After securing another term of office in 2016 in an election that the African Union observer mission termed as a below the par electoral process, Uganda’s eternal president Yoweri Kaguta Museveni in his inauguration address to the ‘nation’ at the Kololo independence grounds announced to all and sundry that by the end of his 2021 tenure there will be no opposition parties in Uganda.
True to his words, opposition political parties are in disarray ahead of the 2021 general elections, something compounded even further by the COVID 19 lock down. The latest in disarray being the largest opposition political party in the country: the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) which is currently facing a massive departure of senior members in their rank and file. The party blames their current predicament on the ruling NRM for compromising their members, something not to be dismissed considering the military orientation of president Museveni.
In his widely read martial classic Art of War Sun Tzu of Wu advises that in order to defeat an opponent in war one must create a fifth column in the opponent’s rank and file. Something President Museveni has mastered and is importing to politics. Since 2016 the president has been fishing from opposition political parties: Democratic Party (DP) lost their National Chairman former Jinja Mayor Mohammed Basweri Kezaala who fell for the bait of a Deputy Ambassadorial role in India, the party also lost their former Kampala Woman Parliamentary Candidate Nakiwala Kiyingi now Minister for Youth Affairs, Former FDC MP Michael Ocula now Ambassador to Egypt and a myriad of others. The fifth column approach is also akin to double agency in intelligence speak which even creates more reason to worry. However it is important to note that there are others who also leave these parties because of legitimate concerns.
While opposition parties are facing a tough time, there are others celebrating like the proverbial young monkeys laughing at a burning forest oblivious of what awaits them. Nonpolitical party actors like the People Power Movement are also scavenging from these opposition parties, by doing so they are unwittingly doing president Museveni’s bidding by preaching to the already converted and destroying building blocks necessary for democratic change in Uganda and yet not making any headway into the NRM territory.
The question everyone should be asking is if political parties collapse what will be the future of democracy or Uganda as a country? In his Democracy in America political theorist Alexis de Tocqueville who must be very unsettled in his grave looking at the events in Uganda argued that democracy thrives with strong citizen groups. These citizen groups include the broader civil society and political parties. Therefore collapsing political parties means a collapsing democracy.
Fareed Zakaria in Why Do They Hate Us?: The Politics of Rage even puts it clearly drawing from the Arab experience. He argued that because the Arab world was a political desert with no political parties, no free press and with few pathways for dissent, mosques became political spaces to discuss politics resulting into the formation of illiberal fundamentalist groups like Hama, Hezbollah, Al Qaeda, Muslim Brotherhood to fill the vacuum of civil society and absence of political parties.
The same applies to Uganda which has had a marked reduction in armed rebellion when the country adopted multi-party politics and the emergence of a fairly vibrant civil society. This is because a multi-party dispensation creates pathways of dissent even within government especially in the legislative arm. By saying there will be no opposition political parties by 2021, the president was unwittingly inviting back war into the country, in addition expelling democracy because opposition parties play an important oversight role in the legislature, little wonder more recently Uganda has been downgraded from a hybrid democracy to a moderate authoritarian regime.
Finally let’s refresh our minds that multi-party democracy in Uganda was gained after a protracted struggle internally and externally involving international pressure and donor conditions pegged on democratisation. That is how we got the 2005 referendum where Ugandans overwhelmingly voted for the return to multi-party democracy and is still together.
The Writer is National Youth Leader of the Democratic Party