NRM, Opposition, and the Devil’s Bargain for 2021

Saturday, February 22, 2020

It is a year since the grandiose opposition political groupings were reported mulling an alliance or working together to defeat the NRM, but perhaps more precisely dislodge President Yoweri Museveni, whose thirty-four years on the throne gives them goose pimples. It is also one year to the billed titanic 2021 general elections, but again, many groups are in tatters, and Uganda is like to witness huge stampede from many angles including acrimonious contestations over party membership registers, already triggered in DP. And, the delayed enactment of the so-called electoral reforms, now in parliament, where MPs are fixing immediate personal interests instead of probity, is unlikely to help.

The cracks are evidently visible, as each accuses the other of being President Museveni’s mole, making it hard to believe their claim to represent the ‘genuine’ interests of Ugandans. The jostling appears less to replace NRM or President Museveni, but more for individuals to find space in the 11th parliament to collect perks. And in the opposition, NRM must look deeper to fish.

Nevertheless, NRM and President Museveni have a slight headache to seriously consider because figures from the voter update concluded in December 2019 indicate that there are 17,782,594 voters on the national voters’ register up from 15,277,198. These 2,505,396 new voters, could be problematic to NRM, considering that in 2011 and 2016, President Museveni’s score by actual votes and percentage, didn’t increase significantly. In 2016 he scored 5,971,872 against 5,428,369 votes in 2011. Besigye, the nearest challenger polled 3,508,608 against 2,064,963 in 2011. Thus, Besigye added 1,443, 724, whilst President Museveni got 543,503 additional votes. At the parliamentary level NRM will experience stiff competition in which many incumbents will fall but overall, NRM will be un-assailable in parliament and local councils.

Going by these two trends, if majority of the new voters are young, hostile or wavering they could pose a stalemate for NRM. The ongoing bullying, fake news, and misinformation on social media, old media, and at public arena, mean these hostile groups could become political wild dogs hard to restrain. Indeed, we should expect more of hostile postures especially on social media. The reckless use of cold cash to appease individuals and groups, pose dangers to NRM mobilization of dependable electoral support as it breeds unending squabbling. NRM while still strong, on account of achievements and numbers, must reflect on these grey areas. 

Suspicions that continues to haunt the opposition today began three decades ago when Cecilia Ogwal, was secretary general of the Uganda Peoples’ Congress (UPC). During that time their main target of scorn was the amiable Dr Paulo Kawanga Ssemogerere, or Old Paul, as the media derisively nicknamed him.

Old Paul, had joined the rag-tag NRM, in what he described a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ as minister, rising to Second Deputy Prime Minister, before bolting out to run for president in 1996, but sadly discovered that much of his support had already shifted and he never recovered. Ssemogerere, as a joint opposition presidential candidate, supported by UPC brought, so much laughter, scorn, and rejection as Ugandans reminded him of his “Black Book,” that never was, documenting UPC II atrocities. Ssemogerere limped off with 25% votes.

Ssemogerere was seen as a political opportunist without back-borne because with Olara Otuunu, they served the short-lived Gen. Tito Okello Lutwa’s military junta as internal, and foreign affairs ministers respectively. Museveni, on the other hand, rejected serving the junta unless the NRM/A had veto powers, and went for outright victory in January 1986. It was on Ssemogerere’s ruin and shoulders, that Kizza Besigye germinated as an opposition figure in 2001, co-sponsored by DP and UPC machinery, and some disgruntled elements from NRM who have since abandoned him, and retired from active politics. 

So, today’s unsticking deal-making among unstable Mao, Mugisha Muntu of Alliance for National Transformation (ANT), and Robert Kyagulanyi, still finding his feet, analysts believe that 2021 could be a devil’s bargain, more like Uganda’s eastern neighbours. The admission this week by Arua Municipality MP, Kasiano Ezati Wadri, that he is a registered member of ANT should be instructive on the direction many FDC MPs could take, if the political grapevine is believable.

The uncontested record since 1996 points to opposition fallacy that they can form a credible, formidable and viable united front. The ongoing acrimonious discourse among them suggests opposition leaders will go their separate ways because they all claim equal rank, and have a shared contempt for each other. Besigye in particular believes no one can penetrate his territory among opposition supporters.

Muntu, who belatedly joined Besigye and opposition in 2005, is discovering that politics is a diabolical game in which presumed allies become enemies to hurt your interests permanently. Kyagulanyi, is yet to find the check, from checkmates, who believe they can use his name as a convenient vessel to their desired destinations. Impassioned speeches by politicians should remind that even Adolf Hitler, rode on sloganeering, but as populism gathers storm before subsiding, Ugandans should find at which point the contending groups will intersect, or cross each other.