FDC in crisis, but Uganda has unfinished business

FDC supporters attempt to access the party headquarters in Najjanankumbi, Kampala, after they were locked out on July 20, 2023. Inset is President Museveni. PHOTO/MICHAEL KAKUMIRIZI

What you need to know:

  • Most 37-year-olds – those born in 1986 – who started working in their current job as soon as they completed university have been working for what to them feels like 16 long years.
  • Thirty-seven years is a long time in national life.

On Tuesday, July 18, in the wake of the deepening crisis in the Opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party, I posted the following message on Twitter: “Even if all Opposition leaders, cultural leaders, media, and civil society are bought off, these facts won’t change:
1) National fatigue with the NRM’s 37-year rule.
2) High unemployment.
3) Muhoozi’s lack of personal charisma.
4) The NRM govt’s corruption and blatant nepotism.”
Let’s examine these four points one by one for their validity or not.

Human beings, by nature and socialising, eventually get tired of the same thing, even when it’s a good thing.
That’s why corporate brands sometimes change their logos or messaging to give them a fresh look or feel.

Following the 2021 general election when a five-month old political party called the National Unity Platform (NUP) swept most parliamentary seats in the important electoral area of Buganda, NRM Cabinet minister and Mawokota North MP Amelia Kyambadde was one of the few senior NRM figures to publicly state that “they are tired of us”.

Not only was most of Uganda’s population born after 1986 when the NRM government came into power, most Ugandans alive today have no personal recollection of such seismic events as the September 2001 al-Qaeda attack on the United States.

Most were too young to remember the arrival in February 2004 of a new social media platform called Facebook.

Most 37-year-olds – those born in 1986 – who started working in their current job as soon as they completed university have been working for what to them feels like 16 long years.

Thirty seven years is a long time in national life and world history.

The first point would be a fact, in and of itself, if the fourth point above were not also a fact about NRM Uganda.

President Museveni in recent years has taken to berating Daily Monitor for its reporting on his government’s corruption and mismanagement scandals.

Let’s assume Daily Monitor did not exist today or had never been founded in July 1992 and the only daily English language newspaper in the country was the government-owned New Vision.

A glance at just the front-page of New Vision editions over the last 25 years would tell a story of rampant corruption, incompetence, waste of public resources, and impunity about the NRM government.

Some of these scandals are just too blatant for even the government-owned paper not to report.

So, the first and fourth reasons when combined explain why there seems such constant grumbling, cynicism, and anger in Uganda.

About point three, here is where perhaps the NRM government is the least to blame for a host of reasons.
Uganda has the world’s fifth-youngest population, behind only Angola, Chad, Mali, with Niger being at number one.

Feeding such a young population is difficult enough, without the additional challenge of housing, educating, and then employing it.

Even if Uganda had a disciplined, frugal government, it would grapple with the challenge.
The structure of Uganda’s economy, too, plays a factor. At 80 percent agricultural, with a small industrial and value-added base, heavily dependent on imports, there are simply not enough jobs to go around.

In a TV address to the nation on February 16, 2021, hours after being declared winner of the presidential election, Yoweri Museveni blamed the NRM’s poor showing in Buganda on NRM cadres’ failure to spread the party message and create jobs and income projects for the youth.

Well, the NRM party can’t carry such projects through to a successful end for reason four above.
He defended his “fishermen Cabinet” against public derision and cynical jokes, only for the Cabinet to prove the public right.

For Museveni to veer off his TV message of January 2021 and resort to the shortcut of buying political leaders implies that he has failed to address the economic difficulties of the youthful population.

Therefore, not only is the youth demographic difficult to plan or provide jobs for in the hands of a competent government, it’s all the more difficult in the hands of a government like the NRM.

Finally to point three which, on the face of it seems like an unfair focus on President Museveni’s son, Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba.

Much national treasure, time, bending of army and government rules, tensions within the army, tensions within the NRM, tensions with neighbouring countries and beyond, not to mention tensions within the First Family itself, are the result of this thing we used to call the “Muhoozi Project” and which now calls itself the “MK Movement”.

If we go by the NRA-NRM’s political and military intelligence history, the natural successor to Museveni would be Amama Mbabazi.

If we go by Museveni leaning toward family rule, the more fitting candidate in line of succession would be Museveni’s brother, Gen Salim Saleh.

Muhoozi Kainerugaba is an odd choice. His only claim to that office is the accident of being Museveni’s son.
He is not good at public speaking and has to read from handwritten notes or notes off his smartphone when addressing the public.

All this, not to mention Muhoozi’s erratic, bombastic way of expressing himself on social media, much like a former Ugandan head of state, Idi Amin.

Were Muhoozi to become president, Uganda would be at constant loggerheads with her neighbours and Euro-American allies.

Museveni, even before he became head of state, had a certain engaging side, a broad grasp of facts and figures, an earthen-folksy sense of humour and the absurd that interests the listener, when if one doesn’t like him.

For Muhoozi to be sold to the public requires a lot of police and army deployment, money, and assembling crowds.

And because many within the political class and the army quietly resent the way he is being forced on them, that’s not a good way for him to run the country, were he to become head of state.

Therefore, the tensions within the FDC have come and will go.

The underlying problems that force Museveni to buy off Opposition leaders with money rather than win public support directly by addressing them, will remain.