Battle for heart and soul of once popular Uganda opposition party

Monday September 25 2023

Supporters of Forum for Democratic Change party gather during a political rally in Kampala, Uganda on February 14, 2016. PHOTO | AFP


The battle for the heart and soul of Uganda’s opposition parties, the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), is on after a chaotic two months of accusations of betrayal and infiltration by President Yoweri Museveni.

The bitter power struggle is pitting former party leader Dr Kizza Besigye against his successor Patrick Oboi Amuriat.

The squabbles culminated in the election of a caretaker leadership faction led by former deputy president for central Uganda and Kampala Mayor Erias Lukwago in an election termed as fraudulent, unconstitutional, and comic by the Mr Amuriat group after police were deployed to block the meeting planned at Busabala, south of Kampala, only to realise it was being held at Katonga Road offices, in the heart of Kampala, about 15km from the pre-arranged venue.

Mr Lukwago unveiled an eight-point plan to revive the once Uganda’s leading opposition political party, starting with elections for which an interim Electoral Commission has been appointed after the previous one was suspended together with senior party leaders; the president Mr Amuriat, the secretary general, Nandala Mafabi and treasurer Geoffrey Ekanya.

Read: Museveni’s glee as opposition party stalwarts rip it apart

“We are reaching out to various stakeholders in active politics, including those who had become despondent, to pick their opinions.


The most important thing is getting the party back on track and realigning it to its original mission and vision,” he said, asking the suspended leaders to respect the constitution which states in Article 28(1) b that the national chairman enjoys exclusive powers to convene and preside over the National Council and National Delegates Conference.

Party Chairman Wasswa Biriggwa presided over the extra-ordinary delegate’s conference. As the new leader settles in the seat, announcing his first task in the six-month tenure he has been given, the suspended leaders were nominated for the election scheduled for October 6.

The sharp divide in the party pits the FDC-Katonga Road led by Lukwago (President), Biriggwa (Chairman), and Dr Besigye (Founder president) on one side against the FDC-Najjanankumbi faction headed by Patrick Oboi Amuriat, Nathan Nandala Mafabi, and Ekanya, all who have been ‘suspended’ by the Katonga group.

“Today, the FDC finds itself having two centres of power, one residing in Katonga and the other in Najjanankumbi,” Mr Amuriat said recently.

“Both centres of power are fighting for the same political space. Unless we narrow the gap between the two, we will not work in harmony,” he added, pointing a finger at Mr Besigye, although the latter denies any influence on the party since he holds no position in leadership.

Read: Uganda opposition unites to counter ruling NRM

On Thursday, Mr Amuriat was nominated to vie for the position of president, while Mafabi was nominated for the position of secretary-general in an election scheduled for October 6, which the rival group has termed illegal since the meeting has not been convened by the party chairman. The party constitution gives exclusive powers to the chairman to organize a delegate’s conference in which national leaders can be elected.

When Uganda’s main opposition political parties were dying, each at its own pace and time, many people did not realize the invisible hand that was holding the parties by the neck. The story was always that they had internal wrangles, disagreements, and infighting for power.

The government of Yoweri Museveni, in power for nearly four decades, accused the parties of being “disorganized, ideologically bankrupt, and unable to take the country forward” if they were given power for even a day.

However, the wrangles in one of Uganda’s most formidable political parties seem to stem from an invisible hand. Dr Besigye took a swipe at the current party leaders, accusing them of receiving money from President Museveni to kill the party. He says he got a credible source from the State House that the officials received dirty money to kill the party.

“Large sums of money have been coming into our party at every election, both internal and external. Delegates from upcountry are always accommodated in expensive hotels, not by the party but by the candidates. And when I questioned the source of this money, I was told I had no locus standi to ask,” Dr Besigye said.

Read: Uganda blocks Besigye’s return to the streets

To Ugandans, that would not be surprising because after successfully defeating his former ‘super minister’ and Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi in the 2016 elections, President Museveni said he would work hard to ensure there is no opposition in Uganda.

He went ahead to sponsor a political grouping Interparty Organisation for Dialogue (IPOD) and through that, he has been on a charm offensive, signing cooperation agreements with friendly opposition parties like the Democratic Party, Uganda People’s Congress, and Federal Alliance Party, whose leaders are either given ministerial posts or other jobs in government in return for ‘keeping quiet’.

The FDC and Robert Kyagulanyi’s National Unity Platform have stayed away from this grouping terming it as unholy and intended to muzzle them, although they continue to get funding from the government. The government gives operational money to political parties that have members in Parliament.

“We are not going to allow Mr Amuriat and Mr Nandala to hand over our party to Museveni that simply. That is why after a long time of mostly internal discussions, we have come out to talk about this publicly,” Mr Ssemujju said in July when he unveiled the fault lines in the party, after which Mr Amuriat said they could not reveal the source of money they had received ahead of the 2021 elections in which Mr Amuriat came behind President Museveni and Mr Kyagulanyi with 3 percent of the total vote.

“We are not going to the marketplaces to betray people who have supported us financially. Some of them are in business; some of them work in government, but do not believe in the government of the day,” he said.