The perils of no opposition

Sunday October 20 2019

Moses Khisa

Moses Khisa 

By Moses Khisa

Our ruler of more than three decades has been on record: He will completely wipe away any form of opposition to his rule by the next election. If this happens, the ruler will likely enjoy the spectre of contesting against himself and wallowing in the pyrrhic victory of winning against himself.
Museveni has an exaggerated phobia for competition. Even with the enormous State resources at his disposal, both coercive and financial, not a tiny fraction of which his opponents can afford, he is still never content that he can win in a free and fair process. So, as he traverses the country right from when he is sworn in for a new term all the way to the next election, his opponents cannot be allowed to freely engage in activities that can remotely build grassroots support and the requisite political infrastructure necessary to mount a credible electoral challenge.
The current state of Opposition forces in Uganda appears to give credence to Museveni’s promise to clear the way for a freewheeling life presidency. Opposition parties are fragmented. There seems to be more division than unity, many opposition leaders but not much inspiring leadership.
The bickering between followers of Dr Kizza Besigye and fans of the newest kid, Bobi Wine, appear not to abate. The separation between Mugisha Muntu and the party he co-founded, the Forum for Democratic Change, has helped neither him nor the FDC.
There is scarcely compelling evidence that Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu moved the needle of Opposition strength by departing from FDC, or that the latter is in better health after the leader of what for long was seen as a faction in the party elected to leave.
The recent dust stirred by the musician cum politician, Mr Robert Kyagulanyi, aka Bobi Wine, shook the establishment as much as it seems to have put the Opposition in disarray. For what he is worth, Bobi Wine’s rise must portent chillingly for the current rulers. That Bobi Wine could sprout from nowhere to instantly release political tremors in quick order suggests the current establishment sits on a decidedly shaky ground and is operating in an environment that can be fired up with the smallest amounts of gasoline.
On the face of it, a weakened Opposition comes across as desirable for Museveni’s quest to rule for life, but it is actually dangerous for him. The vacuum and space between the State-party, which is what the NRM is, and a marginalised Opposition pushed against the wall by State repression, can be seized and occupied by unconventional forces for which the rulers are least prepared for. Henceforth, anything is possible.
But there is something even closer and highly probable that is ominous to the ruler and the ruling party: internal implosion. Opposition vitality and visibility plays a critical role in granting the ruling party the safety valve that releases pressure and eases political tension.
In fact, it is in the best interest of the incumbent to allow a thriving Opposition space albeit not to the extent of overwhelming and overthrowing the rulers. So Museveni’s vow to crash the Opposition is as perilous to his own survivability as it is antithetical to the struggle for a better governed Uganda.
Why is Museveni bent on ruling without Opposition? We need to recall that this inclination is not new. It started in earnest in 1986. The banning of political parties and the embrace of the so-called ‘Movement’ system was intended to create a monolithic governing framework that had at the top of it only one person – Museveni.
The idea was not to create a diverse and ‘multi-ideological’ alternative to a multiparty system, as NRM ideologues tended to present it; rather it was to integrate all actors, both individuals and organisations, into a Soviet-style state-party under the command of a messianic ruler.
Because he is imbibed with a sense of messianic mission, ostensibly to deliver Uganda from a dreaded past to an illusory prosperous future, Museveni easily gets worked up and is irritated by the constraints of democratic practice that entail seeking the mandate of the governed in a free, fair and transparent political process in which he has to be challenged.
Yet, either way the odds are stacked against him: He ‘crashes’ the Opposition, he’s damned; he acquiesces to being challenged, he’s still damned. It is the inevitable fate of ruling for three and a half long decades.