Synergy: The Missing Link in Uganda’s Political Parties

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Following the July 28th 2005 referendum which effectively restored the multiparty system of governance in Uganda, there was a rush to register political parties, especially in the run up to the first multi-party general election in over two decades due the following year.

Consequently, several political were registered with the country’s electoral body. As I write this post, there are twenty nine registered political parties in Uganda,

However, it has not been smooth sailing for these political parties. Acrimony, mistrust, intrigue, accusations and counter-accusations has characterized the modus operandi of these vehicles of political power transfer in the country.

free elections

Leaders of the different opposition political parties hold hands in show of solidarity in their campaign for free and fair elections in Uganda. The author believes that parties must internally unite their different talents if they are to make progress in causing change in the country.

Inside the opposition political parties, one of the sticky issues has been the approach to use to cause change in the country. Two groups have since emerged; the radicals and the moderates.

The radicals are those perceived to be combative, violent, hardliners and a very uncompromising lot who believe in the use of ANY means for dislodging the incumbent. They are always engaged in costly and blody street battles with the Police and the army. They are all over the media talking tough against the ruling party. Notable figures perceived to be in this category include; FDC founding President, Dr. Kiiza Besigye, Budadiri East legislator Nandala Mafabi, Ingrid Turinawe, Youth Wingers Moses Byamugisha, Francis Mwijukye and Sam Mugumya. Others include embattled Lord Mayor Elias Lukwago, MP Betty Nambooze, MP Muwanga Kivumbi, CP President Asuman Basalirwa, MP Odonga Otto, NRM’s Ofwono Opondo, et al.

Conversely, there is the moderate lot–the group that believes in dialogue, institutionalized interventions and methodical approach to issues. These are the corporate-like types and they include; FDC President Gen. Mugisha Muntu, LoP Wafula Oguttu, UPC President Ambassador Olara Otunnu, Prof Joseph Bbosa, Amanya Mushega, Prof Ogenga Latigo, MP Alice Alaso, DP supremo Dr. Kawanga Ssemogerere, DP President Nobert Mao, MP Mathia Nsubuga, NRM’s Ruhakana Rugunda et al.

Because the first category easily appeals to the emotions and psyche of many people, their approach has always been applauded because it keeps the parties “alive” while the second category is always classifies as “government spies” sent to “kill” the parties.

This explains partly why, for example in the FDC, the Party President Gen. Muntu has not been embraced by sections of the party who acuse him of being “weak”. Even when he launched the party’s policy platform dubbed: “Uganda’s Leap Forward”, very few, if any “radical” members of the party have used their grassroots networks to popularize it. Instead, they focus on undermining Muntu’s leadership.

Similar incidents can be seen in the oldest parties UPC and DP.

So what should be done?

This brings me to the gist of this post:

A political party by definition is an Organization that typically seeks to attain and maintain political power within government, usually by participating in elections and grass root mobilization or protest actions. They espouse a common ideology with one goal. So basically, it’s a convergence of divergent people with a common interest.

From this definition, two words catch my attention; divergent and common interest.

Divergent connotes a tendency to of being different. In other words, people from various backgrounds—professional, upbringing, cultures, experience etc.       Common interest on the other hand means that there is that mutual or shared (not SAME) idea that rallies the different people together.

A winning team is made up of people who share a passion for a common, collective goal. They appreciate the reality that achieving that goal demands a high level of interdependency. They complement each other and when teams are working well, they create synergy.

Synergy is the force created by the working together of different parts or processes. It is the benefit derived from combining two or more talents so that the performance of that “cocktail” is higher than that of the sum of the individual talents.

The concept of Synergy is therefore that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. People with different personalities, academic backgrounds and approach to issues will bring perspectives to a problem and can spark exciting and dynamic solutions.

A political party needs full-time thinkers, people who are generally acceptable across the political divide; those that appeal to one’s opponents as well. A party needs people who can generate game-changing ideas that motivate everyone to embrace it.

At the same time, political parties also need the barefoot activists; those who act fearless and are ready to spend nights in filthy detention facilities. It needs those people who can demystify”boardroom-generated” ideas to my 88-year old grandmother in Kanyumu, Kumi District. These are the crowd pullers with a cultic following. They have their magic of working crowds, especially low class who out-number the elites when it comes to voting.

Can political parties think of creating an atmosphere where the “corporates” can be allowed to brainstorm on party platforms while the “militants” deliver that message to the masses?

Can parties to create an environment that accommodates all talents within them so that we are able to tap from the diverse and rich abilities that all of members can offer to the institution?

My humble view is that there is a symbiotic relationship between the moderates and radicals, the poor and rich, the literate and illiterate, the urban and rural folk plus all other classifications of members in a political party. The harsh reality is that all these classes of people exist in our society and constitute the membership of the various parties. All their votes count!

The task is making efforts towards appreciating and harnessing this diversity. The mentality of overrating one category over the others must be discouraged. It does only serves to weaken the parties.

To me, any political party planning to grow and make a meaningful contribution to the democratization of this country should be alert to these multiplicities and establish measures to that effect.

I rest my case!

An Open Letter to Moses Byamugisha

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Dear Comrade,

On Tuesday 28th April, 2015, I received a message on my phone from ASmS; “Fellow Ugandans its now official, I MOSES BYAMUGISHA will offer myself as a candidate for FDC PRESIDENTIAL FLAG BEARER. We are moving forward. 0700454804” it read.

Since it came from a bulk SMS service provider some of which at times send silly unsolicited messages, I disregarded it. On a second reading, I noted that the content was characteristic of your writing style notably, the signature “We are moving forward” followed by your phone number.

“This must be real” I murmured to myself. Immediately, I called a couple of friends and they all acknowledged receipt of the same message. One informed me he had been invited to one of the planning/launch meetings.

Later, I saw an article in the Red Pepper (http://www.redpepper.co.ug/besigyes-top-aide-declares-presidential-bid/ ) and another in the London Evening Post (http://www.thelondoneveningpost.com/youth-to-challenge-gen-mugisha-muntuyeras-fdc-leadership/ )–-both of which you shared on your Facebook page. You also sent a similar message to our University class WhatsApp group.

I was then convinced that this is real!!!

Comrade, you and I have come a long way. We joined Uganda Christian University Law School in January 2007. In the second week, the then President of the UCU Law Society came to address new students and urged us to pay Ugx. 30,000/= for the traditional welcome dinner. When we confirmed the hotel, you protested and mobilized us not to pay that amount for a hotel you described as a “parking yard.” Indeed, we heeded your advice until the Society reduced the amount to a commensurate Ugx. 10,000/=.

During the dinner, you requested for an opportunity to address us wherein you decried the growing militancy in the country which was denting our little democratic credentials. You challenged us to stand out to be counted in the face of the existing threats against good governance, rule of law and democracy in the country. You aptly reminded us that democracy is a pre-requisite for a successful career in the legal profession.

In second semester, we had the Guild Presidential elections. Partisan politics was prohibited in the University. The main contenders were my good friend Bosco Okiror, who allegedly had close ties with State House and the FDC-leaning Alex Waiswa. You was the Chief Campaigner of latter. I still recall you defiantly using FDC slogan “One Uganda, One People Rrrrrrrrrraaaahhh” (complete with the Besigye tone) in the rallies arguing that as aspiring national leaders, political party identity at University was non-negotiable. Eventually, Waiswa won. It is an election that cannot be compared to any, at least in the four years I spent in UCU.

With an FDC-leaning President, you did something that was unthinkable in UCU. First, you invited the then FDC Electoral Commission chief, Maj Rubaramira Ruranga and then UPC stalwart Moses Nuwagaba (both men have since crossed to NRM) to address selected students on the politics in the country. I was among those students.

Little did I know that this was in preparation for something much bigger—the visit of the then FDC President Col. Dr. Kiiza Besigye, who was fresh from a controversial election loss. The University was paralyzed! Despite initial resistance to the whole idea, the University obliged and even sent one of the Deputy Vice Chancellors to address the biggest students gathering I had ever seen in UCU.

The following year, you called and asked me to chair your first meeting in which you declared your intentions to run for the UCU Guild Presidency. I felt honoured! It was my first time to chair a meeting. I recall getting engrossed in arguments with the members and you constantly reminded me that I was the Chair who should instead steer the meeting and come up with strategic proposals for making this objective achievable.

A couple of weeks later, you were nominated and we hit the campaign trail. However, we were confronted with a number of issues. Firstly, the Waiswa government had ended prematurely when he was expelled from the University for alleged financial impropriety. Having been Waiswa’s Chief strategist, you had to deal with this issue (thank the heavens, you were not appointed to any position in that government!). Secondly, lawyers had dominated the Guild Presidency in the past years and most of them ended their terms controversially. What was unique with “this one” now, the students always asked. Thirdly, you were (and still is) a Westerner, the region where the current national President hails from. Students from other regions of the country felt they should also be allowed to “eat” at least from the University. I discussed tribalism in University politics in an earlier blog (see: https://iduwatochom.wordpress.com/2015/01/27/revisiting-the-vice-of-tribalism-in-institutions-of-higher-learning/ ). Lastly, you were and still is an unapologetic card-holding member of Forum for Democratic Change (FDC). Whereas the opposition is largely popular in institutions of higher learning, the environment in UCU made this an issue. This was exacerbated by the reality that FDC is mainly unpopular in Western Uganda, thus we could not even play the tribal card to our advantage.

As a key member of Team Byamugisha, we decisively dealt with these issues and ultimately we won the election. We were super excited!

However, our victory was short-lived!

The University administration suspended the election results alleging several malpractices including; use of political party slogans and monetization of the electoral process.

A Commission of Inquiry was set up to investigate these allegations. We appeared before it and gave our version of the story. Unfortunately (though expectedly), the Commission upheld the University’s position and nullified the election.

What a setback!!!

We were demoralized. I recall you addressing us and urging the Team not to lose hope since there was going to be a by-election. We strategized and prepared for this.

When the by-election guidelines were released, we were shocked! All candidates in the previous election were disqualified from the fresh race.

This sealed your hopes of ever being a Guild President. We therefore consoled ourselves by crowning you “Our President”.

With a lot of pressure at school and political engagements at the national level, you took some time off Law School for a semester and bounced later. I was now a semester ahead of you.

It’s true what they say; once a politician, always a politician. In your third year, you still had political ambitions. This time, you decided to run for the President of the Law Society. A lot of people had expressed interest in this position. However, the moment you declared your intentions, they all pulled out and he came unopposed!

Brother, these are just a few highlights of our political life at University. I will not dwell on your active participation in FDC national activities including elections, demonstrations and protests, some of which earned him a brief stint at Luzira Prison.

Cuffed Moses

A handcuffed Moses Byamugisha after being arrested during the Walk-to-Work protests

Back to your Presidential ambitions.

I am yet to find a man of my age with the courage, consistency, humility, patriotism, tenacity, and passion for politics like you. You are a man who has devoted a larger part of his youthful life in the materially unrewarding opposition politics of our Busheera Republic. You have been beaten and detained by poorly paid police men; and even imprisoned for about ten days in Luzira.  Despite all these unfair treatment, you have remained steadfast. You are an honest person; a man of integrity. You are confident, steadfast with enviable mobilization and oratory skills. You have a way of working your audience. I wish I had just a half of your abilities and skills.

Moze Poster

FDC Presidential hopeful, Moses Byamugisha

I want you to lead F.D.C. or even become President of Uganda one day. I believe in you!

However, I have some reservations with your current declared candidature. Here are some of my reasons;

Financial Muscle

To lead a political party in Uganda, one needs to have a strong financial muscle. The likes of Dr. Besigye, Nandala-Mafabi, Mugisha Muntu, Jack Sabiiti et al have had to sink in a good deal of their personal resources to fund some party activities. This is possible because they are people who have lived enough to amass or inherit some resources at a personal level. I hear Garuga Musinguzi literally “donated” his property which now houses the Party Headquarters. Nandala, I read somewhere mortgaged some of his property to obtain funding for some activities. As you might have read in Daniel Kalinakis’s book; “Kiiza Besigye and Uganda’s Unfinished Revolution”, the good retired Colonel had to start rearing pigs in preparation for his opposition to the government.

In fact, the information I have indicates that one of the reasons that Gen. Muntu’s leadership is being shunned is due to his weak (personal) financial muscle. This goes on to highlight the fact that personal money is a strong factor, especially in opposition politics.

As far as I can recollect, you have held a few jobs since you left University four years ago. I have no idea if you come from a wealthy family, which even if you did, whether they would allow you to “squander” their resources in opposition politics.

This is reality my brother. Think about it!

“Jumping the Queue”

I know you are familiar with the origin of this statement, so I won’t spend time on it. In Human Resource Management, there is something they call Career Progression. It basically refers to the upward movement or advancement made by people in a particular job. There are several steps in career progress some of which include; making calculated risks, expanding your networks and appreciating one’s limitations.

For you to progress in FDC, I advice that you exhaust all the existing positions in the party that fit your skills. You are a great mobilizer. Have you considered running for such a position in the party? I know you have also done some work in the fields of research and consultancy. Isn’t there a position in the party that can best employ those skills? This is how people progress in Organizations. I encourage you to think about this.

Personal Growth

This closely relates to my earlier point on the financial muscle. You got married hardly a year ago and is now a father of one. This is a very critical moment in your life that should be spent bonding with your new family. Five or ten years later from now, your family will most likely have stabilized, from all aspects. You will have matured as a family man. You may underestimate this, especially coming from an unmarried man like me but I am sure that you will agree with me that Winnie played a key stabilizing role in the turbulent times when Dr. Besigye was constantly harassed in the early 2000s. You also know that Winnie Mandela was a pillar of Nelson Mandela’s political life. A strong family will support you through out your political journey. This is the time for you to strengthen it, so that they able to stand with or without you when the going gets tough, a common happening in Uganda’s politics.

You know what I am talking about!!!

“Besigye Factor”

FDC as a party is still recovering from the “Besigye Factor”, a coinage for the compelling influence of the party’s iconic founding President. You are a known close associate of Dr. Besigye, which in and of itself is not an issue. However, in the context of the elections, you are likely to be perceived as a proxy candidate serving another person’s interests. Despite your input to the party, very few people may accept that you are an Independent candidate in the party. This does not mean that Dr. Besigye is an unwanted man in the party, on the contrary it shows that the party cannot stand without him—an assertion the opposition has always made against the ruling party. You don’t want to be the one to legitimize this view!!!

Party President/ Presidential Flag bearer

Whereas the FDC Constitution allows ANY member to run as the party’s Presidential flag bearer in national elections, it is also a fact every party president hopes to carry the party’s flag at the national race. The party provides a platform to sell someone at a national level. It is good for the person as well as the party to have the party president contest for national leadership. It is easy to market such a person and this boosts the party’s visibility.

My honest assessment is that you do not have the aptitude to run for Uganda’s presidency. Thus, by taking the party’s presidency, you most likely will hurt its chances at a national level.

Conclusion

I am a strong believer in your political skills and abilities, Moses. I have seen you grow slowly and steadily in your political life.

The position of party president requires someone, who on top of your skills discussed above, has the ability to generate consensus on many issues; someone with the maturity, temperament, balance, diligence and sobriety to confront the challenges of an opposition party in a country with shrinking political space like Uganda. This position needs a person with the composure that commands respect from people of diverse backgrounds, in and outside of FDC..

At 33, you still have the time to progressively climb through the ladders of leadership in FDC and in five or ten years, I am sure you will be the natural choice for party president.

So, in spite your enviable strengths, my firm belief is that they do not YET measure up to the demands of Party President!

Thank you for sparing your precious time to read my (discouraging) views.

With the greatest admiration,

Iduwat Ochom