Uganda: Besigye, Muntu Defer Over Direction of Defiance Campaign

Dr Kizza Besigye in his first press conference on Wednesday, a day after his release from jail, carefully avoided discussing his party's decision to appoint opposition leaders in Parliament.

That appointment, according to insiders, took the wind out of Besigye's defiance campaign, designed largely to expose the illegitimacy of the newly-elected ruling NRM government by refusing to work with it. The campaign was announced soon after the February 20 declaration of President Museveni's re-election victory, which FDC disputed.

At the press conference, Besigye, now a treason suspect, first pre-empted any possible questions about the party leadership's contradiction of his defiance message by saying that disagreements over tactics amongst the top party leaders should not be construed to mean irreconcilable differences.

"Matters of tactics...are matters that are debatable...FDC is not divided but our duty is to distil. It is not something that is a disagreement," Besigye said.

Currently, there is a silent disagreement between pro-Besigye and pro-Gen Mugisha Muntu camps arising from the FDC president's decision to appoint the opposition leadership in Parliament.

Although constitutionally, FDC, the leading opposition party, was supposed to choose the opposition leadership in parliament, some members opposed the move, arguing that naming leaders in Parliament would legitimise President Museveni's February 18 electoral victory, which runs counter to the defiance campaign. Muntu's action also closed any calls for an international audit of the February election.

Indeed, this disagreement came to the fore when the FDC secretary general, Nathan Nandala-Mafabi wrote to Parliament addressing Winnie Kiiza, the new leader of opposition in Parliament, LOP, as the minority leader. However, when Parliament rejected that title and subsequently, the appointment of Kiiza, Gen Muntu wrote back to Parliament to clarify the appointment.

Addressing the quiet conflict yesterday, Besigye said if he had participated in the discussion about the LOP's appointment, he would have pushed for a minority leader.

According to Besigye, under a presidential system, which is in Uganda, where the size of a party in Parliament does not affect the executive powers of the president;

"We should have a minority leader and majority leader, because you can win the elections and are expected to form a government, despite having a smaller number of MPs, which you cannot call the opposition."

Even then, sources close to Besigye, say the colonel is disappointed with Muntu's decision to appoint opposition leaders in parliament. But at the press briefing, Besigye avoided talking about the issue in specific terms. He also declined to speak about his next course of action but signalled the party will deal with that.

GROWING DISAGREEMENT

Although publicly, senior FDC officials, Besigye and Muntu inclusive, downplay their disagreements over strategy, insiders within the party have disclosed that these disagreements seem to be growing.

"They appear to be secondary as Besigye [says], but in reality they are fundamental. You cannot tell me that when one voice says that we shall defy and another says we shall conform that there is no fundamental difference. In my view, there is, since in pursuit of any of the two, you deploy different methodologies and tactics," said one senior party leader, who declined to be named.

According to this senior leader, this continued clash of opinion over strategy has affected the party's pursuit of the two.

"We have ever debated this and at the conclusion of the discussion we embraced the two. Subsequently, when it came to implementation of both, the confusion emerged. The Muntu group, which believes in FDC functioning as a party, pursued it by concentrating on setting up structures while the defiance group pursued activism. Now more confusion emerged when the defiance group came into leadership [in 2015]," the official said.

According to this leader, when this group led by Nandala-Mafabi came back into the fold, it complicated the party's capacity to organise.

"We could not even organise primaries because they do not believe in it. We did not have our structures involved in the elections and, instead, we talked of power 10, which was not also in existence," said the leader.

The issue of strategy played a central role in the last presidential elections. In order to become the FDC presidential flag bearer, Dr Besigye used the defiance message as part of his campaign. Indeed, when asked during the FDC presidential flag bearer debate at Sheraton whether he would stand in an election without reforms, he gave a vague answer.

Muntu, on the other hand, maintained his position that building party structures is the way to go. In his conceding speech, Muntu said he would give defiance a chance but maintained that if it failed to deliver victory, the party would convene to reconsider the strategy. We understand that when the party convenes to debate the way forward, there will be a review of the defiance strategy and its sustainability.

Source: The Observer