Making Uganda's Opposition Alliance Work [column] (allAfrica.com)

My column last week was a little misunderstood, in part because of the title that my editor gave it; so I should like to make a small clarification.

Some readers read an endorsement of former Prime Minister John Patrick Amama Mbabazi, aka JPAM. Far from it. The point that needs little belaboring is that JPAM’s fallout with long-ruling General Museveni is a plus for opposition forces and a big dent to the status quo.

It is an attempt to challenge the entrenchment of family rule in Uganda, precisely the reason why his decision to run for president of Uganda instantly elicited fierce and vitriolic attacks from Sabalwanyi’s lackeys.

The point I made last week, and something that the common opposition front, The Democratic Alliance (TDA) has aptly taken into consideration, is the framework for a transitional government.

Since TDA is open to all players, and in the event that JPAM emerges as a preferred candidate to lead the united opposition front, what should be the framework for engagement?

Like many Ugandans deeply disgusted with the misrule of the NRM regime, I do not look at JPAM, a key architect and player in the current system, as the most ideal candidate to lead the country away from the same rotten system that he helped build.

But as a student of politics, I know all too well that ideal situations rarely exist just as the most well-meaning individuals seldom win political contests. Politics tends to be played on the basis of actual dynamics and obtaining realities.

My take last week on the framework of engagement for a JPAM candidature was premised on the assumption that he would well go through the processes of TDA and emerge to fly the flag for the united opposition. This is a real possibility, notwithstanding the political baggage he carries.

There is no gainsaying the political wrongs that JPAM committed against the cause for freedom, democracy, and social progress in Uganda as he unwaveringly served his master.

Yet it is precisely for the very fact he was such a key player in the wrongs wrought on the country that he should be part of the processes of turning around things and bringing about reform. To denounce or shun him can only play into the hands of the life-presidency project and the grand plan of family rule – establishing a monarchy in Uganda.

On his part, JPAM has to face the realities and concede at least two points. First, the government that he served so diligently for decades has greatly mismanaged the country. His emphasis of the many achievements of the NRM government, in the face of glaring collapse of a functional system of providing critical public goods and services and near normalization of theft of public resources, is an irritant to millions of Ugandans yearning for change.

It is true that the NRM government, especially in its early years, brought significant achievements in rebuilding the state and assuring security of person and property. But that is not the point.

The point, rather, is that General Museveni’s regime has been taking our country down a dangerous path of personal rule, institutional decay, and government incompetence.

Second, Amama must concede that there is no NRM political party that he insists has ideals and values from which the leadership is digressing. If there was a political party called NRM, his announcement of intent to lead it and the country would never have been received with such hostility and disapproval – in fact criminalized.

Real political parties allow for free competition. Any entity where one individual mobilizes to be crowned the sole candidate is something else and not a political party.

What many Ugandans see as the NRM political party is actually the state of Uganda.

The NRM has no independent organizational infrastructure and legitimately acquired material resources that it uses to campaign for public office. To the contrary, opposition parties compete against the state of Uganda, from Local Council structures to the intelligence apparatus right from the lowest unit to the national level, the Resident District Commissioners, and increasingly a rather partisan police force.

To successfully compete against that state machinery, and have any chance of victory, the opposition must as of necessity combine efforts and pool their very meagre resources. Thus, the idea and framework of The Democratic Alliance is the most prudent strategy going into the 2016 elections.

But for TDA to work, key players in opposition ranks, and those breaking ranks with the ruling behemoth such as JPAM, will have to look at the big picture for the country and appreciate what is at stake. What is at stake is to rescue the country from the current corrupt and incompetent system, superintended by General Museveni.

Only after then can pursuing personal political ambitions make sense, and free and fair competition be practicable. For TDA to deliver change to this country, it has to be based on well-thought-through rules of engagement and a clear minimum agenda, geared towards redirecting the country away from the current personal rule and corrupt system.

Lastly, and perhaps more importantly, the key opposition individuals, both old and new, must demonstrate statesmanship, sacrifice, and patriotism.

The author is a PhD candidate and teaching assistant at the department of Political Science, Northwestern University, USA.