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UGANDA: Opposition party FDC, similarity to ruling party NRM

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Kizza Besigye

FDC on the brink over Col Besigye

Written by Sulaiman Kakaire, THE OBSERVER, KAMPALA

Over time, four-time presidential candidate, Dr Warren Kizza Besigye Kifefe has cultivated a cult-like following within the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC). But the party he helped found today faces soul-searching questions about his domineering influence, internal politics, and the meaning of his ‘defiance’ philosophy.

In these series, SULAIMAN KAKAIRE paints a picture of how the retired colonel came to this point and how FDC is unwittingly becoming like the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party over which President Yoweri Museveni rules supreme. The FDC-Besigye story goes back to the NRM from which its first crop was harvested.

Towards the close of the 1990s, some senior leaders within the Movement, as the NRM was then referred to, began thinking about challenging President Museveni’s leadership which had swayed from the democratic ideals for which the bush war was waged. Cases of intolerance, corruption and lack of respect for rule of law were festering unchecked.Related Stories
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Among this group was Besigye, Museveni’s bush war doctor. He had served as minister of Internal Affairs and National Political Commissar – positions which put him very close to the powerful centre.

When these like-minded colleagues, including Museveni’s childhood friend, Eriya Kategaya (R.I.P); Nuwe Amanya Mushega (then public service minister), Bidandi Ssali (then local government minister) and Augustine Ruzindana (then Inspector General of Government), and others seemed to foot-drag, circumstances conspired to thrust Besigye to the fore.

Prof Sabiti Makara, a lecturer of political science and public administration at Makerere University, says: “This was a moment that defined his political career. When everyone seemed uncertain of what the future would be like…he walked into it. It was heroic.”

Here was a relatively junior member of ‘the revolution’ stepping up. True, he was staring at the threat of being court-martialled after he penned a stinging critique of Museveni’s NRM. But declaring that he would run for president in 2001 still caught the country by surprise. The country was fascinated.

A still-serving minister says “His [Besigye] position could not just be taken by some of us. In fact, some of us thought he was spying on us when he approached us about our availability.”

“My argument was that we should allow the man [Museveni] to take another five years and that challenging him required some more preparation, which had not been done at the time. In hindsight, he was correct; [Museveni] turned out to be a liar about the third term being the last. But, we were also right as it has taken Besigye 18 years and he is still fighting to dislodge him,” the minister said.

However, Besigye disagrees.

“People will always analyse situations differently and respond differently. Many of my colleagues didn’t believe that Mr Museveni would attack the Constitution to abolish presidential term limits. I considered that there was sufficient empirical and logical basis to predict that he would not respect the Constitution. As it turned out, Mr Museveni badly disappointed them; so, they rejoined the struggle.

“I consider that I had an advantage of having lived and worked closely with Mr Museveni before and immediately after 1986. My experiences helped me analyse the situation and make the decisions I made. I don’t consider that those whose analysis was different were any less committed to the struggle for democratic transition,” he said.


Besigye had broken ranks with the establishment but he had an uphill task ahead: joining hands with people he had bad-mouthed as political commissar. Several meetings were arranged with the then top opposition leadership in preparation for this new chapter in the struggle for democracy. New rules had to be written even if only to avoid a clash of egos.

“You could not just write off Dr Paul Kawanga Ssemogerere, then the likes of Al Hajji Nasser Ntege-Sebaggala was another force…,” said Prof Morris Ogenga-Latigo (Agago MP and former leader of the opposition in parliament).

Ssemogerere was head of the Democratic Party and had carried the opposition flag in 1996 as joint presidential candidate under the Inter-Political Forces Cooperation.

“I remember one day we went with Kassiano Wadri (the former secretary general for DP) to Ssemogerere’s home and we talked to him and said, Paul what do you think you can add to DP that you have not done, why don’t you free DP?” Latigo recollects.

“Fortunately, Ssemogerere was ready to give way.”

Sebaggala, with the support of Kampala business mandarins and notable Muslims, remained in the way.

“We had to go to him and negotiate an alliance. I was part of that meeting and I remember Sebaggala expressing his reservations about the fact that Besigye was a westerner but the tide was already against him,” says Abdu Katuntu, the Bugweri MP.

And like Katuntu, Aswa MP Reagan Okumu remembers how all the political currents at the time were in favour of Besigye: “Politics is about moments while leadership is about political moments. Besigye became relevant as a person; that is why most of us were attracted to him because our expectation was that since he had a military background, he would be the man to answer fire with fire, something that Dr Paul Kawanga Ssemwogerere had failed to do.”

Besigye’s candidature attracted extreme violence from the state apparatus and he came out looking like a “resilient force”, according to Okumu.

After the 2001 election, whose outcome Besigye unsuccessfully challenged in the Supreme court, the colonel dramatically fled into exile, somehow slipping past the 24-hour military intelligence surveillance which had been thrown around him.

“[Going to exile] consoled people in a way that some thought he had gone to prepare for an alternative. Even when he appeared on international and local media channels, his voice was strong and focused,” Okumu said.

When Besigye was in exile, a rebel outfit, the People’s Redemption Army, popped up. Months down the road, attempts were made to link Besigye to this rebel group in a criminal prosecution that turned out to be a publicity milestone for his political career.

Dr William Tayeebwa, head of the department of journalism and communication at Makerere University, notes: “The story of his prosecution never left the headline of the newspapers and the frames as coined in the newspaper cultivated a perception of someone who was being witch-hunted for standing against President Museveni. He became a news event that ticked all the boxes of newsworthiness.”


A political vacuum was created during the exile months. To some Besigye enthusiasts, this vacuum ultimately resulted in them retreating to their traditional political parties or individual platforms.

According to Besigye’s biographer, Daniel Kalinaki, in his book titled, Kizza Besigye and Uganda’s Unfinished Revolution, Besigye continued to contact his supporters who had stayed behind, leading into a meeting that was held in January 2002 at former ambassador, Dr Oumo Okiror’s house in Lusaka, Zambia.

“The meeting was consumed by an ideological question of whether to harness the force that had propelled Besigye to the brink of an electoral victory over Museveni into a formal political organisation, or maintain it as a loose alliance…Eventually a decision was made to form Reform Agenda as a political organisation. However, because political parties were still banned in Uganda, they declared themselves a pressure group,” Kalinaki notes.

Kizza Besigye campaigning in Kampala in 2016The meeting was attended by Winnie Byanyima, James Garuga Musinguzi, Beti Kamya, Spencer Tirwomwe, Sam Njuba, Alex Onzima and Anne Mugisha. But pressure from the security services held back the Reform Agenda plans until around 2003 when Okumu travelled to South Africa for a training course. He made contact with Besigye, but most importantly put the plan into action.

Okumu said he accepted the task because he trusted Besigye as a resilient person.

“That was the perception guiding my actions. So, I had to set up the Reform Agenda structures in preparation for Dr Besigye’s comeback.”

There was no clearly laid-out political ideology to guide the formation of Reform Agenda. Okumu, who was the group’s secretary general, admits; “our main issue was to use Dr Besigye to weaken the state. Some of us knew that he would not defeat Museveni or change the lives of our people but he could be used to weaken the state.”

“Besigye was the first and last strong National Political Commissar under Museveni and played a very big role in not only destroying the Uganda Peoples Congress and DP structures but during his tenure as NPC, and later minister of internal affairs, played a critical role in entrenching the NRM by fusing the party into the state apparatus. So, we needed a person like him to destroy what he had created,” Okumu says.

Some of the founding members of Reform Agenda were recruited from the Young Parliamentarians Association, a corruption-fighting group of MPs. Among them were Nathan Nandala-Mafabi, Maj John Kazoora, Patrick Oboi Amuriat and Geoffrey Ekanya.

In hindsight, Makara argues that the coming together without a minimum ideological programme set the stage for future internal disagreements.

“You can’t merely come together to fight an individual; there must be principles guiding you and such principles must be agreeable to all. If you don’t agree to (principles)…you start looking at each other as moles,” he said.


The vacuum created by Besigye’s exile and the main political events to shape the 2006 election inevitably turned Parliament into a political stage. Besides, the manoeuvres around the constitutional amendments, including the lifting of presidential term limits, were manifest in YPA discussions held inside the parliamentary canteen.

What emerged was later to be called the Parliamentary Advocacy Forum (PAFO), which was to become one of the building blocks for FDC. Maj John Kazoora, Bernadette Bigirwa, Lt Guma Gumisiriza, Capt Charles Byaruhanga, Salaamu Musumba, Beatrice Kiraso and Katuntu immersed themselves in these evening-to-late-night sessions.

Coming from a solid UPC background, Katuntu remembers how he and the Movement colleagues eventually realised that a new pathway had to be cut out.

“In these discussions, I was the only traditional opposition person, the rest of the group were individuals who had supported President Museveni in the 2001 election. But, throughout our discussions whenever they would vent their anger and I [would] tell them that UPC was a better option, we would end up agreeing that the state of our parties is not okay, hence raising the need for a new political formation,” he said.

Katuntu said that after PAFO crystallised, they needed to reach out.

“So, we tasked Hon Kazoora who became our main point man. He recruited some of his former colleagues under the Young Parliamentarians Association. This is how people like Adolf Mwesige (current defence minister) joined us and later became PAFO’s secretary general. Others were Salaamu Musumba, Emmanuel Dombo, Jack Sabiti and Maj Bright Rwamirama, among others,” he said.

These developments coincided with Museveni’s removal of the constitutional term limits, which pushed more of his bush war comrades out, into what was initially informally referred to as the ‘Malwa Group”.

It had finally dawned on top senior NRM members like Ruzindana, Kategaya, Amanya-Mushega, former army commander Maj Gen Gregory Mugisha Muntu, Miria Matembe, and Dan Wandera-Ogalo that Museveni had other plans for himself.

Wandera-Ogalo had defended Museveni in the 2001 presidential election petition Besigye lodged. Now he was forced to face the reality of the sort of political animal Uganda was dealing with.

“How could you explain it to those we had told something else; that 2001 was the last time he is standing? During the 2001 election, I belonged to a group led by Hon Amama Mbabazi, we had convinced some youths who had become rowdy at the time that this man is here for only five years, why not leave him and thereafter bring whoever you want. It was shocking to hear these machinations,” Wandera told The Observer.

Wandera says; “As senior people in the Movement, we were concerned by these actions. And in response to this, I and other concerned colleagues held discussions that ended into the formation of PAFO,” he said.

At this stage, no mention was being made of Besigye. As PAFO attracted members from across the political divide, including Martin Wandera, Dr Frank Nabwiso, [current NRM secretary general] Justine Lumumba Kasule, Ogenga-Latigo, Ben Wacha, Dr Ekullo Epak, Cecilia Ogwal and Wadri, the colonel’s shadow seemed to only loom as a memory from the 2001 excitement.

Latigo, who was a member of DP, said members had to abandon their old political parties.

“I had participated in efforts to make DP great again but I was frustrated by the intrigue. I was chair of the Reconciliation Committee that reconciled the Ssemogerere group and [Francis] Bwengye group…I made a final report and after I submitted it and I requested that we all sign, none of the two groups was willing to make a commitment in a written form. I decided to quit,” Latigo said.

“Fortunately, there were people, even though from other political formations, whose political views seemed to correspond with ours. That is how we formed PAFO. The argument was stronger from the NRM, who said we can’t join parties that we fought. The Ruzindanas, Matembes said we fought UPC, DP; so, we can’t join them. So, they argued that if we form another entity, it could work, that’s how we ended there,” Latigo said.

Wandera says, “Under PAFO, we believed that there should be a different way to approach politics and how we should manage the political affairs of Uganda. We believed in institutions above individuals and country above self. This was the belief of members who were leaving President Museveni’s Movement and UPC, which had been tied to the personality of former president Apollo Milton Obote.”

What Wandera says is rather instructive because Besigye has said in an interview for this piece: “Structures [institutions] are meant to serve a purpose; they aren’t an end in themselves. Current FDC structures were formed after I had left the party leadership. I subjected myself to their choice of flag bearer in 2015 because I believe that they serve our collective interest.”

Whereas the intention of PAFO members was to form a political party, the context of the day required them to join efforts with other pressure groups whose common interest was causing regime change. Sabiti-Makara, who has studied political formations in post-independent Uganda, says this was a mistake.

“No wonder, 12 years later, the FDC is divided based on the different formations under which people joined FDC,” he said.


Around 2004, as public interest in the next election two years away began to grow, PAFO opened communication with Reform Agenda. The discussions involved several trips to Pretoria and Zambia and were overseen by, among others, Garuga Musinguzi, Njuba and Ruzindana.

According to Katuntu, these discussions resulted in a lot of compromises made before FDC we see today came about. In one of the meetings held in Pretoria, South Africa, Katuntu said: “Gen Muntu told Besigye that don’t expect to become the anointed leader when you return to Uganda.”

Muntu’s prescient declaration created a lot of awkwardness. Early Besigyeists like Katuntu remember how “we felt uncomfortable with Muntu’s statement. In fact, the murmur was…what is Gen Muntu up to?”

Unmoved, Muntu reminded everyone that the reason they were leaving NRM is because Museveni is always the anointed leader.

“Obviously, Dr Besigye brushed it aside by saying that he is not worried about the competition and his argument was that the meeting involves a small group and as such it cannot bind those who are not party to it and yet they would be interested in the top leadership of the party,” Katuntu said.

On their return to Kampala, Muntu pulled Katuntu aside.

“While in Kampala, he [Gen Muntu] explained to me that the whole reason he made those arguments was to make it known to Besigye that competition is a culture that must be built within our new political formation. He made the same argument he is making today that you can’t give what you don’t have,” Katuntu said.

Matembe, Ruzindana, Njuba and John Kazoora were also in Pretoria that day. With the exception of Njuba who passed away while holding the position of FDC national chair, all the three individuals have since parted ways with Besigye.

Mugisha Muntu, Ogenga Latigo and Wandera-Ogalos supported the idea of PAFO merging with Besigye’s 2001 election platform, Reform Agenda, but maintained that this was not to advance an individual, Besigye.


Unfortunately, it appears that this purist thinking was not universally shared. As PAFO prepared for a merger not built around an individual, within the Reform Agenda, the whole idea of FDC was being built around Besigye. Okumu, who at the time acted as the point man for RA, said they were quietly focused on FDC as a Besigye vehicle.

“When we were forming the first cabinet, we chose those people who were not too ambitious; to avoid a clash of egos. Fortunately, most of the senior people like Njuba, who acted as the executive director; in essence the founding president, was not ambitious to fight Doctor,” Okumu said.

“Every individual was selected following a careful and thorough study of their context. For Besigye, it was a done deal. When it came to the deputies, we focused on regions, tribes and religious sects. At the time, we didn’t select a deputy from western Uganda since the party president was coming from there. The deputy for central, we selected Sam Njuba because he was an Anglican-Muganda, who represents Mengo [Buganda Kingdom] and Budo. For northern, we selected Prof Ogenga Latigo because he represented Acholi, academicians and Catholics,” Okumu said.A policewoman being rescued by colleagues after a confrontation with Besigye supporters

When it came to the east, Salaamu Musumba was the right choice to represent women, Busoga and Catholics. For the party chairperson, we selected Dr Sulaiman Kiggundu to represent the Muslim community and Buganda but also the business community. For the secretary general, we selected Alice Alaso for gender balance and to represent the Iteso…,” Okumu said.

Other cabinet members included regional national vice chairmen Tom Butime (West), Dr Vincent Kimera (central) and Alex Onzima (North). Deputy secretaries general Kassiano Wadri (administration) and Ruzindana (research and policy); Sabiti (treasury) and Nathan Nandala-Mafabi (deputy treasurer); Wandera Ogalo (secretary, legal affairs), Reagan Okumu (Foreign Affairs), Ingrid Turinawe (Women Affairs) and Wafula Oguttu (publicity).

Unknown to most, especially those within PAFO, when the aforementioned names were introduced during the first formal meeting at a hotel along Entebbe road, they innocently endorsed them.

Note again that leadership roles were distributed even before the party platform (ideology, values, constitution, slogan and flag) were agreed. Makara points out that the whole idea was forming around Besigye. Latigo says it was only himself and a few other colleagues who voiced some opposition.

“In the end, they created a small ‘Platform committee’ to develop the party principles, ideology, agenda and programmes. I was chair, [David] Pulkol, Richard Kaijuka, Sulaiman Kiggundu, and Yona Kanyomozi were members. Thereafter, that is when we prepared our first national executive committee meeting held in Stellenbosch, South Africa. Then we came back and started preparations for his [Besigye’s] return,” Latigo said.


Some PAFO members, especially the former Movement lot, were quite discomfited; probably dismayed that they had fled one-man rule only to end up in the makings of another cult of personality.

“Some of our members disagreed with the fact that Besigye was being prepared to come back and take over. They didn’t like it just like the case was with his candidature of 2001. So, they said they were not willing to join us,” Wandera-Ogalo said.

Dombo, Mwesige, Lumumba, Rwamirama, Kiraso, etc walked out at the moment. Kalinaki notes that sometime in 2005, top officials of the new organisation travelled to South Africa to discuss party structures, constitution and electoral reforms. However, it soon turned to “the idea- then still unimaginable – of Besigye’s return.”

Kamya weighed in: “We are here discussing these things but it is about six months to the election…For me, I came here to discuss the election…and for that matter, why don’t we ask our chairman to come to Kampala and lead us in the next election because with Besigye as the presidential candidate, half our work is done.”

Other participants were, essentially press-ganged into falling into line despite their protestations.

“We are not like the Movement…This party does not depend on one person; anybody can be president. Let us establish structures first,” Ogenga Latigo reportedly shot back as Kalinaki notes.

Dr Munini Mulera agreed but other Besigye enthusiasts like Nandala and Kiggundu disagreed.
Wandera Ogalo says he can now connect the dots.

“There was someone pulling the strings…we were already at cross purposes with our colleagues in Reform Agenda,” he said.


Eventually, PAFO, RA and the National Democrats Front headed by Chapaa Karuhanga, entered into the alliance. But the alliance was divided from the get-go. In the run-up to 2006 election, the PAFO lot was gathering signatures to have Muntu nominated, yet the Reform Agenda axis was busy arranging Besigye’s homecoming.

But Besigye was doubtful. He remembers how the 2006 election was taking place in a toxic environment. It was right after the removal of term-limits. Many RA activists had also been arrested and charged with treason- linked to the shadowy rebel PRA.

On October 26, 2005, Besigye came back to Uganda and received a heroic welcome from Entebbe airport and addressed a mammoth crowd at Kololo airstrip. After his electrifying return, Besigye grew into a phenomenon and won the public moniker of a “people’s president”.

In 2013, The Observer reported that he had by then been arrested more than 34 times, more than any other political leader in post-independence Uganda. Bearing the state brutalisation with the quiet fortitude of one who must deliver his people no matter the odds, Besigye became an almost messianic figure.

This appeal for Besigye amongst the downtrodden has made it hard for some people to criticise him, even when he built a power base around himself, hence evolving into an ‘untouchable Museveni of the opposition’ as his former colleagues will suggest in the next part of this series.


Published (Halifax Canada Time AST) on: April 04, 2018 at 09:09AM

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