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New party: How Bobi Wine kept his secret

Bobi Wine unveiling the National Unity Platform party

Bobi Wine unveiling the National Unity Platform party

When he was planning to buy or form a new political party, Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu went off the People Power Movement grid. He only came back just two days to the launch of the National Unity Platform to tip off a few of his closest backers in parliament.

After springing the initial surprise of announcing the National Unity Platform last week, Bobi Wine’s critics and allies have begun mulling over how the People Power leader managed to pull off such a secret political masterstroke.

Where was the media? How could Bobi Wine identify a political party, look for its owners, negotiate a monetary deal, exchange money, process the name change,  publish it in the newspaper, carry out a delegates’ conference and then elect himself president without anyone knowing.

“This was one of the highly kept secrets because if many people got to know about it, it would be killed before it was realized,” said Bugiri municipality MP Asuman Basalirwa.

He said he was lucky to have been consulted and gave his nod of approval. While unveiling the party, Kyagulanyi said it was important to keep it a secret.

“When we started the People Power Movement about three years ago, we had lengthy discussions about whether or not to register a political party. Our analysis led us to the conclusion that it was both untimely and impractical to form a party. We were alive to the fact that the regime would foil any attempt to register People Power as a political party,” Kyagulanyi said.

But unlike Basalirwa, many People Power Movement bigwigs got to know about the new party just two days to its launch. To some, this was political betrayal and fuelled more internal resentment against Bobi Wine. One person interviewed for this story described MPs; Muwanga Kivumbi, Medard Sseggona and Mathias Mpuuga as captives within People Power.

Bobi Wine hijacks party idea   

The idea of forming a new political party was not new to People Power and its associates. The movement tried and failed to convince Norbert Mao’s Democratic Party to fully back Kyagulanyi for president. Mao believes Kyagulanyi is undisciplined.

At first DP thought they would use Kyagulanyi’s popularity to reclaim their position as the country’s leading opposition political party, a position snatched 15 years ago by the Forum for Democratic Change.

They organized what they called DP reunions, which brought together the breakaway factions of Michael Mabikke of the Social Democratic Party, Lubega Mukaaku’s Truth and Justice and Abed Bwanika’s People’s Development Party. At first the arrangement seemed to work. The group gang of four organized DP reunions at Makerere, Masaka and Jinja which attracted mammoth crowds.

Then came another idea; they nudged Kyagulanyi to sign a memorandum of understanding committing the DP-Block to supporting him for president provided the block selects other candidates.

This was roundly rejected by the musician-cum-politician. “He couldn’t allow it as it would take away his position as a kingmaker,” a source familiar with the story told us. Then Mao started growing restless and impatient with the unruly and undisciplined Kyagulanyi.

The final blow that broke the camel’s came during the Jinja DP reunion. But before that there was the Masaka reunion. In Masaka, Kyagulanyi accused DP of using his name to mobilize political support but insisted on him playing a minimal speaking role at the rallies. He said he wanted more time to speak to the people but event organizers made sure he spoke just at the tail end of every rally.

In Jinja, Mao felt offended that a new boy who had just come onto the political scene  wanted to dictate to seasoned politicians. In Jinja, Mao made it clear to the organizers that he didn’t want Kyagulanyi to attend the rally. But nonetheless, he came. Like he had done with previous rallies, Kyagulanyi arrived when the rally was already underway. He made a grand entry.

His late arrival always attracted frenzied crowd celebrations, cheering him and demanding to hear from him. This was unacceptable to Mao. “How can we organize our functions only for Kyagulanyi to come and disrespect us? Does he know where we get the money from?” Mao allegedly told colleagues.

He left Jinja completely convinced that his political marriage with Kyagulanyi had failed. People like Mabikke, Bwanika, Mukaaku and Lubega equally believed that it was the right time to ditch Kyagulanyi.

“We made him what he is now; we can withdraw our support and give it to another person,” a source familiar with the story told us.

A few days later, Mao, using his weekly DP press conferences, unveiled Joseph Mayanja commonly known as Chameleone as a new recruit for DP. He had a lot in common with Kyagulanyi; they are both musicians, they have an enthusiastic following and they are both Baganda.

He was immediately named DP chief mobilizer. But one sticking problem was that Chameleone had in the past fraternized with the National Resistance Movement and its chairman Yoweri Kaguta Museveni. Chameleone was at the center of the Tubonga Nawe, the campaign song for Musevenis re-election in the 2016 elections.

So, the public didn’t warm up to him. Many of them looked at him as an affront to Bobi Wine and the past musical rivalry was revived. In the end, Chameleone and the DP project suffered a stillbirth. To crown it all, Chameleone professed People Power and actually went on to pick nomination papers to contest as its candidate in the Kampala City mayoral race.

Idea of the party

The DP-reunion block having spectacularly boomeranged, apart from Mao, the other group started thinking about forming a new political party. Meetings that were sometimes held at Busiro East MP Medard Lubega Sseggona and Bukoto South MP Florence Namayanja’s hotel in Masaka started strategizing on how to form a party that would field Kyagulanyi as a presidential candidate. Kyagulanyi and his people attended some of the meetings.

“We all know that we can’t defeat President Museveni through an election but at least we would become the most dominant opposition political force. We would be able to appoint the leader of opposition, and other accountability committees in parliament. We would also get funding from the Electoral Commission based on our numerical strength,” one of the principals in the discussions told us.  

At this time the new rift between Mao and his former enemies led by Sseggona and Mpuuga had reached fever pitch levels. It became apparent that it would be extremely impossible for people like Sseggona, Betty Nambooze, Mathias Mpuuga, Mawanga Kivumbi and Florence Namayanja, among others, to be selected as DP flag bearers.

The group started pushing for a change of party leadership, accusing Mao of financial impropriety. But according to one of their colleagues, this accusation was mainly a mirage. The actual reason was Mao’s determined push to deny them the party ticket. In a recent interview, Mao said as much.

“Their only concern is to win their small constituencies and the talk about liberating Uganda is just empty. Those who want to liberate Uganda don’t talk like that. Do they think they can liberate Uganda without Mao? Most of them won very narrowly to go to parliament. They won by less than 50 percent. They don’t want competition because last time we didn’t have primaries for incumbents and the mere fact that we have announced that this time round everyone is welcome to compete, that’s why they are up in arms,” Mao said in a recent interview.

According to another person familiar with the story, the idea of forming a new party got off the radar because the principals believed it would be very difficult to pull it off in the remaining time. They thought that Kyagulanyi too had abandoned it. They were wrong. Two days before Kyagulanyi’s declaration of the National Unity Platform on July 22, he called some of them like Sseggona.

“You can’t imagine the turmoil he has caused. They didn’t know how to respond. Embracing the party would automatically mean forfeiting the DP ticket,” a source told us. Last Thursday and Friday, the group met at Sseggona’s home for a crisis meeting to see how to respond.

They were in disarray; they dusted the DP block thing and declared that they support Kyagulanyi for president. Why was it necessary to make another declaration yet all along everybody knew they are Kyagulanyi supporters?

The group was in a dilemma. Most of them have a low opinion of Kyagulanyi; they can’t imagine seasoned politicians of their stature can be in a party led by Kyagulanyi and his cronies and they are just onlookers. Secondly, they don’t trust many of the people that Kyagulanyi works with closely.

People like Benjamin Katana and Lewis Rubongoya who are recent recruits from the NRM are suspected of still being allied to the government. Even the deal that saw Kyagulanyi buy off Moses Nkonge Kibalama’s party, the National Unity, Reconciliation and Development Party, was suspect.

They believe, Kibalama who has been working closely with the NRM and has ‘a great appetite for money’ can’t be a man who can negotiate a deal with Kyagulanyi and pull it off without the state ever knowing.

“He has no credibility; you know he has ever been implicated in a robbery. He has also ever forged government stamps to take a delegation from Uganda to attend a UN conference. That’s not a man you would trust,” another person told us.

Speaking at the Capital Gang over the weekend, Ofwono Opondo, the government spokesperson, said Kibalama has been working with  government.

“I think Kyagulanyi either knowingly or not is being used. Do you know that on the day Steven Kaziimba Mugalu was sworn in as archbishop, Museveni met Barbie’s parents?” a person familiar with what happened in People Power told us referring to Kyagulanyi’s wife Barbie Itungo. On top of being suspicious, the likes of Kivumbi and Sseggona, accuse Kyagulanyi of disrespect.

“The guy comes in a meeting and they expect you to stand up for him. They then bring for him a chair and he is like a boss to us. You don’t do that to colleagues,” a source quotes Kivumbi as saying of Bobi Wine.

FDC to field a presidential candidate

The Forum for Democratic Change especially the group allied to former President Dr Kizza Besigye, had started warming up to Kyagulanyi thinking that they would support his presidential ambitions.

“Dr Besigye had made it extremely very clear that he wasn’t going to be dragged into this election. He kept on saying that even in 2016, he had given up participating in elections whose results are already predetermined but he was dragged into it when he was very unprepared,” a source close to FDC told us.

He adds that Besigye and his People’s Government started holding meetings with Kyagulanyi’s group with a view of harmonizing positions. “But he would come in meetings with people like Nubian Li, Chairman Nyanzi and Rubongoya, you ask yourself does he really take these things seriously?”

“After several meetings, many of Besigye’s top confidants gave up on Kyagulanyi and started begging Besigye to reconsider his position on contesting again. People like Patrick Amuriat Oboi, the FDC president, Joyce Nabbosa Ssebugwawo, the Lubaga division mayor, Ingrid Turinawe, the secretary for mobilization, Betty Aol Ochan, the leader of opposition in parliament, Wafula Oguttu, the former leader of opposition, all begged but failed to convince Besigye to reconsider his views about elections. Having failed in their efforts, some said there was no way they would have Kyagulanyi as their candidate. And now that he has registered his own political party that door, has been completely shut.”

“We shall have a candidate in whatever form. Even if he’s not at the same level with Besigye. There is no way we can have Bobi Wine as the chief executive of our country,” the source said.

When contacted for a comment, Kira municipality MP who doubles also as the FDC spokesperson, Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda said they will be nominating presidential candidates next week.

“If it was not for Eid, we would have the nominations on Friday this week but they have been pushed to next week,” Ssemujju said.

Asked who the potential candidates are, the opposition chief whip declined to say.

“I don’t know but next week is not very far, wait and see,”

For now, political daggers have been drawn and as we slowly but surely draw towards 2021, no one knows what will happen. What’s for sure, Kyagulanyi has muddied the political waters whether anybody including himself will be able to swim through is left to be seen.  

© 2016 Observer Media Ltd