Uganda opposition unity at crossroads

Saturday September 19 2015

If The Democratic Alliance (TDA) had a tough time arriving at a joint candidate for next year’s general election, an equally difficult situation presents itself — that of reconciling the winner and the loser of the hotly contested race between Amama Mbabazi and Dr Kizza Besigye.

And if the Alliance fails to emerge out of its three-day candidate caucus stronger and united, there is a chance its followers could become disillusioned and support the ruling National Resistance Movement.

“Both candidates are strong and each has his advantages. If it were simply about a strong candidate we would have announced one by yesterday,” said a secretary general of one of the parties at the retreat.

He added: “It is about consensus. It is about moving together as a team. It is about compromise. We need to give and take and that is what we are working towards. I can assure you that is achievable. Wait and see.”

The summit was not expected to announce its eventual candidate until late Friday, September 18 after press time.

Among those attending the retreat are party presidents, their secretary-general and two representatives of each pressure group (there are two in the Alliance) or citizens’ formations.


Until Mbabazi, a former secretary-general of the ruling NRM joined the Alliance formally late last Friday, it seemed the TDA would endorse Besigye, who had been elected flag bearer of the Forum for Democratic Change, Uganda’s largest opposition political party.

His competitors at the time were Norbert Mao, president of the Democratic Party and Gilbert Bukenya, former vice president — were not perceived as being stronger candidates than Besigye.

Besigye is a three-time presidential contestant, who has consistently polled two million votes on average. In 2011 when Mr Mao participated in the presidential election, he garnered just 147,917 votes.

Although the TDA terms require a contender for its flag to make a public pledge to back whoever is eventually selected, there are concerns that the candidate who loses may find it difficult to do so. The thinking is based on how self-assured each of the candidates appears, and their divergent political strategies.


These concerns became apparent on September 17 when a group of FDC supporters stormed the retreat venue and demanded that Besigye withdraw from the nomination because, “it lacked transparency and fairness.” They said the convention was meant to crown Mbabazi whom they claimed still identified with NRM.

The difficulty in rallying behind one candidate over the other rests on how deeply each of the men is interested in being on the ballot in 2016. Mbabazi, for one, has made no secret about it.

He said as much in July as he announced his independent candidature. Besides, both men have already picked up presidential nomination forms from the Electoral Commission.

What is more, Mbabazi has reportedly concluded collecting signatures apparently in excess of what the EC requires to nominate someone.