This is an old position of mine: the opposition does not need to unite to challenge incumbent candidate Yoweri Museveni. United they fail. Instead, they have to remain unorganised – not disorganised – chaotic and relentless in their activism.
My contention for unorganised politics actually means, separate and disparate movements without a singular centre of mobilisation – but all united in pursuit for a singular political project.
My position springs from the scholarship on everyday forms of protest – unorganised, individualised, messy, small, inconsistent etc. In fact, under our current politics – autocracies of experts/technocrats – it would be preferred to dismantle our so-called political parties and turn every active politician into an activist.
It would be good to boycott elections for concentrated activism – the type of Ssuubi, walk-to-work, People Power (the original one in T-shirts and jeans).
Sadly, our opposition politicians are single-minded and happy careerists. For there is money in being an opposition. Indeed, if Museveni actually succeeded in pushing through with his ruinous scientific election, opposition politicians would still participate despite the awareness that the superstructure remains unchanged.
Their motivation is in the fact that they also have a chance at an assured job, a source of livelihood. In these times – especially after the end of the Cold War – organised elite politics actually perpetuates the status-quo.
Today’s autocrats are not as crude as their predecessors. Over time, this new breed of autocrats – Yoweri Museveni, Hosni Mubaraka, Omar el-Bashir, Paul Kagame, Robert Mugabe, Paul Biya, Joseph Kabila etcetera – learned that one did not have to abolish the constitution or even dissolve parliament.
They learned that through the technocracies of democracy – especially elections, semi-free judiciary, semi-free press, and a noisy but senseless parliament – one could actually sustain themselves in power.
Indeed, these fellows – gone and present – never miss an opportunity to organise elections, and also go the extra mile of pushing their “decrees” through parliament. It could be expensive but safer than the crude ugly practices of their predecessors. These ones learned to fetishize power.
But at the same time, many of these modern autocrats have seen their governments collapse through un-organised political processes and honest activism.
To this end, they would cry blood and tears to have an election happen. They would cry more blood and tears to have an opposition challenge them in an election. They would try all they could to make sure the opposition is organised enough to challenge them.
An organised opposition distils anger in a manner that reduces its potency. In the end, you have a docile political public excited about their united opposition politicians, who look good for absolutely nothing. Public anger has to be served raw and crude for a portent challenge to our modern autocrats. This then brings me to my question: who is pushing for the organisation of the opposition ahead of 2021 – if they aren’t working for the incumbent?
These calls for a united opposition follow a rather ignorant textbook assumption that after unity, the opposition will have the capacity to mobilise a formidable mass for the next election. With all their resources in one pool, the opposition will not split their voice and vote and, therefore, stand a high chance of winning.
This is bereft of context and terribly lacking in theory. Advocates of a united opposition to challenge incumbents in elections have not thought about the historical/theoretical shifts in the practices of autocracy in banana republics. Neither have they given thought to the drivers of opposition politicians.
But let’s ask again for the sheer sake of it: is it possible for the current crop of opposition politicians to unite? There is no doubt that the tireless Col Kizza Besigye will be standing for the presidency the fifth time – come rain or shine.
It would be shockingly miraculous for Besigye to say “I have tried enough, it is time for someone else to try.” Nope, no one invited him here!
Instead, he has said, “as long as Museveni is standing, I will also stand.” In the other corner, the charismatic singer/activist Bobi Wine has also declared a presidential bid, and seems the gods favour his candidacy.
So is the impossibility of Maj Gen Muntu standing behind Col Besigye for a fourth time after their infamous split. If these are the biggest shots in the game, and that is how the odds look, in whose interest is this unity drive?
It cannot be any of the above candidates. My contention is that the power pushing this unity agenda must be someone influential enough – with funds – but terribly ignorant of the political dynamics of the time. Or someone inside the incumbent’s camp with interests closely linked to Museveni’s presidency.
The author is a PhD fellow at Makerere Institute of Social Research.