Transitional Politics in Uganda | Tyranny of numbers at Grand Citizens’ Debate

Posted May 2, 2014 by Ugandan Diaspora News Team in Inside Politics ~ 3,464 views



If Wednesday’s Grand citizen’s debate had pitted the minister for the Presidency, Frank Tumwebaze, against only the FDC-founding president Kizza Besigye, in a direct one-on-one match-up, it would still have been an unfair contest.

After all, Tumwebaze was just a Primary Six pupil in 1986 when President Museveni led his NRA/M guerrilla outfit – with Dr Besigye as a senior officer in its ranks – to capture power. And yet Tumwebaze found himself solely carrying the NRM government’s cross in a packed 1,000-seater hall, with heckling opposition and civil society activists using the ruling party’s shortcomings as the sticks with which to whip the Kibale county MP.

The stage for the highly-billed debate on democracy and leadership transition was set by Godber Tumushabe, the former executive director of Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (Acode), who made an impassioned keynote speech in which he castigated Museveni’s ongoing attempt to extend his 30-year rule for another five years.

Democratic elections

Kick-starting the debate’s second session, Tumushabe said Uganda was ready for “a transition of all forms” by 1996 when the country held its first democratic elections under the 1995 Constitution. What the country lacks, he added, is leadership that would have managed the transition.

“A good, well-intentioned leader can pick the 1995 Constitution and lead this country to transformation…. A bad leader will manipulate that Constitution and manipulate everybody and subvert the democratic process,” said Tumushabe, to loud cheers from the crowd, sections of which offered a standing ovation at the end of his speech. Under the Museveni government, said Tumushabe, the promised transformation “from bush heroes to leaders” has suffered a still-birth.

“Instead of leaders, we got rulers,” he added. “Instead of transformative leaders, we got transactional leaders that buy everything from power to votes.”

According to Tumushabe, the political transition would then have paved the way for social, cultural and economic transition of Uganda. The initial panel lineup to discuss Tumushabe’s presentation had Dr Besigye taking on Tumwebaze on leadership transition, while Information and National Guidance minister Rose Namayanja had been scheduled to face-off with civil society activist Bishop Zac Niringiye on electoral reforms.

Namayanja didn’t turn up, leaving Tumwebaze on his own against Tumushabe, Besigye, Niringiye, Makerere University historian Mwambutsya Ndebesa and a crowd evidently intoxicated with anti-government sentiment.

A different view

In his initial presentation, Tumwebaze started by saying he was happy “you are now going to hear, at least, a different view.” The minister said Uganda was undergoing a transition in several aspects – if not the political arena. The transformation, he said, was evident in the growth of the economy.

“Do not trade in one obsession of a man called Museveni from 2001 to today,” he said. “If he was a problem for Uganda, these [economic] indicators would be alarmingly red.”

Taking cue from the mood of the crowd, Tumwebaze accused ‘independent analysts’ of not carrying out a fair assessment of all players on Uganda’s political scene.

“It is good to criticise NRM. It is good to challenge us on whether we cannot produce any other leader apart from President Museveni. We know why. But also do the same to other parties. Is it President Museveni, for example, that caused FDC to rig its own internal election – a fact that was confirmed by its own party tribunal? Address these issues if you are sincere.”

The 38-year-old Tumwebaze also noted that FDC leaders such as Nathan Nandala-Mafabi and Gen Mugisha Muntu had inadvertently acknowledged during campaigns for the FDC presidency that their party did not have sufficient grassroots structures to win an election.

“As they were vying for the position that senior comrade Besigye occupied, the contestation on the lips of each candidate was, ‘I will build the grassroots structure of FDC.’ That was a clear admission that we have a party at the top here, sustained by media cameras, but without grassroots structures. So, if you have no grassroots structures, how do you expect to win an election?” the minister asked.

Rowdy crowd

While Tumwebaze hit the right notes at the start, further challenging Dr Besigye on why the retired colonel was disowning a liberation struggle he had actively participated in, he later seemed to get derailed by the regular heckling from the crowd.

At one point, when an individual in the crowd clapped sarcastically at an issue he was addressing, Tumwebaze said: “I did not come to receive applause. I can get that elsewhere.”
Dr Besigye, on the other hand, said the transition that he and other opposition politicians seek was not merely from one leader to another.

“We need a transition from one dispensation to another,” he said, noting that if a leader such as Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi – or even himself became president – nothing would stop either of them from behaving like President Museveni if there were no checks on the executive’s powers.

On his part, Mwambutsya Ndebesa said conditions in the country are ripe for transition. What is missing, he argued, are agents of that change. Both Besigye and Mwambutsya challenged the youths to take the lead in agitating for political change, with Dr Besigye asserting that Museveni would never willingly relinquish power.

The first debate session on constitutionalism and rule of law was less politicised, but no less intense. The panel included Prof George Kanyeihamba (keynote speaker), Makerere University law lecturer Dr Kabumba Busingye, Irene Ovunji and lawyer Kiryowa Kiwanuka.

If there are lessons for either side to take from the debate, for the opposition it is the need for tolerance of divergent views. For the NRM, the lesson is on the tyranny of numbers, as Tumwebaze found out on a platform where he held the minority view.

Source — The Observer

About the Author

Ugandan Diaspora News Team

Ugandan Diaspora News Online is an independent, non political news portal primarily aimed at serving Ugandans who work and reside outside Uganda. Our aim is to be a one stop shop for everything Ugandan and the celebration of our Ugandan heritage.


Be the first to comment!

You must be logged in to post a comment.