The Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) held its third delegates’ conference electing a leader who will steer the party through the 2011 general elections. But the uphill task apparently does not lie in the presidential elections but on who will lead the rather loose interparty cooperation (IPC). Given that there are three possible strong candidates, will the Dr Kizza Besigye win of another FDC presidency add a new tune to Uganda’s political scene? More importantly will he cooperate with other opposition parties in case he loses the IPC leadership bid or will the other opposition parties: the Olara Otunnu-led Uganda People’s Congress (UPC), Norbert Mao led Democratic Party (DP), JEEMA, and CP throw all their weight behind him as opposition presidential candidate in 2011?
Dr Besigye has to shake off the reputation he bears as being the only opposition candidate contesting against President Museveni the third time; he contested in 2001 under Reform Agenda umbrella and in 2006 as FDC president and possibly may run against Museveni in 2011. In the last two elections he has always taken to the courts of law having been unamused by the election results. Questions linger on the minds of independent thinkers in the opposition whether it would be a good gamble to go ahead with Besigye on Museveni the third time. There is the challenge or dilemma of the opposition to look up to the more diplomatic and internationally connected Olara Otunnu but who is only known to the minority elite class in Uganda instead of Besigye, who has for the last two presidential elections been more exposed to the voters.
On the other hand there is the young and charismatic Nobert Mao whose party is yet to decide on joining the IPC. Mao claims to belong to the new generation and thinks this makes him appeal to the young voters. As such he claims to represent a new wave of leadership as in the case of Barack Obama. His reasoning could work to a small extent and would not be enough to guarantee him a formidable challenge to Museveni who has been in power for the last 24 years and has all the state machinery at his disposal.
Uganda’s population structure according to the 2009 estimates is in such a way that we have15, 492,352 (47.9%) people being between 15-64 years (7,789,209 are male and 7,703,143 are female) whereas 690,010 (2.1%) Ugandans are 65 years and over (286,693 are male and 403,317 are female. The Electoral Commission targets to register at least 12 million voters. In the 2006 presidential elections only 7.2 million voters turned out to vote out of the 10.4 million registered voters. The implication is that more of the Ugandan voters are young and a substantial number of them could be undecided given that about 2 million voters did not turn up to vote in 2006.
Nevertheless, the main challenge to Uganda’s opposition is winning the support of rural voters who form the majority. The performance of the opposition candidates in these areas has often been decimal. Save for rural Northern Uganda where Besigye could poll thousands of votes against Museveni’s hundreds but in other areas such as Western Uganda it was the reverse. For example, in Kole County in Apac district where Besigye polled 7,231 votes against Museveni’s 628 from Aboke sub-county and 3,737 votes for Besigye and 358 votes for Museveni in Akalo subcounty. Now the President has declared he would make this county a district if people wish to have one. In Bunyangabu County in Kabarole district (western Uganda), Besigye polled 1,372 votes against Museveni’s 8,888 votes from Kibiito sub-county and 1,144 votes for Besigye as opposed to 8,768 votes for Museveni from Buheesi sub-county. Much as the reason for Museveni’s decimal performance in Nothern Uganda has been war, and with the return of peace in the area today, he still enjoys bigger support from rural voters as seen in the case of Kabarole district. This implies the opposition have to intensify their way of approaching rural voters so as to appeal to them the more. Recent results from the Rukiga County could possibly mean the opposition is gaining ground in such rural areas and they need to become smarter in the way they play their political cards.
The findings of the Uganda Afrobarometer Survey conducted between July and September 2008, released in 2009 indicate that most Ugandans are dissatisfied with the way the country is being run not just on issues of bread and butter but on matters of democracy, governance and national institutions. Although this should have been good news to the opposition, the there is a growing perception that the opposition is less prepared to take on the increasingly weakening NRM regime. Most of the Local Council by-elections and elections in newly created districts the NRM has always won leaving the opposition complaining.
The Afrobarometer survey had some very telling findings. The survey reveals that 14% (compared to only 5% in 2005) are not at all satisfied with the way democracy is working in country today, 31% (14% in 2005) are not very satisfied, 34% are fairly satisfied (same as in 2005) and only 13% (compared to 16% in 2005) are very satisfied.
Only 20% of respondents thought Uganda is a functioning democracy, 34% said it was a democracy with minor problems, 29% said it was a democracy with major problems, and 8% said it was not a democracy.
Political analysts say the opposition parties in the country seem to have no better message for Ugandan voters other than singing the song of removing Museveni. Some have accused of the opposition of lacking concrete alternative policy proposals on the economy, public service, security, communications and transport network; failure to change its leadership and thus appearing to mirror NRM; and failure to push an alternative vehicle for change outside Parliament to achieve minimum constitutional changes such as return of presidential term limits. They are these challenges that the IPC presidential candidate and members have to deal with if they are to represent a new face in Uganda’s opposition politics. Of course they will have to also deal with state intimidation directed to the opposition and voters.
On the other hand the major challenge that afflicts many Ugandans is poverty which is even more pronounced in rural areas. The way the opposition leader addresses this in their manifesto and convince Ugandans that they will indeed do something to improve their livelihoods could be a turning point to the opposition presidential candidate. But this is assuming that the rural voter has been empowered not to sell his or her vote for a kilogram of sugar or a glass of waragi (local brew) for that matter as has been the case in previous elections.
Having health facilities without enough medicines, with less motivated health workers, and having education standards going down are yet other pressing issues that the opposition are to contend with. Getting a person who can sell the solutions to these challenges will be key in identifying a leader who will see IPC through the 2011 elections. Will that person be Besigye, Otunnu or Mao? That is now a question that will be answered with time.