History repeats itself: Just as revolutions eat their own children, Ugandan political parties are in self-annihilation

History repeats itself: Just as revolutions eat their own children, Ugandan political parties are in self-annihilation


I heard this morning on Busoga One FM that Dr Kizza Besigye is preparing to quit the Forum for Democratic  Change (FDC), once the main Opposition Party during the long reign of President Yoweri Tibuhaburwa  Museveni, and for which he was been the candidate for Presidency of Uganda three times, for Ssentamu Kyagulanyi’s National Unity Party (NUP), and that he is doing so along with many FDC heavyweights.

If this is true, it won’t be the first time political elites have abandoned their parties and either formed new parties or joined already existing parties.

Usually the reasons are the same: Mistrust, struggle for power, clash between individual goals and institutional goals, disrespect, undermining each other or joining forces to unseat the ruling regime. However, in the late 1950s the reason was to politically wrestle for power to lead Uganda to independence. At that time, there were two main political parties: Benedicto Kiwanuka’s Democratic Party (DP), which had a strong Catholic religious orientation, and the Uganda National Congress (UNC) of Ignatius Musaazi, which had a strong Anglican religious orientation. Both Parties were largely led by Baganda. It was difficult those days to separate politics and religion.

While the DP was an adequately united party with almost no internal conflicts, the UNC, which was perhaps more elitist than the DP, was not free from internal conflicts.

The conflicts in the UNC became magnified when Apollo Milton Obote  belatedly joined it, and because of his political dynamism was elected by his elite colleagues, who were already divided, to replace Ignatius Musaazi as the president of the party. Some elements in the party hated seeing a new member, and from Lang’o, becoming their leader.

Obote, who was probably more politically long-sighted than many in the UNC, quickly thought of forming another party. He convinced William Lwetsiba from the west who had his own small party called People’s Progressive Party (PPP) to join hands and form the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC). The UPC was thus the new party to compete for political space with the DP on a colonially dominated political landscape.

The UPC was destined to be more nationalistic than the UNC, which unfortunately tended to relapse into feudal tendencies. UNC collapsed and the UPC prospered. Ignatius Musaazi went into political oblivion. However, a new all – Buganda party, called Kabaka Yekka {KY) was simultaneously formed. For the purpose of beating the DP, Obote manoeuvred to form a political alliance with KY.

The alliance worked in favour of Obote because he was able to muster enough numbers, when KY members nominated by the Kabaka were added to his elected UPC numbers, to form the post-colonial government of Uganda (actually the Commonwealth Realm of Uganda). However, this signalled the death of KY, which disappeared after the 1966 political crisis between Obote and Kabaka of Buganda.

For most of the 1960s, very many DP members joined Obote’s UPC, not so much for building Uganda as to gain politically or in access to resources and opportunities.

When Obote was overthrown by in the early 1970s, political parties (UPC, DP) were banned. Amin said he was a professional soldier, not a politician. Therefore,  he was not to tolerate politicking while he ruled. It was full-blown military governance he introduced in post-colonial Uganda. During eight years of his rule we lost in political development and political literacy. We have never been able make headway in political development and political literacy. Our politics has remained politics of resources and money for those who are lucky to access the national cake.

After the fall of Amin in 1979, political alliances were struck mainly between pressure groups that came in not so much to develop Uganda or unite it as to get bits from the spoils of Uganda. Many had their roots either in the UPC or the DP, but others had roots in Yoweri Museveni’s Front for National Salvation. Whatever the case, they all agreed at the conference in Moshi, Tanzania, to form a political organisation, the Uganda National Liberation Front (UNLF), with some kind of quasi-legislature, the National  Consultative Council, and an army, Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA) woven out of Obote’s Kikosi Maluum and Yoweri Museveni’s FRONASA, both of which had fought side by side with Tanzania People’s Defence Forces (TPDF) to dislodge Idi Amin. There was a military commission chaired by UPC’s Paul Muwanga, deputised by FRONASA’s Yoweri Museveni. Today Kikosi Maluum, FRONASA, UNLF, UNLA and miliary commission are in the dustbin of Uganda’s history.

That was not the end of political alliances. When Yoweri Museveni quit UNLA as soon as Obote was elected to form a form a post-UNLF government, he reasoned that his votes had been stolen. He first formed Uganda Patriotic Front/Army( UPF/A), which a month after the 1980 General Election, started rebel activities against the Obote II regime, which still depended on UNLA for its security, which was okay since Museveni went away with his FRONASA elements to form Uganda Patriotic Front and Uganda Patriotic Army (UPA), leaving only Kikosi Maluum to compose the  army of Uganda. Somehow, Uganda Patriotic Movement (UPM), which had fielded Yoweri Museveni for President of Uganda in the 1980 elections, disappeared.

It was not easy for UPA. UPA was saved from stillbirth by former Uganda President Yusuf Kitonde Lule, who had fled to exile in Kenya, where he, while staying in Kabete, formed the Uganda Freedom Fighters (UFF) group with some Baganda neo-traditionalists. These then decided to form the National Resistance Movement (NRM) with a military wing called National Resistance Army (NRA). They quickly realised they lacked military skills. The neo-traditionalists suggested to Lule that they invite Yoweri Museveni to command their NRA.

Initially Lule did not like the idea because in his view Museveni had participated in removing him from the presidency. However, he eventually gave in. In August of 1981, Museveni travelled to Kabete, Kenya, with a group of his political men. Agreement was reached. UFF and UPA were dissolved and NRM and NRA were  to be the political and military onslaughts against the Obote regime.  Lule was to be the political head of NRM and Museveni was to be the military chief of NRA.

More recently, the infiltration of the opposition parties by the ruling party NRM using money as the tool with which to divide them and deplete them of their memberships and leaderships has gained currency. We have seen top leaderships of the oldest parties – DP and UPC – giving in to NRM via what they have called cooperation agreements with the Movement.

In effect their top leaders  are at the table with the Movement leaders and have more or less given up the struggle for power.

Meanwhile with internal conflicts multiplying in the FDC,  there have been accusations of some members being moles in the party, which forced many top-level leaders to abandon FDC membership to form their own party called ANT.  And now what do we hear? Money from President Yoweri Tibuhaburwa Museveni is at the centre of divisions in FDC and some members, led by Dr Kizza Besigye, strategising to join NUP en masse.

Will FDC survive or will it go the way of UNC, KY, UNLF, UPM, UPF, or UFF? Will NUP itself survive?

For God and My Country

  • A Tell report / By Prof Oweyegha-Afunaduula, a former professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences of the Makerere University, Uganda
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