How the radical extremism of NUP is the best recruiting ground for Museveni
THE LAST WORD | ANDREW M. MWENDA | The current Twitter war by Nobert Mao against the radical extremists of NUP is a manifestation of the major pitfalls that have bedeviled the opposition in Uganda. Slowly, these radicals are pushing Mao directly into President Yoweri Museveni’s embrace. This is because NRM, in spite of its one million and one authoritarian tendencies, has demonstrated it is a very accommodating political organisation. Mao will, ultimately, join a long list of opposition heavyweights that have realised, to their painful disappointment, that the forces that have organised to fight and remove Museveni are equally the most politically intolerant.
Uganda’s opposition has increasingly been taken hostage by an extremely intolerant faction, initially reflected in Defiance led by Dr. Kizza Besigye. This later metamorphosised into NUP under Bobi Wine. This group demands that everyone who is critical of Museveni should declare the president a devil who has ruined the country. Any slight deviation from this extreme position means you have been “compromised.” The more virulent this group has become, the more enlightened dissenters have quit the opposition and fallen into Museveni’s arms or gone silent. Subjectively the bitterest critics of the president, this radical extremist faction of the opposition is objectively Museveni’s best ally.
NUP has many leaders who are open minded and tolerant of divergent views. But they have been cowed into silence or submission by this radical extremist group. Many of them are now MPs. They know that their political bread is buttered by support from these radicals. Hence, they position themselves as radicals in order to keep the party’s base behind them. Were this cult to exist in the rich countries of Western Europe and North America, it would be despised. But given that Uganda is in Africa, and anyone who shouts “tyranny” at an incumbent government is believed, NUP ironically finds a lot of sympathy in Western liberal circles.
NUP is destined to follow the same path that Defiance drove FDC to –stunted growth. FDC began as a liberal-democratic organisation. Its founding leaders included many liberal minded people drawn from all parts of Uganda. But with time, and one by one, most of its founding fathers and mothers walked away. Besigye would like to delude himself into the belief that Museveni bought them off and that he is the only man with principles to continue the struggle. Yet the truth is that people found the intolerance inside FDC suffocating. Most of them retired from politics, those who wanted to remain politically active went back to NRM. The noble Mugisha Muntu formed a new party.
Ironically, Besigye is a moderate person by character and I suspect so is Bobi Wine. However, both men have adopted positions that are extreme. This way, they are “strategic radical extremists” i.e., they have calculated that the only way to be a leader of the opposition in Uganda is to appeal to its most radical faction – that is the base of the opposition. Yet while this position is able to rally passion and enthusiasm to the cause, it also tends to alienate the vast majority of Ugandans. This includes independents and frustrated Museveni lovers who do not agree with the radical extremist positions of this particular faction of the opposition.
The more important issue is that this faction of the opposition, while claiming to fight for expanding democratic space, is inherently against liberal democratic values. At the heart of liberal democratic politics lies tolerance of divergent views, negotiation over differences of opinion, and compromise with those you do not agree. Consequently, any government that comes to power through negotiation and compromise will most likely rule through negotiation and compromise – because that is its modus operandi. Any group that rejects negotiation and compromise as a basis for seeking power will certainly rule by crushing opponents.
Turn your gaze to NUP and its anti-democratic character will become evident. They see negotiations as selling out, compromise as betrayal. To them those with whom they disagree are enemies to destroy not opponents to defeat. Their most visible characteristics are in their political approach on social media. Anyone who disagrees with them is subjected to cyber bullying, character assassination, blackmail, false accusations, slander and much worse. Mao, by simply suggesting that there should be dialogue has become their latest victim, hence his one-man war against them. Mao is not the first and will not be the last to fight them.
Again, take a look at NRM and you will see why, in spite of its many weaknesses, it remains a more attractive option for the politically active. Its own spokesperson, Ofowno Opondo, who is also the head of the government media center, is often on public media criticising some of its positions. One of NRM’s MPs, Theodore Sekikubo, sounds like an opposition politician when on television. Many other NRM MPs are just as vocal in their criticism of their own party and the government over which it presides. In parliament NRM MPs on parliamentary committees are more critical of the executive than opposition MPs. These realities are not lost on many politicians.
Even the rabid Stella Nyanzi discovered to her chagrin that the criticism of her by fellow opposition activists, when she failed to toe the radical extremist line, was more vitriolic than from the NRM. Beti Kamya left the opposition because they could not accommodate her independence of mind. I meet many former opposition activists frustrated by this intolerance. The reason many politicians representing urban voters cling to the opposition and position themselves as radical extremists is because, to win in places like Kampala and Wakiso, one needs to pander to this base.
Of course, this opportunism is a characteristic feature of democratic politics. As we can see from the USA, republic politicians are hostage of their radical extremist base that supports former president Donald Trump. Most of them disapprove of his conduct and policies but dare not criticise him in public for fear of being punished by voters during party primaries. Yet Uganda needs a leader in the opposition who will articulate a vision that will galvanise the vast majority to get involved in electoral politics.
The radical extremists of NUP believe they should keep loyalty through blackmail. When anyone says anything positive about government, they accuse them of having been bought. This tactic has stopped many independent minded Ugandans from critiquing the cult of intolerance that is holding the opposition hostage. But it has also made the opposition unattractive to many people who could provide it leadership and organisation.