANT’s weaknesses that have enabled the latter to weather the storm.
What they say...
Alice Alaso (ANT – coordinator)
Many of our former colleagues had initially shown keen interest in our activities... We maintain an open door policy and receive Ugandans from all walks of life as they come. We hope to receive more, especially MPs, including those from the NRM.
Prof Sabiiti Makara (Makerere lecture)
It (ANT) did not capture the imagination of the public. If it had caught a lot of fire and captured the imagination of the public, maybe many MPs and other prominent members of the public would have joined in, but that did not happen
Salaamu Musumba (FDC vice president)
Everyone had expected some kind of stampede on the way out of FDC... We have built a political brand that is vibrant and viable. The threats to multiparty democracy remain real, but we have held our tuff and we continue to offer alternative leadership.