The Future for Dr. Kizza Besigye
FDC's Dr. Kizza Besigye.

The Future for Dr. Kizza Besigye

Caution and conscience rule as Dr. Kizza Besigye and his FDC supporters ponder his political future.

By Gerald Rulekere
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First published: July 19, 2011

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A political spanner was thrown into Uganda’s politics when it was recently reported that Forum for Democratic Change president Col. Dr. Kizza Besigye had announced he would not be President of FDC beyond 2014 or become party flag bearer in the 2016 Presidential elections.

Dr. Besigye who has competed in the last three presidential elections in 2001, 2006 and recently in February 2011 is the founding President of FDC, the leading political party in Uganda.

He might have lost in all past elections to incumbent President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni of the National Resistance Movement, but there is no doubt even to the most primary political onlooker that Besigye is arguably the best man now who can give Museveni a real run in elections.

Debate had already started across the country on whether Besigye is doing the right thing to “get out” of Uganda’s politics when many people continue to say they need change in the country’s political leadership.  Others however applauded Besigye for committing to let go the party’s leadership and perennial competition for the country’s top post on behalf of the opposition.

Dr. Besigye on KTN on the Protests (May 2011)

Is it the end of Besigye as leader of FDC?
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Toterebuka Bamwenda, the Deputy spokesperson of the FDC says Dr Besigye told party leaders at their retreat in Mukono recently that he will retire from the party's leadership in 2014 when his second term as Party President expires. “Besigye told the leaders that he will not cling to power or amend the party constitution like President Museveni did in order to continue to be President,” Toterebuka says.

Some people interpreted this to be an act of throwing in the towel on the part of Dr. Besigye with many media speculating on why the FDC will no longer compete in Presidential elections. Besigye clarified later that he had been quoted out of context. He says he will stand down as Party President in 2014 but he cannot rule out competing again as a Presidential candidate.

The FDC party constitution does not limit the party’s flag bearer in national elections to any office and thus even without any leadership position in FDC, Besigye can still compete to be its flag bearer in the 2016 Presidential elections. But should Besigye really compete in another election?

It is not clear for many people including FDC supporters whether Besigye is an asset or a liability to the party’s ambitions to win political power. Yes he has tried three times and lost on both occasions in contestable election results. He has ably delivered an alternative to President Museveni that was missing before 2001 and achieved everything apart from winning the Presidency. But while some people are urging the FDC leader to continue at the helm of the party till they acquire political power, others are urging him to give way to other leaders within the opposition. Both sides are giving varied reasons but there are some factors that have been building that make it important for both sides to ponder before the 2016 political period matures.

Dr. Besigye arrested
Dr. Besigye arrested.

Election fatigue
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There are those who say after three consecutive elections and loosing (despite not agreeing with the results), Besigye should retire from competing in presidential elections.

In 2001 when he first competed, Besigye garnered 27% of the vote, 39% in 2006 and 28% in 2011 according to official results released by the Uganda Electoral Commission. Besigye worked himself hard in all three elections, telling the country that he would beat Museveni. Try hard as he did, Museveni outsmarted Besigye on both rounds (never mind the means) and it was very humiliating in 2011 with Museveni getting more votes at the expense of Besigye.

From busy campaign schedules and having to deal with election results you don’t believe are fair, as well as arrests here and there, it is believed that Besigye has been worn out by three consecutive elections. Those of this view say that it is better for Dr. Besigye to retire from active politics than continue despite his political clout and strong points as a leading opposition figure.

Many arrests weighing on Besigye
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In fact, the last 13 years or so since Besigye left the then Movement (which turned into NRM) and started opposing his former comrade Museveni have been years of misery for Dr. Besigye. Apart from losing three elections, he has been politically tortured, arrested on several charges and to this day continues to face several court cases.

After the 2001 elections, Besigye was on several occasions stopped from moving within Uganda which resulted in his fleeing into exile in South Africa where he spent almost four years. He returned to a hero’s welcome in 2005 in time to be presidential candidate of then newly formed FDC. But in November 2005 as campaigns were starting, Besigye was arrested and charged with treason, concealment of treason and rape. He might have finally been cleared of all these charges but they have left their toll on him politically and physically.

Police use brutal force to arrest Besigye (April 2011)

In May 2011 soon after the 2011 elections which the opposition contested, Besigye was arrested on more than five occasions as he engaged in the so called “walk to work” protests, including in the infamous two rounds when he was allegedly shot on the arm on one incident, and another where he was sprayed with pepper and manhandled by police, leading to his hospitalization in Kenya, and later the USA.

Besigye himself said doctors advised that he rests more and avoids active engagements like demonstrations. Even without such warnings, the most physically, mentally and spiritually healthy would be concerned about their future given the rate at which Besigye has been arrested, tortured and the many times he has to appear in court to answer one case after another. Some people feel that the retired colonel has done his best and doesn’t need to be worn out anymore.

Conflicts within FDC
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But leaving the bad treatment meted on Besigye alone, there have been growing rifts in FDC over its top party leadership headed by Besigye. There are those who genuinely feel Besigye has led the party since its formation and represented the group (from Reform agenda times) in three presidential elections without succeeding and it is time another person is given a chance to lead the biggest opposition party in Uganda.

However, the key issue seems to stem from sectarian concerns among those worried that like the NRM where Museveni who is from the south west dominates the party, FDC is another party dominated by people from the west. In the past competition for the party’s flag bearer, Besigye competed with Maj. Gen. Mugisha Muntu, his former army comrade who is also from south western Uganda.

While Mugisha Muntu is a senior citizen and likable man of good character, many in FDC feel strongly against not only the west keeping hold of the top position in Besigye remaining President, but in another person from the west taking over from Besigye. Some key FDC leaders like Aswa County MP Reagan Okumu have publicly said the next FDC leader should come from central, northern or eastern Uganda.

But there have been increasing voices within FDC calling for Besigye to step aside from the party leadership and being party flag bearer, with some insisting the doctor had done his best and has nothing more to offer.

Dr. Besigye with Joyce Sebugwawo
Dr. Besigye with Joyce Sebugwawo.

Why some people just want Besigye
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Yet in all this, there is an equally strong group calling for Besigye to keep around as the party’s leader (in any capacity) to help the opposition oust the NRM. Some FDC Party members led by the likes of Patrick Amuriat Oboi say that as far as Ugandan politics stand right now, only Dr. Besigye can lead FDC and the opposition in general to political power. Some of the leaders have recently been writing letters in the media calling Besigye a betrayer if he decides not to compete again in presidential elections.

Besigye is already credited for competing the best anyone could against Museveni and the NRM, leading FDC to become the leading opposition party over taking traditional ones like Democratic party and Uganda People’s Congress; as well as giving FDC strong leadership that has kept them largely united and focused as a political party.

“We are in this struggle to capture power from the current government. Any one giving up before that is like stopping in the middle of the struggle. Dr. Besigye is our strongest asset and we need him to lead us to our destination,” says Kenneth Obbo, FDC Secretary for Youth in Soroti.

Apart from his eloquence and experience in politics and governance, some supporters say that Besigye has shown stamina and attracts the highest level of international trust and partnership from political parties, governments and multinational organizations.

Views from other select FDC supporters on Besigye
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“The gentleman has played his role. I must add that he has played his role to the full. 3 times, he has given M7 the scare. Most recently M7 openned all coffers to buy off the vote, what has happenned is a nightmare-ish financial situation that has made news and promises to make this kisanja the most interesting. Besigye should know that the best time to leave is that time when they still love and adore you,” adds Peter Mugisha, a political analyst.

“Just like Mandela, Obote, Jomo Kenyatta, Nyerere, Museveni (before capturing power), Garang, Nkrumah, Castro etc..... you don't leave a struggle in the middle. As a national leader (President) the constitution will or should limit your stay in power. Besigye is a strugglist,yet. He has proved his political clout, so far, beyond any reasonable doubt and we know why he is not a national President, yet. Selfish interests rather than the will to struggle harder than Besigye will push those who want to repalce him as the flag-bearer. Until / unless interred like biblical Moses or John Garang he should be left to lead the struggle - it is only a struggle for now - not the Presidency of Uganda,” Anthony Okullo Abuka.

“The main and only concern of FDC supporters today is for Besigye to respect the party constituition and hand overpower when his tenure expires in 2014. And on whether he comes back as the party flagbearer in 2016 or not,i think supporters shall cross the bridge when they reach there,” John Beribo.

“The day KB stands for president again, will be my last day with him. we need to appreciate that parties are bigger than individulas, and KB leaving FDC wwould ultimately be good for the party and Uganda at large,” Jane Antwiine.

“Uganda has 33 million people!! We can certainly do better than Besigye! This has turned into a two men political game. Dr. you have fought a good fight, it is now time to pass the torch to a new and younger generation!!! We need new faces, new ideas, new direction,” Faith Naki.

“The most disappointing statement we always make is surrendering our collective duty to just a few of us. Besigyes dream has never been to be president of Uganda coz that is too selfish anyway his objective has always been clearly to free Uganda of dictatorship, despotism and corruption. So we can’t afford to personalise such a noble cause, Any one with a clear objective provided is a team player will deliver us to the promised land. Remember we don’t need strong men but rather strong institutions and minds,” Paul Kiguli.

"If Besigye goes at the close of his term it is quite necessary and prodent for him to set a good example that he has been fighting for not to cling on power. FDC has many many good and capable leaders admired by many Ugandans let them have their chance and take the front. His retirement will make a very good campaign for any FDC candidates in 2016!" Vincent Nsumba.

Dr. Besigye at a meeting with opposition leaders
Dr. Besigye at a meeting with opposition leaders.

Who will succeed Besigye
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Even with the good credentials and best of intentions, there is no doubt Dr. Besigye has one day to leave the leadership of FDC and allow for other capable hand to steer the party forward. The key question is who will succeed Besigye ably and be able to steer the party beyond its unopposed position of Uganda’s leading opposition political party to a government in power- which is the ultimate objective of any political party.

Despite Besigye’s near God kind of stature in FDC, the party boasts of many capable and experienced politicians who could or are interested to lead FDC. The likes of Nandala Mafabi (Budadiri west MP and current leader of opposition in Parliament), Sallamu Musumba (FDC Vice President for Eastern, Reagan Okum, Mugisha Muntu (Secretary for Mobilisation), Alice Alaso (FDC Secretart general and Woman MP for Serere ), Sam Njuba (current FDC Chairman), Prof. Ogenga Latigo (immediate former leader of opposition) have all been mentioned in different occasions as possible successors to Dr. Besigye.

Bugweri MP Abdu Katuntu, Aruu County MP Odonga Otto, Kitgum Woman MP Beatrice Anywar, Amanya Mushega Winnie Byanyima (Besigye’s wife) and even new comers like Cecilia Ogwal (Dokolo Woman MP who crossed over from UPC) are all said to be interested in leading FDC. This is an impressive lineup surely but the thing about politics is that the right person is needed at the right time and for many, it is not clear whether this is the right time for any of these to challenge Museveni or the NRM.

The Museveni factor
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Also, so long as President Museveni remains the leader of NRM and continues to compete in national elections, the opposition will always need a strong candidate who can give him competition on all his credentials. So far, no one in the opposition has or can be said to compete against Museveni than Besigye has and can. And if the aim of the opposition remains mainly regime change and particularly get Museveni out of power, there will always be those clamoring for Besigye to keep on.

“Dr. Besigye is still relevant in the politics of Uganda and has a key role to play in FDC as party President, leader in other capacities or as a party member. His contribution to Uganda so far is beyond measure. In case of any transition, FDC members need to be cautious, focused and spot on,” says Stephen Kaliija, an FDC supporter.

But many other FDC members are commending and encouraging the FDC leader to step down both as party president and flag bearer to allow room for FDC to have more fresh leaders who might have a better chance to steer the party from government in waiting to government in power. There are also serious worries that as Besigye stays longer at the helm of opposition politics, he is becoming easier for his opponents to taint, with some citing his dismal performance in the 2011 presidential elections.

“It is good for Dr. Besigye to retire early when he is still relevant. Staying on for long will make him no different from Museveni whom he criticizes for staying in power at all odds. By staying on beyond now, Besigye will lose the moral authority to criticize Museveni for staying too much in power and for personalizing NRM,” argues Desire Kuetsa, an FDC supporter from Masaka.

Dr. Besigye
Dr. Besigye.

By Gerald Rulekere
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First published: July 19, 2011
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Gerald Rulekere is a Journalist and member of Ultimate Media Consult. He has written and published extensively on business and gender issues and been writing for Ultimate Media Consult (U) Ltd for the last two years. A professional and graduate journalist, Rulekere is always looking for an opportunity to better his writing especially for international media.