Big Interview: Bobi Wine's support lacks substance

Big Interview

In 2018, Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, leader of the National Unity Platform (NUP), returned to Uganda after receiving medical treatment in the US for alleged torture by members of the presidential guard following his arrest at a political rally.

This led to violent protests in Kampala.Kyagulanyi's popularity has grown substantially since then, and he is widely seen as a serious threat to President Museveni's 37-year rule.

Police banned all "unlawful rallies, processions and assemblies" upon his return. Recently, Kyagulanyi announced plans to open party offices and mobilise support, warning security against interfering.

However, political analyst Patrick Wakida has noted that while Kyagulanyi is receiving widespread support, it may not necessarily be based on issues.

Excerpts below


What is your opinion on Kampala Lord Mayor Erais Lukwago's statement regarding the ability of political parties to bring about liberation in Uganda?

I think he realises that he was not voted in office because of political organisation. In this country, people don’t vote for political party grounds. In this country people vote for individual merit but most importantly, this form of political organisation is only used for mobilising voters. They(political parties) don’t have membership, they have supporters.

Can you share your thoughts on the current state and potential future of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC)?

The biggest challenge in FDC has been mistrust and then the second thing for a long time it had many schemers. The third problem that it has had is that you find the four founders of the political organisation left. So, you have a party that is not rooted as it supposed to have been

They need first of all to get back to the structure of the party and follow the structure because what I see is people operating outside of the party structures. Take for example what is the role of the secretary general in the finances of the political organisation? Why are we talking about money and then we are talking about the secretary general, the president? We are not talking about the treasurer because it is the treasurer who is supposed to be accounting to the party.

Instead, the discussion is around the secretary general, which means the party no longer follows its own structures, and so they need to go back to that.

The other thing is those senior leaders who have been accused. Once you have been accused to that grave point, then you lost your legitimacy. You can no longer lead that organisation, the best would have been for them to step aside and give space for the party to elect new leaders.

Whether they continue fighting or they form another political organisation, those elements are going to be very important. I would not encourage them to form a new party. Parties have differences but how you manage them is very critical and it shows how rooted you are.

With the ongoing conflicts within the FDC, do you believe the party will emerge stronger in the future?

If those processes are followed. If, for example, the current party leadership resigned and the party was able to hold a delegate conference to elect new leadership, it could actually emerge stronger than it was.

You have seen FDC, like NRM, like any other party follow individuals. You saw the dismal performance of FDC in the 2021 election. It only tells you the supporters of FDC don’t necessarily follow FDC as an organisation, they were following an individual called Kizza Besigye. If you have Kizza Besigye out of that leadership of the party, then you don’t have chances of winning an election or being even near winning an election at this point. Perhaps he (Besigye) will have to rethink whether he wants to come back in the leadership of the party for now to get the party back to its foundation.

Do you think President Museveni's warning about "finishing" the opposition in Uganda is becoming a reality?

He (Museveni) can afford to buy all those who can take the money but I don’t think he will be able to take away the opposition because opposition in this country is built around certain issues which continue to exist.

Are the internal struggles within the FDC creating an opportunity for the National Unity Platform (NUP) to become the most popular political group in Uganda?

I can tell you the most popular political group in this country next to NRM is NUP because it is composed of young people and their support to Bobi Wine is not based on issues, their support is based on liking and they are therefore followers. He cannot call them supporters; they resonate with him. So anybody who thinks that somebody has grown in terms of support, perhaps NUP has grown stronger than it was in 2021.

What advice would you offer to the NUP as they struggle to gain support across the country?

NUP doesn’t have structure on the ground. They can start by doing that but of course it is going to be very difficult for NUP to build those structures because every time you (build a strong) structure under the NRM government, that structure will be threatened. Some(people) will be arrested or some will be bought. Those are the people you will be hearing that the chairman of NUP in a particular district has crossed to NRM. It is not going to be a walk over. They(NUP) need to find the means to go to the population and again that one is also going to be very difficult.

Some are interpreting the Speaker of Parliament's recent gathering of MPs and constituents as a display of love. What is your opinion on this event?

Let me tell you, if you watched that population, she had a capacity to mobilize therefore she mobilised the people but also she had the money. I am very sure some of the people who were in Bukedea in that gathering came from different places. I don't think Anita is as popular as we saw in Bukedea. Our people in the village, if you invite them for eating, everybody will come. So some people just came to eat.

Many of those MPs that you saw in Anita’s home actually owe money to Anita because Anita has been operating as a loan scheme. If you owe me money, I ask you to come to my function, it is easy for you to come. But also Anita is loved in Parliament, so if you saw 200 MPs out of 500 MPs, that means that her support is reducing because she was voted in with over 400 MPs. Where were the others?

How would you rate the quality of debate in the current parliament? Is it effectively representing the concerns of the people?

This current Parliament is weaker than all the Parliaments that we have heard in the past and you cannot therefore compare this Parliament with the previous ones. Our Parliament has been losing credibility all the way. Parliament is a place where you need to have very serious people. People who have something to lose. People who represent a country are very important.

What specific issues do you feel are damaging the credibility of parliament?

The type of people in that House. Two, the leadership of that Parliament. If you have money lenders in a House as the leaders of Parliament, then that Parliament ceases to be credible. If you have people who cannot talk within Parliament because Parliament is a space for debate, you want to see a debate. You have very many people in the House that are given less time. Three minutes, two minutes of speaking in Parliament, they cannot make an argument. The quality of debate in itself is so bad in Parliament.

Critics have raised concerns that General Muhoozi Kanierugaba's recent actions violate Uganda's Supreme Law. How do you view this situation, especially considering the oath to protect the constitution that one would need to take if he or she becomes president?

What you didn’t see and everybody must start to talk about this,there was an abrogation of the Constitution. That you have a serving officer engaging in partisan politics. That is equivalent to treason. Two, you have the speaker of parliament escorting somebody who is breaking the law. That also demonstrates that both the speaker and the deputy speaker have got no capacity to protect the Constitution. And in fact, under normal circumstances, they should have been impeached because the activities that they got engaged in tantamount to abrogation of the Constitution.

What you see is the impunity that people disregard the law and do things as they wish. That is very wrong

Why do you think the army is remaining silent or not taking action against General Muhoozi Kainerugaba's potential service offenses?

In my view, why is the President who is the commander in chief silent? That is selective application of the law because if it was any other officer perhaps he would have already been court martialed.

Is it possible for Uganda to function without the support of the World Bank? What are your thoughts on this matter?

We cannot, we need to negotiate with the World Bank. We need to explain to the World Bank what we meant when we passed our law. You see all the medicines that you see in our hospitals are World Bank money. All the roads you see both in Kampala and up country are World Bank money. The school support, those you hear, seeds schools, those are World Bank funding. We can say we are going to look for money elsewhere but let me tell you money elsewhere is very expensive that we cannot afford.

We already have a debt that we have to service. This is why I say it is going to be very difficult. Our national budget is 52 trillion, our debt is about 17 trillion. The World Bank and other western donors have given us about 8.3 trillion.

When you get 8.3 trillion, you add to 17 trillion and you subtract that from 52 trillion, you have 29 trillion. About 16 trillion of the 29 trillion is for consumption. for paying salaries and all these kinds of things.

Our tax collection total is about 25 trillion both in arrears and reality. So, we only need to explain to the bank our law and I think the government is already doing that after realizing that it cannot manage without, we can’t. All the ARVs we see in the hospital are World Bank funding, the equipment you see in the hospital don’t come from our taxes.

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