FDC walks tight rope, struggles to rebrand and balance Opposition politics

Sunday March 21 2021
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Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) candidate Patrick Amuriat Oboi is lifted by his supporters in Kitgum District during the just concluded presidential elections. PHOTO/ ALEX ESAGALA

By Derrick Kiyonga

When Forum Democratic Change (FDC) was being formed in 2005, its founders’ main objective, they said, was to take back Uganda to “a democratic path” and the only way that could happen was by quickly bringing to an end President Museveni’s hold on power.

Sixteen years later, there is a sense of disappointment within the party. The first limb of disenchantment that FDC is dealing with is that Mr Museveni and his National Resistance Movement (NRM) have somehow further entrenched themselves in power having controversially won the January 14 election.

The second limb is that having been the biggest Opposition party since multiparty politics resumed in 2005, the party lost that position to the months-old National Unity Platform (NUP) led by singer-turned-politician Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, popularly known as Bobi Wine.

After Mr Museveni’s 2016 victory, which FDC’s then presidential candidate Kizza Besigye disputed, it was the party that gave the Opposition a way forward by pursuing what it termed as the “defiance campaign,” but following the emergence of NUP, FDC has been playing second fiddle, leaving Mr Kyagulanyi to set the Opposition agenda.

When Mr Kyagulanyi decided to challenge Mr Museveni’s victory at the Supreme Court, FDC was clear: This was a wrong move.
“These matters involve people’s lives,” FDC spokesperson Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda, who is seen as a new leader within the party as it tries to rebrand, said when Mr Kyagulanyi decided to withdraw his petition in February, accusing the Supreme Court of being “biased.”

“You must be very clear when making a decision. So they went to court to seek justice and now they are saying it’s not there. We told them not to go to court because they will come to the same conclusion FDC made that you can’t take Museveni to court today in Uganda.”

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Though he tried to be diplomatic, Dr Besigye, who had unsuccessfully challenged Mr Museveni’s victory at the Supreme Court, couldn’t help but gloat when Mr Kyagulanyi withdrew the petition before a hearing could take place.

“I hesitate very much to say, ‘I told you so’,” Dr Besigye told NBS TV in February. “Because it is like you are rubbing it in someone’s wound. Regrettably, the fact is we make ourselves blind to the obvious reality.”

It’s not the first time FDC is trying to distinguish itself from NUP after the general election. 

While NUP willingly met with European Union (EU) representatives in February to discuss the way forward after the elections, FDC decided not to meet the EU delegation headed by Attilio Pacifici, accusing them of being Mr Museveni enablers since the meetings they have held previously haven’t led to anything substantive.

“As a party, we want to chase things where we expect to see results. We don’t want meetings were we talk and nothing happens,” Mr Harold Kaija, FDC’s deputy secretary general, explained their reluctance in meeting the EU representatives.     
As the party tries to distinguish itself from NUP, it’s also trying to strike a delicate balance between trying to maintain its identity, but also working with other Opposition parties and refocus on how they can uproot Mr Museveni from power.

“There is no need for fighting,” Prof Sabiti Makara, a lecturer at Makerere University’s Department of Political Science, explains. “The main objective should be to defeat the NRM and that means NUP and FDC have to work together. They only way they can achieve success is by working together. They should put their egos aside.”

Prof Makara insists that Opposition parties in Uganda should borrow a leaf from those in Kenya who have kept on forming coalitions depending on their interest at the time.

“In Kenya, it’s not just about a political party,” Prof Sabiti says. “It’s about trying to take over the government. As long as that’s the main interest, why don’t they cooperate?”
Though cooperation is ideal, the fact that Mr Museveni in his previous speeches hasn’t mentioned FDC or Dr Besigye speaks volumes of who he fears most of recent.

On March 14, Mr Museveni used his address in which he claimed that he was tackling issues of “national interest” to accuse, without evidence, NUP of rigging the elections, more so in Buganda where it obliterated his NRM.  

“Everybody in Uganda knows who cheated; it was Kyagulanyi’s group. It was ballot-stuffing, massive rigging in other parts of the country led by the [NUP] youth organisations,” Mr Museveni said, naming electoral misdeeds that according to him were detected in Kampala, Wakiso, Kyotera and other districts in central Uganda.

“I couldn’t comment because there was a case in court which had been taken there by Honorable Kyagulanyi, saying NRM had cheated them. On the contrary, it was Kyagulanyi’s group that cheated massively. There was massive ballot stuffing here in Kampala and in other parts of the country where we (NRM) had a weak organisation,” the President added.

“There was burning of houses, cars and cutting down of plantations in some areas. All this is documented. However, despite the massive cheating, NRM won, because it is a massive party. It is just like an elephant. All those who were intimidating just injured the ear of the elephant but it is still standing and in charge.”

Though there is a belief that FDC is envious of NUP taking over as the leaders of the Opposition, which means Mr Kyagulanyi as NUP’s principal would be the one to choose the next Leader of Opposition in Parliament, FDC has dismissed the whole notion.

“As FDC, we never set out to just be the leaders of the Opposition,” Mr Ssemujju, who is the outgoing Opposition Chief Whip, says. “Our main objective has always been to take over power, not to lead the Opposition. Maybe others are obsessed with leading the Opposition, but we aren’t. We have never discussed in our meetings how to be the biggest Opposition party, we want power.  That’s the only way we can implement our agenda.”

But still, Mr Ssemujju doesn’t rule out working with NUP at some stage. 

“First, we are going to look at FDC internally,” Mr Ssemujju says. “Then we shall look at how we can work with NUP later. We have no problem with it.”

Going forward, the party has to make good on some of its promises of doing a forensic analysis of its performance of the just-concluded elections in which they got 33 parliamentary seats while NUP got about 61.

“We are looking at the whole picture; how we performed. The reason as to why we performed badly in certain areas. Can we continue pursuing elections as a way of bringing about change? We are also looking at how we shall manage the by-elections,” says Mr Ssemujju, who easily retained his Kira Municipality seat, thus becoming the only incumbent FDC legislator in Buganda to retain his seat.

The first meeting of that kind was held in the eastern district of Bugiri,  but sources within the party say they have decided to do other meetings covertly and they have so far visited districts such as Kampala, Soroti, Adjumani, Gulu, Mbarara, Kabale and Kitgum. 

“We have been trying to resolve conflicts that arose before and during elections,” a source privy to the meetings said. “We also want our members to be focused on the struggle. They shouldn’t be demoralised because the party didn’t perform as we expected.” 

As the party seeks to resolve conflicts that arose as a result of the elections, one particular conflict that won’t to be easy to resolve is one involving Ms Ingrid Turinawe, the party’s secretary for mobilisation.

Ms Turinawe was among the FDC party members who forfeited their membership after they decided to stand as Independents when they lost the party primaries. 

Mr Nathan Nandala Mafabi, the party’s secretary general, put them on notice last year during campaigns. FDC didn’t do well in Turinawe’s home district of Rukungiri. 

The party honchos, having failed to defend three seats and instead got just one, are blaming Ms Turinawe, who lost her bid to become the Rukungiri Municipality MP, for this abysmal performance. 

“She cost us a seat in Parliament and as things stand, now she is a party member of the FDC and there no reconciliation talks,” a source close to party president Patrick Oboi Amuriat revealed on condition of anonymity. 
 
When contacted by this writer, Ms Turinawe had a different narrative. “There are ongoing talks within the party leadership. I wouldn’t like to disclose them now because it’s not yet time. You will get to know when time comes,” Ms Turinawe says.

Mr Roland Mugume Kaginda, the outgoing Rukungiri Municipality MP, who unlike Turinawe, didn’t stand as an Independent having lost the primaries, also said he has no clue about the talks. 

“We aren’t yet there yet,” Mr Kaginda, who was part of Mr Amuriat’s campaign team, said. “Maybe the talks will happen because we need to get a reason why we performed badly in Rukungiri.” 

FDC swept seats in Soroti District, but there is a big possibility that there will be by-elections in Soroti City following a court ruling in which the city’s boundaries were re-drawn.  

For FDC, a lot is at stake since the party won the city‘s maiden mayoral seat, the city woman MP seat and Soroti City East seat, won by Moses Attan who defeated Herbert Edmund Ariko, the incumbent who acrimoniously quit FDC, hobnobbed with Gen Mugisha Muntu’s Alliance for National Transformation (ANT), but ultimately stood as an Independent.

“We have been working hard to see that we cement FDC in Soroti,” Ms Anna Adeke Ebaju, who easily won the Soroti Woman MP seat, said in a recent interview. “In case of any by-election, we shall win it. That’s for sure.”

As part of the healing process, the party, sources says, has reconciled with Jonathan Ebwalu who won the Soroti West seat as an Independent. 

“We held talks with him and he agreed to work with FDC since that’s what the people who voted for him want,” a source that was party to the talks says.

When these meetings are done, the party has explained that a report detailing what happened in each of the districts will be compiled and presented to the national executive committee (NEC) and national council for processing.  

“The report and the subsequent discussion will form the basis for the next FDC internal elections scheduled for mid this year. As you are aware, the term of office for the current FDC leadership expired in July last year, but because of Covid-19 restrictions, FDC was unable to hold internal elections.” a statement released by the party recently says.

“These elections are now planned for around June/July this year. The grassroots elections will be concluded by a national delegates’ conference towards the end of the year at which the new FDC leaders will be elected.”

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