SSEMUJJU IBRAHIM NGANDA, [Kira Municpality] is the only incumbent Forum for Democratic Change MP in Buganda who returned unscathed from parliamentary races dominated by the opposition National Unity Platform led by former presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu.
FDC fielded five MPs including Michael Kabaziguruka [Nakawa East], Mubarak Munyagwa [Kawempe South], Nabilah Naggayi [Kampala mayor], Stella Nyanzi [Kampala Woman] and Ibrahim Kasozi [Makindye West]. In a sit-down interview with Baker Batte Lule, Ssemujju said the annihilation nature of the Kyagulanyi campaign, coupled with internal divisions within the party conspired to erode the party’s majority opposition ranking in parliament. Excerpts:
How did you survive the NUP wave?
The one thing I learnt since I became a member of parliament is that the work we do in parliament pleases just a fraction of
the constituency. There are people who appreciate the work you do. They hear you on radio and see you on TV and will follow and understand what an MP does.
Unfortunately, those are about 20 or 30 per cent. The rest of the constituency will want an MP who attends burials, weddings and pays school fees. I distributed more food in my constituency than government. That’s not the work of an MP but we represent people who are poor.
They see you earn a salary, drive vehicles and live in a good house. You might end up using the biggest percentage of your parliamentary salary on people.
Didn’t your losing colleagues do just that?
I don’t want to say they didn’t do that. But their failure, in my view, was hinged on a failure to balance between being a good MP and being a constituency person. But also the media has a very big influence on profiling and classifying MPs. For all the years I have been in parliament, there are people who will calculate the number of times you have spoken; I disagree with that.
So quantitatively, I’m one of those who speak in parliament going by those results. The rest of my colleagues don’t appear on that list. So, even the elite who would have spared them, didn’t find reason to spare them.
What was Kyagulanyi’s role in their ouster?
Kyagulanyi ran a campaign that gave people optimism. People believed they were going to defeat Museveni. Dr Kizza Besigye was a realist; that’s why he continued to quarrel about the election and the Electoral Commission even on nomination day.
You didn’t see Besigye at any one moment promoting FDC on TV. He became the figure for all the opposition. So, he accommodated everybody. Kyagulanyi and NUP were promoting only NUP and their symbol, the umbrella. If Besigye had done that and run adverts saying vote for only FDC, maybe many people would have been victims (lost seats).
So, Kyagulanyi and his team ran a campaign that was only about NUP. They didn’t accommodate any other person. I’m very happy Besigye never did that because you don’t want to be seen intent on annihilating the opposition. Besigye went into these elections knowing that Museveni would rig.
Kyagulanyi campaigned on optimism that they were going to win and they will be announced. His campaign at least in the Central region, picked more momentum than Besigye’s. But you must also understand that Kyagulanyi comes from the Central region. In Rukungiri, almost everybody was increasingly becoming FDC because the most prominent politician in the area was Besigye.
So, it goes without saying that because Kyagulanyi comes from the Central region, everybody supported him. In some areas, it even looked like a crime not to support Kyagulanyi and that’s why many of my colleagues rallied behind Kyagulanyi much as they didn’t support him.
Was that a bad thing?
Unlike other people, I went into this election, used everything I could to win, but I would have also accepted the results if I had lost. I don’t think that at any single moment in my life, I’m going to join a political platform simply because I think it’s going to help me win.
That means that at one point I can join NRM. I will never do that; I will remain true to who I’m. But many people who want to win an election, found it convenient to join NUP including people who were not cardholders of NUP. They were also supporting NUP; advertising it and promoting it and I’m happy that by advertising NUP, they got defeated.
How do you seek to promote a platform, you are not part of? You must be extremely stupid. But some went through like your candidate for Mawokota South Yusuf Nsibambi… Because he was the only one there. I’m not saying that was intelligent; that was hypocrisy. I don’t promote what I’m not.
I don’t have to speak against it but I must promote myself. I’m FDC; it would be ridiculous to resurrect FDC after elections. I don’t want to be opportunistic because the moment you take that line, when you get into power, you will take the same line.
You have often talked ill of doing things outside the role of an MP; have you changed your stance?
I have said so and I think that will be one of the reasons I quit politics. The population wants you to do what you are not supposed to do. A good MP is one who gives handouts to even those campaigning against him or her. That’s what they are promoting.
About the nature of Kyagulanyi’s campaign; how do you work together when he sought to annihilate you as a party?
I’m not even accusing Kyagulanyi, I’m just explaining what his campaign was about. It was about him and NUP, and not about the rest of the opposition. Besigye’s campaign was about everybody; that’s why people found space there. We ran a campaign where mayoral candidate Erias Lukwago was an independent, where you had Nambooze who was DP; there was everybody.
Working together is a matter that is going to be forced on us. We simply have no option but to continue working together like we did with NRM MPs in fighting against the removal of presidential age limits.
People have accused your party leadership of losing the biggest opposition party spot, which you have enjoyed for 15 years; how do you respond to that?
People must wake up to reality. In all elections, the NRM has been winning and then one morning half of the MPs in Buganda are NUP! Do you want to blame the NRM for the same reasons? I saw Amelia Kyambadde mulling over how she became number three.
Kyagulanyi excited the people and shifted the political ground in this area. My colleagues who went with Major General Mugisha Muntu (ANT) lost. And I can’t say they were incompetent. Paul Mwiru is a very good MP, Angeline Osegge is a very good MP and Kassiano Wadri is very experienced; but they all lost.
We had 36 MPs in the last parliament; we have the same number in the 11th parliament, against all odds. We were in such a difficult position; being attacked by many constituent groups that went to NUP, especially DP in Buganda. On every radio station, they would attack FDC and Besigye.
We were being attacked by NRM and the media every day that we were falling apart. They didn’t treat the other groups; the same way we were treated. In fact, for me, I’m happy with the results because the effort people put into ensuring that FDC is annihilated didn’t yield results.
The effort they put into undermining FDC, to me is the very reason we didn’t defeat Museveni squarely in this election. In areas where FDC performed well; Kigezi, Lango, West Nile and Acholi, the party went there first, without Besigye and two, it went there wounded.
One time I spoke with Hon Franca Akello of Agago and she told me that NRM and Odonga Otto were using every airtime to make sure they defeat FDC. You can understand who the beneficiary was. The moment FDC became weak in Ankole, Rwenzori, Teso and Kigezi, that’s how Museveni remained president.
We have not learnt to work together. We only pretend to be united. On CBS radio, every single program by Abed Bwanika, Michael Mabikke and others, was a program against FDC and Besigye. Eventually, if their interest was to promote NUP, they ended up promoting both NUP and NRM and that’s why FDC lost in areas it used to win and they failed to make inroads because they didn’t have representatives there.
But don’t you also find it awkward that you blame everybody for the woes of the party?
I’m not blaming everybody; I’m explaining the condition we are in. Of course, we have our own internal disagreements. You can’t count the number of times I appeared on radio stations being attacked by Prof Ogenga Latigo, attacked by MP Abdul Katuntu, Nabilah, etc, and these were high-profile people whose statements were believable though they were not true.
But I pride in those internal dynamics in FDC because we are the only party in Uganda that has changed every corner. You wait for others when their turn comes to change leaders. There are parties that are going to remain under one leader for eternity.
By the way, even losing the majority opposition party position in parliament is a good lesson. I’m the chief opposition whip until May; so, maybe for the first time in many years I’m going to be a backbencher. It’s good to learn that when you lose, you go. If people are mourning the loss of leader of opposition, how about when you lose the presidency?
I will miss the position I’m holding but we must learn that at some time you lose something.
Is FDC better off now after shedding off people who were causing internal friction?
There is nothing I have celebrated like the departure of Nabilah Naggayi. Let them take their indiscipline elsewhere; they will
be exposed. People will know they were the problem, and not FDC. Certainly, Dr Besigye has his own weaknesses and I have disagreed with him but you cannot accuse him of being the sole reason people are leaving FDC.
People should watch them wherever they have gone. They will either have to adjust their conduct or they will be thrown out. Nabilah who goes to attend a Museveni nomination meeting in the morning and in the afternoon she sits in another nomination meeting with Mbabazi and the following day she’s the first to arrive to nominate Besigye!
Do you want to have such character in your party? When Muntu lost the FDC presidency, Hon Nuwe Amanya Mushega called me and said there is no perfect world, try to improve where you are. There are those looking for the perfect world; fortune hunters moving from one platform to another.
I want to ask the Almighty, to help me conclude my political career without having to wander around from one group to another even if the reasons are so legitimate.
You said earlier that the reason Museveni won was because where FDC support weakened, newcomers never made any inroads… Is that confirmation that Museveni won the election free and square?
You can cheat and win an election but you can be overpowered the same way Museveni was overpowered in Buganda. It was not possible to overpower him in those other areas because there was no human resource to do so.
So, it becomes easier to cheat where there is nobody stopping you. I’m not saying Museveni won this election because elections are not only about the balloting but also about the deployment of the military and, emptying the central bank, among others.
On account of what Museveni did in this election, elections were annulled in Kenya and Malawi. It will not be annulled here because this is Uganda.
How do you rate Amuriat’s performance?
I had a quarrel with NTV at the beginning of the campaign; they deployed people to cover Amuriat’s campaign and later withdrew them. In their judgment, Amuriat’s campaign was not high-profile enough to be covered every day.
Eventually, they returned because in their assessment, Amuriat’s campaign became more serious than people had anticipated. So, I’m very happy with Amuriat because I didn’t think that his performance would be as good as it was. I drove Amuriat on nomination, we passed a crowd and they said, No, we don’t want you, we want Kyagulanyi but he soldiered on.
The only setback we had was he was unable to do a traditional campaign. At the end of the FDC nomination day, that’s when people realized Besigye was not coming. To begin marketing Amuriat amidst the rise of Kyagulanyi was going to be very difficult.