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How political parties weaken political engagement in Uganda

The Bugiri Municipality by-election, which lawyer Asuman Basalirwa won decisively, showed us, among other things, that political parties actually stifle political engagement in Uganda. 

It is a problem of cut-and-paste: with an agrarian-rural ethic and worldview, we have focused all our energies on an imaginary Disney world of multiparty political dynamism. Debating politics in Kampala – with figures and stats, written law, etcetera – gives a delusional impression of Labour vs Conservatives or Democrats vs Republicans.

We have been wrong and, sadly, this craziness continues. [Have we ever wondered how we ended up with empty party nomenclature such as “the movement” like political office were a journey to some dreamland, and once there, you cross-leg and enjoy the breeze?]. 

The context and ethic in Kampala – and most of sub-Saharan Africa – is not necessarily unsuitable, but still young for multiparty political engagement, as political office is not simply an aspiration for development, but a mode of seeing and organising the world.

Let me use the Bugiri case to demonstrate how political parties in Uganda are the price of political engagement. For long, as an active political player in the country, Basalirwa was by far the most renowned actor without an official position in the hierarchies of power – just like Col Kizza Besigye. 

An eloquent debater and theoretician, an indefatigable human rights lawyer and activist, whose clients included most major opposition politicians in the country, Basalirwa had tried joining parliament on two previous occasions.

Despite these failed bids, his star continued to grow by leaps and bounds. He represented the oppressed, the same way he debated Museveni’s dullards with wit and humour.  Eking out an existence as a lawyer with renowned opposition sentiments is a difficult feat in Kampala. You are blacklisted. Not once, not twice, the NRM presented Basalirwa with lucrative offers of enrichment if he joined them. The man stood his ground.

When the by-election opened, Basalirwa, whose JEEMA party comparatively does not command a wide following, had to find support from the other major ones. The country recalls how FDC and DP leaderships laboured to explain their refusal to support the most suited and nationally recognisable candidate.

Citing some hackneyed party rules, Besigye and Mao opted for some obscure candidates of their own competing against a comrade in the struggle. The entire country – especially fans of the opposition – looked on in absolute bewilderment.

That these parties headed by eloquent and highly educated professionals would settle for party loyalty against proven competence bothered many.  Party loyalty to what end? As careers or with the intent of transforming the country?  The conclusion that we copied a form of politics that is inconsistent with the realities on the ground could not be more manifest.

This explains why most African countries spend extended hours shovelling and bargaining for political office like they were sharing ground nuts in a communal garden.  Ever wondered why political office is shamelessly called “sharing the national cake”?

Yes, because of immaturity and stupid wannabe-ism. If we had appreciated our level of political sophistication, sub-Saharan African countries would be better off harnessing all the human resources in the country and build together.

Have we ever considered how many smart Ugandans, far smarter than the innumerable empty tins around us pontificating for the status quo, have been suffocated by the NRM because speaking their otherwise cleverer minds would be breaking party rules and thus being branded rebels and embarrassed with dismissal or something worse?

Their silence is not cowardice, but ‘strategic silence’ – and laughing at their silence is proof of a general immaturity and preference for a jungle-ethic. Perhaps I digress.

As our party handicapped politicians fooled around, came Bobi Wine. Then a rising political player, the rebel entertainer announced himself as a supporter of competence. It is possible to argue that Basalirwa’s victory actually significantly tilted tables in favour of Bobi Wine as the new kingmaker in town. 

But this should not be seen as an effort to discredit Dr Besigye.  My sense is that Besigye – as a victim of this party nonsense himself – was at pains siding with the FDC against a man as credentialed as Basalirwa.

We need to pick lessons here: It is curious how only individuals working outside parties have delivered landmark strides to Uganda: Idi Amin, Yoweri Museveni (1980-96) and Kizza Besigye.

It might take another non-party inclined movement/individual – not necessarily People Power – to deliver the next landmark.

yusufukajura@gmail.com

The author is a PhD fellow at Makerere Institute of Social Research.

Comments

0 #1 Akot 2019-03-13 17:05
There are no political parties in Uganda, but opportunists with no notion of what 'nation' & belonging to it means!

Museveni is a conqueror who believes Uganda is his & him alone can rule, yet not 1 of so called opposition opportunists is aware of it, not even Dr Obote's son who is first in line ensuring Museveni stays on & forgot the demon didn't want Dr Obote's body brought back for burial in Uganda!

Not even Dr Besigye is opposing Museveni today, but all are helping him further divide an already triballistically divided & ruled powerless people!

No political leader would watch in silence a dictator in power for +33 years destroy a people as it's in Uganda!

Yet, opposition parties are there to ensure good governance & when needed as in Uganda, they merger to form 1 body to ensure a demon dictator is thrown out by the people in UNITY!...
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0 #2 Akot 2019-03-13 17:18
...Uganda needs next independence & this takes UNITY with the leadership needed, but there is NON!

British (our brothers/sisters) aren't aware T. May is doing her best to stop Brussels affirming UK is not a 'nation' & cannot survive without being in EU!

Division/power fight in UK tell the world Brussels is right!

British/Ugandans are at the mercy of Museveni/Brussels & if they don't stand up as owners of their countries, defend themselves & what belong to them, they are doomed for good!

British are not aware so many migrants already in Europe are waiting for Brussels to have upper hand then will finaly reach their destination - UK!

Ah British even forgot they went for Brexit to end migration!

I wish T. May, D. Trump, V. Putin were Ugandans!

Ugandans need independence, British need to join T. May face to Brussels that wants to be the Museveni in Europe!
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0 #3 Akot 2019-03-13 18:48
[we have focused all our energies on an imaginary Disney world of multiparty political dynamism.]

Thanks!

Especially as Uganda is a conquered territory & MUST first be liberated, befroe any politics really begins!

Funny, Museveni has made it clear it's him & no other to rule, yet not 1 so called opposition leader who wants to replace him understood!

How can any of them replace Museveni when he is owner of Uganda & decides everything while tribal leaders get their share, youths are bought off, tax payers are quiet labouring to ensure the demon gets his money, the poor/sick without care die unnoticed...?

Even without opposition leader, Algerians rose up & are making their stand as their disabled ruler goes on resuffling, saing he will make reforms, as if he has not understood it's him, the people want OUT!
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0 #4 Akot 2019-03-13 18:59
[political office is not simply an aspiration for development, but a mode of seeing and organising the world.]

Agreed!

This, for Uganda, starts with our people looking at themselves as owners of the country formed by tribal lands & not as tools, slaves on beach of gold that is controlled by a migrant who loots at will & believes Ugandans are his slaves, our land is his, by right of birth!

Leadership, respect, collective work, education, protection of one another, house cleaning...begins at home!

Why are Ugandans poor beggers, bought off, used against one another by Museveni in a country that should belong to & controlled by them?

Why is Uganda conquered by Museveni & our people don't see they MUST free their country & themselves, if they want any future/be part of decision making?
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0 #5 Akot 2019-03-13 19:10
[Besigye and Mao opted for some obscure candidates of their own competing against a comrade in the struggle. The entire country – especially fans of the opposition – looked on in absolute bewilderment.]

Correctly put, yet,

Ugandans did not understand, still don't, that it's fight for liberation of the country & ALL MUST come TOGETHER to block Museveni, especially as the demon has no tribal land to retreat to & today, not even Luweero will give him base!

Without opposition leaders understanding it's fight to liberate Uganda, Ugandans MUST not come out to support/listen to any fake opposition leader as they have no notion of what a 'country/nation/people/freedom' mean!

As it is, there is no opposition & so called selfstyled opposition leaders MUST stop pretending they want Museveni out when it's not true as they don't want to UNITE the country against the conqueror!
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0 #6 Akot 2019-03-13 19:35
[Party loyalty to what end? As careers or with the intent of transforming the country? The conclusion that we copied a form of politics that is inconsistent with the realities on the ground could not be more manifest.]

Agreed!

The reality on the ground is that the tribalistic system held tight by Ugandans leaves no place for any real Ugandan for the top post & Museveni will be the only ruler as he can't put his tribe in trouble with the others, but can bring more rwandese/migrants in!

Ugandans are suicidal in hanging on to tribal leaders who get hand outs from Museveni, yet subjects blame Museveni & not their tribal leaders for misrule, their poverty!

Non of so called opposition leaders will ever replace Museveni, not even after his death as no Ugandan from a tribal will be accepted & respected by ALL in the tribalistic system!
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0 #7 Akot 2019-03-13 19:52
[It is possible to argue that Basalirwa’s victory actually significantly tilted tables in favour of Bobi Wine as the new kingmaker in town.]

Then,

Lets pray Bobi Wine knows it's the people ensuring peace, tax money that he MUST bring together & out on streets to block, surround & force Museveni out!

The tribalistic system tactfully put in place by Museveni MUST be brought down & NOW, if Ugandans really want Museveni out!

Just tribal leaders standing down & UNITY of Ugandans is all that is needed!

Why is Museveni still urinating on Ugandans, looting their land riches so freely while using our people against one another?

Why is there no common stand against the common enemy?

Why don't Ugandans want to belong to their own country & live freely?
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0 #8 Akot 2019-03-13 20:04
[It might take another non-party inclined movement/individual – not necessarily People Power – to deliver the next landmark.]

Understood, yet,

Not possible as the tribalistic system is means for Museveni to stay on, yet it is & will remain a blockage to any Ugandan taking his place as there can never be people power in a tribalistically divided zone!

But once tribal leaders stand down & Ugandans UNITE, Museveni will be out then Ugandans will go for the kind of governance they want; why not independent tribal states as our people hold on to tribal belonging & don't seem to want to Reform the Republic & live together as ONE?

Why keep Museveni on when we can be FREE & not used by him agains one another?
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+1 #9 Jama 2019-03-14 08:24
This country needs constant politicians like those of Basalirwa, Zake, Kassiano and those few whom I have mentioned.

Those who cannot be bought or intimidated but stick to their convictions.

As to Besssigye we still have faith in him but he should add some water in his wine while dealing with other opposition parties.

For we always told unity is strength.

And to those few extremists in people power movement ,extremism in any organisation is like pieces of stone in shoes.
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0 #10 Akot 2019-03-14 16:13
Quoting Jama:
This country needs constant politicians...Those who cannot be bought or intimidated but stick to their convictions.

*For we always told unity is strength.*

And to those few extremists in people power movement, extremism in any organisation is like pieces of stone in shoes.


Thanks!

Just 1 opposition leader & tribal leaders bringing down the tribalistic system to give chance to UNITY is all that is needed!

Is Museveni terrorising everyone till he drops dead at +90 better than:

- Reformed Republic of Uganda, or

- Independent Tribal States?

Ugandans must now know no outsider will mention them & their miseries, as long as the tribalistic system stands & non will blame Museveni!
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