Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Why I will Support Kizza Besigye for FDC Flag Bearer

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 na├»ve. 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.

Anne Mugisha
Deputy Secretary Regional and International Affairs
Forum for Democratic Change

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Anne Mugisha, Next President of Forum for Democratic Change

Anne Mugisha is a US based activist of the Forum for Democratic Change, a Ugandan political party. She plans to return to Uganda ahead of the 2011 elections to support the Party's candidates during election campaigns. She will also reacquaint herself with grassroots members in a bid to become the party's next President.  

Anne holds the position of Deputy Secretary for International and Regional Affairs and coordinates FDC's external relations, liaising with democracy activists based in the Diaspora and drawing international attention to the democracy deficit in Uganda. She is a lawyer and human rights activist who has held diplomatic and management positions in Uganda's civil service and in the NGO sector. She is also a Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow and a regular contributor of democratization and human rights OP-EDs in Uganda's media.  

Anne joined active opposition politics in November 2000 as a publicity Secretary for the Elect Kizza Besigye Task force which offered the first serious challenge to President Yoweri Museveni’s government in an election that was ranked as Uganda’s most violent election. She stood for Parliamentary elections and contested for the seat of Uganda’s capital city, Kampala in May 2001. Shortly after the presidential and parliamentary elections Anne left Uganda following constant harassment and threats from security operatives. She stayed briefly in South Africa where she continued to interact with other Ugandan dissidents and opposition politicians leading to their founding of Reform Agenda; a political pressure group established to advocate for democratic reforms in Uganda.  

Anne moved to USA in February 2002 as Executive Director of RESPOND Uganda a Diaspora Organization based in Washington DC that sought to create awareness about political persecution and regressing democratic development in Uganda. It was here that she was awarded the Reagan Fascell Democracy Fellowship at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington DC. When Uganda instituted a multiparty system of governance, Reform Agenda merged with other newly formed political groups to form Forum for Democratic Change in December 2004. Anne was named External Coordinator and was appointed Special Envoy in the President’s Office at the Party;s first Delegate's Conference in 2005. She remained in the USA from where she assisted in coordinating a communications and fundraising initiative for the 2006 general elections in Uganda. In 2009 Anne was appointed to her current position of Deputy Secretary for Regional and International Affairs at the party’s second delegates conference.  

Anne has harnessed the power of the World Wide Web to develop a virtual network of Ugandan political activists who support mobilization and movement building activities at the grassroots in Uganda. She started and moderated a virtual discussion forum in 2002 for the Reform Agenda that brought together over 700 Ugandan activists based in the Diaspora. The forum later became the launch pad for communication and fundraising campaigns for the 2006 elections and was renamed FDC Discussion Forum. In addition to moderating the forum Anne commissioned the design and construction of the the party’s first website which became an important source of campaign news from the opposition and was a source for the media in Uganda and for Ugandans in the Diaspora during the 2006 election campaigns.  

Anne builds and maintains effective partnerships with Donor organizations, think tanks, Diaspora communities and individual rights activists to foster financial, technological and material support for the opposition in Uganda. She plays an important role in communicating with varying stakeholders. Between Oct 2004-2006 Anne was a Program Associate at Women's Learning Partnership in Bethesda, Maryland, USA; where she coordinated leadership training projects for transnational partner organizations working with women living in adverse conditions, including refugee women, women living under Islamic laws, and women living in post conflict communities in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

For more information visit Anne's Campaign Page on Facebook

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The anti-homosexuality Bill: Snatching Victory from the Jaws of Defeat

By failing to come out strongly against the Anti-Homosexuality Bill and condemning it clearly as an unnecessary and appalling piece of proposed legislation, the Ugandan opposition conceded another opportunity to lay bare the human rights abuses of the NRM government and afforded Museveni and his government an opportunity to emerge as the voice of reason.

Opposition politicians were divided in opinion about whether to oppose the Bill. Some genuinely supported and even co-sponsored the Bill because their conscience demanded it. Others opposed the Bill privately but preferred to play safe politics fearing the wrath of the majority of their constituents who support the Bill.  They knew that all their opponents had to do was to call them homosexuals  or gay sympathizers and that would surely wipe out their votes come polling day.   

The political leaders whose world view was shaped to believe that homosexuality is so repugnant that they were willing to append their name to legislation that condemned homosexuals to death by hanging are not my target today.  They acted according to their conscience however warped we may consider it to be.  But what about the rest?  The ones who told journalists that they privately opposed the Bill but dare not vote against it when it comes up for hearing;  The ones who waited to take the cue from Donors rather than their conscience, and the ones who will now condemn the Bill because it is safe to do since even President Museveni has developed cold feet and turned into a gay rights apologist?  What are we to make of those political leaders?

They failed to articulate to the public the difference between supporting the spread of homosexuality and the repressive nature of Bahati's Bill.  They were  more concerned about the political ramifications of supporting the Bill than on the potential of human rights violations that could result from passing the Bill.  The irony cannot be lost on them that it has taken Museveni - with a little help from our development partners (read: Donors) to put this Bill into a human rights perspective.  He set aside his personal homophobic inclinations and prevailed over those who were stampeding the nation into embracing this monstrosity of a Bill.  

While his intervention is welcome we must not lose sight of the influences that have temporarily subdued his homophobia and transformed him into the voice of reason.  It was not because he was suddenly enamored by the gay community or gay rights,  it was not because Ugandan voters (his bosses) prevailed over him and begged him to have mercy on the gays, nor was it a change in his conviction that gay rights are human rights but rather it was in deference to Donor country demands that he reframed the issue as a foreign policy issue.  The New Vision reports 'Museveni said he had been questioned about the bill by several foreign leaders, including the Canadian prime minister, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. He said Clinton called him for over 45 minutes over the issue.

“I told them that this bill was brought up by a private member and I have not even had time to discuss it with him. It is neither the Government nor the NRM party. It is a private member,” Museveni told the NRM meeting at State House Entebbe. '

Museveni effectively washed his hands and the hands of government of anything to do with Bahati's Bill.  He also reframed the issue as a foreign policy (rather than human rights) issue!  Nsaba Buturo, should be feeling like an idiot.  He is after all a spokesperson of the government on issues of morality and ethics. Ha!  

Now some conspiracy theorists may believe that Museveni hatched the whole plan from scratch and put Hon. Bahati and Buturo up to some mischief in order to get where we are today.  I personally doubt that Museveni could have predicted how this particular debate would unfold.  I tend to agree with those who believe that President Museveni saw an opportunity to get out of a bad situation, grabbed it and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.  The anti-homosexuality debate brought too much unwanted focus on Uganda's political and human rights crises and that is not where Museveni's government wants to be ahead of election time.  So his finely tuned political antennae told him to feed Bahati and Buturo to the wolves whilst using the same opportunity to emerge as mediator, the voice of reason, the one who brings back sanity before some extremist elements drive the country over a cliff.

And so there is a collective sigh of relief from the West.  Gay activists are appeased and Donor government's like the USA which need Museveni to continue protecting its interests in places like Somalia and sending mercenaries to Iraq, but dare not antagonize the powerful gay lobby at home; are once again at peace.  In order for them to continue their game of 'see no evil, speak no evil' in Uganda, the US government must ensure that it's citizens are not agitated enough to put their African partner under closer scrutiny.  That scrutiny might uncover more rights abuses, corruption, nepotism, abuse of office, election malpractices and other evils that the US likes to condemn in countries that do not do the US' bidding, or supply it with critical resources like oil or mercenaries. 

So what does that say of our politicians and politics in general?  To my friends in the opposition who kept tight lipped when their conscience told them otherwise I will quote Abraham Lincoln: To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men.  
To those who were repelled by the excessive punitive proposals in the Bill but then chose to play it safe for fear of political repercussions I will quote Martin Luther King, Jr: Cowardice asks the question, 'Is it safe?' Expediency asks the question, 'Is it politic?' Vanity asks the question, 'Is it popular?' But, conscience asks the question, 'Is it right?' And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but one must take it because one's conscience tells one that it is right.'

Throughout history the men and women who have distinguished themselves as leaders have not chosen the 'safe' line in defiance of their conscience or the popular line to please voters or Donor.  They have instead chosen to stand up and defend what their conscience dictates and usually that aligns naturally with the common good for all humanity.  And here is another quote from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn:  'Justice is conscience, not a personal conscience but the conscience of the whole of humanity. Those who clearly recognize the voice of their own conscience usually recognize also the voice of justice.'

The lesson we learn from this saga is that intense lobbying by Donors can cure an African Head of State of homophobia.  Or more to the point the threat of withdrawing funds from critical programs like PEPFAR can deliver a human rights lesson better than any text book on the subject.  But let us remain acutely aware of the influences that shape our political decisions and national policies?  

This Bill was not stalled because of the voice of Ugandan voters - given its popularity among Ugandan voters.  Nor was it stalled because of a 'Saul - to - Paul' moment which touched the conscience of our benevolent ruler making him extremely sensitive to the rights of gay people.  Sadly, this saga reminds us that the center of real power is not even in the State House that the opposition is trying to wrest from Museveni.  

President Museveni remains as homophobic as he was when he warned the youth a few weeks ago against homosexuality but his conscience like that of my silent colleagues in the opposition is quite accommodating when he senses a potential threat to his political survival.

To the many friends abroad that we have made during this battle I say, do not turn your attention away from Uganda because of this small victory, for as soon as you look away the same forces (read: religious fanatics) that introduced the idea of this Bill will re-emerge and recreate themselves to fight the battle another day in another way. Their disengagement at this point is not based on principle, good will, or deference to their conscience, but on political expedience.  It was because you cared enough to look closely at Uganda and to  lobby your governments to act that homosexuals have won a temporary reprieve.  

Remain focused on Uganda.
Anne Mugisha