A few days to the Arua by-election, any observer would think the Opposition is weakening, causing President Museveni less headache.
The by-election followed bitter wrangles in FDC over the controversial change of Opposition leadership in Parliament. That issue lost relevance on August 13 when Arua erupted.
The by-election was occasioned by the murder of Ibrahim Abiriga on June 8, attracting many aspirants, again becoming a cause of wrangles in FDC.
While the party had a flag bearer who was chosen during the 2016 general elections, another FDC top member and former Terego County MP Kassiano Wadri, had insisted on standing.
A faction of the party led by Mugisha Muntu supported him against the party’s official candidate. That faction had been able to convince Kyadondo East MP Robert Kyagulanyi, aka Bobi Wine, the new kid on the bloc, to join them.
Bobi Wine had been a thorn in the flesh of not only President Museveni and the ruling party, but also some opposition members. Before Bobi Wine’s entry on the political scene in July 2017, Museveni’s NRM had won all the by-elections.
The story changed subsequent to that as NRM lost in Jinja East, in Rukungiri where Museveni took Shs5b worth of freebies and in Bugiri Municipality. So Museveni was not ready to lose Arua Municipality.
When he went to Arua on August 13, it seems, he had not gone just to campaign. After an alleged encounter with Bobi Wine’s group and allegations of throwing a stone at his motorcade, his guards, the Special Forces Command, swung into action, using unprecedented high-handedness on civilians.
Museveni, it seems, is borrowing some of Niccolo Machiavelli’s tactics amid growing resistance from a cross-section of Ugandans. Machiavelli said it is better for a politician to be feared than loved if one can’t achieve both. While men love at their convenience, Machiavelli argued, they fear at the ruler’s convenience.
Indeed, instead of being apologetic like he usually is after such chaos, Museveni seemed to praise the SFC for beating up these opposition members.
Until now, Museveni is still not done with Bobi Wine, going by the way he was received back from America on Thursday.
So those who thought Museveni’s headache was over with the seeming weakening of his longtime rival Kizza Besigye and the bickering of FDC should think again.
Bobi Wine seems to represent a challenge that even Besigye never posed to Museveni. Bobi Wine, for instance, seems to have swayed the youth who make up more than 70 per cent of the population.
No wonder Museveni addresses mainly the “bazzukulu” (youth) in all his statements after Bobi Wine’s emergence. But those who think Bobi Wine is the new face of the struggle and has taken over Besigye are also warned.
While Besigye has been tested and proven, having endured the State brutality for the last 18 years, no one can tell with certainty whether Bobi Wine will continue at the fore from after his “baptism of fire”.
It is also possible that the emergence of Bobi Wine will further divide the opposition vote as Besigye might not be willing to go behind Bobi Wine in 2021.
Besigye has consistently refused to rally behind another joint opposition candidate saying his support is not transferable.
In the run-up to the 2016 election when majority of members of the botched The Democratic Alliance (TDA), chose former prime minister as their favoured candidate, Besigye refused to bow out of the race, saying he did not trust Mbabazi.
While there were reports before Arua that the Muntu faction, which intends to leave FDC is in talks with Bobi Wine to jointly form a political outfit, Arua could have significantly altered these plans. It might be hard, for instance, for Bobi Wine to rally behind Muntu after what he has gone through.
So he might feel as entitled as many say Besigye has become because of the torture and trauma he has gone through.
Secondly, the occurrences in Arua have shown Bobi Wine how popular he is, both locally and internationally, and he might not be willing to rally behind a less popular candidate.
Conversely, the Muntu faction, which has worked on the “Muntu project” for years and are determined to do whatever is possible to ensure he is on the ballot come 2021, might not be willing to take second place in favour of Bobi Wine. While Muntu might be willing to rally behind Bobi Wine, his supporters may reject it.
In the end, Bobi Wine’s entry might have implications not only for Museveni but for his opposition counterparts too.
Mr Lukwago is a lawyer