FDC’s ‘dirty cash’ crisis shows the folly of trying to mud-wrestle in white robes

Mr Daniel K. Kalinaki

What you need to know:

  • FDC’s first ‘sin’, therefore, was to be born without sin; a clean party that seemed to operate above the dirty coal mine of the articulation of interests and formation of political agencies

There was a moment, somewhere in the decade after 2006, when the FDC political party offered hope to supporters, and to progressives generally, that the dawn of a new political culture was upon us.

Where the ruling NRM fed, leech-like, off the state and its patrimonial tentacles, the nascent FDC sought to collect dues from its small but passionate membership. Where decision-making and political choice was limited in the NRM monarchy, there were bruising leadership contests within the opposition party.

Where the older UPC, DP and CP parties struggled to grow out of their narrow ethnic identities or the vice-like grip of even narrower self-gratifying cabals, FDC’s nationally diverse leadership appeared destined to shape it as a national progressive party.

No one would have imagined in 2008 that 15 years hence, the FDC national chairman would be seen climbing over a fence topped with razor-wire to escape a mob inside the party head office that had descended on him and other officials, apparently at the behest of a rival faction. Those within the party are better placed to know how it came to this, but an outside view offers three major milestones: the party’s foundational dynamics; the difficult choice it failed to make mid-stream; and the context within which it has been forced to operate.

The relatively young members of YPA and PAFO, many of them within Parliament, and the many volunteers outside who came together to form what would become FDC, were tied together by a strong view that Uganda could be more democratic, more inclusive and more equitable.

These are worthy and high ideals, of which the world could use a lot more – but they are also abstract and, like snowflakes, melt easily when political temperatures rise. Without a rump of specific interests, say around occupational groupings, trades unions or even what has become to be seen as “backward” ethnic and religious beliefs, there was little to hold these individuals together when push eventually came to shove.

FDC’s first ‘sin’, therefore, was to be born without sin; a clean party that seemed to operate above the dirty coal mine of the articulation of interests and formation of political agencies. When the going got tough, as it was always going to, FDC’s members had little core identities to fall back on, except individual self-interest. And even if they had tried, politics is more forgiving of bad people who try to do good, than good people who then try to do bad.

The second problem was the overwhelming violence subjected to FDC members beginning with the 2001 election. With the benefit of hindsight, this dilemma was quite clear to see. Human beings are driven by the ying and yang of greed or fear; FDC had to confront the decision of whether to acquire the capacity for violence, or the independent economic means for reward.

Both were impossible choices. Violence is inherently destructive and, even if successful, was likely to reproduce the contradictions inherent in the ruling NRA/M. Securing the bag, on the other hand, meant navigating a small economy controlled by those who had a monopoly of violence.

FDC chose to get off the road altogether. A faction loyal to Mr Mugisha Muntu broke away to form ANT with a view that building grassroots structures and winning hearts and minds will pay off in the long run. In a young and impatient country, it is the hope that kills you. A faction loyal to Dr Kizza Besigye turned to civil disobedience – a violent-free form of protest – to make the country ungovernable and force reforms. It was, at least in the short-term, a high-risk, low-reward strategy, especially as the regime was unrelenting in its application of targeted violence.

That left a rump of party faithful considering their own personal circumstances as they lay in their beds at night listening to the tick, tock, of Mother Time. One by one, as night turned into day, they saw the economic light shining out of the lighthouse and dragged their weary souls and begging bowls over. In normal circumstances, claims that taxpayer money has been taken out of the treasury and given political opponents to stop opposing the government or oppose it half-heartedly should cause umbrage towards the payers, and sanctions in Parliament, the courts, or at the ballot box. That the giving has come to be expected, even normalised, while the receiving is what causes consternation says it all about our political environment. FDC came to a mud-wrestling tournament wearing white robes. It has now been soiled. We wait to see if the party will walk off in search of a “doobi”, or, already naked, jump in and fight to the bottom.

Mr Kalinaki is a journalist and  poor man’s freedom fighter.

[email protected]; @Kalinaki