Should the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party focus on working with other Opposition-leaning parties to uproot the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM), or reboot and try to recapture lost territory, including that lost to other Opposition parties such as the National Unity Platform (NUP) – the current leaders of the Opposition in Parliament?
Senior party officials insist they are doing both.
“We are both rebranding and working together with NUP in Parliament since they are new leaders of the Opposition. We can do both because we are the party, which should be able to compete across the country,” says Mr Walid Mulindwa Lubega, who heads FDC’s Youth League.
Dr George Ekwaro, who is now in charge of mobilisation in the north, says the focus is on putting in place a covert structure that can remove NRM.
“We have been mobilising for FDC even before getting these official positions, but the ultimate goal is the removal of NRM and we have to work with other parties as long as they are tired of what we have now,” Dr Ekwaro says.
Last month’s appointments to fill several vacant slots in the party’s topmost organ, the National Executive Committee (NEC), gives an idea of how the party wants to reinvigorate through merging of experience with youth. But these appointments also pose question marks on how they are going to work with what they call “other forces of change” without weakening the party’s structures further.
In terms of experience, Mr Erias Lukwago, the Kampala Lord Mayor, was appointed the party’s deputy president for Buganda sub-region, a year after joining the party. He replaced Ms Joyce Ssebugwawo who joined NRM by virtue of being appointed junior minister of ICT.
Mr Lukwago’s area is where FDC members have been in disarray following NUP’s emergence and it’s routing of other political parties in the 2021 General Election.
When final results were announced in January, FDC had managed to scoop only three parliamentary seats in Buganda: Kira Municipality (Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda), Mawokota South (Yusuf Nsibambi), and Kyamuswa County (Moses Kabuusu) but the party had lost Kampala Woman, Nakawa East, Makindye East and Kawempe South to NUP candidates.
Even before Ms Ssebugwawo jumped ship, furious party members in Buganda wanted her out, accusing her of supporting NUP’s Robert Kyagulanyi, alias Bobi Wine, in the process dampening the morale of the party members and weakening the FDC structures.
“Her leaving was a blessing in disguise,” a top FDC party official said on condition of anonymity such that he could speak freely. “Besides having Mengo connections, she was adding nothing to the party,” the official adds.
With Ms Ssebugwawo out, FDC party members want to restructure the Buganda base and to try to reclaim what they had lost which will inevitably lead to clashes with NUP. But Lukwago in his speeches, so far, has tried to strike a delicate balance.
“I promise to serve to the best of my abilities and capacity. I treasure the mission and vision of the party and I promise to make my humble contribution to elevate this party to the next level,” said Mr Lukwago on September 13 when he was officially sworn in as the deputy president for Buganda sub-region.
On his verified Facebook page, Mr Lukwago conveyed a message of working with another Opposition group.
“I will leverage this platform [FDC deputy president for Buganda] to add a brick to the institution and make a humble contribution to the synergy-building processes among all change-seeking formations to usher in the much-needed democratic dispensation and constitutional governance,” he wrote.
On September 18, the Lord Mayor met members of FDC Nakawa branch at his home in Wakaliga, Rubaga Division, in Kampala and repeated the same message.
“Members of the FDC leadership from all parishes of Nakawa Division have treated me to a surprise visit this morning and we shared lots of ideas with other democracy-seeking parties and formations,” he said.
“I made a passionate call to the team to summon and redirect all our joint efforts with all the oppressed Ugandans of different persuasions towards reclaiming the people’s sovereign authority from the gun and rule currently reigning supreme,” Mr Lukwago added.
It remains to be seen whether Mr Lukwago’s message will sink in, but the overriding impression is that the FDC faithful see his appointment as a no-brainer.
Sources within FDC say Mr Nsibambi, Mr Ssemujju, and Mr Ibrahim Kasozi, the ousted Makindye West MP, were thought about as Ms Ssebugwawo’s replacement, but Mr Lukwago, a former Democratic Party [DP] stalwart, ticked all the boxes.
“After Ow’ekitiibwa Ssebugwawo left, we needed somebody who needs no introduction in Buganda, but also has a national character and also has integrity and we think Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago has all of that,” Mr Lubega said.
When Mr Lukwago was being welcomed at the FDC party headquarters in Najjanankumbi last year, founding FDC president Kizza Besigye talked about how he had been troubled by rumblings within the Opposition following the emergence of NUP, but Mr Lukwago’s shifting to the blue column was a silver lining in the sky.
Though within the FDC structure Mr Lukwago has been assigned to lead a regional block, the idea is to sell him as a national leader who is going in to challenge for the presidency. This was manifested last year when Dr Besigye admitted that he would support his ally’s presidential challenge.
“Erias Lukwago has consistently fought for a common person. I can tell you without any fear of contradiction that Erias Lukwago can make a good president. I would vote for him if FDC chose him as a candidate. He wouldn’t be found wanting,” Dr Besigye said when he appeared on NTV’s Thursday night political talk show On the Spot.
“What I like about [the] Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago, is the clarity of his political pursuits. He is clear on what his struggles is and he commits unwaveringly to it.”
Having scrutinised election results, FDC honchos have insisted that the party is going to go through a facelift with the focus on the youth, and the appointment of Soroti District Woman MP Anna Adeke Ebaju, 29, as deputy president eastern Uganda is indicative, party leaders say, of the paradigm shift towards young people.
Ms Adeke became the youngest person in FDC history to become party deputy president and her meteoric rise, party leaders say, embodies vision grooming leaders’ right from the grassroots.
“We are moving away from the old norms to the new normal,” Mr Lubega says. “In FDC, we believe in cardreship training. That’s why the honourable Anna [Adeke] has risen through the ranks from the university. She was identified by the party and was fielded by the party as guild president.”
“Thereafter she went to the contest as the National Youth Female Youth MP and from there we supported her instead of Angelline Osegge in Soroti. So it hasn’t been by accident for her to be appointed. We had to deploy whatever we had to make her win her constituency. Even after winning, we felt she is up to the task and that’s why we entrusted her to lead the party,” Lubega adds.
Ms Adeke, who replaces Ms Kevina Taaka, who lost touch with the party after she fell sick, has also been grappling with how to expand FDC and at the same time work with other Opposition political parties to ensure NRM’s reign ends.
“The party’s agenda is strength and visibility,” Ms Adeke said in a phone interview. “I want to mobilise Ugandans to bring about change and now I’m no longer just a party member, but I also serve the highest organ [NEC] of the party,” she revealed.
She added: “We have studied and done comparative analysis with the last elections and previous elections. We acknowledge there could be some weaknesses but we are also aware of the rigging that happens during elections, and elections can’t be an accurate reflection of what’s happening in society because we aren’t operating in a democratic environment. We are operating under extreme restrictions, people are poor. Mobilising poor people isn’t easy. Mobilising scared people isn’t easy.
But we shall continue to engage and do what we can.”
Wide and ethnically diverse
The eastern block that Ms Adeke is charged with mobilising is quite wide and consequently ethnically diverse. It includes sub-regions such as Busoga, Bukedi, Bugisu, and Teso some of which NRM has dominated for years.
But the FDC internally thinks they should be the party to wrestle these areas from the firm grip of the ruling party since they say they have more national outlook than NUP.
“When you look, we have Members of Parliament from across the country,” Adeke said. “We can build on that and ensure we liberate all those other areas that are dominated by NRM. We keep on reviewing our performance in NEC and we know where we can improve.”
The FDC numbers in Parliament have been shrinking. While in the 10th Parliament they had 34 MPs, in the current one they have 32 and Lubega insists they can only regain lost ground through enticing the youth to take up top leadership positions within the party.
“We are coming up with a new strategic plan and the youth are going to be central in this plan,” Mr Lubega says. “It’s not going to be business as usual,” he adds.
Though the party is shifting towards the youth, old-timers such as party president Patrick Oboi Amuriat, national chairperson Wasswa Biriggwa, secretary general Nathan Nandala Mafabi and vice chairperson eastern region Proscovia Salaamu Musumba are still very much part of the picture.
“You can’t just be radical and say everybody in leadership should be a youth,” Mr Lubega said. “We still need our elders to guide us because they have a lot of experience,” he adds.
Opening Pandora’s Box
Former Obongi MP Hassan Kaps Fungaroo was tapped to replace Ms Ingrid Turinawe as the party’s national mobilisation secretary, opening up the Pandora’s Box.
Ms Turinawe, who for years had been a key cog in FDC’s mobilisation strategy, ceased being a party member when she decided to stand as an independent in Rukungiri Municipality in the recently concluded elections.
Riding on the fact that the country home of Dr Besigye is found in Rukungiri Municipality, the FDC had dominated the areas’ politics since the constituency was created in 2010 with Mr Roland Mugume Kaginda being the MP for two consecutive terms.
This dominance ended this year and FDC officials blame Ms Turinawe for splitting the votes that ensured that Dr Wallen Niwagaba Tumwiine, the FDC candidate, loses to NRM’s Elisa Rutahigwa and party officials seem not to have forgiven her.
“She wanted to show that she can win without the party,” Mr Lubega says. “But we are still hurt by her decision because Rukungiri Municipality is the home of Dr Besigye and it’s now being represented by the NRM because of Ingrid’s decision to stand yet the incumbent, Honourable Kaginda, conceded and he is now FDC deputy president Western Uganda.”
Asked if she will reapply to join FDC, as per the party’s constitution, Ms Turinawe said there was no need to hurry her. “I know what I must do to rejoin but I’m taking my time. There is no need to hurry. Rejoining is a very simple process,” Ms Turinawe says.
For Mr Fungaroo, his appointment seems to have been made to try and counter NRM’s dominance in West Nile and to a greater extent northern Uganda.
“We must do something about northern Uganda,” a worried Adeke says. “It seems we have lost a lot of ground there,” she adds.
Following Fungaroo’s appointment, Lubega seemed to re-echo the same analysis: “Honourable Kaps [Fungaroo] who comes from the north will help us. He is a good mobiliser and the Opposition didn’t do well in the north.”
Though Mr Fungaroo lost his seat, in the entire West Nile FDC was the only Opposition party that managed to scoop parliamentary seats: Maracha East County and Jonam County.
FDC deputy presidents
Anna Adeke Ebaju - Eastern
Erias Lukwago - Buganda
Reagan Okumu - Northern
Nzoghu William - Western
FDC vice chairpersons
Kibuuka Mukalazi - Buganda
JB Okello Okello - North
Salaamu Musumba - East
Roland K Mugume - West