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Alliance for National Transformation is not Muntu’s party

Alliance for National Transformation is not Muntu’s party

Kampala news media, including The Monitor, have run headlines announcing the formal registration of what they have called “Muntu’s Party.”  Indeed, this has been the drumbeat since Mugisha Muntu, together with many colleagues, resigned from the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) to embark on the formation of a new party.


The media’s allocation of the new party to Mr. Muntu is more likely to be an honest error than a deliberate attempt to mislead. We live in an era of personalised politics. In Uganda’s case, none of the major parties has escaped this affliction.


Within a couple of years following Uganda’s Independence, the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) became a personal organization of Mr. Apolo Milton Obote. Five of his colleagues who attempted to move a vote of no confidence in him in early 1966 were quickly arrested and incarcerated without trial for five years. They were only released after Obote was overthrown by Gen. Idi Amin Dada in 1971.

Following the overthrow of Amin in 1979, no sane member of UPC would have considered challenging Obote for the leadership. His triumphant return from exile in 1980 was crowned by his re-anointing as the ruler of his party. Even after he was overthrown again by a new set of his soldiers, Obote remained leader of the UPC until his death in 2005. He was succeeded by Miria Kalule Obote, his widow, who had never held any political office before. Their son, Jimmy Akena Obote, is the current leader of the remnants of his father’s party. 


 Likewise, the leadership of the Democratic Party, which enjoyed a post-Amin revival and widespread support across the country, was quickly ring-fenced for Paulo Kawanga Semmogerere. 


One recalls, with undimmed astonishment, an incident two decades ago where Semmogerere reportedly advised Francis Wazarwahi Bwengye, a long-term DP member, to form his own party if he wanted to be party leader. It ended Mr. Bwengye’s hopes of leading DP.


The National Resistance Movement (NRM), which has been Uganda’s ruling party for 33 years, is owned by Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, the country’s president. Those who have shown a serious interest in replacing him as party leader have enjoyed the unwelcome attentions of Uganda’s militarized police. 


The most dramatic illustration of this phenomenon was the president’s response to John Patrick Amama Mbabazi (JPAM) when the latter accepted Museveni’s invitation to succeed him. JPAM, who had been one of the most influential members of the NRM, quickly morphed into one of the topmost “enemies of the state.” Little has been heard from him since his humiliation at a superbly rigged election in which the state awarded him a token 1.4 percent of the votes. 


To avoid a repeat of the messy business of having to beat and arrest another serious pretender to the NRM throne, Mr. Museveni has secured an anointing as sole candidate for his party in 2021. He is likely to remain party leader for at least ten more years. 


When the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) was formed in 2005, it was expected that Kizza Besigye would win election as the party’s first president. What surprised some of us was the vehement rejection of an attempt by Mugisha Muntu to challenge Besigye for party leadership in 2005. 


However, the argument that such a challenge would create unmanageable rifts in a nascent party that Museveni was eager to pulverize before it took off, was persuasive enough that we went along with the anointing of our leader. 


The FDC soon became Besigye’s party. Not even his personal protestations against this changed the minds of many party faithful who viewed any leadership challenge against our hero to be a betrayal. 


Besigye stepped down from the FDC party presidency in 2012. However, the Ugandan news media reports about the FDC continue to give him precedence over his successors. They are not alone in thinking that FDC is Besigye’s organization.


So, one understands the lens through which Ugandan journalists view an emerging political party.

The fact is that the Alliance for National Transformation is a party whose conception, gestation and birth have been the collective effort of very many people. Whereas Mr. Mugisha Muntu has been at the centre of the action, providing exemplary leadership of the process, he has not been working alone. He has had with him a committed group of men and women who share his passionate desire to change the direction of politics in our country. 


Part of that change is a shift from personality cults centred on personalised political leadership, to creation of strong institutions to which the leader is subordinate. 


Indeed, Muntu himself, has consistently talked about the teamwork that has driven the formation of The Alliance. At the core of Muntu’s political activities over the years has been his very strong belief in institution building. 


Those who support The Alliance have an opportunity to work hard to protect the party from ownership claims by any individual or group. If, as we hope, Mugisha Muntu seeks the party’s leadership, it should be in the context of an open and free competition with whoever wishes to offer themselves as party president. The presidency of The Alliance must not be ringfenced for any one individual. Not now, not tomorrow. Never.

The transformation of politics that The Alliance seeks to champion must start with its internal culture of leadership. When it does this, The Alliance will be a credible choice as the governing party of a country that so desperately needs a taste of genuine democracy. 


The good news is that Mugisha Muntu and his colleagues who are promoting The Alliance have an excellent track record of democrat conduct. It should not be hard to help change the media’s and society’s reflexive assumptions. 


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