Still smarting from the controversial loss in the Soroti East parliamentary by-election last week, leading Opposition leaders Kizza Besigye and Robert ‘Bobi Wine’ Kyagulanyi say they will join forces as they explore new ways of regime change.
At a press conference called at a Kampala hotel yesterday to announce their pledge to collaborate, leaders of the main opposition parties refused to rule out boycotting future elections.
“We might participate in some elections but the message will have to change,” David Lewis Rubongoya, secretary general of Bobi Wine’s National Unity Platform (NUP) told this newspaper.
“The question of boycott is still under discussion and when we conclude, we shall inform the public.”
Bobi Wine was declared runner-up in the 2021 presidential election with 35 percent of the vote – roughly the same share of the vote that Besigye won when he last ran against President Museveni in 2016.
Opposition parties signed a loose cooperation agreement in 2020 as the “united forces of change” but suspicion and mistrust prevented them from fielding joint candidates in the presidential and parliamentary elections.
Bobi Wine was seen as Besigye’s protégé but the two officials differed on strategy ahead of the 2021 election. The older politician, who ran for president in 2001, 2006, 2011 and 2016, argued that elections under current conditions could not deliver a change in government, and called for mass protests instead.
However, Bobi Wine, who was running in his first presidential race after at the end of just his first term in Parliament, publicly disagreed and accused Besigye of participating in elections while also condemning them. He promised to deliver a “knockout” against the incumbent.
That confidence was shaken by the violent nature of the campaigns, in which scores were killed by security forces and hundreds of Opposition supporters arrested and detained without trial. It has since been stirred by bruising by-election contests for the Kayunga District chairperson, and the parliamentary races in Omoro Country and Soroti East. The Opposition has challenged the results in all the races.
Following those setbacks, Bobi Wine, an award-winning musician in his other life, sang a different tune at yesterday’s event, calling for closer cooperation.
“Friends let us unite,” he said, “in a real sense of unity and this message doesn’t only go to leaders at presidential or MP levels but at all levels. You notice friends that we have made it easy for Museveni by fighting each other, we have changed our targets from the enemy to each other and it’s unfortunate that even those that work closely with us are not making it easy for us to come together.”
Shift of power
Besigye, on the other hand, had an I-told-you-so tinge to his views about the shift of power through elections.
“Will it shift by those who captured us organising elections and that we come and vote, they say now you have power you can come and take over the country?” he asked rhetorically.
“It won’t happen and we are confirming today that elections in and of themselves cannot shift power from those who captured it with the guns to the people of Uganda.”
Officials familiar with the behind-the-scenes discussions told this newspaper that should a boycott be agreed, it could start with the next by-elections next month. NUP and Besigye’s Forum for Democratic Change have 57 and 32 MPs in the 529-seat House respectively. Other parties involved in the discussion include the People’s Progressive Party and Justice Forum which have one MP each.
Plans to build an Opposition alliance have become more urgent after the Democratic Party, which has nine MPs, recently signed a cooperation agreement with the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party, which saw its leader, Mr Norbert Mao, appointed Justice and Constitutional Affairs minister. The NRM already has a loose working relationship with Uganda Peoples Congress, which has 10 MPs.
Sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to speak freely, said Bobi Wine had convened several physical and virtual meetings with Besigye and officials of other opposition parties in recent weeks to bring them into one umbrella.
Although he remains a card-carrying member of FDC, Besigye leads a pressure group, the People’s Front for Transition which he has been using to rally popular protests against the rising cost of living. He was arrested during the last protest in June and spent two weeks in jail before being released on bail.
Sources told this newspaper that the Opposition officials have not ruled out calling for mass protests against what they see as injustices.
What they said
Besigye: “Our wealth which we had collected and was being managed collectively as our wealth was all taken away by these handful of people as we watched. The national wealth in terms of public assets that Uganda had in 1986 public assets all were privatised to these individuals who are holding the country captive and whatever else we produce, they use as they want, we have no say.”
Mr Erias Lukwago, the FDC deputy President: “It’s up to the people of Uganda, and as FDC we make a commitment to work hand-in-hand with our brothers and sisters in all the party formations that have committed themselves in this instrument to do whatever under our means within the provisions of Article 3 of the Constitution to defend the will of the people. It is important because the cornerstone of constitutionalism is upholding the will of the people.”
Asuman Basalirwa, Jeema President: “I want to invite colleagues to remember that in the recent past, each time we have had a by-election, it was a sure win for opposition but that possibility every day is disappearing that means the need for us to come together to discuss to engage the future of the country becomes necessary. It is now absolutely clear that Mr Museveni and NRM are provoking Ugandans.
Sadam Gayira , the President of PPP: “I want to thank the President of NUP for this initiative because it has been long overdue, we have been taking about it every day, every time but because of these differences, every initiative that have been doing to make sure that we come together has been in vain.”
By Derrick Wandera, Sylvia Katushabe & Dorothy Nagitta