In part I of this series published last Wednesday, we examined how the Reform Agenda (RA) pressure group manoeuvred to ensure that Dr Warren Kizza Besigye Kifefe would lead, and control the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) right from the outset. SULAIMAN KAKAIRE continues the examination...
By the time Besigye became FDC party president, the important offices were secretary general and the secretaries for treasury, legal, mobilisation, security, publicity and information, women and youth.
Some of these positions were largely occupied by what one would refer to as Besigyeists. They included Jack Sabiti (treasurer), Alice Alaso (secretary general), and Ingrid Turinawe (women).
Alaso has since been replaced and no longer sees Besigye as someone truly committed to the democratic principles, which their party championed. However, former information secretary, Wafula Oguttu (also since replaced) maintains that the Besigye he knew was always a democrat.
“I have seen him; he used to come to Najjanankumbi, with his ideas. We would combat them and we tell him reasons as to why and he says ‘okay, comrades, let’s move on’,” Oguttu told The Observer.
The difference in opinion between these party elders underlines just what has become of FDC today. The experience of former Leader of Opposition in Parliament (LoP), Prof Morris Ogenga Latigo, will shed some light on how Besigye operated as party president, and why he has become such a divisive figure in FDC.
Latigo remembers how he was targeted during his bid for and tenure as LOP. He became a pariah just because he had collected signatures in support of Maj Gen Gregory Mugisha Muntu’s bid to stand in the 2006 elections.
Besigye was stuck in exile at the time and there was no guarantee he would be back in time. But still, Latigo came under fire for daring to back anyone but their man.
“We walked a very tight rope in that perspective until the elections were over; we lost the presidential elections. Some of us got elected to parliament. After the elections, you could begin to see that while we were a new party, there were some units within FDC; sentiments like ‘Reform Agenda is our thing and you are an outsider. But we said no, some of you guys came and joined us in the opposition,” Latigo said.
“Everybody wanted to be leader of opposition but I argued strongly and said that where the president is not in parliament, the people who occupy the highest party position should become the leader,” said Latigo.
He would eventually move a motion for a resolution to this effect, which was overwhelmingly supported by FDC’s National Executive Committee (NEC) in 2006.
“This defined the road towards the creation of the two power centres,” Latigo remembers.
By accepting the rule that the most senior person in the party becomes leader of opposition, they not only disqualified people like Kasilo MP Elijah Okupa, who was campaigning for the post, but it automatically meant that the choice was down to either Latigo or Sam Njuba -- both deputy presidents then.
The RA wing allied with Buganda interests within FDC and presented Njuba (now dead) as their candidate. At the opposite end, the Parliamentary Advocacy Forum (PAFO) which was the other major founding group of FDC, supported Latigo.
“That election exposed internal weaknesses… There was no single day we sat in private, me and Dr Besigye, to discuss the unfolding scenarios,” remembers Latigo.
“For a while, I kept off the campaign, thinking probably Dr Besigye would call me and say ‘Latigo, you are with Njuba now what do you people think?’
“Besigye was close to Njuba because they were from Reform Agenda. But when the period of campaign came, I wrote a small brief about myself; what I have been doing for the party and about my vision as a leader of opposition. If you ask people like Odonga Otto, they were furious with me; they said ‘Latigo, what is the problem with you, these guys are campaigning and you are not’. I said, let them campaign, people know me and if some people can do this work better, let it be,” he said.
Eventually, Latigo won but the campaign experience, particularly Besigye’s disposition, left a sour taste.
“I don’t remember ever being congratulated by Dr Besigye,” he said.
Of that contest, Besigye said when interviewed that: “The late Hon Sam Njuba (RIP) was our leader in Reform Agenda when Hon Ogenga Latigo was still in DP. Hon Njuba had been our leader in UPM and during the NRA/NRM struggle, to which he personally recruited me.
He expected that I would campaign and vote for him to become our first LOP. I neither campaigned nor voted for him! He, and those who voted for him, were very disappointed with me on this account because he attributed his loss to that. It’s possible that Hon Latigo too thought that I couldn’t have favoured him for the post.”
Proscovia Salaamu Musumba, who was the other deputy president, thinks the former LoP is reading too much into what happened.
“Those are petty things. He did not make himself leader of opposition, we made him. He was not the only one available. It was a political calculation. He was assigned like anyone else. We made a political choice and it was communicated to him,” Musumba said.
However, Latigo says this explanation by Besigye and Musumba does not truly reflect the reality of the LoP race those many years ago. It was so polarising a contest that the Buganda caucus was so consumed by a guilty conscience, Latigo remembers. He says most of its members boycotted the party headquarters for quite some time.
Through his eyes, Latigo saw a pattern emerge – one where somebody deliberately wanted to position particular people in certain offices.
“You could see that there was something beyond the meetings we had with Dr Besigye; the decisions we took in the party. Though sometimes he would opt to consult on some things... Although in certain cases I stood my ground. For example, in the case of Hon Hassan Kaps Fungaroo, they wanted him to be in the cabinet but I said that he is too young; he doesn’t have the competencies, we have senior people whom we cannot overlook,” Latigo remembers.
CENTRES OF POWER
This pattern eventually established itself in the factions that evolved. Latigo says he was somehow made to pay for defeating Njuba.
This first came out when the leader of opposition was required to respond to President Museveni’s State-of-the-Nation address. Latigo said the party headquarters tried to direct the response but he refused.
“I accepted to be leader of opposition because I know am competent to lead; otherwise, I would not even have offered myself. So, nobody is going to write anything for me. I know party policies, I am the one who chaired the meeting, I know the constitution of the party, I know everything including the interests of the party. But beyond that, I am a policy expert not many of you can compete with.”
Even then the party leadership continued to press.
“I told them, look; the parliamentary caucus is not an organ of the party. So the party cannot make a demand for us to account unless we provide for the parliamentary caucus in the constitution…NEC would ask for the accountability and they even made Hon. Alice Alaso, the secretary general then, write. I wrote back to her and I said, no, we are not under the supervision of the party, but we are a body of the party,” Latigo.
In retrospect, Latigo says;
“They [Alaso and Besigye] only wanted to control me which was not fair. And so I said, we will give a report. So, every two weeks we would write a summary report and I made specific proposals on how to amend the party constitution to provide for the parliamentary caucus. Because I said that that caucus is an opposition caucus beyond FDC and, therefore, for FDC to take a claim and demand that we report, as a mandatory thing, it is not right,” he said.
In due course, Latigo remembers encountering difficulties during briefing meetings.
“KB could at times be dismissive,” he said. “I remember when they asked me in writing, to report on the Juba peace process and I wrote back to them, saying I am providing a report, but not I am not reporting [to you] because the Juba peace process is a process outside the party. We are there by virtue of being leaders from the conflict area. For the party to demand that I report, is not right.”
Besigye brushed off Latigo’s letter, replying that the LoP was dabbling in semantics.
“But, I said, no it’s not semantics... I wrote my report, I read it to them. I told them let the party keep out of this process... Let it fail on account of us who are participating…they never took it kindly. But, I held my ground. I was actually attacked over that, in particular by the Reform group.”
Slowly, the groundswell of opinion against Latigo spread out from FDC headquarters in Najjanankumbi into the parliamentary caucus.
“I remember one time when I had to react to the Reagan [Okumu] and Nandala [Mafabi]. We would be in a meeting and then they start their own discussions. I remember one day, when they started discussing, I kept quiet. And when I kept quiet, they also kept quiet, I said no, you finish your discussions then we can proceed. They got the message,” Latigo said as he referred to some records.
But Besigye does not remember having a problematic relationship with Latigo.
“I didn’t have any difficulty working with Hon Latigo at all, save for MPs generally ignoring party work.”
Musumba also questions the MPs’ commitment during Latigo’s time. Revealing how “I was always assigned to act in Doctor’s capacity but my colleagues were always finding excuses…”
“Parliament never gave value for their work,” she said.
Musumba and Oguttu think the problem has its roots elsewhere, suggesting that only those who were nursing bigger ambitions found Besigye to be difficult.
“So, those of us who are not ambitious to be president of Uganda maybe we do not see a problem with him. If I was ambitious to be the president of Uganda and I’m in FDC, the biggest problem would be Besigye, I would get rid of him,” he said.
Said Musumba: “Because they had ambition of replacing him, they did not work to make him succeed”.
Other goings-on inside FDC’s youth organ will, however, discount the Oguttu/Musumba theory. There were two important offices for youth in FDC. One was the secretary for youth headed by Aruu MP, Samuel Odonga Otto, and the other was the national chairperson for youth, at one time or the other held by Samuel Makoha.
Things were fine until new office bearers arrived. When Makoha went into exile in the Netherlands, Frank Kiherere, a former suspect of the shadowy so-called ‘People’s Redemption Army’ rebel group, was selected as a stand-in while elections were organised in January 2009.
Kiherere and Gerald Karuhanga were the candidates. Elections for the women’s league had also been simultaneously organised and Ingrid Turinawe, the current secretary for mobilisation, was to tussle it out with current Lubaga division chairperson, Joyce Nabbosa Ssebugwawo.
Before voting day, Muntu stepped in, warning that FDC was running the risk of becoming westerner-dominated. Kiherere was advised to step down in favour of current Ayivu MP, Benard Atiku, while Karuhanga pulled out in favour of Abed Nasser Mudiobole, the current secretary for legal affairs.
Mudiobole won but not many people were happy about that.
“I was not very popular within the structures. I remember even people like Hon. Alaso saying, ‘who is this person? He could be a mole or intelligence’. Well, it was all because of ignorance or perhaps the fact that their camp lost. I was a very active member at the formation of the party during my university days,” he said.
Having been elected, Mudiobole was now part of the party’s management committee, but he says he was not embraced by Besigye.
“I remember that I was the national youth chairperson but I never got instructions from the party president. Instead, I would see other people doing my work,” Mudiobole said.
Mudiobole says this forced him into the arms of Muntu, who was then secretary for mobilisation. After the 2009 delegates’ conference during which Mudiobole was one of 52 people who sided with Muntu over Besigye, his troubles mounted.
“I had dealt with Muntu and I had found him a clear and straightforward person,” said Mudiobole, remembering how that choice has continued to haunt him.
“He [Besigye] would never give instructions to me but instead instruct Sam Mugumya, who was not in the national structure. I saw that was not proper. In fact, the closest he would come to the structure was when he would give some work to my then vice chairperson, Francis Mwijukye, the current MP for Buhweju,” Mudiobole said.
So, Mudiobole came to understand how Besigye prefers to work “with those who agree with or serve him.”
Muntu declined to be interviewed at any length for this article, observing that: “When you are in an institution with people, you always have points of agreement and disagreement. It is normal and for my case everything is solved internally. I can’t discuss that with you.”
The record will show that although Besigye eventually handed over to Muntu, having prematurely ended his FDC presidency in 2012, the colonel seemed determined to undermine his successor at every turn.
In effect, Besigye created a parallel party headquarters at his Katonga Road offices in Kampala, acting and operating as if he was still FDC leader. This left Muntu looking like a lame-duck leader.
In the end, the rubicon was crossed when he chose Patrick Amuriat Oboi over Muntu in last year’s bruising party presidential elections.
In 2008, the tenure of the party leadership had expired and as those in leadership had to seek a new mandate. A delegates’ conference was slated for 2009. The RA wing saw this as a perfect opportunity to reassert itself.
“They needed to fix the parliamentary caucus as a way of balancing power within the party,” a member of the RA, who has since switched sides, told The Observer.
Aswa MP Reagan Okumu, the man who was pivotal in getting the RA off the ground, was asked to challenge Latigo for the position of deputy president (northern). If he won, it would mean Latigo had to give up the LoP position given the 2006 NEC resolution that guided on how one qualifies to be chosen for that post.
The free-thinking incumbent says that when he got wind of the plan, he decided time had come to hold the bull by the horns.
“I kind of got information that the campaign which was going on was that Latigo the other time humiliated Njuba, this was meant to get the Buganda caucus vote for Reagan; so, when I handled the Buganda caucus, I had to address the delegates about the [Besigye issue],” he said.
“I told them that for me, I am contesting to keep my position as deputy president and as the deputy president, my job is to help the president, now why have you people accused me of wanting to be party president? Reagan had been quoted somewhere saying I wanted to be party president... As a party leader, and as leader of the opposition, I’ve worked with everybody,” he said.
Latigo says he wrote to Besigye telling him not to worry about Latigo, informing him “that if I thought he was not providing the kind of leadership that I agree with, he would be the first to know my intentions of opposing him.”
Besigye never replied. Latigo defeated Okumu, which meant that he could not be removed as LoP. At the same conference, the RA opposed another independent-minded member, the Bugweri MP, Abdu Katuntu. Katuntu had expressed interest in the national chairperson job.
Besigye’s people first lined up Obeid Kamulegeya or Yusuf Nsibambi but they were found to be lightweights when measured against the heavy hitter Katuntu is known to be.
So, Besigye persuaded his man, Njuba to stand. Njuba became national chairman. A few weeks after that conference, former Workers MP, Martin Wandera, who had been chosen as secretary for labour, was withdrawn by Besigye.
Wandera told The Observer, “I was being victimised for having led the Muntu campaigns when he stood against Besigye.”
In explaining the Martin Wandera incident, Besigye said, “I made a straightforward mistake that wasn’t intentional. The NDC [National Delegates’ Conference] had elected him to a post that I erroneously filled with another person. It was rectifiable and I apologised to him when the mistake was clear to me. However, it seems (from my observation since) that there was more interest in highlighting the mistake than rectifying it. Nonetheless, I still regret the mistake.”
Katuntu says the 2009 delegates’ conference was a defining moment for him.
“I supported Besigye and had always supported him but when I came to reflect on the behind-the-scenes of the conference I had to reconsider my relations with some individuals in the party,” he said.
NAIVETY OR MATURITY
Whereas most Besigye loyalists are adamant that their patron does not work in cliques, Dan Wandera-Ogalo, a level-headed political operator who worked with Besigye as secretary for legal affairs, says factionalism took root in FDC due to their failure to manage disagreement.
“Now, once they became camps, management of the party became problematic because people retreated into their original formations [PAFO or Reform Agenda],” he said.
Consequently, over time, one force (RA), either due to the gullibility of the PAFO side, or their willingness to tolerate suppression in the wider interests of FDC, started to dominate. Ogalo uses the example of Katuntu and his bid for national chair to illustrate his point.
“What could have guided people then? Maybe there was naivety on our part, but you see it is easy to explain and say ‘you people, the position of chairman has already been in Buganda. If now you bring a Musoga, you are going to destabilise our arrangement’. That was the argument then…
“What I have come to learn later is that there have been caucuses and I think that’s where you can say danger began. A certain tendency starts meeting and planning... This caucusing is not something we had in the party. You hear people have met in such and such a place; they have planned, when you are from the same party…” he said.
Ogalo says he got a better understanding of this when he also stood for party chairmanship in 2015. He says he was advised not to rock the boat.
“They said if a post is for Buganda, it will be for Buganda. I argued that but we have come from very far. Then we didn’t have people to take leadership positions but we have attracted people, now we have moved away from that. We should build a party based on competence, not based on religion, region or so on,” he said.
Eventually, he found himself facing virtual unknown inside opposition circles, Wasswa Biriggwa and Bwanika Bbale. Biriggwa, the newcomer, won.
“I was seeing him for the first time in the delegates’ conference! I heard that he had joined the party three weeks or three months before. So, I said to myself that if a person has come to a party just three weeks, how can he be rallying support? If we want a Muganda, why didn’t people support Bwanika Bbale? He is a former NRC member and CA member, and most importantly he is a founding member and former chairperson of Buganda caucus,” Wandera said.
Only later would Wandera discover that Biriggwa was introduced into the picture by then Besigye loyalist, Joyce Ssebugwawo. His entry was by design.
Last Saturday evening, Alaso also created the impression that her naïve belief misled her into thinking that whenever she was writing to former LoP Latigo in pursuit of Besigye’s wishes, she was only fulfilling her role as secretary general.
“Professor should not think that I was used to castigate him. I was doing what the NEC chairperson [Besigye] required the secretary general to do. In hindsight, perhaps things were beyond what we had imagined then,” she said.
Alaso acknowledges that there was animosity between Besigye and Latigo.
“I remember that most of the times when Besigye was away, he would never assign Latigo to act in his capacity. Of the deputies, it was only Salaamu [Musumba] who would act. That was always raised as a concern in one of the meetings and I remember another incident when he said that Besigye was not talking to him or taking his calls. In fact, in one meeting that I attended, Prof Latigo called Salaamu, so that he could reach Doctor through her but when Salaamu showed Doctor that it was Prof calling, Doctor refused to talk to him.”
Alaso said about the Martin Wandera fiasco: “It is the first time I am hearing that there was an apology made. As the secretary general, I could have documented that or come across it in the records because it is the same records in my possession that indicate the mistake or those actions as you would wish to call them.”
Alaso was FDC secretary general for 10 years. Between 2005 to 2009, she remembers that they as top leaders, especially those from PAFO, thought that “these tendencies would be outgrown”.
“However, this was not the case with colleagues from the other side. We thought that we shared common values but we were naïve. Besides, at some point we thought that this was maybe about the fact that this being a new party maybe most of us did not have a clear understanding of how parties function because I remember how I fought to give status reports to the NEC and National Delegates’ Conference, when people like the late Dr Sulaiman Kiggundu did not like it.”
Latigo says there were basically two reasons they did not pick a fight with Reform Agenda.
“One, some of us did not want to start an early fight as to who should be the leader. Secondly, Reform Agenda which was the largest group in the debate and had the biggest network at the formation of the party, wanted to see the party led by somebody from their side.”
The writing was on the wall…
TO BE CONTINUED