Watching the second installment of the FDC’s sagas, ‘whose cash-my cash,’ after the earlier one, that mole-this mole,’ and remembering earlier not-so-interesting dramas in other parties, one question couldn’t leave me: Why do we have these parties?
We have been to the cinemas already, and more movies are in production: Norbert Mao sold the DP to Bwana Museveni, but they call it a strategic alliance; Bobi Wine and co. simply bought the NUP from Bwana Kibalama but haven’t cleared the full amount; that UPC died but the burial date isn’t yet scheduled; and our JEEMA (or is it only my brother, Asumani Basalirwa) is in a not-so-secret love affair with Anita Among, and by extension, the man himself.
With all these movies in the works, I returned to that painful conclusion of mine: for our agrarian economies, the political party, as an institution, is the problem itself. But then, the next question hit me: why do serious people, well-meaning individuals, folks interested in transforming Uganda insist on organising and mobilising through political parties as the vehicles of change—even when they know and have seen, for over 60 years, that political parties are simply time-consuming and endless drama?
I am not asking about fake people and pretenders, for we have seen many of those. I am asking about serious people of our time: folks such as Gen Mugisha Muntu, Col Kizza Besigye, Ssemujju Ibrahim Nganda, Erias Lukwago, and yes, my brother Asumani Basalirwa. Why do they insist on continuing to organise under political parties? What voodoo is in these parties?
My contention is that we never stop to ask the question, “why do we have politics in the first place?” “Why do we organise politically?”
If the answer is making sure our resources— land, marine, human and air—are optimally and fairly used to the benefit of Ugandans, is organising through a political party, which involves publicly arguing over them — often in juxtaposition with Museveni’s machinations — help this objective?
Please note that Museveni will never come out and say, for example, “Nandala is telling lies; he actually took this much from me,” or that Mao cashed in on DP in to be as transparent as that, there would be no public accusations and counter-accusations.
THE BATAKA MOVEMENT
I put these questions to my friend, elder statesman, Robert Kalundi Serumaga, being one of the most grounded scholars of our time. In response, Kalundi read me the creation story straight from the Bataka Movement of the 1907-1950, which, among other things, fought against the land grab of the 1900 Buganda Land Agreement, but also for cooperatives.
They wanted natives to sell their produce directly to wholesalers in Mombasa, and not through crafty Indian middlemen. Kalundi noted that after the Bataka Movement and Bataka protests proved potent and widespread, a more ruthless, more calculative colonial chief was sent in from Britain to find a solution.
Andrew Cohen, for that was his name, quickly realised that the Bataka movement/ protests had disparate demands, some of them, consistent with the aspirations of the coloniser.
Cohen understood that all he needed to do was split them and turn the petty bourgeoisie, the organic intellectuals behind these protests into beneficiaries. He thus created positions for them in the LEGCO ( just as the 1995 Constitution creates an incredible number of jobs for educated folks), and access to land themselves.
Coupled with arrests of stubborn individuals, the movement/protests soon ran out of steam. Kalundi’s position is that this Cohen- colonial model remains true to this day.
The people appearing to fight for the wananchi; seeming to be against the modern-day Cohen, Bwana Yoweri Museveni — folks avowedly in the opposition — are not really fighting for transformation, but a chance to belong to the ruling elite, to enjoy the perks that come with being on the inside.
Reproducing an almost Mahmood-Mamdanian worldview — of the unending legacy of colonialism —Kalundi argues that even when these folks understand that political parties cannot deliver the country to the promised land, at least for them, political parties will deliver them their dreams.
Clearly, the picture that brother Kalundi paints is one of the unserious folks, the pretenders and political prostitutes. There are many of these chaps whose entire ambition is accessing privilege.
ENTER SPIRE SSENTONGO AND CO.
But I challenged Kalundi further, citing folks I consider serious, selfless and utterly committed to improving the lives of their compatriots, Gen Mugisha Muntu and Col Kizza Besigye, among others. I refused to believe that these decent humans do not have this Cohen-analysis of things.
Why do they insist on organising under political parties where this drama remains predictable since 2005 — or even throughout our entire postcolonial history?
Not very committed in his response, Kalundi noted that organising outside political parties — which would be very revolutionary — risked them being isolated especially that the entire country is trapped to this colonial model of political parties. Not entirely persuasive as I don’t believe Bwana Muntu or Col Besigye fear being isolated. (I will seek out Kalundi one more on this question).
I do not have answers either. I still struggle to understand this blind commitment to political parties. However, in recent times, the soft, online activism of my friends, Dr Jimmy Spire Ssentongo — the exhibitions icon— and associates including journalist Agather Atuhaire, youngsters Godwin Toko, the work of the “mad man”, the indefatigable Male Mabirizi, and several others folks using their simple smartphone, and expensively acquired data, are keeping public offices on their toes. Maybe there are more possibilities.
I have never understood why and how Bobi Wine got persuaded that a political party called NUP would be more powerful than the movement, People Power.
Investigative journalism at The Observer and Monitor’s weekend publications portends to more possibilities. But I will return to Kalundi for a more exhaustive conversation.
The author is a political theorist based at Makerere University.