How FDC bigwigs Besigye, Amuriat went from allies to enemies

Mr Patrick Amuriat (left) and Gen Mugisha Muntu during the 2017 party presidential elections in Kampala. PHOTO/PPU

What you need to know:

  • Following the recent upheaval that rocked the Opposition political party Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), with accusations of party leaders pocketing money that is said to have emanated from State House, party president Patrick Oboi Amuriat took a shot at the party’s founding president, Dr Kizza Besigye, saying he isn’t anybody’s stooge yet when he was running for FDC presidency in 2017, Amuriat bragged that Besigye and he were birds of the same feather. Derrick Kiyonga writes how this relationship deteriorated.

Shortly after a delegates’ conference called by Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) national chairman Wasswa Birigwa announced how they had installed Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago as the interim president of the party, embattled party president Patrick Oboi Amuriat, who had been ousted, fired back. 

Amuriat turned his guns on FDC founding president Kizza Besigye, who he accused of being the brainchild of the splinter group that has put in place a rival faction from that of Najjanankumbi, where FDC’s headquarters are found.

“I had a lot of respect for our founding president [Besigye], but I’m a man who can’t be a bootlicker of anyone,” Amuriat said. “The code that has brought us together as FDC has been broken today.”

Besigye, who beat security to attend the extra-ordinary meeting which saw Nathan Nandala Mafabi and Geoffrey Ekanya booted as secretary general and treasurer respectively, said it was clear that his former allies were now in bed with the National Resistance Movement (NRM).  

“It’s a very sad day indeed that leaders in Uganda continue to betray those who trust them and they all very well know that now it’s not just the junta hunting and teargassing them, but it it’s now the junta together with their colleagues,” Besigye said.  

Ms Allice Alaso, FDC’s first secretary general, opined that it was Besigye who propelled both Mafabi and Amuriat to top leadership in FDC.

“Amuriat and Nandala were pushed to the helm by Dr Kizza Besigye who they now accuse of ‘big man syndrome’. But even if the ‘big man syndrome’ was there, something has triggered it,” Alaso told a local TV.  

Indeed, when FDC delegates were getting ready for the 2017 delegates conference, Amuriat was the last name they thought about on who could challenge Gen Mugisha Muntu, who was the incumbent party president.

Mafabi, who had previously challenged Muntu for the party’s top position, had since been pre-occupied with the secretary general post.

But at the time, those familiar with FDC operations started to believe Besigye months before the general election was propping up Amuriat, who had lost the Kanyum parliamentary election seat in the 2016 General Election, to replace Muntu.

Besigye was spotted moving with Amuriat in different parts of the country, including when they faced the wrath of police when they went to the eastern districts of Ngora and Katakwi to ostensibly mobilise for the party and to deliver food aid to hunger-stricken people.

“Dr Besigye did a lot to ensure Amuriat won that election. That’s why people feel betrayed by what has happened. Amuriat was not known and people had to popularise him across the county,” a source that’s close to Besigye, but preferred anonymity, said. 

It was widely believed that Besigye threw his weight behind Amuriat because the former legislator had bought into Besigye’s defiance campaign and combative style. Muntu sold his vision of building party structures and his side was called `organisation camp’.

Dr Kizza Besigye

Besigye’s close lieutenants such as Ingrid Turinawe, who was then FDC’s secretary for mobilisation and a key member of the defiance strand of FDC, also stamped in for Amuriat.  

Mubarak Munyagwa, another Besigye loyalist who had shown interest in the race by picking forms, withdrew from the race and backed Amuriat.  

Amuriat’s Achilles heel was that he had no strong support from FDC Members of Parliament (MPs), with only Francis Mwijukye (Buhweju County), who was the deputy chairman of the campaign team, Betty Aol (Gulu District Woman MP), Gilbert Olanya (Kilak), Hassan Kaps Fungaroo (Obongi), William Nzoghu (Busongora North) and Munyagwa (Kawempe South) supporting him.

Even with Besigye’s trusted aides fully backing him, Amuriat denied Besigye’s apparent support of his campaign.

“I have my own political feet to stand on. Why would I need Dr Besigye to promote me? We are in activism. Now that I am no longer a Member of Parliament, I devoted all my time to activism and anybody who is in activism will be with me, or I will be with that person,” Amuriat told the Observer newspaper in 2017.

“The reason you will find me with Dr Besigye is because we are birds of the same feather; we are in defiance to try and put pressure on the Museveni regime to bring change to this country; the allegation that Besigye is trying to promote me is null and void,” he added. 

Amuriat was firmly into Besigye’s camp to the extent that he questioned why the Muntu leadership had proceeded to appoint Opposition leadership yet, according to him, Besigye had won the 2016 General Election.

“Dr Besigye won the 2016 elections, yet our leadership conceded to Museveni by appointing the Leader of the Opposition [in Parliament]. It was a mistake to concede because it gave the regime a breathing space,” Amuriat said in an apparent dig at Muntu, who had appointed Winifred Kiiza as Leader of the Opposition in Parliament after the disputed 2016 presidential elections.

As he was campaigning for the FDC presidency, Amuriat endured the FDC defiance group when he focused on the Opposition’s charge against deleting the presidential age limit from the Constitution. 

He joined Besigye and Turinawe in holding rallies across the country and predictably ran into trouble with the police.

In October 2017, Amuriat, Besigye, and Turinawe were arrested in Kabale Town where they were holding rallies, and driven back to Kampala and incarcerated at Naggalama Police Station in Mukono District for a week. 

They were then driven back to the Kigezi sub-region where they were charged in Besigye’s hometown Rukingiri at the magistrates’ court with inciting violence, destruction of property, and disobeying statutory orders.

During the standoff, police shot dead FDC supporter Edson Nasasira, and Amuriat later described what he went through in detention.

“I eased myself in the open under police guard. It was dehumanising because I don’t remember the last time I did it,” Amurita told Daily Monitor, adding that he shared the same toilet and bathroom with Turinawe.

“We slept on the cold floor. Shared one toilet and bathroom with Ms Turinawe, though she had a separate cell,” the former Kumi County MP said.

This comradeship the three shared, having gone through hard times, has since vanished with Turinawe no longer an FDC member, having stood as an independent for the Rukungiri Municipality seat during the 2021 parliamentary elections.

She, without evidence, blamed her loss in the FDC primary on Mafabi “organising fraudulent elections” and she has since distanced herself from party activities, but once in a while taunted Mafabi and Amuriat during the ongoing rumble over FDC leadership status.

FDC secretary general Mafabi (left) and party president Amuriat recently. Photo/File

“I was the first to complain about Nandala and POA,” Turinawe said, using Amurita’s acronym. Although Amuriat’s tenure now seems to have divided FDC into factions after the accusations that he and Mafabi got huge sums of money from State House, few would have predicted that this would be a bitter end.

In the run-up to the 2021 General Election, FDC leadership asked Amuriat to be its flag bearer in the presidential race after Besigye made it clear that for the first time since the party was established in 2004, he wasn’t going to stand.

Besigye, sources within FDC who are privy to the discussions, had asked Mafabi to hold forte but the Budadiri West MP humbly refused. He said he would have a shot at the topmost seat in the 2026 General Election.

The party turned to Amuriat who was clearly unprepared to run for the presidency and in August 2020 he told an FDC meeting in the northern city of Gulu that there would be no primary at the presidential level once Besigye decided to stand.  

“We are looking for the party presidential candidate at the moment. If there are some people who have met Dr Besigye to ask him to be the party flag bearer, we do not have any problem with that,” Amuriat said in 2020.  

“There are a number of internal discussions that are underway and we are meeting a number of people over the same. Since Dr Besigye is our big fish, we are also going to meet him to tell us if he is going to hold our flag or not,” he added. 

It was him now to carry the flag, but by the time his presidential bid was declared after Birigwa pulled out of the race, it was clear that Amuriat was yards behind incumbent President Museveni and National Unity Platform’s (NUP) Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, popularly known as Bobi Wine, who were ahead of him having prepared themselves for the race three years earlier.

Nevertheless, Amuriat‘s campaign which was christened “barefoot revolution” left many within FDC leadership impressed.

“I didn’t expect this. I think he did well in terms of keeping the FDC fan base energised. He was still running under Besigye’s defiance campaign and he turned out to be the most arrested presidential candidate in the 2021 race,” Kira Municipality MP Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda said.

On January 6, 2021, he was paraded in the Kakumiro Grade One Magistrate’s Court at 8.20pm with the court enveloped in darkness.

But still the court, which was aided by the light emanating from a camera manned by an NTV reporter, proceeded to charge Amuriat – who was arrested while campaigning in the western district of Kibaale – with a charge of being driven on the roof of a vehicle that put his life at risk.

Michael Amuriat, Amuriat’s driver, wasn’t spared either. He was charged with careless and inconsiderate use of the road in a court presided over by magistrate Abdallah Kaiza.

While campaigning in the neighbouring Kitagwenda District, Amuriat’s entourage was shot at by security forces and the bullet ended up hitting his escort’s car. He interpreted this as an attempt at his life.  

“At Kitagwenda, the assassins aimed at me, shot bullets, and my driver dodged it and it hit my escort car. They will try to kill me but I will not die until this country is totally liberated,” Amuriat said. 

These weren’t isolated incidents. Throughout his campaigns, Amuriat had to get used to being fumed with teargas or being arrested and later charged in court which ate into the limited time he had been apportioned to canvass for votes.

Despite the roadblocks, Amuriat didn’t even ponder stopping at any one point. On December 5, 2020, Amuriat was scheduled to campaign in the western districts of Rubirizi, Mitooma, and Bushenyi. However, these plans were upended when police arrested him and later in the day arraigned him in a magistrate’s court miles away in Mbarara where he was accused of disobedience of lawful orders. 

The accusations against Amuriat stemmed from an incident that happened on December 4, 2020, when he was moving to Mbarara City for campaigns. 

Police tried to block Amuriat from accessing the central business district of Mbarara after he allegedly changed from the designated route that his campaign team and police had agreed on.  

Having been released on bail, late in the evening, Amuriat in a show of defiance, went ahead to campaign in the Bushenyi District even if it was for a few hours. But the embodiment of Amuriat’s defiance campaign was on show when on December 28 he decided to campaign in the eastern districts of Tororo and Mbale.  

Tororo is one of the 12 districts in which the Electoral Commission had just banned campaigning, citing the spike in Covid-19 cases. Amuriat was stopped in his truck in Bugiri in a very brutal manner when police directly sprayed pepper in his eyes which led him to be hospitalised. 

Many expected him to take a break from the campaign trail, but the following morning he hit the road the following morning and in a single day he campaigned in three districts – Bukedea, Kumi, and Soroti –which are part of the districts in which campaigns were prohibited.

Yet by the end of a campaign that saw him come third, murmurs started to come out of Najjanankumbi that some people within FDC had taken money. But at first, Besigye defended Amuriat. 

“He had very few resources. You should revisit his campaign trail and see what he went through,” said Besigye, who only appeared four times on Amuriat’s campaign trail saying he didn’t want to draw attention away from Amuriat and in the process increase conflict with the NUP campaign.

Yet it has now become clear that the so-called “dirty money” was one of the reasons why Besigye didn’t stamp in for Amuriat as it was expected. 

“Truth is that Amuriat didn’t have a big budget during the campaign but his problem is that he kept quiet as that money came in,” a source that moved with Amuriat across the country during the campaigns said.