Who will take up the reins in FDC parallel leadership? 

FDC national chairman Wasswa Birigwa. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • Forum for Democratic Change’s (FDC) founding president Kizza Besigye and his confidants have been moving across the country under the banner christened “FDC rescue team”.
  • But as Derrick Kiyonga writes, if the extra-ordinary meeting Besigye’s faction want to host on Tuesday, September 19, is successful, it will be the first time the party will have two sets of leaders at the same time.

By the end of Tuesday, September 19, Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party – until recently the biggest Opposition political party – will most likely have a parallel leadership, ending years priding in stable leadership without factions.

After months of disarray that have seen the youth engage in running battles at the party’s headquarters in Najjanankumbi, a Kampala suburb, a faction led by FDC founding president Kizza Besigye will host what they have called an extra-ordinary delegates’ conference at Nature’s Green Beach Resort Busabala, Wakiso District. Police have, however, come out to say the meeting will not take place because “it could result in violence”.

Sources say by the end of this extraordinary meeting, FDC will be having an interim party president, a position currently held by Patrick Oboi Amuriat; interim secretary general, currently held by Nathan Nandala Mafabi; and interim treasurer, currently held by Geoffrey Ekanya.

It’s not clear who will take up those positions in the interim, but so far sources say Moses Okot Bitek, the Kioga County Member of Parliament (MP), and former Bugabula South MP Proscovia Salaamu Musumba, are interested in the presidency seat, while Kira Municipality MP Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda has for a long time eyed the secretary general slot.

This is in line with Dr Besigye’s proposal of having interim leadership as the party sorts out its internal contradictions.

“The national delegates’ conference is our best option to address the direction in which some FDC members are taking us. This conference serves as the supreme policy-making body of the party,” Dr Besigye said last week. “Therefore, the top priority for the conference should be to nullify those divisive elections.”

The Nandala-Amuriat faction has, however, laughed off the idea that the delegates’ conference will solve the issues bedevilling FDC.

“You can’t solve such problems through such gatherings,” Walid Mulindwa Lubega, the head of FDC’s youth strand, says. “The best way to solve such issues is through holding small meetings at people’s homes like we did previously when he had Mafabi-Gen [Mugisha] Muntu crisis.”   

This would be the first time in FDC’s 18-year-old history that the party has parallel leadership opposed to Najjanankumbi’s leadership.

Factions have been familiar with the Democratic Party (DP) and Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC), with FDC having a history of holding delegates’ conferences where positions have been contested since 2005, with no factions emerging.

FDC held its delegates’ conference in the fall of 2005, about a year after it had been formed. But there were no competitive elections as it was agreed by the party’s national executive council (NEC) that positions will be got by consensus. This meant there would not be rivalry between or among members for a specific post.  

Ms Beti Kamya, who is now the government Ombudsman, left the conference agitated after two of her attempts to get a top leadership didn’t bear any fruit.

At first, Kamya sought to become FDC’s national chairperson but the members favoured Suleiman Kiggundu, who later passed on.

Kiggundu, a Muganda like Kamya, was preferred a head of Kamya because of his national and international stature and on the balance of merit, he was a better candidate for that position.

Kamya’s response was to write an angry email to the party NEC members, reprimanding them for what she termed as importing newcomers to the party’s top leadership yet there are those, like her, who had been around for a long time and had forfeited a lot for it.

Kamya wasn’t done after losing to Kiggundu. She, together with Augustine Ruzindana from Ntungamo, western Uganda, and Kassiano Wadri from Terego, West Nile, eyed the position of secretary general.

Just like other positions in the country, it was clear that at this point, regionalism was going to be key in how positions were given out.

With Besigye, from western Uganda becoming president, with Kiggundu from central taking the position of party chairperson, the easterners were quick to ask for a position in the FDC’s national leadership.

On top of that, there was also a need to have females among FDC’s honchos and it was on those grounds that Ruzindana and Wadri were swayed to withdraw their interest and abandoned the race.

Ms Alice Alaso, then the Woman MP for Serere District, entered the race. Alaso ticked the boxes as she is female and also comes from Teso, eastern Uganda.

So with Alaso becoming secretary general, FDC would solve both the gender issue and representation of the east in the party’s executive hierarchy. The national council tried to explain to Kamya why they had chosen Alaso.

By this time, Kamya would not accept to lose without a fight. She decided to go down fighting. She told the members that she would present her candidature to the delegates’ conference, which would determine her fate through a vote. She and Alaso were nominated for secretary general.

When the post was put to vote, Alaso won. Kamya cried foul and said the process had been manipulated and that Buganda was being marginalised. Kamya would eventually leave FDC in 2008 when Kiggundu died and she demanded a right to replace him even before the national delegates’ conference. 

She said the position of national chairman belonged to Baganda. The conflict between FDC and her intensified when FDC appointed John Butime, from Tooro, western Uganda, the national chairman.

Kamya said Buganda had been marginalised. She started mobilising the FDC Buganda leadership against the party with FDC leaders now accusing her of being a State mole.

“There are people who are Baganda haters, it is unfortunate,” Kamya who at the time was representing Rubaga North in Parliament, said. “I get very concerned that the party I have worked for and I have committed myself to does things that made us leave the Movement (NRM).”

When FDC later organised a delegates conference Sam Kalega Njuba, a Muganda, emerged victor.  With Kamya gone, FDC found itself at a crossroads after the 2012 delegates’ conference that saw Gen Mugisha Muntu defeat Mafabi for the position of party president. 

Mafabi toyed with the idea of forming his own political party, with a section of supporters of FDC in Bukedi and Elgon sub-region addressing a press conference in Mbale City, where they confirmed that a new political party was in the offing.

Although Mafabi traversed the country, saying he was consulting delegates who had voted for him he didn’t follow through with his threat to form a new political party.

After the elections, a tribunal that had been instituted to investigate the 2012 elections concluded that the post-election row between FDC politicians Mafabi and Muntu had turned out to be a big threat to the cohesion of the party.

Besigye and then deputy secretary general Augustine Ruzindana said the upheaval had its origin in the post-election “bad blood” between Mafabi and Muntu.

The party’s unity, however, couldn’t survive the fallout of the 2017 delegates’ conferences that saw Amuriat, who was backed by Besigye, defeat Muntu who had the backing of Alaso, then Leader of Opposition in Parliament Winfred Kiiza, Bugweri County MP Abdu Katuntu, Wadri, among others.    

After months of being coy, Muntu and his lieutenants formed their own party, the Alliance for Transformation (ANT). 

With Muntu gone, the expectation was that FDC would pull in the same direction. But it has emerged that the party is headed to split following the alleged failure by Amuriat and Mafabi to explain the source of large sums of money that were used in elections.  

“President Museveni is happy to fund elections because he knows the outcomes and will even give you money for campaigns. He [Museveni] gives this money to disorganise the party and fight those who try to use other methods to dislodge him from power other than through elections, but secondly also fight those who try to unite other change-seeking people,” Besigye said last month. 

Mafabi and Amuriat have denied picking money from State House, but the thorny issue now is on who should organise the delegates’ conference after the grassroots elections were organised amid acrimony.   

While Amuriat and Mafabi have insisted that the party’s delegates’ conference will be on October 6, at the Uganda Manufacturers Association (UMA) grounds in Kampala, Wasswa Birigwa, the national chairman, who belongs to Besigye’s faction, insisted that it will be organised on September 19.

Perhaps to counter Mafabi’s influence among delegates, Besigye and his group have been crisscrossing the country under the umbrella “FDC rescue team”, convincing delegates to abandon the October 6 delegates’ conference.  

“I wouldn’t have taken sides, but because we must rescue our party. I have decided to take sides I belong to the FDC rescue team,” Emmanuel Orombi, the FDC chairperson for Nebbi District, said.

Besigye also visited Hoima, with the city’s Woman MP Asinansi Nyakato declaring after the meeting that “FDC is not for sale”.

Areas where Besigye hasn’t been successful are Amuriat’s backyard, Teso sub-region, where with the exception of Soroti District Woman MP Anna Ebaju Adeke, the rest of the FDC MPs have backed Mafabi and Amuriat.  

Adeke, sources familiar with her thinking, say she has been kicked out of FDC Teso structures after she decided to be neutral.

“She had decided not to take sides because she is very close to both Amuriat and Besigye, but this hasn’t gone down well with Amuriat,” a source within FDC, who preferred anonymity said.