Why Bobi Wine’s new party will find it even more difficult to defeat Museveni in 2021 compared to FDC in 2006
| THE LAST WORD | ANDREW M. MWENDA | This week, the National Unity Platform of Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine launched itself with two defections of NRM MPs and two other independent legislators. It was presented as a big event. Yet for all the hype, and compared to the birth of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) in 2005, NUP seems to me to be a stillbirth. The MPs from NRM are nonentities whose names no one I have met can remember. Only Latif Sebagala from DP has some gravitas. In 2005 FDC was formed with many MPs, elected local government leaders and other leading figures on Uganda’s political scene from across the entire country.
From Western it had Kizza Besigye, John Kazoora (MP), Augustine Ruzindana (MP), Miria Matembe (MP), Jack Sabiti, James Garuga Musinguzi, Amanya Mushega, Eriya Kategaya, Winnie Byanyima, John Butime, Mugisha Muntu, Mathew Rukikaire, Ingrid Turinawe (district speaker Rukungiri), Yona Kanyomozi, Richard Kaijuka, Winnie Babihuga (MP), Athanatius Rutaro (LCV chairman Rukungiri), Dr Runumu (LCV chairman Kabale), Odo Tayeebwa (speaker Bushenyi later FDC MP), Makuru, mayor Rukungiri, Pius Rwemurana (mayor Kabale), Asaba Ruyonga (mayor FP).
From Eastern there was Abdul Katuntu (MP), Salam Musumba (MP), Frank Nabwiso (MP), Nandala Mafabi (MP), Wafula Oguttu, Geoffrey Ekanya (MP), Emmanuel Dombo (later switched to NRM), Patrick Amuriat (MP), Wandera Ogalo (MP), Jack Wamanga (MP), Francis Epetite (MP).
From Northern region there were MPs Reagan Okumu, Morris Ogenga Latigo,Kasiano Wadri, Odongo Otto, Christine Abiya, Elija Okupa, Alice Alaso, Akello Franka, Anita Among, Florence Ibbi, David Pulkol, Moses Adome, Beatrice Anywar and many other local government leaders, businessmen, prominent intellectuals etc.
In Central region there was, Beti Kamya, Sulleiman Kigundu, Sam Njuba, Ibrahim Kasozi, Senteza Kajubi, Prof Kanyerezi, Prince Kimera MP, Joyce Subugwawo (current major of Rubaga). There were people like Cecelia Ogwal, Ben Wacha and Okullo Epak who supported Besigye for presidential candidate. This list is by no means exhaustive but it gives a good picture of how prominent and widely spread FDC began. These people had experience and skills of running elections and enjoyed widespread respect in the country and the communities from which they came.
Thus by the time Besigye returned from exile, there were branches of FDC across the entire country in almost every district! The party was also able to field serious candidates for parliament and LC because of the strength of its leaders even though some retreated to NRM. The party’s strength was built on the back of these MPs, LC councillors and powerful political figures. This is especially important in a country where political parties lack organisation depth. NUP is born without this strategic advantage.
Without prominent leaders, to be strong a party in a peasant society like Uganda needs to ally with institutions of state (as NRM has done), church (as UPC and DP had done historically), or ethnic group (as KY had done in the 1960s) to penetrate society. NUP has strong emotional support, great brand appeal but has no organisational infrastructure. This means they cannot easily convert their brand appeal into votes.
Secondly the support for FDC was not just emotional, as one finds with NUP. There was a strong principle around which to organise a strong opposition movement against Museveni – the growth of corruption and intolerance of the NRM. In fact, NRM, like FDC today, had deliberately failed to manage its internal contradictions and thus chased PAFO members from its ranks who went to form FDC in alliance with Reform Agenda and Karuhanga Chaapa’s party! However, increasingly FDC did not learn this lesson. It began to seek internal conformity with the wishes of Besigye, which led it to purge anyone who held some independent thinking.
Today FDC is in a crisis. Across the country it has lost most of its initial leaders without gaining new ones. Its strongest base was the north but today it has a “northern problem” as its leading pillars in that region have quit it and either joined NRM (Anywar, Among) or are now running as independents (Latigo, Okumu, Otto). In fact FDC finds itself with exactly the same problem NRM faced in 2005 – failure to manage similar internal contradictions. Its response has been to purge dissenters leading to these desertions.
With FDC fracturing, one would have imagined that the emerging vacuum would be filled by NUP. But NUP has accentuated this vacuum because it has raised great emotional expectations, which it cannot meet because it is incapable of building an organisational infrastructure to support its strong brand appeal. Bobi Wine’s background as a musician and the people he has surrounded himself with both show that he is unlikely to build an effective organisation! How you build a fan base as a musician is totally different from how you build a voter base in politics! A musician’s music fans are not necessarily his voters.
For instance, if Bobi Wine goes to Jinja, his celebrity status may bring many fans to his rally but they would not necessarily be his voters. Even Bad Black, if she went to Jinja, she can excite people to come to her rally but they would not necessarily be people who can vote her for president or MP. In fact Bobi Wine and his supporters need to think seriously about whether Ugandans see him as a viable presidential candidate, even though they love him as a person.
Besides, the key leaders of NUP lack both the political strength and the experience to build effective political machinery to deliver the vote, which FDC founders had in plenty. For many years, the opposition has failed to marshal a majority in elections – not because of lack of popular support – but because of lack of effective organisational infrastructure. This is also the reason our political parties fail to raise money for their operations. NRM’s organisational strength is rooted in its control of the state. That is what makes it successful.
UPC and DP were strong because they were rooted in the Anglican and Catholic Church respectively. This gave them a readymade national organisational infrastructure backed by a large cadreship of priests. Today, opposition support is strongest among urban populations. However, Uganda is a very rural economy with small urban areas. They are too small to provide an urban based opposition movement like we saw in Cairo or Khartoum. Therefore a strategy of popular uprising that Besigye prefers has little chances of success against an entrenched system like they of NRM.