Hardly a week after former Forum for Democratic Change president, Maj. Gen. Mugisha Muntu announced his exit from the party, its leadership appears to be panicking, at least according to the communications out of the party’s headquarters in Najjanankumbi.
Muntu announced his departure on September 27 and on October1, Party Secretary General Nathan Nandala Mafabi in two letters demanded from the return of party materials from one of the members and party executive said to have left with the former army commander.
Mafabi also noted that following the exit of Muntu, the party had decided a “membership audit” where members are required to indicate where they belong.
“Following these political events,” the letter reads, “it has been decided to undertake a membership audit at all leadership and elective positions.”
The letter adds: “This is to request all party leaders and elected officials on the party mandate to indicate to the party, in writing, whether they are still members of the Forum for Democratic change within 14 days.”
Failure to respond, Mafabi warned, would be treated as renouncement of membership.
Observers have questioned the practicability of this action, which they say is not provided for under the party constitution.
“There is no provision for this measure,” said a senior party official. “Offices have periodic duration and how they fall vacant.”
“What is the basis of such action?” another party member asked, “Did I write when I was joining?”
Under article 12 of the party’s constitution, one can cease to be a member of the party upon death, upon resignation by writing to the Secretary General, upon dismissal by the party’s recognized constitutional organ, if a member joins another party or in an election stands as an independent or engage in activities hostile to the party.
The party can decide to expel these members but that will not affect their political positions. While voluntary crossing from one party to another before the end of the term makes one lose their political seats as provided by article 83 (g) and( h) of the constitution, expulsion by the party as per the precedent by the Supreme Court in the case of Ssekikubo & 4 others against the Attorney General, doesn’t.
Mafabi’s directive, therefore, appears a major contradiction not just of the party constitution but the national constitution too. The directive follows Muntu’s departure, which the former party president said was informed by irreconcilable differences over strategy that had created warring factions in the party shifting its focus from the pursuit of its core objectives.
“We believe that this action is mutually beneficial to both the FDC and those of us leaving.” said Muntu while addressing the press on Sept 27 at Hotel Africana. “Instead of fighting each other over strategy, our departure will allow the current Party leadership to pursue its agenda unencumbered while we also pursue the same objectives in ways we feel better reflect our values.”
Some officials are approaching Muntu’s exit a bit more diplomatically but it is clear they too want Muntu’s supporters out now. During press briefing at the party headquarters on Oct.1, Party spokesperson Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda also called upon those that plan to leave the party to handover the party offices and not sit on the fence.
Part of the problem stems from reports that a sizeable number of leaders has decided to leave with Muntu but will not officially declare until the political term is over. Some estimates indicate that over 70% of the party’s current National Executive Committee (NEC) is pro-Muntu.
Muntu’s exit has also intensified bickering on the party’s media platform (FDC leap forward). The pro-Muntu group has refused to vacate the group saying that the platform was their brain child and that both groups are still in the opposition and therefore need to work together. They changed the name of the group to “The Uganda we want”. But from all indications, mutual engagement and cooperation between the two camps appears next to impossible.
The group that has remained in FDC insists they do not want to belong to the same platform with “selfish and greedy” people.
Buhweju County MP Francis Mwijukye has openly said, both in mainstream media and on the whatsapp platform that Muntu left because of greed.
Others accuse Muntu of being tribalistic and thinking that leadership of the party should remain only in the hands of people from the western region of the country. Those who share this view claim that while Muntu accepted defeat by Besigye so many times, he couldn’t come to terms with losing to the current party President Patrick Amuriat Oboi because he is not a westerner.
Another theory is that Muntu left because he failed to outshine the party’s founding President and four-time presidential candidate Kizza Besigye in the party. Some say Muntu has taken a careless step that will hurt the FDC and the opposition in general.
Mafabi told NBS last week that Muntu had been unfair to FDC and that what he did, showed he has never wished FDC well.
“The biggest beneficiary of the MMExit is the dictatorship that promised to destroy opposition in Uganda by 2021,” said former leader of opposition WafulaOguttu on whatsapp.
While Muntu is optimistic the split will strengthen the opposition by enabling each of the groups to pursue the objective of regime change unfettered, observers warn it could weaken the opposition.
The former party President finally decided to leave the party following bitter wrangles that rocked the party for about five years. These wrangles reached peak during the party’s presidential elections in November 2017, where Muntu lost the Presidency to Amuriat.
Although there were divergent views even during Besigye’s reign, the hostility worsened during the race to find his successor after his early retirement in 2012. Muntu defeated three contestants but Rubaramira Ruranga, the campaign manager of his closest rival Mafabi challenged his victory.
A committee headed by lawyer Ladislus Rwakafuzi was instituted to look into the dispute but the wrangles kept getting worse. Rubaramira Ruranga would later defect to the ruling National Resistance Movement where he was appointed a Presidential advisor.
Mafabi immediately resigned his position as the deputy treasurer General of the party together with his then boss Jack Sabiti. He was even reported to have started another party known as the National Farmers Party but would later return to the party and successfully compete for the position of Secretary General.
The squabbles continued all through Muntu’s five-year term. After his loss to Amuriat in 2017, his supporters who had tried to dissuade him from seeking re-election and persuaded him to leave the party even before the November 2017 elections wanted him to leave immediately.
His supporters’ worry then was that Muntu would win the election and spend another five years putting out fires denying him the opportunity to pursue the strategy he always advocated for-building structures.
Muntu did not listen to his supporters because he has always maintained that the most desirable path was to remain in the FDC and pursue their goals as a united force.
But after the eight-months consultations that Muntu and team embarked on after his loss in the 2017 elections, Muntu concluded that it was better for both groups to pursue this agenda separately because working together seemed untenable. What he and his supporters might not have anticipated is that the same people, who had for long accused him of being a ruling party mole, would take much issue with his exit. Indeed, this is the question that has dominated debate on the party online platforms.
“Why are people condemning Mugisha Muntu’s move yet they said he was a mole?” asked the FDC secretary General in Kamwenge George Muhimbise, “If the mole talk is real, FDC should slaughter a cow and celebrate his exit.”
Indeed, as FDC official seek to forcefully push out of the party, Muntu’s supporters, this is a question they cannot seem to answer.