Power defines its opposition. Power designs the system or culture of socio-political negotiation in its sphere of influence.
The example of colonialism is widely cited: in addition to determining the ways in which it would be fought (you could only fight it on its terms), the contradictions and contestations within the colonial government were reproduced in the groups that sought to challenge it.
At present, it is the NRM (or the politics of President Museveni) that sets in the system in which politics is played in Uganda. Those trying to fight are simply conscripted to this regime of politics.
Let me explain something here: political parties tend to be ideological positions, which are learned and reproduced through successive generations.
They could be taught through community mobilising, community debates, (barazas, and ebimeeza) or discourses at university. At the peak of this ideological maturity, these positions are institutionalised.
Political parties are indicators of advanced political societies with individuals ready to embrace ideological positions they have fully imbibed and appreciated. It could be cultural conservatism (Conservatives), labour movements against exploitation (Labour), or creative and free-thinking anarchism (democrats), etc.
Uganda has seen some political parties true to the definition. Kabaka Yekka (KY) built around the centralisation of Buganda in Ugandan politics, was as real as the Justice Forum (JEEMA) built on the Islamic tradition (that is, Islamic-inspired discourses in fairness and justice).
The point I am labouring here is that these are concrete civilizational ideologies that can attract communities, and order the world. There’s permanence about them. Presently, there are no political parties in Uganda in this traditional sense, but loose coalitions with immediate temporal interests.
Our so-called political parties such as DP, FDC, NRM, UPC are classic examples of political coalitions, assembled in pursuit of a specific political project in specific context. [The claims in their names, are just claims].
They are supposed to be dissolved at the conclusion of their projects. Having no deep civilizational/ideological history, and clearly defined project, they have hung in there like actors who, despite forgetting their lines, refuse to exit the stage.
The National Resistance Movement: The only knot threading members of the NRM together is their access to resources, and control over the tools of violence.
If the stampeding of Amama Mbabazi in 2015 onwards, and the endless violence of sole candidacy could teach us anything, it is that, like the others, the NRM is a party terribly lacking in civilizational ideology – to order itself and the world.
If the presence of rebel MPs could tell us anything, it is that deprived of resources, NRM would either disintegrate into oblivion or have the most glamorous fights in the country. Highly likely, they could have the most number of radicalised factions. Simply put, this is the national condition. Indeed, those parties without resources and power are disintegrating, fighting and splitting.
But how did we get here, one may ask. Three items explain this blighted regime of politics: the first is the 2005 amendment in the Parliamentary Elections Act, which required potential contenders in elective positions to resign their [public service] jobs three months to nomination.
Plus three months of campaigns or more, this makes six months together where aspirants are expected to be out of job and surviving on their savings.
Indeed, unless one was a thief, young men and women in their late 20s and 30s who would want to join politics are effectively locked out.
They are challenged to choose between livelihood and politics – and it is natural to settle for livelihood. But was this choice necessary for one interested in serving their countries in decision-making?
Sadly, being that the best brains often end in public service after university, Uganda structurally left politics for the weaker brains (not so? True, they are cunning and street-smart, like most thieves!) These include mostly fellows in the private sectors (clowns and lawyers), unemployed dullards and other idlers. Minus the old hands, these are the cowboys dominating Uganda’s politics 15 years on. And the noise they make is telling.
The second item was the introduction of Interparty Organisation for Dialogue (IPOD), which allocated money to political parties depending on the numerical presence in parliament.
Although this money is pitched, quite rightly, as meant to strengthen multiparty politics in the country, its negative effect – which has become more pronounced nowadays – is that it has turned political parties into platforms for access to resources. Those in charge, and their challengers, have to fight through blood and tears to keep their slots. And fists are flying.
The third, and most dangerous, is the leeway with which our MPs amend their salaries and demand for benefits. After attracting our most accomplished dullards, our august House is an assured highway to wealth.
With an average monthly emolument of 45 million, in addition to vehicle allowance, a sumptuous health insurance package, and millions in per diems, our MP is the most pampered and paid public official. To this end, Uganda’s politics is a life-and-death affair. In fact, fist-fights are the smallest manifestation of this blighted order of things.
The author is a PhD fellow at Makerere Institute of Social Research.