New Formation: Is Opposition rebranding the same product

Tuesday October 30 2018

Nicholas Sengoba

Nicholas Sengoba 

By Nicholas Sengoba

First former FDC Party President finally announced that he had quit FDC with a new outfit called the New Formation being his destiny. Secondly, more than ‘60 high ranking’ FDC leaders from Ankole also left and joined Muntu’s New Formation. All this brought so much joy and chest-thumping from right within the Opposition; you thought they had finally deposed the NRM.

Sadly, the major story in all this is what actually constitutes a victory for the Opposition in Uganda is not in effect one that seriously affects the ruling party. Because the NRM under President Museveni has become an insurmountable colossus, the Opposition has resigned to picking up crumbs from the spoils. The major crumbs at their disposal are good salaries and perks, including per diem-laden foreign trips, duty free cars, etc, from Parliament. A big one too is the funding that goes with the offices of the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament (LOP) and the Opposition chief whip plus, chairing ‘juicy’ committees in the House.

Then there is the funding from global organisations that are interested in democracy, given to political parties with representation in Parliament. Want it or not, most of the shifts within the ranks of the Opposition are in the long-term induced partly by pecuniary considerations.

The Arua Municipality by-election, one of the straws that pushed a wedge between Mugisha Muntu and FDC that saw Kasiano Wadri carry the day as an Independent, let many secrets out of the bag. Some of the FDC stalwarts against Wadri standing like Goeffrey Ekanya argued on national television that Wadri had already ‘earned enough’ yet the party’s preferred candidate Bruce Musema had quit a job and was just starting out.

Now the New Formation in a bid to strengthen its position, has opted for the easier path of recruiting from within FDC. In other words, they are making news by preaching to and converting the converted. It is movement without significant progress. This is akin to the victories in the by-elections and their intrinsic value to the eventual removal of the NRM party from power. Whenever an Opposition candidate wins, it is like the village bully has been given a black eye in a bar brawl, but he still remains the undisputed village bully.

More Opposition MPs simply mean that you have a bigger number of people with parliamentary privilege pointing out the weaknesses of the NRM and concluding that it must be removed from power. There is nothing very new that the MP brings to the table in terms of ideas that threaten the NRM. They simply bruise NRM’s ego, but things largely remain the same.
This is what I told a certain international television network in an interview when Kyaddondo East MP Robert Kyagulanyi Sentamu, aka Bobi Wine, was allegedly tortured and incarcerated. The interviewer came with a mindset on a presumption that ‘this time round’ President Museveni had finally met his match and that he was on his way out in a matter of time.


Their questions were informed by the fact that Bobi Wine was youthful like the majority of Ugandans, spoke their language and entertained them. Despite rephrasing their interrogations, they were disappointed when I said this would pass in a matter of time. This is because Bobi Wine has not been tested to show if he had the capacity and structures to simultaneously influence numerous victories countrywide. Also he has not been to areas that were perennially NRM like the Karamoja sub-region.

His major advantage was that people needed a new voice and face promising change and he happened to spark at the right time and place. He also was not saying anything the rest had not said before be it Kizza Besigye, Nobert Mao or even Mugisha Muntu. It is just that the words needed to come out of a new mouth and face in a different tone maybe.

Now the same thing is happening with FDC and the New Formation. People yearning for change will move with any inkling of change visible even if the change is in form and not substance. That is why companies rebrand the same product just to make people have a feeling that something has changed even if that something happens to be the shape of the beer bottle.

If Bobi Wine, Muntu, or Besigye acted like a government and came up with programmes backed by revolving funds that say distributed day-old-chicks, hoes and seedlings to the unemployed and the peasants as a practical solution to their predicament, that would be a new formation in the Opposition politics. Mark you NRM with its military machine would probably not allow them to reach the people as has been the practice. But leadership is about jumping hurdles to give solutions.

Merely reminding the people of their plight using a different political party, language or leader is simply playing well in their own half. It does not affect the opponent. It may even lead to an own goal!
These things are not easy. Like Ewa Letwoska once said, politics is not fancy shopping windows, it is back-breaking work. The Opposition still has its work cut out.

Mr Sengoba is a commentator on political and social issues.