How turmoil brought FDC to its knee 

Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago speaks as other FDC Katonga faction supporters look on recently. PHOTO/ FILE

What you need to know:

  • As dark clouds gathered over the once formidable Opposition organisation, it became apparent that it was in the middle of a bitter internal power struggle. It all ended very badly after hot and, at times abusive, exchanges between former comrades in arms.

“I can’t predict where the party will end but maybe where other [Opposition parties] are,” were the words that Dr Kizza Besigye Kifefe spoke about his beloved Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party on July 19 last year.

As dark clouds gathered over the once formidable Opposition organisation, it became apparent that it was in the middle of a bitter internal power struggle. It all ended very badly after hot and, at times abusive, exchanges between former comrades in arms.

The Opposition stalwart whose personal brand had since the party’s inception in 2004 remained strong among a clear majority of the party maintained a defiant stance against what he saw as a regime plot to kill FDC to the end.

The reasons for the internal strife that split open the walls that once glued politicians whose activities have given possibly the toughest headache to the Museveni regime became public at Youth Sharing Hall, Nsambya in Kampala -- just about 50 metres from a TotalEnergies Petrol Station once owned by the retired colonel.

How did we get here? In the lead-up to this, the party had been entangled in leadership contest that saw two camps emerge, sitting at offices at opposite ends of Kampala.

One faction which claimed legitimacy as the incumbent leadership remained holed up at the party headquarters in Najjanankumbi on Entebbe Road, while the challengers who claimed they were fighting to save the party from being taken over by President Museveni, located themselves at offices in the leafy Nakasero suburb on Katonga Road.

The premises at Katonga had long been an operational centre for Dr Besigye political activism. At the Sharing Hall July 17 consultative meeting, Kira Municipality MP Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda and Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago, party spokesman and Buganda vice chair, respectively, went public  with astonishing allegations that their fellow FDC leaders, Secretary General Nathan Nandala-Mafabi and party president Patrick Oboi Amuria had pocketed billions of shillings from State House ahead of the 2021 polls – in effect claiming the two men were in advanced stages of handing FDC over to Mr Museveni.

For months, this matter had been the subject of quiet, but intense discussion inside FDC leadership circles. Party elders were assigned to investigate the matter. Now, it had come to town, setting the stage for a showdown. Mr Amuriat and Mr Nandala-Mafabi rubbished the allegation, denying they were in the pocket of anyone at State House.

They demanded proof of guilt from their accusers. Not long, after Dr Besigye called the press and released what he said were serial numbers of the so-called dirty money, part of which he said Mr Nandala-Mafabi had passed onto him for temporary safe-keeping. On July 28, the party held a National Council meeting. It was characterised by one of the most chaotic and embarrassing scenes at any political party event.

Only hand-picked delegates considered to be on the side of the accused were allowed inside Najjanankumbi. Hired thugs roughed up anyone deemed unfavourable and also assaulted journalists. Then party chairman Waswa Birigwa was held hostage and would be forced to scale a wall fence in a desperate late afternoon escape.

Former Forum for Democratic Change president Kizza Besigye addresses a press conference at the 4GC offices on Katonga Road in Kampala yesterday. Second right is Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago, JEEMA president Asuman Basalirwa (3rdR), and other members of 4GC, a political pressure group. They have launched a pressure group - ‘Citizen’s Reforms Now’ (CIREN) - which they said aims at fighting for electoral reforms. Photo by Abubaker Lubowa

Mr Birigwa later told the press that his ordeal was orchestrated by the accused individuals at the centre of the dirty money scandal. A report on the dirty money affair released by the Dr Frank Nabwiso-chaired Elders Committee was read and adopted without a quorum. Most of the delegates who managed to get in had left in seeming disapproval at how things were panning out. Within minutes of its release, the document was trashed as a poor attempt at a whitewash which was not worth the paper it was written on.

The elders’ report cleared Mr Amuriat and Mr Nandala-Mafabi, citing a lack of sufficient evidence from the party founding president, Dr Besigye, who had been the original whistleblower. According to the report, Dr Besigye expressed concern about money kept at his home by Mr Nandala-Mafabi in September 2021, however, the party leadership is within its rights not to disclose the sources of its finances as provided in the party constitution and practice.

Ms Doreen Nyanjura, the deputy Lord Mayor of Kampala, and also a party insider, posted a scathing rejoinder, asking unanswered questions about the report and showing how no real attempt appeared to have been made to investigate the matter.

Ms Nyanjura also pointed out that there was a failure to observe the laws of natural justice when the committee did not give Dr Besigye a hearing, and also ignoring to include the reasons for the resignation of the party vice chairman, Mr Stanly Katembeya from the committee. Mr Katembeya reportedly said he resigned after it became clear to him that the committee was biased.

In the same month of July, Mr Birigwa called an extraordinary national delegate’s conference, which the Najjanankumbi faction contested in court. Although the High Court in Kampala blocked the planned extraordinary meeting, the defiant Katonga faction still went ahead and held it at their premises after leading the police on a wild goose chase and merry dance around Kampala City.

FDC founding president Kizza Besigye (right) addresses the media at his offices on Katonga Road recently. Left is Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago, who the Katonga faction named interim president. PHOTO | ABUBAKER LUBOWA

The September 19 National Delegates’ Conference resolved to suspend Mr Amuriat, replacing him with Mr Lukwago as interim party president. Among other leaders also suspended were Mr Nandala-Mafabi and treasurer general, Mr Geoff rey Ekanya, replacing them with their deputies, Mr Harold Kaija and Mr Francis Mwijukye, respectively.

The faction also put in place an interim electoral commission to organise free, fair and transparent elections headed by Michael Kabaziguruka. In the same way, the delegates agreed to set up a committee to expeditiously investigate all the suspended leaders. Najjanankumbi at Lugogo On October 6, FDC Najjanankumbi held a controversial national delegates conference after being cleared by court in a case in which the Katonga faction led by Mr Birigwa unsuccessfully tried to block the meeting.

Under the FDC constitution, national delegates’ conferences must be convened by the party national chairman, in this case, Mr Birigwa. However, the October 6 meeting was called by Mr Toterebuka Bamwenda, the elections boss of the party.

The FDC secretary general, Mr Nathan Nandala Mafabi, addresses journalists in Mbale City at the weekend. PHOTO | FRED WAMBEDE

Mr Birigwa and the Katonga group sued Mr Bamwenda over the matter. But Judge Musa Ssekaana dismissed their application for an injunction halting the conference pending hearing of their main suit, releasing his verdict in the dead of the night.

Among the judge’s reasons was the view that the suit was improperly brought against the chairman of the party’s electoral commission, leaving out the entity (FDC). With clearance from the court, the Najjanankumbi group held their version of a National Delegates’ Conference in Lugogo, Kampala where the party elected new leaders.

Messrs Amuriat, Nandala-Mafabi and Ekanya bounced back as president, secretary general and treasurer. At the meeting, Mr Nandala-Mafabi appointed Mr Yusuf Nsibambi, a lawmaker for Mawokota South, as FDC whip in Parliament, fi nally replacing Mr Ssemujju whom he had unsuccessfully tried to sack earlier but was thwarted by Speaker Anita Among.

Ms Among said she could accept the sacking because Mr Nandala-Mafabi had not followed internal party procedures. After being sworn in as president, Mr Amuriat promised to reconcile party members, an objective he does not seem anywhere near achieving to date. He also listed some of the members, including Mr Kaija among others to face the disciplinary committee, something that has also not happened.

Conference On several occasions, the leadership at Najjanankumbi has warned Katonga against using the party name, flag, and slogan saying the party has one power centre at Najjanankumbi. Katonga have not even deigned to respond to the warnings, stoutly ignoring them.

FDC presidential nominees Patrick Amuriat and Moses Byamugisha, alongside secretary general candidate Nathan James Nandala Mafabi, address a press conference at the party headquarters after they were nominated on September 21, 2023. PHOTO/ABUBAKER LUBOWA

Meanwhile, the main case in which the Katonga group had run to court to block the Najjanankumbi Lugogo conference has not been heard to date – confirming, according to them their perception that their opponents are in bed with the National Resistance Movement (NRM) regime under whose wing they are enjoying all sorts of protection.

As the year came to an end, the Katonga faction was going through its own version of grassroots elections to choose new countrywide leaders. These leaders are scheduled to attend a National Delegates’ Conference due in March at which the party’s new national leadership will be picked.

At Najjanankumbi, the focus is on mobilisation and recruitment of new members ahead of the 2026 General Election. And so, the dramatic events of July – September, will go down in history as the troubles which split FDC a second time. 


The first break-up occurred in 2017 when the former party president, Maj Gen (rtd) Mugisha Muntu was pushed out through a controversial election during which he was accused of being a government mole. At the centre of his eviction was Mr Nandala-Mafabi and Mr Amuriat who at the time were still close friends with Dr Besigye before their spectacular fall-out.

Maj Gen (rtd) Muntu, a thoughtful politician, now leads the Alliance for National Transformation with a motley crew of former FDC leaders and others. He seems to have had the last laugh – telling Daily Monitor late last year that it is now clear, given how things have unfolded, who were the real moles all along…