Maj Gen Gregory Mugisha Muntu and group have entered a delicate phase of on-the-ground consultations on a string of hot-button issues threatening to tear apart the Forum for Democratic Change, Uganda’s biggest opposition party.
As they consult local party members countrywide to determine whether they stay in or quit, three sticky arguments have emerged, and if they are not resolved, the general and his allies may leave, some individuals familiar with the process have said.
The three arguments are: How is the group, in particular its leader Gen Muntu, going to work within the FDC party which has slandered him, called him a mole and a non-Ugandan?
How is the party going to reconcile the Defiance strategy (whose conception remains vague) with the strategy of exhibiting democratic credentials and building grassroots structures and party organs before taking power? And, what is the position of the FDC founding president, Dr Kizza Besigye in the party?
Besigye’s continued dominance bothers some in the Muntu group, some of whom argue that if not checked, it can be counterproductive to FDC’s internal democracy and may nurture dictatorship in the opposition.
Bugweri MP, Abdu Katuntu, a founding member of FDC and a prominent member of the Muntu group, said the difficult answers to the foregoing questions make a split within the party inevitable.
“None of us is interested in splitting FDC because it would appear like we are working in the hands of our enemy. We have nurtured it to where it is. But how are you going to resolve those fundamental questions without people walking their separate ways since they speak to our respective ideological outlooks?” Katuntu said.
Katuntu argues that whereas the ongoing consultations are meant to have both options debated within the party, the consultations cannot do much to calm frayed nerves of those members who have been slandered from day one.
“Okay, we can say let’s work together. But how is the person who has called you a mole going to be treated, or to look at you, and how will you relate? Is there going to be a disciplinary process to reprimand such a person?
“But what about the tribal question which was part of the campaign? You cannot call a person a mole and think they can comfortably work with you. All those questions can be answered if there is introspection within FDC, which is likely not to happen,” Katuntu said.
Before formal consultations begin this week, Muntu has informally been comparing notes and his findings reportedly compound these questions.
“Whereas some people seem to say that we can resolve these questions internally, they, at the same time, signal messages that require resolving the questions by leaving the party. It is complex for us,” said one source, who has been privy to the ongoing consultations.
So far, Gen Muntu has been to Arua district and Kagoma county in Jinja district, where he received new FDC members. One source, who attended the informal discussions at the two places, said: “Well, these were not the formal consultations Gen Muntu talked about but the people we interacted with gave views as to how we shall work within FDC where some people have already declared us as enemies…”
This source said: “Whereas some of the members consulted seem ready to listen, they argue that their actions will depend on how the defiance group relates with them.”
Since winning the FDC presidency, Patrick Oboi Amuriat (POA) has signalled he is interested in reconciliation but some statements from some FDC officials have escalated the tensions. For instance, FDC chairperson, Wasswa Biriggwa and Nathan Nandala-Mafabi, the FDC secretary general, have invited anyone who wants to leave the party to go.
Abed-Nasser Mudiobole, the FDC secretary for legal affairs, said such statements are counterproductive.
“The whole reason to say we want to consult before we make any decision of leaving the party is intended to provide a window of reconciliation…but when some group looks at us as useless, it is not okay,” he said.
Mudiobole, who has previously worked in various national leadership positions since 2008 and is a prominent member of Muntu’s camp, said he was treated shabbily at the swearing-in of new president Patrick Oboi Amuriat last Friday.
“Ideally, being the FDC secretary for legal affairs, I was supposed to preside over the swearing-in of the new president. I was even at the party headquarters. But I was sidelined in favour of Mr Ladislaus Rwakafuuzi, a known member of the Mafabi group,” Mudiobole said.
“This is not fair…I am a commissioner for oaths and a notary public, I have all the legal qualifications, but what explains my side-lining. If they needed him [Rwakafuuzi], they should have consulted me as the head of department in charge of legal issues,” he said.
Interviewed for a comment, Harold Kaija, the deputy secretary general, denied that Mudiobole was overlooked.
“People are taking this too far. We are a united party and these are merely differences and we are working towards resolving them like what the party president said,” he said.
Mudiobole said the Defiance question is rooted in the party’s ideological differences.
“This is a fundamental question that has to be answered. Some of us, especially me as a lawyer, I do not believe in Defiance for being unstructured. How do you make them accountable? Who is recruited into it and how? What is their scope of operation?” he said.
Mudiobole argues that defiance creates dictators; “they are the people who become reckless when they take over power, they exercise it with impunity and to keep themselves in power, they torment the citizens through corruption and terror.”
“It is hard to democratise with such a force. Our argument is let’s exhibit these democratic credentials before taking power. We want institutionalised and structured power rooted in the people’s psyche. We want a decision to be taken when it has the backing of everyone from the village.”
Dr Sabiti Makara, a lecturer of public administration and political science at Makerere University, said the question of whether Muntu’s arguments can reconcile with defiance, leads to ideological departure.
“I have heard some people saying that it is difference in strategy but I don’t think so. Ideology informs the strategy. Ideology is your outlook and how you go about anything is defined by your outlook or belief. Gen Muntu says you cannot give what you don’t have. All his statements must be understood in that frame and they seem consistent. In essence, he is saying that if you are not democratic, you should not take power and you should show this to the masses before you take power,” Makara said.
“If they think through it, defiance alone cannot work, and the best thing is to harmonise these differences. In case they cannot, I don’t see the Muntu group in that party. It [leaving] will depict them as bad losers but underneath such a decision, are fundamental questions of revolutionary struggle,” Makara said.
But there are also dissenting voices within Muntu’s camp. Some fear that forming a new party plays into the enemy’s hands on top of portraying the Muntu group as bad losers. Aswa MP, Reagan Okumu, who is also the FDC deputy president for Northern Uganda, said his colleagues should go slow about forming a party.
“I supported Muntu and I have no regrets for that and also agree that the language in the campaigns was beyond normal. But my argument to everyone is that let’s not rush to make decisions. FDC does not belong to one group. There are some people who are the source of this divisive language and that is something we have to find out,” he said.
Okumu said he does not agree with some senior party leaders who have already wished away the Muntu group.
“What Biriggwa and Mafabi are saying is not helpful and we should not behave like them. We are beyond some people and we should continue to be that…Leaving is not helpful; FDC will be no more…” he said.
Muntu said at the swearing in of POA last week; “I will be telling you a lie if I told you that there are no fundamental issues to deal with. As I understand, the delegates legitimately said this party can take power using one method but we have to investigate that in depth, whether there is anything that went wrong.”
He added: “We have decided not to make any decision; we want to make sure that whoever makes that decision is absolutely sure that that is the right decision that has been made.”