What you need to know:
- Months after President Museveni was sworn in to extend his rule since 1986, the Opposition, which is now led by the National Unity Platform (NUP) party, seemed to be in disarray on how best they would confront the regime. But last week, the unveiling of a loose political coalition called the People’s Front for Transition once again compounded the equation, writes Derrick Kiyonga.
On the evening of October 6, in what would appear to be a choreographed move, several social media accounts of supporters of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party shared a letter from Conservative Party leader John Ken Lukyamuzi, one of FDC founding president Kizza Besigye’s longest and staunchest Opposition allies.
“We cordially invite you to the launch of the People’s Front for Transition scheduled for Thursday, October 7, 2021, starting at 9.30am at the Jeema headquarters at Mengo, Rubaga Division,” Mr Lukyamuzi, a former MP for Rubaga South, who describes himself as a member of the interim executive committee, wrote.
In the invitation, Lukyamuzi sought to define what the People’s Front for Transition is all about, saying “It is an all-inclusive form comprising: willing political entities, citizen formations, civil society organisations, eminent citizens jointly mobilising and organising for a non-violent resistance aimed at procuring a democratic transition in Uganda.”
What Mr Lukyamuzi announced has been a result of meetings between several Opposition forces who think that after the elections, President Museveni’s regime hasn’t been put under pressure like the case was previously.
The template was laid in 2011 when after the general election a loose coalition of Opposition activists called Activists for Change (A4C) led protests called walk-to-work and Dr Besigye came out as the poster boy of the protests.
And in 2016, Dr Besigye again inspired a defiance campaign and the same was expected from Opposition groups following this year’s contested presidential elections.
In May, when the campaign period came to an end following the decision by NUP leader Robert Kyagulanyi, aka Bobi Wine, to withdraw his petition at the Supreme Court challenging Mr Museveni’s victory, there was a lack of direction on what exactly the Opposition was to do next.
In the aftermath of the withdrawal, Kyagulanyi said he was taking the case to the court of public opinion, but this call wasn’t clear enough as to whether it aimed at calling his supporters on the streets and the only effect it had was internet memes conjured by his supporters as they appeared to be mocking the judges they called “prejudiced.”
As Mr Kyagulanyi was thinking of what to do next, his former allies Walter Lubega Mukaaku and Michael Mabikke, who he had fallen out with, were hatching a plot to create another Opposition movement.
Mukaaku, in particular, was among the few individuals that supported Kyagulanyi’s bid to become Kyadondo East MP in 2017 leading to the birth of the People Power movement, which morphed into NUP.
“We realised that the movement we had started had been hijacked by the regime. We had to start all over again with other people,” Mukaaku said in a recent interview with this writer.
In the last few months, Mukaaku and Mabikke have held talks with Dr Besigye, his ally Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago, Mr Peter Walubiri, who leads a faction of the Uganda Peoples Congress, and Jeema’s secretary general Muhammad Kateregga, who has turned out to be a key pillar in this coalition.
On the other hand, Mr Asuman Basalirwa, the Jeema president, did not take part in the formation of this coalition, perhaps fearing the ire of NUP supporters who claim that if it wasn’t for the support he got from Mr Kyagulanyi, he wouldn’t be in Parliament where he is representing Bugiri Municipality since winning a by-election in 2018.
Mr Basalirwa consequently left Mr Kateregga, founding president of Jeema Kibirige Mayanja, and former secretary general Omar Kalinge Nyango to lead the party during the talks. He was said to be out of the country when the coalition was being launched.
“I can’t say much,” Mr Basalirwa said when asked about the coalition before referring this writer to Mr Kateregga “for more information”.
When the coalition’s activities were launched on October 7, the talking point was the non-appearance of Mr Kyagulanyi or any of his top lieutenants, sparking off talk that has come to define the Opposition since 2017; that the group had come to rival NUP as they prepare for the 2026 elections.
Dr Besigye, sources say, had anticipated this and while trying to put together this coalition he had sought out Mr Kyagulanyi and Mr David Lewis Rubongoya, NUP’s secretary general, but they rejected his advances, saying they needed to consult more.
Sources say Dr Besigye met with Mr Kyagulanyi in South Africa recently, but still the former Kyadondo East MP couldn’t commit to joining the coalition.
“Nature hates a vacuum,” Mukaaku explained on how they tried to reach out to the NUP leadership. “Even politics hates a vacuum. If they are not willing to lead, others will lead. We called them and they didn’t respond so we have to move forward.”
Officially, NUP’s response has been that although they welcome the coalition, they are not ready to join.
“We welcome them. We shall work together as long as we have the same goals of dislodging the government,” NUP’s mouthpiece Joel Ssenyonyi has repeatedly said.
What NUP isn’t saying officially is that they fear that going into a coalition that has dominant figures such as Dr Besigye, Mr Kyagulanyi, who is clearly warming up for the next presidential elections, will be suffocated.
“We are seeing this as a plot for either Dr Besigye to relaunch his political career, or an effort by the FDC to launch a presidential bid for Lukwago,” a NUP official, who preferred anonymity so that he can speak freely, said.
The coalition insists that, unlike NUP, they are not interested in elections and jostling for elective positions. But rather they are creating a vessel, which can be led by any person, as long as their aim is to bring down Mr Museveni’s regime.
“I don’t need a position or name in order to fight. Whether I have a name or a position, I will keep on fighting,” Dr Besigye said during the launch of the coalition.
The coalition has also been dismissed as a group of people who have failed politically, thus it lacks traction. Those holding such views cite coalition members such as Lukyamuzi, who failed in Rubaga South, Mukaaku, who failed in Rubaga South, Mabikke, who failed to recapture Makindye East, and Sulaiman Kidandala, who failed in Kawempe North, among others.
“Yes, we didn’t go through during elections but this is not about elections. It’s about saving Uganda from tyranny. Those in Parliament can lead us from there but we need leaders on the street to mobilise the people,” Mukaaku says.
“When we supported Kyagulanyi in Kyadondo East they didn’t chase us, but now they are calling us political failures after they hijacked a movement we had started,” Mukaaku adds.
Ultimately, the battle has gone down between two parties: FDC and NUP.
NUP officials, who have spoken to this writer, tend to think it is payback time. They say they won’t join the coalition just like FDC, Dr Besigye’s party, didn’t join People Power when it was formed in 2018 as an alliance of change-seeking forces.
FDC members, on the other hand, accuse Mr Kyagulanyi in particular of being self-centred.
When Mr Kyagulanyi had just joined Parliament in 2017, Ms Betty Aol Ocan, then Leader of Opposition in Parliament, had sought to appoint him in the Shadow Cabinet as minister of Information, but he turned it down claiming that he was too busy.
“He has never wanted to work with other Opposition people,” an FDC official said of Mr Kyagulanyi on condition of anonymity so he could speak freely.
The idea that a coalition has been created to undercut NUP has been laughed off by the coalition leaders, with FDC president Patrick Oboi Amuriat making it clear that they do not need anybody’s permission to fight the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party.
“Leading Opposition in Parliament doesn’t have to lead any struggle against the dictator if they don’t wish, are not prepared or have no capacity to,” Amuriat tweeted last weekend. “[Nelson] Mandela led the struggle against apartheid in SA [South Africa] from outside parliament. FDC doesn’t need anybody’s permission to struggle.”
The architects of the People’s Front for Transition insist that by discussing who is leading it, people are missing the point.
“We must discuss the crisis in the country, not who should lead the struggle. The debate should be about the crisis Uganda faces. My view is that we need a grand reset - we must have a transition from this chaotic junta and restructure the country to go ahead,” Dr Besigye said.
Mr Lukwago, who will once again deputise Dr Besigye, has been equally forceful in pushing back.
“The conversation generated by the launch of the People’s Front for Transition may be laced with a tinge of distortion and slander from the opposing forces, but some of us choose, in good faith, to flip the positive side of it,” Mr Lukwago says.
“The discussion about political madness and trajectory for your motherland, on either side of the political aisle, is gaining momentum by the day. I’m quite optimistic and confident that this heated debate will ultimately yield consensus among the change-seeking forces. It is better we speak up and discuss all the options instead of keeping quiet and let events take their own course,” he adds.
Inevitably, there are question marks over what has happened to previous endeavours speared headed by the Besigye-Lukwago axis.
For instance, what were the tangible results from the People’s Government that came into existence following Dr Besigye’s decision to swear himself in as winner of the 2016 presidential elections?
What happened to previous campaigns such as Tubalemese (let’s stop them)? There was also the Twerwaneko (let’s defend ourselves).
In response, Dr Besigye and his allies have insisted that as long as the NRM is still in leadership, they will keep on coming with different ways of mobilising Ugandans.
“Let’s have media-moderated, public discussions (Kimeeza) among Uganda’s change-seeking political actors on the following: (1) is there need for political transition and if yes, what kind? (2) What is the best strategy for ending NRM/M7 [Museveni] gun rule? (3) How would a transition be managed?” Dr Besigye said recently.
“Such discussions would help us and the public to clearly understand Uganda’s political, social and economic crisis (if any); agree on the best way to deal with it, and isolate any the many confusing agents,” he added.
When the coalition’s activities were launched on October 7, the talking point was the non-appearance of Mr Kyagulanyi or any of his top lieutenants, sparking off talk that the group had come to rival NUP as they prepare for the 2026 elections.