How time flies. Recall the year 2005. FDC’s Dr Kizza Besigye, formerly of the Reform Agenda political grouping, returned from ‘self-imposed’ exile in South Africa to contest against NRMs incumbent President Yoweri Museveni in the 2006 General Election.
Dr Besigye was seen as a formidable contender against Museveni. Retired Col Besigye was highly regarded. He was a military man and former doctor of Museveni in the Luweero war between 1981 and 1985 against president Milton Obote and 85-86 against the Tito Okello junta.
He had held several military and political offices under the NRM and some thought he knew the party well enough to surmount it on the second time of asking. His bid in the 2001 election was very commendable.
The Supreme Court had declared the election stolen, but did not annul it because the judges thought that the stealing was not substantial enough.
So when the Kenya Airways jet touched down at Entebbe with the prized candidate, it threw the country into frenzy. Many of those both for and against Museveni, who had not bothered to register thinking that Museveni did not have formidable competition, quickly went and got registered.
Wherever Besigye went, huge crowds followed, including in no-go areas of western Uganda that were considered hitherto Museveni strongholds.
To scuttle his bid for the presidency, a rape case against Dr Besigye led to his arrest. The current Electoral Commission boss Justice Simon Byabakama was the prosecutor. He lined up a wretched coterie of incorrigible liars as ‘witnesses,’ including the then Director of CID, Elizabeth Kuteesa. The case fell under the weight of its mischievous illogical half-truths and outright lies.
Dr Besigye spent half of his campaign time oscillating between jail and the dock trying to prove his innocence against a barrage of lies. He went on to contest in an election in which the security agencies visited violence against several innocent people to cow them away from Dr Besigye.
The matter again went to the Supreme Court, which returned the same rather ridiculous verdict; the stealing and electoral law breaking was not bad enough to warrant an annulment.
Dr Besigye from then on became a changed man. Making his point on the streets and defying the authorities. The street protest or violent action by unarmed people against the NRM was a rare thing since 1986. There was a warning of being put six feet below if anyone dared. Dr Besigye’s actions demystified it.
That defiance planted a seed in the hearts and minds of many young people, a good number of whom braved tear gas, injury, jail and the sight of many of their colleagues dying in cold blood. It divided the Opposition too.
Many felt that merely defying the government (without taking up arms) was turning Opposition supporters into cannon fodder for the NRM. That group in the Opposition was led by Mugisha Muntu that sold the idea of a pacifist approach in contending with NRM. They were called moles who were in bed with the NRM and off they went to eventually form ANT (Alliance for National Transformation.)
The second consequence was that the emboldened youth found a rallying point around person, who like Dr Besigye, had an anti-establishment streak. The added advantage for Kyadondo East MP Robert Kyagulanyi, aka Bobi Wine had Dr Besigye is that he looked like them, spoke like them, danced like them, and had a history of living on the edges like them.
The many young people who form People Power movement or now the National Unity Platform (NUP) in Besigye see a valiant leader of the cause. In Bobi Wine, they see a first among equals whose story they have the ability to emulate.
Bobi Wine only needed to tickle their imagination. Thus, the success of Dr Besigye’s effort in demystifying NRM’s invincibility, put him high up on the pedestal of heroes. But it also worked against him in that it alienated him and his party from a tendency that does not believe in rough house tactics and those broke away.
When Bobi Wine entered the picture, it also took a huge chunk of young people who were the bedrock of his strategy to use angry numbers on the street to make a point. NRM and its agents perpetuated this point and will do all it takes to focus its attention on NUP.
Because the State does not seem to function properly in Uganda, the MP is now an arm of the State - financing education, health and other social functions for their own patronage and survival. The NRM MP has government support and, therefore, comes off well in this endeavour.
To stifle the Opposition, the NRM will be on the lookout for any contradictions in NUP or struggle to create them in order to attract individuals to that revered class of being an arm of the State. It will give them financial support and clout in NUP.
Soon, they will feel bigger than the party, claiming they are independent-minded while serving as a friendly Opposition to NRM. The result will be growing tendencies to break away because individuals will feel viable enough even without the party. That has been the story of Uganda’s Opposition.
The success of the party helps its contenders to lead it to failure.