Now that the dust has settled on the recent televised debate between Kizza Besigye and Mugisha Muntu, we can reflect on the Forum for Democratic Change’s internal processes and its attempt to take political power in Uganda.
It doesn’t really matter who won the debate or that Besigye was subsequently elected to have a fourth stab at the presidency, the third time as FDC’s candidate. In this exercise, as with the election, the process was more important than the outcome.
A visitor from a democratic society might be surprised by the excitement over a mere debate or the heated campaigns between Besigye and Muntu. Yet this was the first time Ugandans had an opportunity to see two candidates vying for office standing next to each other, arguing passionately without reaching over and poking each other in the eye, throwing chairs, or being separated.
Those of us who long for the day we witness the peaceful transfer of power from one elected president to another are guilty of putting the horse before the cart you can’t get at the national level that which you don’t have at the lower levels. A political party that doesn’t have internal democracy cannot be expected to give it to the country if in power.
Once we apply this theory to the national political landscape, we can begin to reach some early conclusions. The first is that the FDC has now entrenched some form of internal democracy that its members will have to be spectacularly incompetent to reverse or undermine. Regardless of the outcome of the race, no one expected either Muntu or Besigye to storm off in a huff and announce they were forming a splinter group or would not back the winning party. This is no small feat.
The second is that the reformists in the country have for a long time been asking the ruling NRM to give us something it does not have. None of the parties have had faultless internal elections but the NRM takes the biscuit when it comes to manipulation and chicanery, be it in its primaries, the politically bankrupt idea of ring-fencing some electoral positions to ‘natives’, or the well-publicised soap opera of its sole candidature. Forget either Yoweri Museveni or Amama Mbabazi conceding defeat to the other in an internal party election just the idea of a contest was enough for the party to shed all its pretensions to democracy.
Yet the third conclusion is the most revealing. For all its commendable internal processes, the FDC goes into next year’s election as the underdog. At the most basic level, many voters do not see the connection between good governance and their well-being. We have grown so accustomed to breaking the rules, cutting corners, jumping queues, that those who follow due process and hold themselves accountable to the rules and their actions are a small and ‘slow’ minority.
Thus people are likely to vote for the party that promises to create more districts even if they are unsustainable that offers to appoint more cadres to jobs that produce no value that offers the largest bribes, even if they are a tiny rebate to taxpayers.
In fact, when one looks at the list of Opposition politicians who have defected or those said to be in the wings waiting to be unveiled, it becomes clear that FDC’s big challenge is not just winning the national election it is to keep its own officials committed to the long and winding road. As impressive as it might be, FDC’s internal democracy is politics of the head in a society with an appetite for politics of the stomach. FDC has shown us a glimpse of what we need sadly, it might not be what many voters want.
Mr Kalinaki is a Ugandan journalist based in Nairobi. firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @Kalinaki