Why FDC risks suffering same fate as DP

This photo combo created on August 8, 2023 shows former FDC party president Dr Kizza Besigye (L), current FDC president Patrick O Amuriat (C) and secretary general Nathan Nandala Mafabi. 

What you need to know:

  • Crisis. In 2010, against the advice of party elders who had warned that the party risked disintegration, DP leadership proceeded with the ill-fated Mbale delegates’ conference.
  • In light of the previous week’s events which were marred by fights, Derrick Kiyonga writes that the FDC risks taking a similar path.

Even before the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) elders committee could release a report on investigations into money that is claimed to have originated from State House, the Opposition outfit seemed to be on point of no return.

Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda, the party’s spokesperson who has led a faction of the party that is accusing FDC secretary general Nathan Nandala Mafabi and Patrick Oboi Amuriat, the party’s president, of bringing in the disputed money, said the report had been doctored in favour of Mafabi and Amuriat.

Ssemujju, who is also the Kira Municipality legislator, offered to resign his party position if both Mafabi and Amuriat resign such that a committee is instituted to investigate how the party has been run by the duo. 

“Nandala and Amuriat can no longer be FDC leaders. And you think the FDC is still involved in the struggle to remove Museveni? If they were gentlemen, they would step aside. If they think that Ssemujju is a bad man, I would also step aside, and then the party would identify some other leaders who are not party to the storm,” Ssemujju said.  

Mr Ssemujju Nganda (left) and Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago engage during the National Consultative Meeting at Nsambya Sharing Hall in Kampala on July 17, 2023. PHOTO/ ISAAC KASAMANI

The FDC elders’ report didn’t go as far as exonerating Mafabi, but it said he had accounted for the money.

The elders said during their interface with Mafabi, he explained that he had mobilised some money for FDC election agents but that Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) had always garnished his accounts during the period for elections, so he requested Dr Kizza Besigye, FDC’s founding president, to keep for him Shs300 million which the latter willingly accepted.

“He showed the committee evidence of the bank statement indicating the money that he withdrew from his account in Stanbic Bank Kyambogo which was to the tune of Shs500 million,” the FDC’s elders report partly read.

Though the elders, who were led by Frank Nabwiso, the former Kagoma MP, called for tolerance “since there is no one who is perfect”, there is no indication that the parties involved are about to reconcile.

Doreen Nyanjura, the Kampala City deputy lord mayor – who is part of the faction that wants to oust Mafabi and Amuriat – penned a dossier rubbishing the elders’ report.   

“Honourable Nandala casually tells the committee that he ‘mobilised’ some money for agents and requested Dr Besigye to keep it for him. He does not provide any details of where he mobilised the money from and under what conditions (terms of repayment and duration if it was a loan),” Nyanjura said, adding that though Mafabi said the money was repaid by Dr Besigye on election day (January 14, 2021, and the following day January 15, 2021,) the FDC secretary general did not elaborate if it was expended on the payment of agents.

Opposition politician Doreen Nyanjura. PHOTO/FILE

Though the FDC elders said Mafabi “demonstrated that the money was from ‘legitimate’ sources” and he intimated that the money he lent to the party would be paid back with no interest, Nyanjura said they weren’t convinced Mafabi morphed from being a mobiliser of the money, to the actual lender to the party.

“In short, he was the one who identified the funding gap [amount] to be filled, mobilised the lender, quickly became the lender and then wrote off the interest before going on to appropriate and spend the money,” Nyanjura said, adding that Nandala Mafabi was the alpha and omega and star of this “movie of dirty money.”

“Unfortunately for him, he does not satisfactorily answer the question of who was the ‘lender’ or source of this money. In such circumstances, a reasonable guess is that the lender is a ghost or a heavenly angel!” she said.

Mafabi has, however, defended the source of the money for the 2021 campaigns, while accusing the Katonga group of double standards. 

One of the founding fathers of the opposition FDC, Dr Kizza Besigye, gestures as he addresses journalists at his Katonga Road offices in Kampala on July 19, 2023. PHOTO/ABUBAKER LUBOWA

The party, he said at a recent press conference, used to carry a healthier election war chest up to the 2016 polls with FDC spending more than Shs10 billion. However, in the last elections, only Shs3 billion was mobilised for Mr Amuriat to run a severely restricted campaign.

Breakdown of DP
The factions that emerged in FDC mirror those that led to the breakdown of the Democratic Party (DP).

DP, which was formed in 1954, had a history rife with tales of factionalism, intrigue and backstabbing. 

In the aftermath of independence in 1962, some DP members led by Basil Bataringaya, then Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, moved to depose their party leader, Benedicto Kiwanuka, who was not in Parliament.

Bataringaya supposedly thought he should be the leader of DP because Kiwanuka was “rigid”. After failing in his endeavours, Bataringaya formed a DP faction, which did not last long before he decamped to Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC).

In 2000, Marianu Drametu, who had been appointed secretary general to replace Maria Mutagamba who had decamped to the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM), organised a conference at which the delegates elected Francis Bwengye as DP President. 

Bwengye and his clique maintained that Paul Kawanga Ssemogerere, then DP president, had failed to organise elections for a long time because he wanted to cling on to power. 

Bwengye’s faction ended up disappearing. In 2008, DP ended up in another crisis when Mathias Nsubuga, who has since passed on, was controversially elected secretary general at a guest house in Rubaga Division, Kampala, during an impromptu national council meeting that lasted less than one hour.

The Mbale delegates’ conference of 2010 that led to the election of Nobert Mao as DP’s president general exacerbated the situation as key senior members didn’t participate in it.

Samuel Lubega withdrew from the race, contending that it would not be worthwhile going into a process that was allegedly already rigged. 

Erias Lukwago, then DP legal advisor; Betty Nambooze, then party spokesperson, and Lulume Bayiga, now Buikwe South MP, shunned the event. 

Members of the Democratic Party (DP) cross over to the National Unity Platform (NUP) in 2020. PHOTO/MICHAEL KAKUMIRIZI

Eminent DP members such as Ssemogerere, who has since passed on, and Prof Frederick Ssempebwa, warned that more chaos would follow if the meeting went ahead if concerns raised by some party members were not first addressed.

In a letter dated February 14, 2010, and addressed to Ssebaana Kizito, then outgoing president general of DP, Ssemogerere and Ssempebwa cautioned: “We once again appeal to you in the interest of our party and of our country to reconsider the unilateral courses of action you are taking under your separate forums, no matter how justified you might feel and work for a meaningful way out of the prevailing crisis.” 

DP, under the stewardship of Mao, has since disintegrated with many of its key members from the Buganda sub-region joining the National Unity Platform (NUP). 

Though FDC seemed to have weathered the storm when in 2017 Mugisha Muntu and other senior party members quit when Amuriat became president, the latest standoff has left the party that was formed in 2005 on the brink of collapse.

One of the contestations that has seemed to divide FDC is Besigye‘s office found on Katonga Road in Nakasero. When Besigye was quitting the FDC presidency in 2012, before his term would expire, he said he was going to focus more on activism at his office away from the FDC offices in Najjanankumbi. 

Besigye delivers his speech, in the background is Mugisha Muntu. Photo by Abubaker Lubowa

Muntu, who had taken over from Besigye, complained about the office saying it undermines the Najjanankumbi operations.  

Back then, Amuriat, who was the main figure in the Katonga office operations, preached defiance as a key in getting rid of Museveni’s rule and defended the operations of the office.  

“I know the people who work from Katonga. This is not a faction of FDC. Viewers have to know that there is a people’s government recognised by Najjanankumbi. The people’s government acts on behalf of NEC [National Executive Committee] at Najjanankumbi. Besigye is the people’s president. I have a position in the people’s government. I’m the minister of works and transport and I’m proud of it,” Amuriat said in 2017.

Yet in a change of positions, Amuriat has come out against the Katonga offices. 
“The fact is that we have two centres of power now (Najjanankumbi and Katonga). The trouble that our party members get now is who to listen to. This gap needs to be closed for the party to survive because we are all FDC,” Amuriat said at a press conference he organised with Nandala Mafabi at the FDC headquarters recently, adding that party members should acknowledge his leadership as its president as well as that of the secretary general Mafabi. 

On his part, Besigye had defended the Katonga offices, saying they were about unifying the Opposition from different political parties.  

“It’s about the unity of political actors, regardless of their political parties and undertaking activities that can cause political change of the country,” Besigye defended his offices recently. “Katonga isn’t partisan and it shouldn’t be seen as conflicting with the party.”      

In their report, the FDC elders admitted that strong differences have developed between Besigye and Mafabi arising from their supports’ interpretations of the importance of elections and activism in Uganda’s struggle for democracy. 

Dr Frank Nabwiso displays some of the books he has authored since retiring from active politics at his home in Iganga Municipality in July 2023. PHOTO/DENIS EDEMA 

The pro-Besigye and pro-Mafabi groups, the elders noted, are generally referred to as the “Katonga” and “Najjanankumbi”, respectively.  

“Some people in the ‘Katonga group’ are believed to have lost hope in future elections, while the ‘Najjanankumbi group’ believes that they should continue to participate in elections despite the rigging, violence, intimidation and other criminal acts which have taken place from 1996 to date,” the report says, adding that the pro-Katonga group believe that activism is the most important avenue through which they can sell their policies to the public, open the political space and defeat electoral autocracy in the country.

While the Katonga group, the elders noted, does not believe anymore in elections, Mafabi and his group believe that if FDC stops conducting elections it will vanish from Uganda’s political map.  

The elders pointed out that activism is unanimously accepted as one of the strategies which have been used to bring down some dictatorial regimes around the world, hence it needs to be supported by the FDC mainstream at Najjanankumbi.  

“The committee is of the view that the Katonga and Najjanankumbi groups are still superficial divisions and stem from the failure to harmonise and integrate their major activities. Katonga is not a breakaway group or irreconcilable with the leaders at the party headquarters at Najjanankumbi who are in charge of implementing the party’s work plans,” the elder’s report noted.