How Besigye’s hold over FDC has undermined its pretence to be a vehicle for democracy
“Follow an idea from its birth to its triumph,” Bertrand de Jouvenel observed in his 1948 volume, On Power, “and it becomes clear that it came to power at the price of an astounding degradation of itself. The result is not reason which has found a guide but passion which has found a flag.”
The defeat of the noble Mugisha Muntu in the race for the presidency of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) has put the last nail in the coffin of decent politics in that party. It marks the final triumph of Kizza Besigye’s brand of politics i.e. radical extremism as an organising philosophy.
Two ideas have been in contention inside FDC – one represented by the Muntu, the other by Besigye. Muntu believes that FDC should build the party as an institution based on a set of values, principles and policies around which members can be mobilised. These values must not only be practiced but be seen by seen to be practiced; and must distinguish FDC from NRM.
Besigye believes FDC should be a cult and build its politics around his messianic self-image. Rather than build organisational structures through which that party can function, Besigye believes FDC should stimulate passion around him as a hero. This governing philosophy seeks to use character instead of strategy and to build an individual instead of an institution.
Besigye’s governing philosophy won because it has the support of the most passionate base of the FDC. Muntu’s vision never had a chance even though it is supported by the most liberal and enlightened section of that party. The vast majority of the FDC supporters do not care about Muntu’s values and principles. All they care about is power. Muntu has been unable to appreciate the fact – that most people in FDC are tired of President Yoweri Museveni’s long rule and want him to go. Governance principles are for the naive.
This is where Besigye beats Muntu. Besigye understands that those opposed to Museveni are opposed to the president as a person, not his governing strategy of corruption and patronage. Given Uganda’s moral psychology, opposition activists want Besigye to give them goodies in the same way Museveni does for his supporters. They accuse those who speak anything positive about Museveni of having been paid precisely because that is how they understand power; that those who support it get paid.
Therefore, Muntu has always belonged to a wrong party. His ways have never been the ways of the FDC. There are many decent men and women in FDC.
But for the most part they have been outwitted, out gunned and out maneuvered by the radical extremists around Besigye. In rejecting Muntu, the Besigye faction of radical extremists in FDC has rejected the idea that power should be pursued, not as an end in itself but as a means to an end – the end being the realisation of the virtues of tolerance of dissent, commitment to democratic principles, belief in institution building, and placing collective goals above personal ambition and greed.
We must not forget that like NRM, the FDC was born in a moment of great hope.
Many of its founding leaders were holding influential and comfortable positions in government as ministers, ambassadors and other high offices. They sacrificed their comfort in pursuit of these high ideals. They thought they were leaving NRM because it had increasingly come to be based on the messianic role of Museveni whose authority could not be questioned.