Several senior members of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) allied to ousted party leader, Gen Mugisha Muntu, have stepped up discussions around plans to establish a new platform described as a “third force” in Uganda’s politics.
The Observer has been told that if these talks bear fruit, the new platform would bring together disaffected FDC members and individuals from outside the party. On Sunday, they convened at the home of Alice Alaso, the party vice president for eastern Uganda, in Kira town, and held exploratory talks.
Alaso yesterday confirmed that this “was an informal meeting without any minutes recorded.”
“We are going to have the formal meetings after Friday [when Muntu will hand over office to Patrick Oboi Amuriat] and everything will be known,” she said.
Alaso said that “what is very clear is that you cannot run a party without structures. It defeats the principle of accountability. We are also discussing a party that seeks to groom young people and mentor leaders at the grassroots. This is about the long term strategy of how we will conduct ourselves after taking power.”
Alaso added that the problem with the single approach of defiance, championed by party founding President Dr Kizza Besigye and his protégé, Amuriat, “is a preoccupation with taking power that makes it easy for the emergence of a potential dictator since there would be no institutions to hold him or her accountable.”
Besigye has come under fire from Muntu allies who draw parallels between his style and the ruling National Resistance Movement party under President Museveni’s absolute control. Efforts to reach Besigye for a comment were futile by press time as he is said to have travelled abroad.
But the spotlight is now focused on how even when he cut short his party presidential term and handed over to Muntu in 2012, he maintained considerable control over FDC where he enjoys a fanatical following amongst some members.
It is said that he deliberately undermined Muntu by running parallel party activities because he saw himself as the party’s ultimate leader, not unlike Museveni and his penchant for sole candidacy during presidential elections. The Observer was told that consequently, “this is not about only FDC”.
“We are reaching out to everyone. We have been informally engaging and our conversations have been about how they read and interpret the situation. In our view, all parties now seem to present two extreme views and at the end of the day it is Uganda that loses. We are proposing a third force that is about other stakeholders like Dr Miria Matembe,” a source said.
Other sources told The Observer that hardly 48 hours after the FDC delegates’ conference voted against a second Muntu term in favour of Amuriat on November 24, preparatory talks started.
“These meetings are not about losing to POA but they are being conducted to find a way of how we are to handle the bigger issue that got shrouded in last week’s election,” our source said.
The group contends that the issue which got shrouded was the approach to taking power.
“There are those who believe that you can only take power through defiance and confrontation (a single approach) and there are those of us who believe that before you take over power, you need to first organise and have structures that make everyone accountable,” the source added.
This group claims to have the backing of some senior leaders of the party, including people like Amanya Mushega, the former secretary general of the East African Community; former MPs John Kazoora, Kassiano Wadri, Christine Abia, Augustine Ruzindana and prominent members such as Dr Munini Mulera.
Many of the named senior FDC leaders above were originally associated with the Parliamentary Advocacy Forum (Pafo), a pro-constitutionalism, democracy and rule of law pressure group which, in July 2004, merged with the Besigye-led NRM splinter group known as Reform Agenda to give birth to FDC.
When Muntu took to the floor at Alaso’s place, our sources say that he agreed with the proposal, but advised members against rushing decisions without thinking through the implications. On Wednesday, Muntu addressed a highly anticipated media conference where it had been expected that he would announce the parting of ways.
Instead, he stretched the suspense; talking vaguely about how he will stay in FDC but is going to hold talks with Amuriat beginning Friday through December. He promised countrywide consultations to ensure that by the time “we are going to make any decision, it is not a decision that we are going to make out of emotions because we are dealing with matters of life and death.”
At least 30 MPs (some FDC, others independent) are said to be flirting with this initiative. They include Winnie Kiiza (Kasese woman MP and leader of opposition), Ssemujju Ibrahim Nganda (Kira municipality MP and opposition chief whip), Reagan Okumu (Aswa MP and FDC vice president, northern), Abdu Katuntu (Bugweri), Prof Ogenga Latigo (Agago North), Robert Centenary (Kasese Municipality), Elijah Okupa (Kasilo), Ibrahim Kasozi (Makindye East), Emmanuel Ongiertho (Jonam), Simon Oyet (Nwoya), Herbert Ariko (Soroti municipality), Angelina Osegge (Soroti woman MP), Wilfred Niwagaba (Ndorwa East), Ann Adeke Ebaju (National Youth MP Eastern), Anita Among (Bukedea) and Beatrice Anywar (Kitgum municipality).
While addressing the media at Hotel Africana, Muntu was guarded when asked about starting a new party.
“I wish I could give you an easy answer. It is tough and that is why we have to make wide consultations. If it was only myself, I never find it difficult to make hard decisions in my life. I make them whether people understand me or not, I keep moving,” Muntu said.
Insiders say Muntu’s stance is deliberate.
“He wants to keep the defiance guys guessing and in the process they will make a mistake of expelling them from the party. Alternatively, it will also help the pro-Muntu MPs to retain their positions in parliament. It is quite complicated for the defiance group,” said one source.
Kalundi Serumaga, a cultural, political and civic activist, said Muntu seems to have made a proper diagnosis of Uganda’s politics.
“What he is talking about is a historical problem with political power struggles… It is the same argument we had with the NRA/M. We kept on asking them, who are we organising? Around whom? What issues and how? Gen Muntu seems to be raising important [issues]…Unfortunately, the more militant, like the way the defiance group is projecting itself, wins and you have a repeat of the same situation,” Serumaga said.
Serumaga argued that you can only be a people’s representative if you know where to find them.
“That has to be in structures and organised forums…My disagreement with the defiance group is that they seem to have mistrust of structures and form, which is understandable for the case of Dr Besigye; he comes from the army whose structures made him accountable to an authority. This is not the same thing Gen Muntu is presenting. He is talking about him being accountable to the structures of the people,” Serumaga said.
He added that Uganda is faced with a political culture where people look at their leaders as heroes.