To beat Museveni, opposition must fully reorganise

Opposition leaders Mabike (SDP), Basalirwa (JEEMA), Otunnu (UPC) and Besigye (FDC) in Kampala in 2011. To beat NRM, they must embark on a new strategy. FILE PHOTO

Kampala- Does the opposition stand a chance against President Museveni in 2016 going by their current state of preparedness?

Not really, if you ask Dr Golooba Mutebi, a social researcher and political commentator.
To others, their public show of indifference could yet turn out to be part of the strategy.

The impression is that Mr Museveni has “hit the ground running”, combing the countryside, most intensely in parts of what is referred to as the Luweero Triangle, in what he calls a poverty eradication drive but which observers consider is the launch of his campaign for 2016.

The President has reason to be motivated to hit the campaign trail just over two years into his current term, but the same cannot be said of the opposition, says Dr Yasin Olum, a political scientist at Makerere University.

Dr Olum says the opposition is still “nursing a hangover from the 2011 election, which left a bitter taste in their mouths.”

To an onlooker, it is strange that it is the sitting President who appears more interested in courting voters in different parts of the country, with most of the opposition activity revolving around Kampala.
This may be more so since it is in rural areas where the opposition has perennially underperformed.

But it depends on who is making the observation.
Many opposition politicians say there is hardly any point in canvassing for support under the prevailing circumstances.

They accuse Mr Museveni of using public money to campaign, using the security forces to intimidate the people and refusing to reform the electoral system.

They also say the Electoral Commission is partisan and that vote-rigging is rooted the fabric of the system. First things first, many of them say.

Mr Joseph Bossa, the vice president of the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC), says the fact that Mr Museveni has already started traversing the country “puts him at least two years ahead of us” in the race to 2016.

But, Mr Bossa says, UPC “is not even about to start preparing for the next election.”
He says it would be “foolhardy” of the opposition to imagine that they can win in 2016.
What needs to happen first, Mr Bossa says, is “to change the ground rules; break the mould. If we play according to Museveni’s script, we will always just escort him to unjustified victory.”

DP Secretary General Mathias Nsubuga says Mr Museveni’s current tour is a result of “panic emanating from fears that Gen David Sejusa [the renegade for intelligence chief] could launch a rebellion.”

He says they intend to pursue the contentious issue of electoral reforms first.
On the side, however, DP has been attempting to renew itself by wooing former party members, particularly Mr Michael Mabikke and group, who left DP to found what he christened the Social Democratic Party.
An announcement was made months ago that Mr Mabikke had returned to DP but he later refuted the claims.

Mr Nsubuga says talks continue to have him and the others back in the party.

Civic awareness
As far as Jeema is concerned, says its president, Mr Asuman Basalirwa, “We can’t be enslaved by 2016.”

Mr Basalirwa adds: “2016 is a Museveni, (Badru) Kiggundu timetable. It would be dangerous for the opposition to be thinking along a Museveni-arranged timetable.”
In view of things, Mr Basalirwa says, the opposition needs to do two “critical things”: raise the civic awareness of Ugandans and, secondly, push for electoral reforms.

Conservative Party (CP) president Ken Lukyamuzi says in the event that the opposition decides to participate in the 2016 elections, his party is still focused on fielding a single opposition candidate.

For now, he says, “the key issue is about securing political freedoms.”
Mr Lukyamuzi says the opposition has lodged an appeal against what they call the government’s violation of political rights at the International Court of Justice at The Hague, through the Leader of Opposition in Parliament Nandala Mafabi.
In 2011, Mr Museveni’s vote tally jumped by almost 10 points to 68 per cent, reversing a trend of decline.

From 74 per cent in 1996, Mr Museveni’s vote share had dropped to 69 per cent in 2001 and 59 per cent in 2006.

His opponents had hoped to capitalise on this trend of decline and probably win in 2011, but it was not to be.

About a year after the 2011 election, snapshots of a study funded by the donor agency Democratic Governance Facility indicated that most Ugandans no longer believed that Mr Museveni could be removed from power using the ballot.

A number of opposition figures had reached the same conclusion already.
Dr Kizza Besigye, Mr Museveni’s fiercest challenger in the last three elections, and fellow opposition leaders dismissed the results of the 2011 election as a fraud and, together with colleagues, launched the Walk-to-Work protests which paralysed Kampala and some other towns for months.

He had filed two unsuccessful Supreme Court petitions in 2001 and 2006 but did not go back to court in 2011, saying the courts could not be trusted to come to a just decision irrespective of the evidence laid before it.

Dr Besigye, standing on the Inter-Party Cooperation (IPC) ticket, had contested against a background of intense arguments about boycotting the election that had forced UPC President Olara Otunnu to pull his party out of the loose coalition.

The IPC also included SDP of Mr Mabikke, Mr Lukyamuzi’s CP and Jeema of Mr Basalirwa.
The DP fronted its own candidate, Mr Norbert Mao, and so did the Peoples Development Party (Dr Abed Bwanika), Uganda Federal Alliance (Ms Beti Kamya) and the Peoples Progressive Party (Mr Bidandi Ssali).

Mr Samuel Lubega, who had unsuccessfully challenged Mr Mao for the DP leadership, contested as an independent. Along the way, he went missing on the trail.

Mr Otunnu had wanted the opposition to hold out for electoral reforms as a condition for their participation in the election, but Dr Besigye and his other colleagues argued that it was still possible for them to win in an imperfect election.

Moreover, they added, the election campaign would afford them the opportunity to reach out to Ugandans and explain their case, which opportunity is sometimes not available when there are no campaigns.

Mr Otunnu eventually jumped into the fray but spent more time during his rallies talking about the need for electoral reforms and reconstitution of the Electoral Commission than campaigning to become president.

He eventually did not even turn up to vote.
Given the experiences of the opposition in their electoral battles with Mr Museveni, two major views have emerged among the opposition as to how to mount a challenge against the incumbent.

Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago says talk of parties concentrating on grassroots mobilisation is risky.

He says there is the possibility of parties “conflicting with potential allies yet they are still almost sure to be rigged out by Museveni.”

Mr Lukwago, who was originally a member of DP but ran for Kampala Mayor as an independent candidate, says the opposition’s best chance at beating Mr Museveni in 2016 lies in cooperating, which is sometimes interfered with by each of the parties vying for supporters.

Mr Lukwago has been heavily involved in protests, along with Dr Besigye and a number of others.

Mr Basalirwa, who is always on hand to provide legal representation to protesters once they are detained, says engaging in protests is “the sure way to toughen up Ugandans.”
“Ugandans know that their votes have been stolen but go back home to lament,” Mr Basalirwa says, “This is unacceptable; they must learn to assert themselves.”

Party structures
But some say teaching Ugandans to be assertive is not enough.
The other approach, probably currently led by FDC President Mugisha Muntu, is that opposition parties need to build their grassroots base to stand themselves in good stead when opportunity to take power arises.

The argument goes that were Mr Museveni to be defeated in a situation where the opposition is not sufficiently organised, serious problems of managing the state would emerge.

Those who posit this view cite what has happened to Egypt after the fall of long-serving leader Hosni Mubarak after a civilian uprising in 2011, where the country is in a crisis and deeply polarised as it struggles to get a stable government over two years later.
But Maj Gen Muntu, faced with a challenge of consolidating his hold on FDC, is keen to argue that protests and building of party structures are options, which actually reinforce each other and are not mutually exclusive.

According to Gen Muntu, FDC is pursuing a three-pronged approach – Dr Besigye engaged in protests, Mr Mafabi leading the Parliament agenda and Gen Muntu building structures.

The hurdles
Gen Muntu embarked on a tour of western Uganda weeks ago.
But in Ishaka, Bushenyi district, he got a taste of the treatment opposition politicians sometimes encounter.

The church hall he had booked and paid for to house his consultative meeting was suddenly unavailable for use, with those concerned citing “orders from above.”
Such State-inspired interference and mistreatment has probably been visited more on Dr Besigye over the years, where, for example, he would be stopped from appearing on radio programmes he had booked and paid for in advance.

FDC plans to hold grassroots elections next year but the party still has to pass a major test of cohesion as it answers the question of whether to hold a fresh party presidential election next year as a commission that investigated Mr Mafabi’s complaints over last year’s election recommended.

The key decision was slated for Friday, August 16.
Mr Mafabi fought out a bitter election battle with Gen Muntu and some of his supporters we talked to threatened to quit the party should its National Executive Committee decide not to repeat the presidential election.

Talks continue amongst the players even as tentative feelers are being sent through public proclamations of ‘we are willing to work with anybody who is committed to removing Museveni from power’.

It may look slightly early days yet but the countdown has already begun.

Next Monday; how the playing field is beginning to look like 800 days from election night.


Early this year, UPC rejected the proposed opposition coalition ahead of the 2016 general elections. Party vice president, Joseph Bbosa said in January that the opposition will never get into power if the current Electoral Commission is not reconstituted. This was the same reason as to why UPC pulled out of the Inter-Party Cooperation (IPC) in 2011, after failing to agree with other parties on the matter.

His remarks followed a call by Democratic Party president, Norbert Mao to other opposition parties to form a coalition ahead of the 2016 general elections. In 2011 IPC chose Dr Besigye as the major opposition flag bearer in the elections. He lost to the incumbent Yoweri Museveni for the third time running.

Can NRM provide ‘opposition’?

If the feuding inside the FDC turns out to be like the internecine strife which has since reduced both the DP and UPC into shadows of their old selves, Dr Olum predicts, then “change-minded politicians will desert it and embrace other vehicles to continue the pursuit for change.”

Already, there are pointers that Mr Museveni could get some serious challenges to his power from outside the traditional opposition parties. A third way is emerging and former vice president Gilbert Bukenya has, for example, already declared his intention to run for president in 2016. He says that should he be “rigged out” in the ruling party primaries, he will run as an independent or form a joint front with the opposition.

Prof Bukenya is still a member of the NRM, a party which some say is no longer entirely beholden to Mr Museveni. The undercurrents of factionalism breaking up the NRM have been seen in the perceived misunderstandings between the President and his Prime Minister, Mr Amama Mbabazi, who also holds the central position of Secretary General in the party.

Out of the army has already gone Gen Sejusa, who is currently exiled in the United Kingdom. The General is making quite a few political noises about the need for a massed coalition of the willing, drawn from political parties, inside the ruling party and government and even the security forces, to ally with the single objective of ending Mr Museveni’s three-decade grip on power.

Others are reading enough into the recent happenings in NRM and the army so as to predict that Mr Museveni’s next powerful challenger could come from any of these two places.