What you need to know:
Turbulence. It has been more than 17 years since political parties made a return in 2005, but there is a sense of uncertainty that has gripped all parties, whether it is those in Opposition that are being suffocated by the State, or the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM), which has the State apparatus at its disposal.
National Resistance Movement
Political parties in Uganda were banned in the 1980s by the victorious National Resistance Army (NRA) guerrillas under its political wing NRM on grounds that it was introducing a new type of electoral politics, which soon came to be known as ‘Movement’, or ‘no-party’ democracy.
At the behest of Western donors, the multiparty political dispensation bounced back in 2005 after 19-year-old hiatus. NRM morphed into a political party, but with President Museveni – who has been the alpha and omega of the organisation – ageing, sharp focus has turned to his son Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba who this year has used his Twitter handle to disparage the party.
Recently, Muhoozi, who is seen as heir apparent of Museveni, fired shots at his father’s party saying he believes in Jesus Christ and his father, but not NRM. Adding that in Marxist terms, NRM is probably the most reactionary organisation in the country.
“I am listening to the outcry of our people for change. I am with the people! Whatever NRM has become certainly does not represent the people of Uganda,” Muhoozi tweeted on December 3. “We shall jointly create the sixth republic. The first was Obote I, the second was Idi Amin, the third was Milton Obote II, the fourth was Okello and the fifth was NRM. We will be the sixth Republic! The greatest epoch in our history!”
Though Muhoozi has tried to draw a line between his father and the NRM, it’s not possible to separate the two as Museveni has come to mean NRM.
In 2015, Museveni wasn’t only appointed as the sole presidential candidate of the party but he was also given powers to appoint the party’s secretary general, deputy secretary general, treasurer and deputy treasurer.
In his recent opinion published in the State-owned newspaper, New Vision, Ofwono Opondo, the executive director of the Uganda Media Centre, lamented how the ruling party is over-reliant on Museveni.
“While the marginal Opposition parties are able to sponsor themselves, NRM leaders find it hard to conduct party mobilisation activities in their respective areas, preferring to wait for President Museveni to fund them,” wrote Ofwono Opondo. “As a result, regular open, constructive engagements, even on the most basic issues of immediate concern seem dead across the country. NRM today has weak and controllable shepherds and little weak sheep that appear discouraged from thinking outside of the box.”
When NRM presents this year’s scorecard, it seems it will be strong as it won a string of by-elections. But as it has become a norm with most, if not all, NRM victories, they are riddled with fraud allegations. The party now has to contend with a future without Museveni yet the supposed heir to the throne apparently wants to start something new.
Forum for Democratic Change
Internal democracy for parties in Uganda has always been a double-edged sword. The laws demand it, but once parties give it a try they normally end up with division. The Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) will once again find itself in this situation when it organises a delegates’ conference in 2023 to choose its leaders.
When FDC last held elections in 2017, the race for presidency pitted Gen Mugisha Muntu, then incumbent, against former Kumi Municipality MP Patrick Amuriat Oboi.
Muntu, who was seen as a gentleman, was defeated by Amuriat who allied with FDC founding president Kizza Besigye.
Muntu got 463 votes (41.1 percent) against Amuriat’s 641 (57.6 per cent). The amiable Luweero Bush War veteran didn’t take the loss in stride. He led a breakaway faction from FDC and formed what‘s now known as the Alliance for National Transformation (ANT).
As it prepares for the elections FDC has been in soul searching posture ever since the 2021 elections in which it didn’t perform well. FDC historically had never done well in Buganda but even the few positions they had were taken up by the National Unity Platform (NUP) which is now the biggest Opposition party in Parliament.
FDC has struggled with how to deal with NUP and its principal Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu who has now emerged as one of the leading Opposition candidates against Museveni. But for FDC again, the internal matters will matter more than the external matters.
His critics in the party say secretary general Nathan Nandala Mafabi should be replaced as FDC performed abysmally in Bugisu sub-region yet Mafabi used to be the kingmaker in the area. FDC lost the grip they had on Mbale City and also Mbale District as a whole.
Mafabi, who easily won his Budadiri West seat for the fifth straight term, is supposed to lead FDC’s charge in the Bugisu sub-region, but some party members believe that of recent his star has waned. He doesn’t share that view.
As it tries it reorganises itself, FDC believes it still has the tools to lead the Opposition in removing Museveni and NRM from government. The strategic plan they unveiled in November laid out such an agenda.
National Unity Platform (NUP)
It’s now coming to two years since NUP became the leading Opposition party in Parliament, but the troubles that have devilled FDC have since sprung up here.
Ever since the position of Leader of Position in Parliament was created in 2006, it has turned out to be a poisoned chalice as it has created more division than unity within Opposition parties.
FDC felt its weight for the 14 years it held the position and NUP fell into a similar trap. It has become apparent that Mathias Mpuuga, who leaders Opposition in Parliament, has fallen out with his boss, Kyagulanyi, also known by his stage name Bobi Wine.
Again, the matter of contestation is which direction NUP should take in challenging Museveni. Mpuuga’s group believes the best they can do it is come up with alternatives in Parliament, but Kyagulanyi’s group, which forms the DNA of NUP, believe more in confrontational politics which plays out on the streets and not the marble halls of the Legislature.
The flash points have been numerous. Mpuuga agreed to the passing of the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) Act – which will enable the implementation of the East African Crude Oil Project – yet Kyagulanyi’s faction wasn’t in agreement as they supported a resolution by the European Union Parliament which recommended that a plug should be put on the project until Uganda’s human rights and environmental credentials are ascertained.
“The resolution is in agreement with our view that the project in its present form is not intended for the tangible development of Uganda or its neighbours, but rather aims solely at exporting crude oil,” Kyagulanyi said. “The proceeds from the project will likely be lost through the widespread corruption and use for patronage like has happened to all other projects undertaken by the Museveni regime.”
Kyagulanyi will next year decide if Mpuuga remains Leader of Opposition or not, but the signs are clear that the NUP principal will prefer to choose someone aligned with his thinking than Mpuuga who was part of the so-called DP bloc.
There are also emerging questions about NUP’s internal democracy. As things stand, the party has never had a delegates’ conference in which people compete for various leadership positions and the constitution has been under review for two years now.
The common line from NUP supporters is that what matters most is what Kyagulanyi says, not the constitution. It remains to be seen for how long party members will keep that principle.
Democratic Party (DP)
As things stand, DP is no longer part of the Opposition after its president general Norbert Mao signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Museveni that saw him get a Cabinet position – minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs.
As a result of the Museveni-Mao deal, DP secretary general Gerald Siranda, who had failed in his bid to become an MP in Uganda, is now part of the East African Legislative Assembly (Eala). Even before the deal was signed, DP was always a divided entity with many of its members supporting Kyagulanyi’s presidential push in 2021 instead of Mao who they accuse of many things.
Once Mao put ink to paper at a function organised at State House, many of DP‘s lawmakers that come from the Buganda region announced that they no longer recognise the former Gulu District chairperson as their leader.
Paul Kawanga Ssemogerere, the veteran politician who at times acted as the arbitrator in these wrangles, passed on. Though Ssemogerere was DP’s president general between the 1970s and 2005, his death also showed how much the party has fallen from grace.
Mao didn’t show up at the vigil on grounds that Ssemogerere’s demise found him out of the country, but Siranda who showed up was denied an opportunity to talk as DP members hackled him, accusing him and Mao of handing over the party to their nemesis, Museveni.
On signing the MoU, Mao claimed that it had more than just him getting a Cabinet position. He claimed the MoU, which has not been publicly disclosed, gave him powers to start the conversation that will see Museveni handover power peacefully – sometimes called a transition.
Museveni has since come out to categorically deny Mao’s claims.
Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC)
Before DP could go into an arrangement with NRM it was Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) that achieved that feat.
There is nothing to write home about UPC apart from recalling the 1960s and 1980s when it was the ruling party under Apollo Milton Obote. Obote’s son, Jimmy Akena, leads one faction of what remains of UPC, while Peter Walubiri, a seasoned lawyer, leads another. They have for years been embroiled in a protracted legal battle over who is the genuine leader of the party.
The deal that Akena signed with NRM came under serious doubt after the ruling party didn’t support UPC’s candidate for EALA. Akena’s faction is yet to recover from that.
Alliance for National Transformation (ANT)
It’s easier to start a political party, but it’s not easy for a party to get traction. This is a lesson that Muntu and his colleagues that started the Alliance for National Transformation (ANT) when they broke away from FDC have learnt the hard way.
The party had veteran politicians such as former FDC secretary general Alice Alaso and former LoP Winifred Kizza, who were supposed to market it throughout the country, but this has proven a tall order.
Muntu has always put emphasis on building party structures but the party has struggled to mobilise funds upending the strategy of trying to put in place a semblance of structures.
Muntu’s plans were not helped when the party didn’t secure a single parliamentary seat in 2021. It’s these MPs that contribute financially to the party and also make the party visible.
With NUP and FDC taking up most of the space within the Opposition, it will be hard for ANT to establish itself as a party to reckon with.