“I bring new energy that has been lacking in the party. And I belong to the ideology of defiance”. Therein lay the summary of Mr Patrick Oboi Amuriat to delegates of the opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party at the November 25, 2017 conference.
That partly laid the ground for what turned out to be a shock defeat of Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu, who had led the party since 2012 when Dr Besigye cut short his term of office to go into political activism.
The former Kumi County MP beat Gen Muntu with a difference of 178 votes. He polled 641 votes against Gen Muntu’s 463 votes.
Others in the race were Mr Moses Byamugisha and Mr Dan Matsiko, who got three and two votes respectively.
During the campaign, Mr Amuriat pledged to, among other things, reclaim Dr Besigye’s victory, give some power to Dr Besigye and work towards ensuring those like him who believe in defiance occupy their “rightful space in Najjanankumbi”.
Mr Amuriat is the minister for local government in the ‘People’s Government’, a loose coalition of people who believe Dr Besigye won the 2016 General Election, and is, therefore, the rightful President of Uganda.
Cutting term short
The biggest promise though, was that he would make a sacrifice and cut his term of office from five to two or three years for the sake of ensuring that the party’s electoral cycle would be aligned with the national one.
The need to realign the party’s electoral cycle had been a major cause of tension in the party following Dr Besigye’s resignation.
It first came up following the 2012 internal election that saw Gen Muntu succeed Dr Besigye. Mr Nathan Nandala Mafabi, who had challenged Gen Muntu for the party presidency, had insisted that though Article 32 of the party constitution provides that the “term of office for all party officials shall be five years renewable only once”, Gen Muntu serves out only what had remained of Dr Besigye’s five-year term.
A tribunal headed by lawyer Ladislaus Rwakafuzi agreed with Mr Mafabi, but a five-member team of party elders led by Mr Augustine Ruzindana, ruled that the National Executive Committee (NEC) meetings that approved election guidelines had “made it clear that the November 22 election was an election for a party president for five years”.
That paved way for Gen Muntu to lead until his defeat in November 2017.
Sources in the party suggested during the course of the week that Mr Amuriat was no longer ready to follow the promise through, which has put him on a collision course with some of his erstwhile allies, a charge which he denies.
Speaking to Sunday Monitor on Tuesday, Mr Amuriat said his intention had been to cut his term short by three years, but that the terms of office of other office bearers ends at the end of this month, which would mean that the next internal election would only be held this year, but the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic had forced the party to put some of its plans on hold.
He further revealed that the party National Council had empowered NEC to, for now, focus its energies on ensuring that the party participates at all levels of the next general election, which means there might not be any elections at all!
“There is no certainty as to when an election can take place. Depending on the ripple effect and the way the country responds to the general election, we could have an election as early as April, but that is not a decision for me to make,” he said.
NEC is now expected to convene soon to make a statement on the fate of the party’s electoral process.
Some changes have already been made as a follow up to some of the actions that Mr Amuriat took in his first year in office.
These include a change of the party’s leadership in Parliament, which saw Ms Betty Aol Ocan replace Ms Winnie Kizza as the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament (LoP).
Other changes saw Buhweju County MP Francis Mwijukye replaced by Ms Cecilia Ogwal as Commissioner of Parliament, while Kawempe South MP Mubarak Munyagwa replaced Bugweri County MP Abdul Katuntu as chairman of the Parliament Committee on Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises (Cosase).
In the aftermath of the changes, Mr Amuriat was accused of hounding those who had supported Gen Muntu out of positions of leadership, but on December 6, 2018, while addressing his first Special National Council meeting at the party’s headquarters at Najjanankumbi, Mr Amuriat said the changes were a “complete functional trinity between the party, Parliament and the Peoples’ Government leadership”.
The party vice president in charge of eastern Uganda, Ms Salaamu Musumba, revealed that although the Covid-19 outbreak had affected the party’s political calendar, the party is reengaging in order to try and catch up.
According to Ms Musumba, whereas the party is working to ensure that it is represented in all constituencies and at all levels in the next general election, it will subject all those who aspire to contest the elections or for positions of leadership within the party to a process of vetting.
Is it a good move?
Prof Sabiiti Makara, who teaches political science at Makerere University, says that the move is welcome and long overdue, but it should be implemented with some caution.
FDC seems not to have suffered at the hands of the NRM as much as other political parties such as the Democratic Party (DP) and Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC), but it has also suffered a number of high profile defections such as that of former national vice chairpersons Alex Onzima and John Butime, Ms Betti Olive Kamya, Eriya Kategaya and most recently Mr Jackson Kafuuzi Karugaba and Ms Beatrice Anywar, who were recently appointed to Mr Museveni’s Cabinet.
Will it fix defections?
Prof Paul Wangoola, a former Makerere University don and retired politician, says it is highly likely that vetting will fix the problem.
Prof Wangoola says value systems have been eroded over the years. He says societies used to do a lot of sieving whether it was for purposes of identifying a leader or an animal for farming, which used to help them in getting the right people in place.
“People previously used to ask, “whose son or daughter is she?” People thought it was not necessary, but that is how they would identified upright and honest people for positions of leadership or even marriage. Even farmers would investigate what sort of animal it was before bringing it to the farm.
“How many calves does it bring forth? How much milk does it produce?” they would ask. That ensured productivity. But that is no longer the case. People now only think in terms of short-term economic interests,” he further says.
According to Ms Musumba, the party has also started implementing an internal transition and succession plan to keep the party moving into the future after the founders give way. Almost all the party’s founders are well above 50 years and are bound to bring the curtain down on their political careers sooner than later.
Ms Musumba will not say where they borrowed the idea from, but Tanzania’s ruling party is known to have a similar plan, which has enabled smooth transfers of power from founding President Julius Nyerere to all his successors.
FDC, unlike Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), has never held national leadership. So whereas the system has helped CCM keep its hold onto power, one cannot say that it will help FDC get it, but then, the future, as they say, belongs to the organised.
What some of the key players say...
Patrick Oboi Amuriat, FDC party president.
Besides the fact that it may not be tenable to hold internal elections in an election year, we had not yet concretized plans for an internal election when the (Covid-19) pandemic broke out. The resultant lockdown meant that we could not hold meetings. We are now left with no option, but to stay the elections until conditions allow.
Salaamu Musumba, FDC vice president (Eastern Uganda).
We have introduced vetting to avoid being destroyed from inside. People have been using our party as a platform to raise their political profile and possibly price. We are now tightening. We should be able to get leaders who are viable, solid and not for sale.
Prof Sabiiti Makara, Makerere University don
One of the achievements of FDC is that it was the first [party] to introduce competitive internal elections, especially for the presidency... So there is need for some controls such as vetting to minimise damage that might arise either out of the campaigns or on the number of those who are likely to defect.
Prof Paul Wangoola, former Makerere University don.
Some revolutionary parties have systems of ensuring that it is the right people who take up leadership positions. Those who aspire for leadership are put to a test and you rise through a system by being mentored at all levels. They are ideologically grounded and focused.