‘But the most important thing is coming together to change things’

Sunday July 5 2020


By Bernard Tabaire

To have a “scientific campaign” (only media-based canvassing) or not is the main issue of heated political discussion in Uganda today ahead of general election early in 2021.

Is it legal? Should a state of emergency be declared to allow for postponement of the election season until such a time that Covid-19 is tamed and we can have normal electoral business, including public rallies? Should all the relevant laws and the Constitution be changed to move the election farther back? Who benefits if the scientific/virtual campaigns proceed, within a constrained timeframe moreover, as announced by the Electoral Commission? Who loses?

If the national shutdown was such an unprecedented event, it is all the more reason we should take unprecedented measures to change the timing of the electioneering period. Our elections have never offered a study in freeness and fairness in normal times. The situation will be worse if we proceed under extremely limiting circumstances.

Underneath the broader debate is another around Opposition unity to challenge President Museveni — a man who has fully folded the levers of party, government, and State into the grip of his hand.

The last attempt at unity under The Democratic Alliance (TDA) failed. Now, some voices are at it again. Lt Gen Henry Tumukunde — once a pitiless high-level security-cum-political operative in the cementing of Mr Museveni’s uncompromising hold on power, which has since morphed into a life-presidency — is emerging as a cheerleader for the unity of Opposition forces.

“But the most important thing is coming together to change things,” Gen Tumukunde said in an interview The Observer carried on July 1.


He reiterated his wish later in the same interview: “I believe in us coming together and striking a position. These TDA formulas where everyone goes in saying it’s me, I don’t think it has taken us far.”

Putting aside the richness of this man using words such as us to make himself part of the forces seeking political change, he is on to something in talking about personal ego — “it’s me”.

Efforts at Opposition unity have faltered possibly because of infiltration, subterfuge, bribery, intimidation by Mr Museveni’s humming political machine, or because of religious and ethno-regional difference. Nothing is beyond the horizon.

I think the reason for the consistent failures is plain: individual selfishness. In 2011, there was a candidate who wanted all the others in the Opposition room to worship him. His word was final and if there were going to be a single candidate, it was definitely him. In 2016, there was TDA. It was either Dr Kizza Besigye or Mr Amama Mbabazi.

One of those candidates had said years earlier he would not stand for president if Mr Museveni was running and there were no meaningful reforms to level the electoral field. He changed his mind and never saw fit to explain that change. It is me.

Ugandan political forces have found it hard to unite going way back. Even the very interesting Uganda National Liberation Front could only manage unity just before the overthrow of Idi Amin. After that those mostly colourful characters, some really smart and full of personal ego, started going for each other’s throats.

Today, everyone on the other side is struggling to bask some day in the glory of being the one who took down President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni. Nothing else seems to matter — strategy, tactics. It is me.

Guess what, if such a person threw out Mr Museveni early next year, we would likely owe him or her plenty, which is how new autocrats are born. That is in the future, though. For now, the Opposition forces should unite early and field one strong candidate against Mzee. They have nothing to lose.

Mr Tabaire is a media trainer and commentator on public affairs based in Kampala.