Accused recently of undermining party structures, Maj. Gen. Mugisha Muntu, the former president of the Forum for Democratic Change, explained to Baker Batte Lule why he doesn’t need to seek clearance or write to his party leadership about his countrywide consultations. Read on:-
What is this consultation all about?
In 2012 when I became party president, two tendencies emerged in the party. One was to focus on defiance. That party activities should be done once the dictatorship is out of the way.
Another tendency was that we needed to concentrate on party activities; going down to build branch networks right from the village, parish, and district. Engage in branding of the party, recruiting members and leaders that would run for office at different levels.
There is a third group that thinks that both are legitimate, both can work but need to be coordinated well. Unfortunately, this group is small. For the five years I was in leadership, I made sure that I harmonise those views. There was contention for a long time until we went into elections. We had two platforms; one of Hon [Patrick Amuriat] Oboi saying that defiance was the only platform we would pursue.
I stood on a platform that both can work; defiance and party development. The leaders of the party elected Hon Oboi and by extension I believe they chose that strategy of defiance. I have no objection with the election itself and I have clearly indicated that. I congratulated Oboi for his victory.
Before I went outside the country around December 6, I met and indicated to him that I was open to share information. I told him I will go for consultations when I come back.
Whom are you consulting?
It is actually broad. I’m not going as a party leader. I’m Muntu, a political actor much as I’m from FDC. Where we have had consultations so far, we have had civil society, religious leaders, businesspeople and members of FDC, and leaders and members of other parties who are pro-change.
We have even had members of the Movement who are pro-change. One FDC leader said: how can Muntu consult NRM members? But 29 NRM MPs voted against the lifting of presidential age limits.
How can a serious political actor not recognise that? Nineteen independent NRM-leaning members also voted against [the removal of] age limits. Why don’t you discuss the way forward with them now that the constitution was changed against their will?
FDC insists you must write to them first before you consult their members using their structures.
That means that I have to write to churches to allow their leaders to come, I have to write to Kacita to allow businesspeople to come, I have to write to other parties to allow their members to come. That would be a complex process and I wouldn’t know why I would do that because at the end of the day it’s voluntary. Those we invite can choose to or not to come.
Under my leadership, there were people sent out for [quiet] consultations. The only difference between me and them is that they were not doing it in the open. I never bothered about that because I know people have their legitimate right to do as they please.
Just seven months to the elections, a number of youths held a press conference and announced they were going to collect signatures to have me impeached. The press rang me to ask for my comment. Nobody had informed me.
I told NEC that nobody should hamper the youth.
There were youths who believed in my leadership who tried to disrupt them. I told them you can’t do that because that would tarnish the image of the party. I said let them gather the signatures and then come back to the party and it is at that point that we would deal with the issue. Unfortunately, they didn’t come back.
Why didn’t I react the way some people in the party are doing yet my consultations are in the open? I informed the party president; not seeking permission but informing him. That is my style.
Amuriat wonders why you would consult as an independent actor yet you still profess to be FDC.
What’s the problem with that? Whatever we are doing has one purpose; to ensure that we remove the dictatorship and manage power well.
I’m a key actor in one of the tendencies. I cannot put my head in the sand and assume there are no tendencies in the party. It’s in the best interest of the party to ensure that we harmonise our positions rather than keep on quarrelling.
Instead of focusing on defeating the dictatorship, we become paralysed.
In the meeting I had with Oboi, I told him I don’t want him to go through what I went through. I want to find out whether we can deal with this situation once and for all.
That is what I would desire but if it can’t happen, I wouldn’t want to behave like my colleagues behaved during my leadership. You keep fighting so that the leader fails and in the next round of elections you defeat him because of the paralysis. We are either able to resolve these contradictions or we are not.
You say you don’t want Amuriat to go through what you went through but your actions seem to suggest otherwise…
Hon Oboi is just two months into his term and we have already talked. It took more than a year to resolve the contradictions we had when I won in 2012. I’m saying, let’s see whether we can create harmony or we separate. The earlier, the better.
Some of the people who supported your candidature have since withdrawn from party activities…
I don’t think they have withdrawn; it’s just one month. Like Oboi said and I agree with him, even when I was in leadership, you wouldn’t have more than 50 percent of the people attending meetings.
The only problem is that we have people who want to see faults all the time; quarrelling instead of discussing.
But some people within your camp say Oboi and his group laid the bed, let them sleep in it.
That’s not what I want. When I was in leadership, there were those who said I was hanging at the top, but that they were in charge of the party. So, you will not avoid such people who express such sentiments on both sides.
We have heard of a third force between the two extremes in government and the opposition represented by FDC…
You must recognise the fact that there are some people out there who are neither with the opposition nor the Movement. In my five years, I tried to minimize internal contradictions and fights in the public.
My hope and intention was that we brand FDC such that it becomes attractive to that group. People cannot join an organisation if they think it’s on fire all the time. Unfortunately, we never attracted them.
Can we attract that group; because it’s a huge chunk of people? You can imagine there are 58 independents in parliament, more than FDC. The question is why are they not joining opposition political parties yet many of them are pro-change?
People who promoted the candidacy of Amama Mbabazi spoke about fence-sitters who were uncomfortable with both the NRM and FDC candidates. Do they exist?
The objective conditions on the ground must be ripe for them to be able to spring up. FDC is also a formation of break-aways. Most of us broke away from NRM, DP, UPC and then we formed FDC.
Why would anyone think that the dynamics ended then? If we reach a point and say that is the way to go, that is the point at which to say it was true or not. Is there a risk; of course yes. If you are involved in a change process and you are risk-averse, you never move.
The problem with African people is that we marginalise central issues and centralise marginal issues. Here is a country where just a month ago Gen Museveni rammed an amendment down the throats of MPs. The country is right now hanging in balance. There is going to be change but how do we manage this change?
Why not direct your energies towards uprooting Museveni’s regime?
The moment you have the capabilities of how to manage the change, then you have the capabilities of removing the regime.
From my experience in the five years that we fought, as we were fighting, we were also training the political circles to take power. When we finally took power in 1986, you could walk in 10 different offices, ask one question and get similar answers because of the preparation.
By the time we took over, key people had the same objective. Were there mistakes; yes, they were many, but the fundamental mistake was to lose track of the key objective we fought for.
It doesn’t matter how long it takes to have change; when it finally happens, we must be able to manage it. We don’t want to be like Egypt where the forces of change ousted Hosni Mubarak only to get [Abdel Fatah] el-Sisi who is worse than Mubarak.