FDC distinguishes itself again this year with a unique race for party flag bearer that demonstrates clear, principled leadership. We are a party that practices what it preaches. We have two formidable leaders competing for the position of flag bearer and I will support Kizza Besigye simply because he is the leader best positioned to unite the opposition and galvanize the population to cause change in 2011. The reason that we are able to exercise internal democracy within the party is because he has encouraged it and made it possible for anyone to take a shot at any and all positions of leadership in the party including his own. He has taken the lead in explaining that democracy demands that we are all challenged and that competition is in fact an essential ingredient of democratic leadership. He has prepared us for his departure by publicly speaking about it and promising to step down when his term ends in a few years.
Mugisha Muntu has deepened the party's democratic credentials by presenting himself early, before the party president steps down; making it possible for us to test Kizza Besigye’s credibility and authenticity. Where the Ugandan experience has taught us to expect animosity between candidates we are witnessing candidates that have a profound respect for each other competing in a free and fair contest. Whoever loses this election should not feel bereft of hope because their participation has already benefited us all and Ugandans are the winners regardless of the outcome. There will be many in the yellow camp (ruling party) who will scratch their heads in awe and wonder whether FDC is up to some trick because it is unimaginable for them that an incumbent would subject themselves to ‘unnecessary elections.’
It is nonetheless our onerous duty as FDC leaders to choose between two outstanding candidates for flag bearer for the 2011 presidential elections and my choice is made. I will once again campaign by Internet and phone to convince FDC delegates to elect Kizza Besigye and God willing I will join them in April to cast my own ballot for him. Here is why:
Kizza Besigye is a brand. A unique and valuable brand that has withstood tempestuous weather and severe testing on Uganda’s political market. His brand has become so successful that it has taken opposition party leadership from being the most dangerous and ridiculed job in the land to one of the most sought after positions. If one were to put a price on his brand it would be pretty high for it was built through great personal suffering, loss and sacrifice. Kizza Besigye’s brand invokes concrete values including trust, hope, selflessness, persistence, honor, valor, patience, courage and leadership. Perhaps with time Mugisha Muntu might build confidence in his own brand but speaking today, just 13 months before a presidential election; I know that the choice is between going to the market with an established brand and building a new brand. We simply do not have the time.
Kizza Besigye’s detractors complain about his aggressive and brutal honesty in dealing with the oppressor which they claim strikes so much fear in President Museveni and his supporters that they will go to extremes to stay in power for fear of vengeance. They argue that more people are likely to be drawn to Mugisha Muntu’s soft-spoken style and President Museveni would be more likely to hand over power to him. This group believes they can massage Museveni out of power.
There are three problems with that particular argument. First and foremost anyone who has witnessed the extent to which this government will go to hang onto power, will find the argument extremely naïve. As Mary Karoro pointed out, why would Museveni ever want to hand power to the opposition? A logical question, particularly as he has shown no inclination to hand over power even within his own party where there are numerous masseurs that would gladly massage him out in unfettered comfort?
Secondly those who argue that Muntu would attract new voters from the Movement are simply starting their search for opposition votes in the wrong place. They could start by organzing to guard the votes they already have so that after they are cast they are actually counted and accuratey reported. They may find that they already have more than enough to win an election. Thirdly, any new votes will most likely come from freshly disgruntled constituencies in places like Buganda and Bunyoro and the mood in those constituencies is not to massage the oppressor.
The massage approach does not resonate well with those who want both change and justice. It would only entrench the mistaken but long held view that FDC is made up of disgruntled Movement apologists who want to replace Museveni; an image that we have struggled to correct for years. We have come a long way in defining ourselves and the moderate attitude which every Movement sympathizer has asked us to embrace is exactly what will isolate us from our grassroots supporters. They are trusting us to deliver social and economic justice and not to bargain a compromise with the oppressor.
Another popular argument against Besigye is that he is sticking to the chair like super glue! Detractors argue that KB has run twice against President Museveni and it is time for him to let another candidate have a go. I am confident that Kizza Besigye will leave FDC Presidency at the end of his current term and I dare say he is anxious to set an example of a peaceful hand over of leadership. Moreover, the analogy that compares Kizza Besigye’s ten years of sacrifice to President Museveni’s 25 years of privilege is lame. I have argued elsewhere that it is tantamount to saying that Nelson Mandela should have stepped aside when he left jail and allowed a fresh face to run for ANC and South African presidency because Mandela was a leading ANC figure for too long prior to South Africa's 1994 elections. Ridiculous!
Those who support Mugisha Muntu have an uphill task of convincing FDC delegates that they have a superior brand for the current political market. Eleven months ago they managed to convince 53 delegates out of 709 that their candidate was the best to lead the party. They now have 3 months to achieve a miracle and I can only wish them luck.
Their biggest huddle will be Besigye’s outstanding performance as a leader. Kizza Besigye leads from the front. His leadership is visible and accessible for all and delegates will benchmark other leaders against his record. Besigye does not disappear from public view between elections only to reappear around election time. He is right there at the frontline battling alongside activists not in the confines of Parliament or in selective sanitized dialogues but right there where activism meets oppression. You will find him leading demonstrations, visiting activists in jail, supporting candidates in by-elections, consulting grassroots supporters, mobilizing Diaspora support, engaging the media, fundraising for the party, building and seeking international recognition and support for Uganda’s opposition. He does not make pledges to the party that are dependent on his being elected. He did what he was supposed to do without strings attached even before there was a party to speak of.
When Kizza Besigye leaves office in a few years FDC will have an opportunity to leap forward and make a clean break from the past while tapping into a new market of voters who are ready to bury the rhetoric of the last two and a half decade. Uganda’s politics is currently stuck in a rut of the Luweero ‘bush war.’ Political dialogue has narrowed down to a debate between those who think the war created heroes and those who believe it created villains those who think it was a just war and those who believe it was an opportunistic war.
As long as leaders emerging from that war continue to lead our party and country we can expect those relationships to continue to dominate and define our political dialogue. Reports that Muntu is being backed by veteran politicians Amanya Mushega and Richard Kaijuka further strengthens my resolve to support the bush candidate that is about to step down and immediately embark on a campaign to challenge the old narrative while offering a fresh perspective.
We need a fresh perspective that is removed from the sentiments and fall-out of the bush war. Replacing Kizza Besigye with Mugisha Muntu simply prolongs the bush war narrative.
Deputy Secretary Regional and International Affairs
Forum for Democratic Change