The surprise launch of People Power’s election vehicle, The National Unity Platform, last week drew all-round praise from the inside.
But the rule book on recruitment, laid bare, with great specificity by the People Power Election Management Committee, has drawn deep unease and grumbles from some opposition supporters.
People interviewed for this story say the People Power Election Management Committee has handed down an ultimatum: People Power supporters must join the new party or forget about being supported by NUP in the 2021 general election.
“They told me that if I want to remain a People Power coordinator, I must choose to join NUP but when I was joining, I wasn’t joining a political party, I was joining a pressure group,” one coordinator from Eastern Uganda told The Observer.
According to the Observer, another complained about the politics of annihilation. He said when Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine’s People Power asked him to be a coordinator, they knew only too well that he belonged to the Justice Forum and he’s not about to change allegiance.
“Which kind of partner is this who is interested in obliterating our party? He doesn’t know Jeema has stood the test of time. For us it doesn’t matter whether we have a political office or not. Our party is based on ideals that can’t be compromised for political positions,” another People Power coordinator from Eastern region said.
Similar concerns were raised by Jeema spokesperson Abdulnoor Kyamundu. Interviewed at the weekend, Kyamundu said it seems Kyagulanyi, the NUP presidential candidate, doesn’t care if Jeema is destroyed as long as he achieves his political interests.
People Power and now NUP have recruited heavily from Jeema including the current NUP deputy Secretary General Aisha Kabanda, a former resident city commissioner for Kampala. But Kyamundu said Kyagulanyi should educate himself about the history of Jeema.
“We existed when we didn’t have any member of parliament or any elective position for that matter. I can assure you that even if they field a candidate to stand against Asuman Basalirwa and he loses, which is highly unlikely, Jeema will still exist,” Kyamundu said.
Basalirwa, the president of Jeema, is Jeema’s sole member of parliament. He was elected to parliament in July 2018 with huge support from Kyagulanyi. Jeema has a sizeable number of loyalists who are largely Muslim and, Kyamundu says, NUP is trying to play the religious card to lure non-Muslim aspirants away from the party.
“They are doing this particularly in Kigezi sub-region. They told one of our MP aspirants Ayebare Jasper to abandon our logo and only use the umbrella. What’s this? I thought we were in cooperation?
“We can exist without them if they think they are going to play this politics of annihilation,” Kyamundu said.
While launching NUP a fortnight ago, Kyagulanyi said he was talking to other partners to find a way of working together after the creation of his party. Speaking to The Observer, Joel Sseyonyi, the NUP spokesperson, said people can choose to belong to any political party.
“I think it’s simple; you can’t be part of two political parties. Somebody has to pick a party they want to belong to but no one can force anybody to join a political party. That talk I hear of blackmail, it has no place even in logic,” Sseyonyi said.
He said People Power acquired a political vehicle with an umbrella as a symbol, which all people seeking change should embrace. He said whoever wants to join them irrespective of their previous political leanings, is very welcome.
“Those who don’t want to join us, it’s ok; they can choose where to stay, we shall keep moving. As the Baganda say, buli mbuzi ku nkondo yaayo [everyone on his own],” he said.
Dr Sam Kazibwe, a political commentator, said it was good People Power morphed into a political party but NUP must realize that not everybody is interested in joining the new party.
“It was key for them to start a party because if you just mobilize people without any binding contract when the election is done, they don’t come back to you. Dr Kizza Besigye has been a victim of this. He helps people get into parliament and after elections, they begin to attack him for the entire five years. Now, whether he [Kyagulanyi] wins or not, he has people he can summon to push his agenda forward through the structures of his political party. But what he must appreciate is, there are those who joined People Power because they wanted to coalesce around somebody for change and will not necessarily join NUP,” Kazibwe said.
He added that Bobi Wine should study how coalitions work especially in Kenya. Political parties come together but don’t stop their members from contesting against each other.
“What you do is that you don’t go in an aggressive campaign against each other. It’s impossible to say that all members will join one political party because they belong to People Power. They might have one ultimate goal of changing the regime but the ideologies of the political parties are different and people espouse different values,” Kazibwe said.
Change of heart
On January 2, 2018, The Observer carried an interview in which Bobi Wine said he doesn’t need a political party to wrest power from President Museveni.
“My conviction is that Uganda doesn’t need another political party. We have 39 political parties; right but they have not been able to put an end to this dictatorship. They claim Uganda is a multiparty democracy, but parties are not even allowed to gather. Those advising us to form a party probably want to find a way for Museveni to handle us. We are amorphous, he doesn’t know where to touch,” Kyagulanyi said then. Was this a turn on his word? Ssenyonyi, doesn’t believe so.
“Leadership is a challenge, you have got to make some tough decisions, which will please some people and annoy others. But we have never been against forming political parties that’s why People Power has been working with several of them. We were only cognizant of the fact that political parties have got challenges. That’s why we had said we don’t need a party. We didn’t need a party at that time; otherwise, we wouldn’t have grown by leaps and bounds like we have. We acknowledge that parties have challenges but the time came and we thought we now need a political party,” Ssenyonyi said.
Fate of People Power coordinators
Over a year ago, Bobi Wine appointed People Power coordinators across the country. Many of these coordinators were allied to political parties. Now that Kyagulanyi has got his own party, what’s the fate of these people? Ssenyonyi said they are still ironing out the details.
“We are trying to realign the movement now that we have a new political vehicle. We are building structures of a new party.
“We can’t conscript people to join it. Those who are willing are busy lining up and those who don’t want, we don’t have a problem with them and I’m saying it in good faith but they should respect those who are saying me I’m joining NUP,” Ssenyonyi said.
This development comes at a time when a number of coordinators have abandoned their posts. Some ‘saw the light again’ and crawled back to the ruling National Resistance Movement. Others got new political homes while others simply just went AWOL [absent without official leave].
Some of those who have gone back to the NRM include Barnabas Tinkasiimire who was the coordinator for Bunyoro sub-region; Gaffa Mbwatekamwa, the coordinator for Ankole; Suzan Amero, coordinator for Teso; Bosmin Otim, coordinator for youths. Others like Flavia Namulindwa, Ronald Mayinja, Kassiano Wadri, Muhammad Kateregga, Dr Bayiga Lulume have either changed political allegiance or have simply gone off the grid.
Last week while joining the Alliance for National Transformation, Kassiano Wadri, the coordinator for West Nile said People Power, is the operationalization of article 1 of the Constitution.
“Yes, power belongs to the people; it’s not a political party, I consider it a slogan, I consider it in the same footing like togikwatako,” Wadri said referring to the rallying slogan against the lifting of presidential age limits in 2017.
Wadri added that with or without Bobi Wine’s support, he would still have won the hotly contested Arua Municipality by-election in 2018.
So, as we move closer to 2021, the country will continue witnessing political crossings as politicians look for the best vehicles that can deliver them victory.