Maybe Museveni was right, soon there might be no Opposition

Tuesday August 13 2019


By Nicholas Sengoba

Just after, (please note carefully) being announced the winner of the 2016 presidential election, President Yoweri Museveni was bellicose and cantankerous. After election victories, it has become a given for him to come out that way; an irony in circumstances where people would normally be exhilarated by this achievement and even conciliatory to those they have defeated. It is like he knows that people, know about some debauchery that has taken place and they are looking at him with faces that say, ‘you dun it again!’
He vowed that the Opposition would be no more in the years to follow. Many bereted him for showing ‘the true colours of an autocrat,’ who detests competition. Today, much of the news from political groups opposed to Museveni and NRM seems to point to an apparent demise of genuine Opposition in the near future. A lot of their pronouncements and activities are directed towards fighting and discrediting each other more than they do against the ruling NRM. The trouble is that many of them have lowered their expectations as political groups and are now more interested in parochial goals that enhance individual achievements. They realistically say the next election has already been rigged – but they will still take part!
So they do not see themselves dislodging Museveni who, among others, has the advantage of having the levers to the entire State machinery. This includes, but is not limited to, public finance, the tools of coercion, the Electoral Commission, Judiciary and Legislature. So like vultures, they plan to gather and partake of what remains of the carcass, for after an NRM win, the next best landing is leading the Opposition in Parliament. This comes with trappings for the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, the chief whip of the party and heads of the various oversight and influential committees. It comes with a substantial amount of money as well.
To be part of this, one needs numbers in Parliament and that is why becoming a Member of Parliament and by extension joining the gravy train that comes with a free car, an easy salary plus allowances and the chance of a life time to travel around the world at taxpayers’ expense, is now the craze.
So the calculation is to mercilessly and thoughtlessly fight the people who stand in one’s way to achieving this ambition. The way it is done now is that Opposition figures then go into the easier ‘Opposition areas’ to dislodge an opposition candidate other than exploring new territory and eating into areas currently represented by the ruling NRM.
The possible outcome of this strategy is that they may end up splitting the Opposition vote and handing over victory to the NRM. But the greater worry is what Parliament has become. Its influence and significance on the change agenda is waning. Even if the Opposition gets more seats than they have currently, it is almost of no meaning.
You will simply have more people saying the same things that the few have been saying. This is likely to be as effective or ineffective as it has been because the place is under the firm grip of the Executive headed by the Museveni the very person they want to remove from office.
For all intents and purposes, Museveni is the piper in that place and calls the tune. He is the paymaster who will be in charge of paying those who are working to remove him.
Yes, there is a Speaker and her Deputy who are in charge of the House but Museveni’s large image cannot be excluded from the picture especially with the vivacious presence of the NRM Caucus.
His views will always be well taken care of despite the charade that comes in the form of open debates. He can decide to ignore recommendations of committees and refuse to accent to Bills passed by the August House.
After all he has a trump card, the one that puts the Speakers on tenterhooks. It is called a vote-of-no confidence in whoever runs that House. The majority NRM MPs may ‘wake up’ to do his bidding if the need arises.
So come 2021, the Opposition is likely to be more ineffective because the ground of their chosen platform - Parliament is thinning.
Yet their access to the people using the traditional method of holding headline-grabbing rallies and demonstrations is evaporating rapidly with the vicious approach of the overzealous police and other security organs.
The Opposition needs a new virtual and quieter effective form of mobilisation that takes advantage of the Internet and communication technology plus social media platforms. It is an area where the NRM is playing catch up (ask them about OTT and VPN.)
It requires innovations that bring tangible benefits like incomes and employment to the vast majority of those opposed to the government for failure to provide jobs and wages.
Long-term thinking and planning outside the box is required. The people have heard more than enough of the platitudes about freedom and liberation plus the well elucidated arguments that explain their predicament. It is not a survivor’s game. It is for sober minds that are not focused on meal cards and school fees for their children.
It is going to be tough for almost everyone is thinking about going to Parliament where they will sit and grow fat like glorified prisoners under house arrest.
Yes, there might soon be no Opposition like Museveni said in 2016.
Mr Sengoba is a commentator on political and social issues.