Uganda’s leading opposition political party since the return to multiparty politics in 2006, the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), is currently on the home-stretch of an electoral process that will culminate in the election of a new party president.
The elections will take place on November 22.
There are three candidates vying to replace the party’s founding and current president, Col. (rtd) Dr. Kizza Besigye Kifefe. The trio are Nathan Nandala Mafabi, the current leader of the opposition in Parliament and MP for Budadiri West; Maj. Gen. (rtd) Gregory Mugisha Muntu, who is also the Secretary for Mobilisation in the FDC; and Tororo County MP Geoffrey Ekanya, who is also the Shadow Minister for Finance.
Like in any race where the stakes are high, the contest for the FDC top job has been a bruising contest, especially for the two leading candidates, Nandala Mafabi and Mugisha Muntu.
The Nandala Mafabi camp opened a can of worms when they accused Gen. Muntu of being a mole of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party, who should not be allowed anywhere near the party presidency. They asked Gen. Muntu not just to quit the race but also to retire from politics together “and leave politics for the younger generation.“
Gen. Muntu’s camp on the other hand has accused the Leader of Opposition of being power hungry. They have asked Nandala Mafabi to quit the race, saying Gen. Muntu’s military background as former Army Commander makes him the better candidate in a largely militarised political environment.
Not wanting to be left out of the melee, Ekanya hit two candidates with one swipe when he accused the two leading candidates of bribing voters, a punishable electoral offence in the party’s and the country’s electoral laws.
To the FDC’s credit, this is not the first time that the party’s top post is being contested, as the party attempts to walk its talk of practising democracy even internally. Gen. Mugisha Muntu has in the past taken on Dr Kiiza Besigye for the party presidency and the opportunity to stand for the national presidency as the party’s flag bearer.
Although Dr Besigye won each time, Gen. Muntu and the majority of the other FDC leaders who had lost in the elections for the other positions would fall in line and work with the winners.
This time round, however, the tide seems to have changed. With Dr Besigye set to end his tenure as party president, there seems to be a sense within the FDC that a re-alignment of forces and loyalties is taking place.
As a result, some of the party leaders desperately waved the ethnic card, arguing that a leader from western Uganda like Gen. Muntu should not take up the party’s top job after Dr Besigye.
As shown by this analysis from The Observer newspaper, the contest for the FDC presidency has stretched personal and party loyalties among the opposition party’s leaders.
On the other hand, I think it has been good for democracy that the party has been willing first of all not to change its Constitution so that Dr Besigye continues to his role as party leader in spite of his continued popularity amongst the party faithful. The other positive is that they left the door open for whoever feels can lead the party post-Besigye to vie for the top job.
Yet one feels that, despite the no-holds-barred contest, the ironic thing is that party could be miss a golden opportunity to grow and to show the country its leadership potential after the September 22 election.
Here is why I think so. The current campaigns are for the election of a party president. Later, in the run-up to the 2016 presidential elections, the FDC will have to elect a flag bearer.
It is well known now that the FDC Constitution allows Dr Besigye to stand for the position of flag bearer even if he has served the two terms as party president that it allows him to. He could therefore throw his hat into the ring, and that would stand in the way of the next party president also becoming the party flag bearer – if the party delegates decide to go with Dr Besigye.
Even if Dr Besigye decides to offer himself for election as party flag bearer, the FDC currently has an opportunity to show Ugandans that it has a vast array of national leaders beyond its outgoing party president. Or, if not, then it can at least show that it is grooming them.
The current Leader of Opposition, Nandala Mafabi, already has a national role through which he can show his abilities to offer leadership to the country. In fact, given that he is serving in a cabinet level position, all of Nandala Mafabi’s activities in his current office are funded by the taxpayer.
In other words, as Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, Nandala Mafabi is effectively the Shadow Prime Minister of Uganda.
Therefore, Nandala Mafabi can use that role to show Ugandans that he can deliver at a national level without taking up the FDC party presidency as well. As I argued in an online forum for journalists recently, Nandala Mafabi can take the advice of veteran journalist Joachim Buwembo to enlarge the mandate of the Shadow Cabinet that he leads beyond Parliament. They can then implement some of their policies, say in model villages, to show Ugandans exactly what they are missing when they stick with the current government of President Yoweri Museveni.
Gen. Muntu would then have taken up the role of party president. Again the argument for this is basic. Nandala Mafabi has himself campaigned for the party president on the premise that his duty between now and the election of the party flag bearer would be to grow the party structures, popularise the party and attract more supporters. But then, if I may ask, who is better suited for that role at the moment than the current secretary for mobilisation?
Will Nandala Mafabi be able to popularise the party and grow its structures when he is also saddled with the role of leading the opposition in Parliament? Isn’t he biting more than he can chew?
By contrast, Gen. Muntu is currently playing any other public role, since he was not re-elected to the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA). Therefore, he is likely to have more time, than any other leader who has expressed in interest in the FDC top job, to play that role.
Both leading opposition politicians would then have distinguish themselves in those respective roles, while also showing us how different their leadership styles and capabilities are from those of Dr Besigye. Then in the run-up to 2016, then can all stand for the opportunity to become party flag bearer to face President Museveni or any other candidate NRM offers.
Having shown as what they can do, the opposition leaders can take off their gloves and more during the campaigns. At least they would have done Ugandans the great service of having their aspirants for the national presidency exhibit their leadership capabilities for all to see.