Which way for FDC party?

Saturday August 11 2018

Big wigs. Left to right: Former FDC party

Big wigs. Left to right: Former FDC party presidents Dr Kizza Besigye, Gen Mugisha Muntu and the current party president, Mr Patrick Amuriat attend a wedding party in Kampala last Saturday. COURTESY PHOTO 

By Ivan Okuda

Is the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) in a crisis? Put that elephant of a question in a room of politicians and each will give you an answer depending on what part of the mammalian giant they choose to touch.
Whereas human beings may tell a lie, it is said in criminal law in defence of the reliance on circumstantial evidence, that circumstances do not lie.
So, what is the reading on the wall from Najjanankumbi, the seat of Uganda’s most influential Opposition party, from the flow of events?
What we know so far is that party president Patrick Amuriat Oboi, fondly referred to as POA, has made a raft of changes in the leadership at Parliament, recalling Ms Winnie Kiiza as Leader of the Opposition in Parliament (LoP) and notably Mr Abdul Katuntu as chairman of the Committee on Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises (Cosase), while returning party secretary general Nandala Mafabi to lead the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
Ms Betty Aol Ochan has taken over as LoP.
What we also know so far is that considerable dust has been raised in respect of this development, with murmurs about a possible political separation in the least and divorce in the worst case scenario between key FDC legislators and their political umbilical cord. What we need to interrogate further is whether this is a culmination of protracted rope pulling among the rank and file of the party and more importantly, what this episode, which seems to be the latest exposition of a party with a fractured soul, may give way to a possible fissure that would fundamentally reconfigure the architecture of opposition party politics in the country, especially going forward to the 2021 general election.

Why the changes?
It should be noted that POA as the party president, working with and through the party national executive committee (NEC), enjoys the prerogative of making changes under the FDC and parliamentary legal framework. It is the same power that has been exercised by the party’s two previous presidents – Dr Kizza Besigye and Gen Mugisha Muntu.
Ideally, at least going by practice, those changes would be made after the current leaders have served at least two and a half years of their term. But that is not in the law, it is at the discretion of the party leadership.
Former FDC secretary general and Serere Woman MP Alice Alaso asserts that what we have witnessed is not an ordinary review of the leadership of the Opposition in Parliament but sacking of leaders before they run the course of their two and a half years as has been the norm and practice. Ms Kiiza is the first LoP to suffer this predicament. We shall return to the granular detail of this later.

How did we get here?
According to Ms Salaamu Musumba, the FDC vice president – eastern region, the party president strategically planned to make the changes after the elections in the seven municipalities and Local Councils were conducted to avoid upstaging the campaigns. That in essence, means, the plot to throw out the outgoing team was in the works as early as a few months ago but it was kept under wraps out of political arithmetic.
The working committee, which is a sub-set of the NEC, and comprises the party president, secretary general, his deputies, and other senior leaders, meets every Monday at 9am to assess the week and set the political tone for the next week. This committee held a series of meetings, which came to the conclusion that time was ripe to change the leadership in the August House. On presentation of its proposals to NEC, a number of concerns were tabled, chiefly, among them, the politics of Kasese District where FDC swept the parliamentary seats in 2016.
How would removal from office of their own daughter be received by the party faithful in Kasese? That question was mulled over and Mr Amuriat persuaded his colleagues considerable calculations had been done and these concerns were thought through meticulously. Some members held their reservations but there was consensus that the gender aspect of the LoP be maintained, opening a window for Ms Aol.
It wouldn’t be surprising that FDC’s leadership would think through these issues, especially comparing how President Museveni co-opted into Cabinet politicians from Kigezi sub-region after he sacked then Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, replacing him with son of the soil, Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, all the while playing safe ahead of the 2016 election to avoid squandering his electoral fortunes in that area, which would, in a country where ethnic groups attach sentimental value to their sons and daughters occupying key positions, cause anxiety among the Bakiga community. Gen Muntu had to deal with the same dilemma when he removed Nandala Mafabi from the position of LoP considering that FDC had taken all seats in Sironko District in 2011 elections. He appointed his key supporter Wafula Oguttu in his place.
Mr Amuriat and team accordingly kept some legislators from Kasese in the line-up and equally kept the women at peace by adopting the resolution of NEC that Ms Kiiza’s replacement be a fellow woman.

Undercurrents
Now, a narration of what happened in the lead up to the changes as captured above paints a rather rosy, almost romantic picture of the state of affairs in FDC. On speaking to critics of the current leadership, and independent minded observers, the underbelly of the monster of divisive and toxic politics comes to bear.
For instance, Ms Alaso is persuaded that the reason Ms Kiiza was sacked was precisely because she refused to play ball to the Amuriat leadership which, in her words, pays allegiance to Dr Kiiza Besigye, whose word carries weight.
“Dr Besigye wants to remain at the helm of the Opposition politics so a strong leader of the Opposition, who can champion her own agenda, over shadows him. Look at the age limit debate. We can’t recall what Dr Besigye did but we can recount how Ms Kiiza played a key role. In fact, Dr Besigye approached her and asked that she merges the anti-age limit efforts she was leading at Parliament with his defiance team but she didn’t budge so her biggest crime is refusing to take the dictates of Dr Besigye. So my dear brother Amuriat, who is a hostage of Dr Besigye, had to fire her,” Ms Alaso said.
Mr Mafabi was fired by Gen Mugisha Muntu in part because he refused to warm up to the latter’s leadership after a bruising election in which they competed against each other. Ms Alaso, then secretary general, was accused of having played a role in Gen Muntu’s eventual win.
When contacted for a comment on Thursday, Dr Besigye said: “I don’t think I want to comment on those matters. The party is better placed to respond.”
Ms Alaso adds that in the grand scheme of the current FDC politics, Dr Besigye seeks to have a weak Opposition in Parliament, all the while taking the shine from what would be a vibrant LoP.
Dr Besigye has been at the frontline of the Opposition politics in Uganda since 2001.

“I know my brother Patrick well. If he had his way, there was no way he would appoint Aol as LoP. Dr Besigye is using him to have a LoP who won’t have peer respect and will not command a following even from the media,” she said.
Other sources in FDC, however, disagree sharply and think POA exercised incredible patience considering that Ms Kiiza had for all intents and purposes divorced from FDC and was outrightly loyal to Gen Mugisha Muntu while undermining the current president.
In effect, whereas Gen Muntu’s supporters are quick and generous to portray Mr Amuriat as a stooge of Dr Besigye, the same charge has been labeled against them with Ms Kiiza particularly projected as a “listening post and stooge of Gen Muntu”, with one senior leader we spoke to describing her as, “a girl who was a district councillor in Kasese, who all of a sudden fell into big things and thought she had arrived politically to the extent of considering herself a first among equals the moment Gen Muntu exited the stage.”
He added: “In Kiiza’s world, there is only one leader and that leader is Gen Muntu, a reality which punches holes in why they took part in the election seeing as there was bound to be one leader out of that process.”
“That woman was so disrespectful to POA. Can you imagine on two occasions she set him up by calling him to Parliament to meet FDC MPs only for him to go there and find her out of office. He found only three MPs, all in a calculated bid to embarrass him and show he has no respect among the MPs?” a senior FDC leader, who asked not to be named, told this writer on Wednesday.

Was Ms Kiiza undermining POA?
Additionally, the particulars of the ‘offence’ of undermining the POA leadership on Ms Kiiza’s charge sheet reveal that her disregard for the new team led her to abandon her role as chairperson of the Women’s League, which was rendered dormant, nonattendance of meetings and, like Mr Katuntu and Elijah Okupa, staying away from the party headquarters and its activities altogether.
Ms Alaso disputes this too, saying: “If she wasn’t performing as chairperson of the Women’s League, did they warn or summon her to explain? Why would they remove her as LoP when she was performing far better than Wafula Oguttu, for example? Her role at FDC isn’t connected to the office of LoP!”
Ms Alaso offers the same defence in respect of Mr Katuntu, who has been accused of playing to the gallery and not doing much in substance.
“I heard Amuriat say that Katuntu wasn’t submitting reports from Cosase but when he (Amuriat) was in the same committee as its chairperson, it is on record that he only submitted one report to Parliament and the backlog Katuntu is dealing with comes from as far back as POA’s time as chairman of that committee. In fact, we shall demand for an integrity audit on each of the new committee chairpersons because we know their past record in some of those committees isn’t clean.”
Ms Musumba says the cry out over the change in the leadership is not genuine. “They are only crying because of the bags of the money they have been carrying from those committees and if they stretch us beyond common sense, we shall explode with evidence.”

Committee scorecard
It is difficult, to be fair, to assess with exactitude the performance scorecard of a committee chairperson, especially in absence of universally agreed upon parameters and benchmarks or terms of reference.
If the disagreement even on basic facts between the leaders of what are clearly factions is anything to go by, it is not far-fetched to arrive at the conclusion that FDC faces tough choices ahead. Already, Gen Muntu is in Arua Municipality campaigning, alongside MPs friendly to him, for Mr Kasiano Wadri, who is an Independent candidate against the FDC flag bearer.
In a tweet after consultations in Iganga, Gen Muntu wrote: “The truth is, we face tough choices ahead as a party. Pretending that we don’t doesn’t help us move forward.” In fact, an analysis of his torrent of tweets, some of which are witty, veiled whips at some of his colleagues shows he is headed for a journey of separation or divorce from the party.

Is there a third hand?

Outside influence. Other sources we spoke to assert that third party influence in determining the course of the party can’t be ruled out with fifth columnists potentially planted by the state to sow seeds of discord.
Ms Musumba says: “In fact, I can say without fear of contradiction that NRM was taking over our party and Museveni was starting to run it so we had to act. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have a party by 2021. Does it surprise you that NRM leaders are crying more than the bereaved over these changes? We want to keep FDC out of the reach of Museveni, who promised there will be no Opposition by 2021.”
Ms Musumba adds: “The plan is to cause anarchy, escalate the contradictions and then break FDC apart. It is a very cruel way to move, especially by colleagues who committed to an election and I wonder why they would contribute to making FDC then work to shatter it. In fact, Teso is being plotted as the launch pad of what will eventually become a new party and Mr Amuriat’s biggest Opposition is from Teso MPs. We are ready for all the possibilities.”
Party relevancy. To put the position FDC is in context, Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago implores us to look at the situation in the Democratic Party and Uganda People’s Congress party, where similar fractures have occurred.
“Uganda is ready for a transition from Mr Museveni and Ugandans will come 2021 coalesce around a leader, one person they think poses a formidable challenge to Museveni and that will not be driven by parties, whoever emerges as a trusted flag bearer of the forces of change is the one people will rally around so what is happening in the parties doesn’t matter much, it is expected in a military dictatorship.

New party in offing?
Outside influence. Other sources we spoke to assert that third party influence in determining the course of the party can’t be ruled out with fifth columnists potentially planted by the state to sow seeds of discord.
Ms Musumba says: “In fact, I can say without fear of contradiction that NRM was taking over our party and Museveni was starting to run it so we had to act. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have a party by 2021. Does it surprise you that NRM leaders are crying more than the bereaved over these changes? We want to keep FDC out of the reach of Museveni, who promised there will be no Opposition by 2021.”
Ms Musumba adds: “The plan is to cause anarchy, escalate the contradictions and then break FDC apart. It is a very cruel way to move, especially by colleagues who committed to an election and I wonder why they would contribute to making FDC then work to shatter it. In fact, Teso is being plotted as the launch pad of what will eventually become a new party and Mr Amuriat’s biggest Opposition is from Teso MPs. We are ready for all the possibilities.”
Party relevancy. To put the position FDC is in context, Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago implores us to look at the situation in the Democratic Party and Uganda People’s Congress party, where similar fractures have occurred.
“Uganda is ready for a transition from Mr Museveni and Ugandans will come 2021 coalesce around a leader, one person they think poses a formidable challenge to Museveni and that will not be driven by parties, whoever emerges as a trusted flag bearer of the forces of change is the one people will rally around so what is happening in the parties doesn’t matter much, it is expected in a military dictatorship.

what some of the key players say...

Alice Alaso, former FDC secretary general and Serere Woman MP. I know my brother Patrick [Amuriat Oboi, FDC party president] well. If he had his way, there was no way he would appoint Aol as LoP. Dr Besigye is using him to have a LoP who won’t have peer respect and will not command a following, even from the media.”

Salaamu Musumba, FDC vice president – eastern region. I can say without fear of contradiction that NRM was taking over our party and Museveni was starting to run it, so we had to act. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have a party by 2021. Does it surprise you that NRM leaders are crying more than the bereaved over these changes?”

Erias Lukwago, Kampala Lord Mayor. Uganda is ready for a transition from Mr Museveni and Ugandans will, come 2021, coalesce around a leader, one person they think poses a formidable challenge to Museveni and that will not be driven by parties. Whoever emerges as a trusted flag bearer of the forces of change is the one people will rally around...”

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