FDC party at a crossroads after Besigye allies’ meeting

Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago is carried shoulder-high after he was named the Forum for Democratic Change party president at Katonga Road in Kampala on September 19, 2023. His election, with a host of other party leaders, was at an extraordinary national delegates’ conference called by the national chairman of the party, Ambassador Wasswa Birigwa. PHOTOS / ABUBAKER LUBOWA

What you need to know:

  • The dramatic events of Tuesday morning are a culmination of months of infighting and an unresolved dispute over whether to hold grassroots elections before sorting out the mess in the party. 

Against the backdrop of running battles with the security forces, an extraordinary meeting of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) ended early yesterday afternoon with a unanimous resolution to throw out their party president and secretary general.  

Party president Patrick Oboi Amuriat, secretary general Nathan Nandala Mafabi, treasurer general Geoffrey Ekanya and FDC electoral commission head Boniface Bamwenda were declared suspended by the national delegates conference. 

The conference was convened against many odds by FDC national chairman Waswa Birigwa in the wake of a bitter leadership contest that has split the Opposition political party into two factions.

Some political watchers thought the meeting would not take place. But not even a Monday court order staying the conference, or an earlier ominous police warning not to proceed that was prompted by a letter written to the police chief by Mr Mafabi, discouraged delegates from arriving in large numbers from upcountry to resolve on the issue.

Their resolution was, however, quickly contested and rejected by Mr Amuriat, who told this publication last evening that the coup attempt had failed. 

The dramatic events of Tuesday morning are a culmination of months of infighting and an unresolved dispute over whether to hold grassroots elections before sorting out the mess in the party. 

There was a sharp escalation in political hostilities two months ago when the founding party president Dr Kizza Besigye; party spokesman Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda and the vice chairman for Buganda, Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago accused Mr Mafabi and Mr Amuriat of receiving ‘dirty money’ from State House ahead of the 2021 General Election. 

In response, both leaders had repeatedly denied the allegation in which it was also suggested that the money was part of an inducement to facilitate the betrayal of FDC -- and eventually “hand it over to President Museveni”.

Their accusers say the alleged scheme was part of a 2016 vow by the President that there would be no political opposition to his rule in Uganda by 2021. They point to similar plots that unfolded in the Democratic Party and the Uganda People’s Congress as evidence of a pattern of actions taken to achieve that undemocratic end.

Fearing a break-up of what was until recently Uganda’s strongest Opposition political organisation, officials and party elders worked behind the scenes to try and iron out existing differences, but to no avail. 

Even an elders’ forum that was constituted to try and resolve the matter failed after it carried out what was lampooned by the ‘Katonga faction’ as a wishy washy investigation into the dirty money matter. 

Although the report of Dr Frank Nabwiso, who chaired the committee absolving Mr Mafabi and Mr Amuriat of wrongdoing was adopted at a chaotic and poorly attended FDC National Council meeting on July 28, it was also dismissed outright by the opposed faction as not being worth the paper on which it was written.

A defiant Mr Amuriat yesterday called his suspension wishful thinking, noting that “those who gathered at Katonga [Road] have no powers to suspend me or Nandala or Ekanya or Bamwenda.”

“When I looked at the constitution of those who assembled at Katonga Road, about 95 percent of them were not elected members and therefore have no powers to decide on the affairs of the party. So, their planned coup has failed,” he said.

Earlier in the day, Mr Waswa Birigwa, who had jumped over a wall fence so as to get into the venue after police barricaded all roads leading to the Katonga office, was euphoric, saying justice had been delivered and the wishes of party members had been granted.

“God is great, what will be will be. As the chairman of the party I am here to announce that this meeting seated here at Katonga is a duly recognised as an FDC extraordinary delegate’s conference and any resolution made shall stand,” he said.

In his typically no-holds-barred speech, Dr Kizza Besigye, FDC’s founding president, told gathered delegates that the party is in a critical moment, facing attack from within and without.

“We especially set ourselves a task to end military control of our country, and the latest military Junta is being led by Mr Yoweri Museveni but that task, unfortunately, has been be-devilled by a betrayal from those we trusted with the leadership of our party,” he said .

Dr Besigye added: “It’s a very sad day indeed that leaders in Uganda continue to betray those who trust them and they all very well know that now it’s not just the junta hunting and teargassing them but, it’s now the junta together with their colleagues.”

“This did not come as a surprise because the junta set up to end all voices of change in this country. I am sure you are aware that a while back Museveni said that by 2021 there will be no opposition party in Uganda,” he said.

A dig at Museveni

Dr Besigye said when President Museveni captured power in 1986, he believed he would control all citizens as he wishes. 

“Well, there is some bad news for him. He can compromise some leaders, buy the parties that we form, but he will never buy the free spirit of the people of Uganda. The people of Uganda will continue to fight for their freedom; control of their country and nobody will intimidate us,” he said 

Mr Micheal Kabaziguluka, who was elected new FDC electoral commission chairman, said a new dawn has come for the party. 

“It is very unfortunate that the commission decided to connive with those who received Mr Museveni’s money, but I assure party members that my commission will hold a free and fair election without fear or favour,” he said.

Mr Lukwago, elected interim president, walked away beaming with happiness and said he owed it all to members.

“I want to thank our members for this arrangement and my new roles as an interim president. Now, at this point I urge party members to unite so that we revive the previous party unity of ‘One Uganda, one people,” he said, referencing FDC’s slogan.

Lukwago’s appeal notwithstanding, the Tuesday conference appears to have instead resulted in a hardening of positions.

Mr Amuriat said Dr Besigye no longer deserves their respect because of his involvement in ousting of elected leaders. He said as a founding president, they had looked up to him, but his democratic credentials have been eroded.

“I want to ask Dr Besigye to take stock of what he has done by fomenting trouble. We had respected him and looked up to him, but he chose to plot a coup which unfortunately has failed. So, going forward he should not expect any respect from us,” he said, adding that his group will 
Seek court redress. 

Political watchers weigh in on FDC troubles

Senior counsel Peter Walubiri
It is evidence that those without eyes need to know that ever since [President] Museveni came to town, he has never allowed multi-party democracy to function. Even when the Constitution was amended to allow political parties to function, Uganda has largely remained essentially a one-party military dictatorship. 

We shall never have a functioning multi-party democracy as long as Mr Museveni and NRA/NRM (National Resistance Army/Movement) are in power. Anybody who dreams and pretends otherwise is just hiding his head in the sand. Even participating in multi-party elections is an exercise in futility. We are dealing with a one-party military regime. Political parties can only have a very limited window for Mr Museveni to hoodwink gullible Ugandans and the international community that there is democracy in Uganda. 

Discussion of multi-party democracy is a misplaced discussion in Uganda. We should be discussing how Ugandans can dismantle the existing military dictatorship, not whether we can have multi-party democracy, or whether it is functional. We should be discussing how do we get enough people to go to Nakasero and [pack] up the old man’s things and retire him. 

Ms Sarah Bireete, executive director of thr Centre for Constitutional Governance

This is an attempt to capture the political parties and make them dysfunctional by the ruling President. Democracy in multi-party dispensations thrives on the will of the political parties. So, once you have dysfunctional political parties, which is the intention of the incumbent President, then you do not have democracy to talk about because the spaces for citizen participation are shrinking.

Article 72 of the 1995 Constitution provides that citizens can participate in their governance either through civic or political organisation. We have had a lot of challenges with the civic organisation, especially NGOs (non-governmental organisation) working on governance. So, when this shrinking space extends to make Opposition political parties dysfunctional, then you have no democracy to talk about.

We are happy that stakeholders in FDC (Forum for Democratic Change) are defiant enough to push back against the dictatorship that is attempting to take over their party. We are glad that they are pushing back and we have seen Ambassador Birigwa on the run, we have seen him jumping fences and if that what it takes to liberate the spaces for the citizen to freely participate in their governance, then let it be done, and we wish that FDC can stabilise and get over the internal wrangles to be able to compete nationally with the other political parties in the arena.

Mr Eron Kiiza, executive director of the Environment Shield and human rights advocate
The double standards and selective provision of security is unnecessary, unwise and unconstitutional. It shows that Opposition groups like the [Nathan Nandala] Mafabi camp; [Justice minister Norbert] Mao’s DP (Democratic Party), [Jimmy] Akena’s UPC (Uganda Peoples Congress) which are in cahoots with the government will continue to receive financial and security favours from the government while the genuine Opposition groups are starved, oppressed and persecuted.

They should tighten their belts for harder times as [President] Museveni embarks upon fulfilling his promise of finishing off the Opposition and as he clears the path—with money, guns and blackmail—for the Muhoozi project (reported plan for First Son Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba to succeed his father as president). More than ever before, Opposition parties need not only numbers but hardcore supporters with the mettle and integrity to hold off incentives, baits and sticks from the government and the military on which it depends for its survival.

Mr Luyimbazi Nalukoola, former Democratic Party legal adviser:
It seems there is a kind of partisan element, and indeed the ruling government is interested in those activities. But in a free and democratic society political parties are supposed to be left to use their internal mechanisms to resolve their disputes without involvement of state organs. They should be left to handle their issues on their own. Political parties can handle their disputes on their own without interference of the state.

By Franklin Draku, Shabibah Natirikya, Dorothy Nagita, & Peter Serugo