FDC in disarray as chairman is held hostage 

FDC national chairman, Wasswa Birigwa scales the wall fence of the party offices in Najjanankumbi, Kampala, on July 20, 2021. This was after he was held hostage inside the premises for several hours. PHOTO | MICHAEL KAKUMIRIZI

What you need to know:

  • The thugs’ shocking actions would set the stage for the day’s drama -- against the backdrop of a difficult 48 hours characterised by more accusations and counter-accusations as open faction fighting raged inside FDC.

It was momentarily unclear yesterday as to who is now in charge at the embattled Forum for Democratic Change after both the national chairman and party president claimed they were held against their will inside their own headquarters in Najjanankumbi, Kampala.

Also not immediately clear was exactly who allowed a gang of thugs to hide inside the premises from where national chairman, Mr Wasswa Birigwa was forcefully prevented from addressing a scheduled media conference before journalists were attacked. 

The thugs’ shocking actions would set the stage for the day’s drama -- against the backdrop of a difficult 48 hours characterised by more accusations and counter-accusations as open faction fighting raged inside FDC.

A stand-off lasting more than five hours briefly eased after the national chairman was seen fleeing the premises after a most undignified escape. He fled after scaling the perimeter wall using a ladder. 

The usually composed former diplomat looked rather ruffled and positively upset even as he was whisked away aboard a mini-pick-up truck.

Later yesterday evening, a calmer-sounding Mr Birigwa told this newspaper that he suspects his party president was aware of the plan to take him hostage.

But in the immediate aftermath of his dramatic escape, Daily Monitor was able to reach party president, Mr Patrick Oboi Amuriat to find out why his chairman ended up in distress, only for him to reveal that he, too, faced a similar predicament.   “I am also held inside here. I have been warned that if I get out of the office, they will roast me alive,” Mr Amuriat, who was still inside the party offices at 6pm, said.

He was finally able to leave about 30 minutes later, telling this reporter over the phone that things quietened down after the national chairman left, which enabled him to slip away.

 When asked who had held them against their will, the party president first said he did not know, before saying that “one party is fighting the other”.

In the middle of the interview, Mr Amuriat had received a phone call from Mr Birgwa. He asked Daily Monitor to stay on line as he took the call. Mr Birigwa was overhead notifying his president over the phone that he had managed to escape, to which Mr Amuriat responded that he could not get out because the goons were threatening to stone his car.

“So you escaped and left me behind alone. You first get me some chicken. I am very hungry. I have not eaten since morning,” Mr Amuriat said, adding; “I can’t get out of the party [premises]. Let me just call the police to rescue me”.

 In the morning, moments after Mr Birigwa had been allowed to walk in, having abandoned his car outside, the gang of goons emerged and viciously set upon onlookers, including journalists.  Reporters fled for dear life in the ensuing chaos that left one journalist bleeding profusely from the mouth. It is feared the journalist may have lost some of her teeth in the assault.

Other journalists were robbed of their smartphones.

 The chaos attracted the attention of police officers who were aboard a patrol truck parked at a nearby supermarket. They intervened and rescued the situation, forcing the goons to retreat back inside the party offices.

A section of FDC supporters scale the gate of the party offices in Najjanankumbi, Kampala, yesterday. This was after the party’s national chairman, Mr Wasswa Birigwa, was held hostage inside the premises for several hours. PHOTO | MICHAEL KAKUMIRIZI

 Events had unfolded quickly after individuals believed to be security guards claimed they could not let Mr Birigwa in because keys to the gate were lost. After a brief stand-off, he was permitted to get in through a small gate, only to be locked in.

A noticeably unhappy Mr Birigwa sent Daily Monitor a Whatsapp voice note message saying: “I am still here, I have not moved yet. They have blocked me from getting out, so I am waiting to see what is going to happen next”.

 Four hours into the stand-off, other FDC supporters arrived at Najjanankumbi and started loudly demanding for Birigwa’s release to no avail.

 It was during this time that Daily Monitor was told by individuals inside the Najjanankumbi premises who, however, asked not to be named for fear of being victimised, that some party officials mobilised goons to ensure that Mr Birigwa did not address journalists.

 Although this newspaper did not immediately corroborate this claim, the individuals indicated that Mr Birigwa was going to announce his suspension of party grassroots elections which were slated to kick-off today.

 On top of allegations about multibillion corruption related to campaign finances, a suspected to plot to sell FDC to the ruling party, those elections are also at the heart of the ongoing unrest inside FDC.

 Mr Amuriat and FDC secretary general, Mr Nathan Nandala Mafabi are determined to proceed with the elections to pick new office bearers who will attend the party’s national delegates conference in November.

 “If the grassroot elections do not take place, we shall not have the register of the delegates who will convene in November to elect the national party leaders, including the party president,” Mr Amuriat said on Wednesday.

 But their opponents in the opposition faction led by FDC vice president for Buganda sub-region, Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago and party spokesman, Mr Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda, have demanded that they first sort out the wrangles and defer the elections.

 Yesterday, Mr Birigwa confirmed that he was, indeed, going to suspend the party structures’ elections because he thinks they should not be held until after the internal wrangles are solved.

 “They thought that I was going to suspend the elections which I already did but they are going ahead to organise the sham elections. That is not right,” he said last evening.

 He also maintained his earlier suspicions that Mr Amuriat was part of the plan to hold him against his will.

 “I suspect the party president and his team were behind my [being held] hostage,” he said later last evening, and also observed that the thugs were mobilised from Katwe (a township near Najjanankumbi) and appeared to be high on alcohol and marijuana.

 “They were all charged and looking in a very funny way,” Mr Birigwa said.

 The goons, whom he said warned him against trying to leave, numbered about 50.

Having apparently collected himself after escaping the ordeal, the FDC national chairman denied that Mr Amuriat was also held hostage.

 “The party president is lying. He was just scared of coming out because he thought the Katonga people were going to beat him. Let him also jump the wall. He is younger than me,” Mr Birigwa said.

 The Katonga people is a reference to a parallel opposition headquarters located in the plush Nakasero neighbourhood of central Kampala and operated by four-time presidential candidate and former FDC leader, Col (rtd) Kizza Besigye at Plot 6, Katonga Road.

Journalists beaten

At least five journalists, including; Ms China Ainembabazi (Urban Tv), Mr George Katoloba (Namirembe FM), Mr Charles Katamba (Sapienta ) Mr Moses Waiswa (Busoga One) and Mr Joseph Balikundembe (CBS FM) were beaten by the goons. Ms Ainembabazi is said to have lost her tooth after she was boxed, leaving her bleeding from the mouth. She was later hospitalised.

Four phones were snatched from the journalists by the goons.

Katamba said that he was able to recognise the person who beat him before snatching his phone. “The person who snatched my phone is a party supporter. I know him. I have been seeing him at the [FDC] party functions. Let the party ask the goons they mobilised to return our phones,” Mr Katamba  said.

Mr Amuriat yesterday said that FDC will pay for the phones which were snatched but did not say whether the party would also foot Ms Ainembabazi’s  medical bills.

“I condemn the goons who beat up journalists. It is unfortunate. The party is going to issue a statement in this regard later in the day,” he said.

Police spokesperson for Kampala Metropolitan Area, SSP Patrick Onyango advised all assault victims to record statements.

“The journalists who were assaulted or lost phones at FDC offices should report to the nearest police station for better management of their case,” SSP Onyango said in a statement.

Mr Robert Ssempala of the Human Rights Network for Journalists threatened to sue FDC. He noted that incidents of violence against journalists have been happening at the hands of state security, stressing that now that it is taking another trend, they must hold the suspects liable.

“The people who behaved like goons were targeting journalists with cameras who were branded, so it was not a mistaken identity. We want to task the party to take action against those errant goons who emerged from their premises or face the rule of law,” Mr Ssempala said.