In the recent Amuru by-election for the seat of Woman MP, I stood shoulder to shoulder with former Kilak MP Michael Nyeko Ocula as we pulverised the Museveni machine. Our campaign resulted in victory for the joint Opposition candidate Lucy Akello. Then I learnt that Ocula had crossed over to Museveni and the NRM.
Picture this. You are having a hot shower and then a jet of cold water hits you. You have run out of hot water. That is how the news of Ocula’s defection hit me. That is also how I felt when I learnt of Maj Rubaramira Ruranga’s defection from the FDC to the NRM.
Naturally, shrieks of condemnation followed from Opposition ranks. Not to be left out and for lack of words, I kept quiet hoping my silence would speak louder than words. Keeping quiet itself was a torment. Crosstitute? I opined as I groped for words of lament.
In the past I would have sworn by Maj Rubaramira’s grey moustache that his likes (and particularly those who have been calling others “NRM moles”) would never abandon the fight to topple the NRM, especially at this time when the party has degenerated into a one man show. Tanzanians would call it a BMW Party (Chama Cha Baba, Mama na Watoto).
Meeting South African president
But I am getting ahead of myself. Let’s take a backward glance. The date is December 12, 2005. Two days after we had celebrated the International Human Rights Day. Maj Rubaramira led hundreds of FDC supporters in a demonstration to waylay South African president Thabo Mbeki as he headed to Kampala from Entebbe airport. They were protesting intimidation of Opposition supporters in the run up to the 2006 elections.
The police was overwhelmed. No surprise. The army stepped in. In fact, the no nonsense Military Police stepped in. Col Dick Bugingo was in command. The colonel, now retired, made a beeline towards Maj Rubaramira and slapped him hard across the face.
The powerful slap shattered Rubaramira’s glasses and injured his eye. Rubaramira reportedly spent about Shs800,000 in medical bills. The slap echoed around the country.
It was relayed over and over by TV stations. It was yet another testimony to the brutality and impunity of the NRM regime. To onlookers the slap had burnt all bridges between Rubaramira and his old comrades in the NRM. It was clear that the agents of the regime would act with impunity to suppress voices of dissent. Later, Bugingo was to boast that the slap was necessary to show who was boss or words to that effect. Bugingo was anything but apologetic.
The UPDF responded in standard format. They appointed a probe committee chaired by the then Col Leo Kyanda. The case became a farce when two members of the Military Police also reported that FDC supporters had assaulted them.
Clearly, the UPDF probe was a red herring. A dead end. Rubaramira filed a civil case against Bugingo. The evidence against Bugingo was overwhelming. Court ordered Col Bugingo to pay Shs10.7 million to Rubaramira “for causing injury to his feelings and dignity”.
I don’t know whether he managed to collect this sum eventually. What I know is that each time court bailiffs went to Bugingo’s house, they met armed soldiers who chased them away with death threats in utter contempt of court. No senior army officer intervened to ensure that the court order was implemented.
At that time, Rubaramira wondered why a retired Colonel was having dozens of armed bodyguards, a privilege denied to Col Besigye who at that time was jailed in Luzira!
Rubaramira is not the first to cross (or for that matter criss-cross) and he will not be the last. When I asked a friend who is a leader in the FDC, he was emphatic in his denunciation: “That man was on a mission for the NRM from the time he joined FDC. We knew it.” Sure? Then why was he not exposed. Of course we are all wise in hindsight. Another one even suggested that even Rubaramira’s leadership of Nandala Mafabi’s campaign for the FDC top job was an NRM grand plan to fail Mugisha Muntu’s bid. Conspiracy theories abound.
Someone once told me that party politics is characterised by three Ds – disloyalty, defiance and defection. Any party has to contend with those three hazards. The party I lead is no exception. Even developed countries have to deal with these hazards.
In 2008 Joe Lieberman, a former US vice presidential candidate for the Democrats, snubbed Barack Obama and campaigned for the Republican candidate, John McCain. Even the iconic former British prime minister Winston Churchill was a seasoned switcheroo. In 1904, Churchill who was a Conservative crossed to the Liberals then crossed back after 20 years. In his defence, he said only fools don’t change their minds!
Ocula and Rubaramira are thus in good company. Nevertheless, we now have to look at their attempts to explain themselves. There are two reasons why people do things. There’s the real reason, then there is the reason that sounds good.
Ocula said he was opposed to the NRM because there was a war in northern Uganda. But now that the war is over, everybody should line up behind Museveni and NRM for the sake of development.
Very convincing indeed, especially if you are trying to convince yourself. According to some quarters, the indignities Ocula has borne since losing his parliamentary seat is one possible motivation for his crossing.
One person who attended one of the famous meetings in Rwakitura over the proposed Madhvani land acquisition in Amuru District told me how Museveni mocked Ocula.
“When did I first get to know of you?” the President asked Ocula.
“Oh yes,” he went on. “I first heard of you when you killed my Pabbo LC1 chairman.”
Museveni was referring to the false charges against Ocula and Reagan Okumu who were arrested and detained for the alleged murder of Alfeo, the Pabbo LC1 chairman. I do not believe that Museveni has changed. But for sure Ocula has changed. And I thought only dogs throw up and soon thereafter turn around to lap up their own vomit! Yak!
Reasons that sound good
We will probably never know why the good old Major and Ocula defected. What they said in their feeble attempts at self-justification must be treated not as the real reasons, but the reasons that sound good.
Ocula says there is no longer any reason for opposing Museveni. Rubaramira says he will accomplish more in his fight against the Aids scourge if he joins the Museveni fold. The fight against HIV is a noble fight. And Rubaramira showed great courage when he stepped forward and declared his status. He remains an inspiration to millions in the war against HIVAids. The only question that remains is: Does fighting HIVAids require allegiance to the NRM? I don’t think so.
Blow to Opposition
We have to admit that Rubaramira’s and Ocula’s defection (or is it capture) remain a blow. Dismissing the loss as good riddance doesn’t lessen the blow. Why do I say this?
First, the Ugandan voters’ confidence in the Opposition has been shaken. The disenchantment with the Opposition and the increasing view that we are not a serious alternative will grow.
Secondly, the view that every politician has a price will be entrenched. NRM is seen as a banquet hall with a revolving door and all politicians are engaged in checkbook politics.
In his campaign in Buhweju, Museveni buttressed this view. “Titwine ka sente, Twine sente!” Roughly translated as “We don’t have small money. We have big money”. Being in the Opposition is thus like Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness. It is an uphill fight against temptation from the NRM.
Thirdly, voter cynicism will increase. Politicians will be seen largely as wily self-centred manipulative individuals. And politics is reduced to ‘eating’. I recall when Museveni shamelessly told a crowd that the corruption in the NRM is no reason to shun the party.
“At least we in NRM are well fed. On the other hand the Opposition politicians are starving. By the time they fill their empty bellies, the national coffers will have nothing left for the ordinary people!”
Another question we have to ask is: Are the likes of Rubaramira and Ocula accepting the status quo or are they seizing an opportunity to use the NRM’s power and resources to promote what they believe in? For Rubaramira what is certain is that this latest move is different from the time he joined the Opposition.
The first time he crossed from power to principle. Now he has crossed from principle to power. For Ocula, the crossing is definitely from principle to power.
Finally, the Rubaramira and Ocula incidents should reinvigorate the debate about the role of political parties. Representative democracy needs political parties. But it is not enough to have political parties. Parties need internal cohesion, internal democracy, farsighted leadership, constructive inter party relations and creative management of internal conflicts.
Unlike football leagues where start players are sold and bought, party politics shouldn’t be about mere power. It should also be about convictions. Without conviction, the exercise of power is an absurdity.
The writer is the Democratic Party president
SOURCE: Daily Monitor