While NRM is a corrupt government, FDC has evolved into an extremist antidemocratic party
Most commentary on politics in Africa tends to revolve around the analysis of the actions and motivations of incumbents in power. A narrative has consolidated: those in power in Africa seek power for selfish motives. Public service is never a part of their calculus. This is not an entirely wrong analysis. But it is an overly simplistic one. Public and private interests are not always mutually exclusive. The pursuit of private interests often forces politicians to articulate public objectives.
However, the narrative against incumbents in Africa has led to a fatal error: anyone fighting an entrenched government is presented as seeking to advance democracy, accountability and human rights. African opposition politicians, journalists, “civil society” activists have learnt how to exploit the prejudices against incumbent leaders to position themselves – in the eyes of the international (actually read Western) media as fighting dictatorship, corruption, and impunity.
If there is a gross misrepresentation of Africa, this is it. Because for the opposition on our continent, their motivations are not analysed but analogised, their claims are not scrutinised but assumed to be sincere, their democratic credentials are not questioned but taken for granted. Thus, everyone who rises up to challenge power claims to be fighting for democracy, defending human rights and opposing corruption and the world buys the claims at face value.
The tendency to equate opposition to an incumbent government to a struggle for democracy (as opposed to a struggle for power) has led to many disasters as we can see in Libya, Yemen, and Syria. In the case of Libya, we see what these “democrats” have done to that country. Indeed, the lesson from history is that power has very specific dynamics that tend to reproduce similar actions from those who hold it.
It should be obvious from any study of history that all too often successful rebels tend to replicate the ills they denounced in their predecessors. The best illustration of this inherent contradiction of power is George Orwell’s `Animal Farm’ and Arthur Koestler’s great novel, `Darkness at Noon’.
All too often opposition movements in most of Africa are not fundamentally dissimilar to incumbents they fight. This conclusion should be obvious for it only goes to underline the fact that those in power and those outside of it come from the same society. Therefore their actions and behavior to a large degree reflect societal dynamics than the character of an individual leader or political party.
The best example is the FDC party in Uganda. Its leaders and supporters have placed themselves on a high moral pedestal claiming they are fighting for freedom, democracy, and accountability. But does FDC represent a democratic alternative to NRM’s “dictatorial” hold on power? We can examine the behavior of FDC leaders and followers to establish the party’s democratic credentials.
For the record, FDC has many leaders of good standing. People like Augustine Ruzindana, Mugisha Muntu, Amanya Mushega, Abdul Katutu, Morris Ogenga Latigo, Ronald Reagan Okumu, etc. appear to me to be democratic minded. However an extremely angry and intolerant faction led by Dr. Kizza Besigye has come to dominate the party. Besigye himself, as he tenaciously clings onto the leadership of FDC is blind to how similar to President Yoweri Museveni he is.
For this loud, angry, and intolerant dominant section of FDC leaders and activists, everyone who supports NRM does so – not out of honest difference of opinion – but out of a selfish desire for material enrichment. Anyone who disagrees with them, however mildly, is an enemy of Uganda. Anyone who expresses anything, however small, that shows Museveni and NRM to have achieved anything, that person has been bribed, and supports dictatorship and human rights abuses. Any support for NRM and Museveni is treason; criticism of their party and its god, Kizza Besigye, is sacrilege.
Thus just as NRM has consolidated a personality cult around Museveni, FDC has consolidated a messiah cult around Besigye. And just like Museveni is the only candidate NRM fields for the presidency, Besigye is the only candidate FDC fields for the presidency in spite of losing elections four times in a row. It is possible; therefore, that what we are seeing is not the behavior of either individuals (Museveni or Besigye) but a much broader problem deeply rooted in our agrarian society. For the NRM, only Museveni can rule Uganda. For the FDC, only Besigye can challenge Museveni in an election.
Whenever there is any criticism of FDC, however mild it may be, its fanatical supporters flood social media like a swarm of bees and virulently attack, accuse, insult, and verbally terrorise any dissenter. This is perhaps the most extremist and intolerant party in our history. FDC is not just undemocratic. The party is actually an extremist anti democracy group. One is either with them or against them. They do not accept the legitimacy of any opinion contrary to their own. This is even worse because unlike the NRM which has serious policy ideas, FDC is bereft of any serious policy proposal except populist slogans.
But this should also lead us to ask another question. Right now FDC lacks the coercive and repressive infrastructure of the state to jail their opponents. But they possess the power of social media where they are always keen to viciously attack, hurl insults, and make false accusations at anyone who disagrees with them. They have actually won a lot of space on social media through verbal terrorism. And one wonders what they would do to their opponents and critics if they also controlled the state’s instruments coercion and repression.
The point here is simple but fundamental. FDC cannot represent a democratic alternative to NRM because the party is by the very nature of its modus operandi an antidemocratic force. Its civil and democratic minded leaders have been silenced and sidelined. Besigye himself, who was a moderate with strong democratic convictions, has only retained his leadership of the party by appealing to the passions of its most extremist radicals and by pandering to their whims.
This is a moment for Ugandans genuinely committed to a liberal democratic future to pause and reflect. Like the people of Ivory Coast who embraced Laurent Gbagbo, a politician who had been in the trenches of opposition politics for many years, Ugandans may one day wake up to a very rude awakening when Besigye is president and they realise that he is not any different from those he has fought with fanatical zeal. The danger is not in Besigye the man (I find him tolerant and accommodating). It is in the social forces that have rallied around him.