The main objective of the formation of the Forum Democratic Change (FDC) in 2005, according to its founders, was to take back Uganda to “a democratic path” and the only way that could happen, according to to them was to dislodge President Museveni from power.
Sixteen years later, that has not happened. Worse still in the January 14 polls, FDC lost its position as the biggest opposition political party to the newly formed National Unity Platform (NUP) party led by singer-turned-politician Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu,alias Bobi Wine.
Speaking to The Nile Post in an interview, the Leader of Opposition, Betty Aol Ochan revealed some of the factors that she believes have affected the party’s growth and the opposition generally.
Do you feel disappointed given the fact that the number of FDC MPs have reduced during your reign?
I would like to tell you that FDC tried its best. You know a party which has been fought left and right by dividing it and trying to get some of its strong members. Some of our members right now have crossed to the National Resistance Movement (NRM). Some of our members because of petty divisions, decided to break away and by breaking away they formed this Alliance for National Transformation(ANT) from FDC.
You know although ANT has not brought in any member of Parliament to 11th Parliament, its weakened the party a bit ,if we remained intact as FDC with no formation of that new party and no breaking away or running after money, I am sure we could have taken over the government.
I have seen right now Gen Salim Saleh stationed here in Gulu.The reason why he is stationed here is to completely disorganise the opposition. He disorganises the opposition by giving them money. Whose money is this? It is public money. It is public funds that he gives which is not right because that is mishandling public funds by individuals.
This is weakening institutions and promoting individuals to be stronger than institutions. This is something that I can’t fight alone, it has to be all Ugandans to fight. Personally I always say we need institutions that are stronger than individuals but here you will find that Salim Saleh is bigger than any other institutions.
Has the opposition lived up to the billing in the 10th Parliament?
Generally, we have done our work well.
We have been giving all our alternative statements and we have also responded to president’s state of the nation addresses. We have been able to debate fairly and I can’t say everything but we have done our best, even with bills and we have been contributing. Actually people who contribute without fear or favour are people from the opposition. Some of the people in the government side tend to fear because they think that they will be mistaken to be opposing government positions.
Some people claim that you have not been vocal enough and effective as your predecessor Winnie Kiiza.
I would like to tell you that two people can never be the same. I can’t be like her. Why do I say so? Because approaches are different. My approach is a modern approach but also very effective and we have always put our views very clearly. When we put up our issues and they don’t respond, what should we do? Should we fight?
People say Winnie [Kiiza] was very vocal. Their issues of Kasese remain up to date, so does being vocal solve the problem of the people of Kasese? People already have their preconceived ideas. They are very judgmental.
I know that I am not very submissive. I am not so aggressive but I am assertive.
A number of opposition MPs have fallen prey to money from the state. In your view, what should be done to fight this kind of temptation?
I should tell you that during the time when a government is a dictatorial one, those symptoms are prominent. They are expected to be there and it’s very difficult to do away with that because it is a dictatorial regime. Many people are left wanting. These MPs who fall prey to money…it is not that because they want to use the money, they want to try and help their people. The helping of the people is not supposed to be by individual MPs, helping of the people should be through the institutions.
What are some of the challenges you have faced as the leader of opposition?
One of the main challenges is that I came to office when there was a lot of division. You remember the by-election of Arua which was very bloody. We kept on struggling and running, leaving office work. When we came to office work, things were not so easy.
My main objective was to unite opposition and of course when you want to have a coalition, it has to always be formed around an issue and our issue was about freedom. In Uganda the opposition has never been free, opposition has always been taken as enemies not as Ugandans who are on the other side. I wanted the opposition to come together and we work for a common good by seeing that we have electoral reforms.
In Parliament, what I should tell you is that people want to do things when money exchanges hands. I saw it with the removal of the age limit, people got money, why? Yet we are already facilitated, we already have a salary, why do we still have to get extra money from taxpayers? it was again another frustration.
Another frustration is also the money for facilitating the media. You know in order for you to be effective with the media you have to also facilitate them and that facilitation is not there. I needed people who should help me, especially the communication department. I requested that I be allowed to recruit my public relation officer instead of relying on Parliament’s communication department.
What advice would you give the next leader of opposition?
I would like to say that he or she should always encourage team spirit. He or she should work with the team. Like me I tried very much team work, it’s Covid-19 which came and disorganised us a little bit. Some other people were divided which made our teamwork to be difficult but I think this time will not be the case because it’s now the National Unity Platform coming on board. My advice is that they should always have team spirit and since they also have some experienced members of parliament, hardworking and very competent, they should pick the leader of opposition from among those experienced ones.