Fifteen years ever since Uganda‘s biggest Opposition party, the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) was formed, the party is going to have a new face as its candidate for the Bugweri County MP slot found in the newly formed Bugweri District.
Mr Abdu Katuntu, who has been the incumbent, in a rather not surprising move, quit the FDC and later backtracked on his earlier promise of not standing again in next year’s parliamentary elections. Mr Katuntu was part of the Mugisha Muntu backers who quit the party in late 2017, once the retired Major General lost his post of FDC party presidency to Mr Patrick Oboi Amuriat.
Katuntu, though, didn’t join Muntu’s party, the Alliance for National Transformation (ANT), as it had been anticipated as he is now posing as an Independent.
With Katuntu seemingly out of the picture, youthful FDC turks such as lawyer Julius Galisonga and Ismail Dhakaba Kigongo, a former sports journalist and was working with the National Council of Sports until recently, were supposed to have a showdown via a party primary.
While the FDC’s internal elections roadmap indicated that party primaries at the parliamentary level were to be conducted in the August 16 to 20 window, that wasn’t the case for Bugweri, with the party being cagey as to how they would choose Katuntu’s replacement.
With nominations for candidates in respect of next year’s general election getting closer, something had to give way.
On September 6, as the NRM and the country at large were reeling from the ruling party’s chaotic, if not bloody primaries, an FDC committee led by the party’s acting electoral commission chief Boniface Toterebuka Bamwenda, whose job has been to vet candidates for various posts across the country, handed Kigongo the unpalatable news: Galisonga is their man.
With FDC not holding a primary, Kigongo protested the committee’s findings, but still this wasn’t a surprise to him.
Earlier, rumours had indicated that Najjanankumbi favoured Galisonga and this prompted Kigongo to write a petition querying the shenanigans that were seemingly going on.
“I have personally made contact with the party officials in regard to seeking an explanation as to why we are having a delay and I am yet to get an answer,” Kigongo wrote in an August 22 a petition to Bamwenda.
“This is part of the reason I decided to put my communication in writing. In addition, the party delegates in Bugweri have received information, largely through the radio, that there will not be party primaries in Bugweri as the flag bearer has already been chosen.”
“It cannot be the case since there is more than one aspirant for that position in the constituency. This has created unnecessary anxiety within the party ranks that I beg that is arrested sooner as we approach nominations and the election. This letter is intended to request you to step in and communicate the venue, date and time of the party primaries or a decision made by the party in regard to Bugweri County.”
Sources say Galisonga and Kigongo, in response, were summoned to Najjanankumbi two weeks or so ago and they had to pitch to the vetting committee on why they think they deserve to be the FDC flag bearers for this constituency found on the Iganga-Busia Highway in eastern Uganda.
66 FDC delegates
According to sources that attended the meeting, Kigongo buttressed his candidature on the basis that he has been in touch with the 66 FDC delegates of Bugweri County, while Galisonga said he is best placed to take on opponents from all other parties since he had put his emphasis on the constituents.
Several sources interviewed for this story say Galisonga had always been sceptical of a primary since the delegates who vote are seen as Katuntu loyalties who were out to upend the lawyer’s candidature since he is seen as a favourite of Nathan Nandala Mafabi, the FDC’s secretary general.
Mafabi and Katuntu, according to those familiar with the FDC, don’t see eye to eye and that the Budadiri West MP, who just like Katuntu has been in Parliament since 2001, is out to see that the former Shadow Attorney General doesn’t come back to Parliament.
The Katuntu-Mafabi feud can be traced to 2011 when then FDC president Kizza Besigye choose Mafabi as the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, angering Katuntu who felt he had what it takes to lead the Opposition.
FDC would have got rid of the Katuntu loyalties from its structures between March and April, but this couldn’t be possible as mass meetings had been banned across the country following the advent of Covid-19.
But choosing a candidate for such a contentious seat without party primaries is bound to raise legal issues for the FDC. First, article 33 (a) of the party’s constitution stipulates that there shall be primaries held to determine the party candidate for each parliamentary election.
In late 2015, as the 2016 General Elections was getting closer, the said article was used to hurt the party. Back then, Christopher Acire, the former Gulu Municipality MP, and Reagan Okumu, FDC’s national vice president for northern Uganda, rumbled for Aswa County.
Acire dashed to the High Court in Gulu Town, accusing the FDC’s electoral commission of handpicking Okumu.
Justice Margaret Mutoni reacted by declaring that both Acire and Okumu should run as Independents since the party had not held a primary.
But before the elections could be held, the Court of Appeal, much to the relief of Okumu, intervened and stayed Justice Mutoni’s ruling.
Even when Okumu emerged victor in the February 2016 election, Acire unsuccessfully challenged his victory in the High Court on grounds that Okumu had campaigned “as if he was an FDC candidate” which he said was contrary to the High Court judgement.
It was only in August that Okumu and Acire reconciled in Gulu District in a peace deal brokered by the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament Betty Aol Ochan and Amuriat – effectively ending a rivalry that had spanned more than a decade.
Five years later, it seems FDC is back to the same spot, this time in Bugweri and perhaps other constituencies. Though party primaries have been held in Jinja, Kasese, Mbale, Ngora, Soroti, inter alia, the party hasn’t yet given a proper explanation as to why they don’t hold a primary in Bugweri where both candidates felt they were strong enough to carry the party’s mandate.
‘FDC should explain’
In a phone interview, Galisonga, who is a managing partner at Galisonga & Co Advocates, says it is the party that can explain reasons as to why there was no primaries in Bugweri yet there were primaries in other areas.
“I can only say I made a presentation showing how I have been mobilising in Bugweri for a long time and it’s okay this should be debated by everybody. There is no problem with that. I’ve been able to show that I’ve been on the ground for a long time,” Galisonga says.
Mr Harold Kaija, FDC’s deputy secretary general, who seats on the vetting committee, in an interview wouldn’t explain, but he referred this writer to Bamwenda, arguing that he is best placed to explain since such issues fall in the docket of the party’s electoral commission.
Prodded why there was no primary in Bugweri, Bamwenda’s response was instructive: “We had a petition from the Bugweri FDC leadership asking us not to conduct a primary. They supported Galisonga and we went through the petition and we agreed with them. The problem both of these guys are our members and they are too good, but we had to make a decision. Even when you conduct a primary, losers still decide to stand as Independents.”
Kigongo reacted to Galisonga’s nomination by writing to the FDC, complaining about “the unfairness of the process” adopted by the party.
“The party electoral commission resolved and communicated in a meeting on Sunday, September 6, that lasted less than five minutes that my colleague Julius Galisonga had been given the flag because he was ‘a better candidate’,” Kigongo said. “I find this quite odd and ambiguous as there were no clear reasons stated other than the panel verbally informing me they based on what we had presented before the commission a week prior and their own research within Bugweri.”
In the petition, Kigongo made it clear that Galisonga’s nomination is in contravention of the conduct of the party primary elections earlier communicated by the party which stipulate the first step in case there is more than one aspirant is consensus building.
In case this isn’t reached, Kigongo noted, then the party electoral commission should conduct primaries.
“None of this was done,” he said, “In addition, the delegates that constitute the electoral college were never consulted and this implies that the decision you reached cannot be binding for them.”
One of the requests Kigongo has asked of the FDC is to rescind the order, in the bid to forge a way forward but it seems Najjanankumbi has made up its mind.
This means Galisonga, who going by his first name, isn’t Muslim, is going to stand in this deeply Islamic constituency and this, according to many observers of Bugweri politics, would be used against him during the coming months of campaigns that are riddled with blackmail and digging up of dirt.
Perhaps Galisonga is going to need Kigongo’s help if he is to get the vital Muslim vote.
“It’s very hard to see how Galisonga, a non-Muslim, will win the election,” a source said.
Galisonga isn’t alone, NRM’s Daniel Joseph Ibaale, who too is non-Muslim, who in 2016 was beaten by Katuntu by a difference of 401 votes, controversially won the party’s ticket to have a go at the seat once more.
This means the only Muslim candidates who are interested in the seat are, Kigongo, Katuntu and former journalist Sulaiman Kakaire of ANT, who had claimed to be Katuntu’s heir apparent before the veteran politician made a dramatic U-turn to stand for the fifth time.
NRM’s Daniel Joseph Ibaale, who too is non-Muslim, who in 2016 was beaten by Katuntu by a difference of 401 votes, controversially won the party’s ticket to have a go at the seat once more. This means that the only Muslim candidates who are interested in the seat are, Katuntu and former journalist Suleiman Kakaire of ANT, who had claimed to be Katuntu’s heir apparent before the veteran politician made a dramatic U-turn to stand for the fifth time.