The Opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) on Thursday declared Mr Patrick Oboi Amuriat, its president, as the party flag bearer for the forthcoming presidential election.
Despite being the party president, Mr Amuriat is an unlikely presidential candidate. It could have been his strategy, or maybe he was just thrust into the role because he had no option after Dr Kizza Besigye stuck to his guns against taking a fifth shot against President Museveni.
Now that Mr Amuriat is in the deep end of the pool that is the presidential race, he must swim. And his party is looking to make the best out of his candidature.
Since Uganda came together as a country, no major political party has even been represented at a general election by a candidate from the eastern part of the country. There have been peripheral presidential candidates from eastern Uganda in the past, including Mr Aggrey Awori in 2001, and Ms Maurine Kyalya in 2016. None of those made any impact.
Mr Amuriat and his backers hope for a rewriting of history.
He hails from Teso Sub-region, a place which gave FDC significant support at its founding.
Ms Alice Alaso, the first secretary general of FDC, who was also the Woman MP for Serere District, comes from Teso.
The sub-region sent Mr Amuriat to Parliament on the FDC ticket in 2006 and 2011, as it did many others, including Elijah Okupa from Kasilo, Herbert Ariko from Soroti Municipality; Angelline Osegge as Soroti Woman MP, among others.
A number of the positions that FDC had made its own in Teso Sub-region have since been lost to the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party, and some of its members have decamped to join the Alliance for National Transformation (ANT). FDC in Teso needs a rebuild, therefore having Mr Amuriat first as its president and now as its presidential flag bearer, stands it in good stead.
Apart from capturing Teso, Mr Amuriat needs to help FDC make inroads into Bukedi and Bugisu sub-regions, and he has party secretary general Nathan Nandala Mafabi, who comes from Bugisu, to work on that project.
Farther afield, in Bugiri, Mr Amuriat has former Leader of the Opposition in Parliament Wafula Oguttu, who he fondly talks about as his firm backer, and former Tororo County MP Godfrey Ekanya, to rely on in the bid to mount a push in the east. These two, just like Mr Amuriat, lost their parliamentary seats in the 2016 election, but they now have the push of being in charge of FDC to rally their constituencies.
There has been a feeling that the east is marginalised in national politics, and when Mr Awori competed for the presidency in 2001, he famously stated, “It is our turn to eat”.
Mr Awori then argued that the other regions had already “eaten”, which is euphemism for holding the top political offices.
Rest of Uganda
The understated fight within the Opposition is – based on the understanding that is widespread among Opposition players that President Museveni will not leave power in 2021 – who becomes the dominant Opposition party.
The National Unity Party (NUP) of Mr Robert Kyagulanyi, aka Bobi Wine, publicly says they are most concerned about removing President Museveni, but there is a lot to show that they are pursuing a policy aimed at dominating space at parliamentary and Local Government levels too.
That is why the stage is set for multiple clashes between candidates belonging to NUP and other Opposition parties.
Mr Amuriat, therefore, is expected by members of his party to ensure that FDC at worst, remains the dominant Opposition force after the forthcoming election.
This, of course, cannot be achieved by only seeking to dominate in the east.
FDC is looking to retain the parliamentary seats that it holds in Central Uganda, Kasese, Rukungiri and Buhweju, and seek to capture new ground.
In Kampala, they hope to replace woman MP Nabilah Naggayi, who has joined NUP and is running for Lord Mayor, with Dr Stella Nyanzi, while retaining Kawempe South (Mubarak Munyagwa), Makindye East (Ibrahim Kasozi), and Nakawa East (Michael Kabaziguruuka). They hope to also capture other ground in other city divisions. They hope to ride on the clout of Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago, who recently joined the party, to do this.
The party also hopes to retain spokesperson Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda’s Kira Municipality, and capture new ground like Mawokota South, where influential party member Yusuf Nsibambi is running.
FDC has kept the party’s strategy going into the polls under wraps, but if what Mr Amuriat said in his acceptance speech is anything to go by, Dr Besigye, who had been some of the party supporters’ choice for presidential flag bearer, is going to be an integral part of the campaign.
“I am a fighter and by defiance, we shall win. I will lead this front, while our competent, dependable and ever ready president, Dr Kizza Besigye leads the plan B, which we shall combine,” Mr Amuriat said.
There is a thinking that Dr Besigye will be taking on the role of a special campaigner.
On Thursday, Ms Betty Aol Ocan, the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament (LoP), recommended to the FDC National Council an eight-point action plan that she said would help the party to increase its numbers in Parliament.
Key among the proposals was for the party to avail its candidates more financial support and for candidates to hit the ground early.
“FDC flag bearers should start intense campaigns as soon as nominations are done,” Ms Ocan recommended.
Whether the party will adopt her recommendations remains to be seen. The Opposition parties, including FDC, face a serious challenge of raising money to finance the campaigns.
Ms Salaamu Musumba, the FDC vice chairperson for eastern Uganda, said the situation pertaining on the ground is already fertile enough to help the party gain ground, most especially in the east and northern parts of Uganda.
“Eastern Uganda has for a long time now been clamouring for a viable and credible candidate from eastern Uganda. We now have one. He has a very good profile in both the political and technical work. He has had 15 years in Parliament and about 10 years in the NGO world. They do not come better than that,” Ms Musumba said.
Early in August, Research World International released results of an opinion poll which revealed that Sebei, Busoga, Bugisu and Buganda, which have always supported Mr Museveni and the NRM, were gravitating towards the Opposition.
With the exception of Buganda where the populace enjoys higher levels of prosperity, poverty seems to be the biggest factor behind the disenchantment with the NRM, and it would appear that FDC intends to build on it to rally Eastern Uganda and parts of the north around the candidature of Mr Amuriat.
“Once you cross the Nile and start heading east, jiggers and poverty become common denominators,” Ms Musumba said.
According to figures from the 2016/2017 Uganda Bureau of Statistics survey, the poverty headcount rate in the northern region was 32.5 per cent and 35.7 per cent in eastern Uganda, which could make poverty a major campaign issue and, therefore, a game changer in the 2021 polls.
If any group is to wrest most parts of the east from President Museveni and NRM, it seems plausible to say that group would more likely be FDC and not Mr Kyagulanyi’s NUP, which seems to have gained more traction in the central region.
FDC democratic credentials
Speaking shortly after Mr Amuriat had delivered his acceptance speech, the vice chairperson of FDC, Ms Salaamu Musumba, said the emergence of Mr Amuriat was testimony that the party is very democratic. “This is a reaffirmation that we are democratic and that in FDC, every seat is available to every tribe and everybody,” Ms Musumba said.
Mr Julius Kiiza, who teaches Political Science at Makerere University, agrees with Ms Musumba on the democratic bit of it.
“Is FDC sufficiently democratic to demonstrate that power can change from one strong founding leader to another person? I think it has proved that power can indeed change from one strong leader, a strong personality who was said to have won two elections, but never declared the winner and who had an option to stay on and contest the election, but chose to back down and let another person come in. That speaks volumes about FDC’s democratic credentials,” Dr Kiiza argues.
However, Mr Amuriat’s emergence comes at perhaps the most difficult time in the party’s history.
FDC has been the biggest Opposition party because of the numbers that it has been commanding in Parliament since the 2006 General Election.
However, the split that saw former party president Mugisha Muntu decamp with some members to form another party seems to have left the party weaker.
Gen Muntu formed the Alliance for National Transformation (ANT). Those who followed him include former secretary general Alice Alaso, the party’s former election’s chief Dan Mugarura, a former candidate for Entebbe Municipality, and a host of others.
In her speech during Thursday’s National Council Meeting at Najjanankumbi, Ms Ocan informed attendees that 11 of the party’s 37 MPs have since decided to decamp.
They include Paul Mwiru [ Jinja Municipality East] and Kasese Woman MP Winnie Kizza, who have joined ANT and Ms Naggayi Ssempala who has joined NUP.
Others are Bugweri County MP Abdu Katuntu; Aruu County MP Odonga Otto; Kasilo County MP Elijah Okupa; Soroti Municipality MP Herbert Edmon Ariko; Soroti Woman MP Angelline Osegge; Kabweri County MP Francis Gonahasa; Kasese Municipality MP Robert Centenary; and Busongora County South MP Jackson Mbajju. Others, like Agago North MP and former LoP Morris Ogenga Latigo, have been keeping away. They are holding their cards close to their chests that not seems to know what their political game plans are.
The developments inside FDC come at a time when a silent war has been raging in the Opposition, with other parties seemingly intent on trimming the powers of FDC.
For two election cycles now, FDC has not had any representation in the East African Legislative Assembly (Eala).
The rules initially required the use of proportional party representation in the distribution of the nine seats that Uganda is entitled to in Eala, but the rules were tweaked to allow for direct elections by all MPs, which has left the party with no representatives in EALA since 2012.
During the last two election cycles it was the Democratic Party (DP) and the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) that took the Opposition seats after allying with NRM MPs against FDC candidates. The UPC representative in Eala is Chris Opoka, while the DP representative is Fred Mukasa Mbidde.
Under the current arrangement, the LoP is chosen by the party with the biggest number of Opposition MPs, and this is an arrangement which has come under attack from some circles, with FDC members believing the move is aimed at them.
Last year, Kabale Municipality MP Andrew Aja Baryayanga tabled a private members Bill, the Administration of Parliament (Amendment) Bill, 2019, which was seconded by the Busiro East MP Medard Sseggona, then a member of DP, who has since joined NUP.
The Bill sought to, among other things, have the LoP elected by all MPs following the nomination of at least three contenders by the leading Opposition party.
If the composition of Parliament were to remain the way it is, the ruling party would have a big say in who becomes LoP.
The Bill also sought to provide for a Deputy LoP and to amend the procedure of appointing the Opposition Whip.
The amendments appeared targeting FDC, which sought during a shadow cabinet retreat held in March last year to have Mr Sseggona drop his support for the Bill.
“My son, you’re shooting at your own self. Today it is FDC with majority Opposition MPs in Parliament, tomorrow it could the Democratic Party (DP). This amendment gives chance for the ruling National Resistance Movement to pass through one of us to decide who leads the Opposition,” Ms Ocan told Mr Sseggona at the close of the meeting.
Even now, amid talk of the Opposition working together, other parties have fielded candidates against each other even in constituencies where it would perhaps not be necessary if the objective were to either retain or capture certain electoral positions and constituencies.
What others say
Ms Salaamu Musumba, FDC vice chairperson for Eastern Uganda, “Eastern Uganda has for a long time now been clamouring for a viable and credible candidate from Eastern Uganda. We now have one. He has a very good profile in both the political and technical work. He has had 15 years in Parliament and about 10 years in the NGO world. They do not come better than that.”
Julius Kiiza, lecturer of Political Science at Makerere University, “Is FDC sufficiently democratic to demonstrate that power can change from one strong founding leader to another person? I think it has proved that power can indeed change from one strong leader, a strong personality who was said to have won two elections, but never declared the winner and who had an option to stay on and contest the election, but chose to back down and let another person come in. That speaks volumes about FDC’s democratic credentials.”
Ms Aol Ocan, Leader of the Opposition in Parliament (LoP), “ FDC flag bearers should start intense campaigns as soon as nominations are done.”