FDC secretary general, Mr Nathan Nandala Mafabi (L) and the party president Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu (R).
By Solomon Arinaitwe & Isaac Mufumba
Road to November 2. Two candidates are sure bets to be on Forum for Democratic Change ballot; incumbent Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu and the party secretary general, Mr Nathan Nandala Mafabi. Gen Muntu defeated Mr Mafabi by 33 votes in the controversial 2012 elections; the result of which still annoys the latter’s camp, Solomon Arinaitwe & Isaac Mufumba write.
For the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), it is calm before the storm. Jockeying for the party presidential election that is scheduled for November 2 has been quietly going on, with feathers ruffled.
As of now, two candidates are sure bets to be on the ballot; incumbent Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu will face-off for the second time with party secretary general, Mr Nathan Nandala Mafabi. Gen Muntu defeated Mr Mafabi by 33 votes in the controversial 2012 elections; the result of which still annoys the latter’s camp.
Many in Mr Mafabi’s camp still believe that the election was rigged in Gen Muntu’s favour. Mr Nandala echoes those sentiments, albeit in a guarded tone.
“The other time (2012 elections) they had an opportunity, (because) we had no problem. This time (June 2015 elections for post of secretary general) I said that no vote of mine will be stolen and of course for me when it comes to my vote, I guard it,” he said.
Well, while Mafabi did return to the fold of the party and was subsequently elected secretary general of the party, the party is yet to recover from the fallout.
The election left a bitter taste and the fallout from those polls is yet to heal. The likes of the former deputy spokesperson of the party, Mr Toterebuka Bamwenda, absconded from duty and has never set foot in Najjanankumbi.
For Gen Muntu, giving the presidency a second shot has been a straight forward decision, but not so for Mr Mafabi. He is holding his cards so close to his chest.
“It is not yet time for nominations, but all options are on the table. We are still doing some evaluation. We shall see how things evolve then make a decision,” he said.
The manoeuvring that has been simmering in the party boiled over as the two principals clashed over nomination of candidates for the East African Legislative Assembly (Eala).
While the party had nominated and forward Ms Ingrid Turinawe and Ms Florence Ibi Ekwau, as its two candidates, Gen Muntu in a move that was at the time deemed to be an attempt to stamp his authority on the party as the party ran into the election period, made a unilateral decision to withdraw Ms Turinawe’s candidature.
Though Mr Mafabi was at the time out of the country, his deputy, Mr Harold Kaijja, was quick to write to Parliament not only declaring Gen Muntu’s move illegal, but also reaffirming Ms Turinawe’s candidature, on grounds that it was not within Gen Muntu’s mandate to nominate candidates.
The debacle not only reigned bad blood between the two men, but also left Gen Muntu with a lot of egg on his face.
Just after the elections, Gen Muntu announced changes in the party structures that were seen by many as an attempt to prop up his standing in the party and shield himself from any internal dissent.
Seventeen party members with unflinching loyalty to Gen Muntu were appointed to key party positions to ensure that when push comes to shove as the presidential elections edge nearer, he will have the backing of at least a majority in the National Executive Committee (NEC).
Among the appointed officials are Paul Mwiru as deputy spokesman, Kassiano Wadri (deputy mobilisation north), Florence Ibi Ekwau (deputy education and sports), ex-MP Bukonzo East Yokasi Bihande (deputy mobilisation west) and Mesach Nuwabiine (deputy local government).
Gen Muntu insists that he had tried to make the appointments much earlier, but was forced to put them on hold.
“There was internal resistance [in 2014] and the very people who resisted them then are the ones who are now complaining. They brought all different kinds of challenges until all the challenges were overcome. The appo’Sub-plot’inting authority is the party president and even when Dr [Kizza] Besigye was there, he would appoint deputies and there was never a problem,” Gen Muntu said in an interview.
While Mr Mafabi does not seem bothered by the new appointments, he is quick to question their powers and authority and also warns that there will be problems if they think they are taking up the posts in order to fight him as secretary general.
“If anybody thinks he is coming to muscle me out he is making a big mistake. A person who comes to Parliament as an ex-officio cannot be more powerful than a directly elected MP,” he says.
There was no coincidence that the appointments were coming just as race for the presidency is heating up.
Ms Sarah Eperu, the FDC Women League spokesperson and a Mafabi supporter, thinks that the appointments are inconsequential. She says Gen Muntu will be judged based on his five years in office.
“The strategy is to defeat Gen Muntu because of non-performance and the best person to do it is Mr Mafabi because he has amassed enough political capital since the last FDC presidential elections were held in November 2012. We are asking delegates to appraise him on what he promised and what he has achieved,” Ms Eperu said.
One sub-plot that Mr Mafabi’s supporters are gearing up to bank on is the claim that Gen Muntu has one leg in FDC and another in government.
It is a tactic Maj Rubaramira Ruranga, the head of the Elect Nandala Taskforce in 2012 who has since decamped to government, used during the 2012 elections much to the chagrin of the Muntu camp and it is already bubbling again.
Muntu supporters like Bugweri County MP, Mr Abdu Katuntu have since been linked to the ruling NRM. A former Muntu supporter, Mr Christopher Kibazanga, defected to the ruling NRM and has since been appointed a State minister in Mr Museveni’s cabinet.
Talk by the minister for Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Refugees Hilary Onek and the National Resistance Movement (NRM) secretary general Kasule Lumumba that the government is wooing Gen Muntu to return to the fold is fodder that his detractors are ready to use to prove a point that maybe his allegiance to FDC is lukewarm.
This was a campaign issue in 2012 and a delegate familiar with the groundwork in the Mafabi camp intimated that revelations by minister Onek are likely to feature during the campaigns.
Gen Muntu was unfazed when this was put to him, saying FDC supporters appreciate “all kinds of crap” he “absorbs all the time” arguing that even his opponents understand that he has worked towards holding the party together.
“Those who would be in FDC who would think like that would just be an exhibition of lack of a sense of analysis. FDC is a party that is stable. The regime does everything possible to cause instability in any organisation. If I was with them, I would do things in a way of causing instability,” Gen Muntu says.
In the Mafabi camp, the jockeying has not been straightforward as the Budadiri West MP tries to play his cards right.
Sources familiar with the jockeying for the party presidency indicate that meetings bringing together pro-Mafabi senior officials were held at the Mr Mafabi’s residence in the Kyambogo suburb but a decision is yet to be reached on whether he should give another shot at the presidency or bide his time.
A source familiar with manoeuvring in Mr Mafabi’s camp said he was wary of resigning his post as secretary general to give a shot at the presidency which he would not be sure to pull off.
This camp argues that Mafabi, 51, can leave Gen Muntu, 58, to serve out another five-year term without challenge as he would be the next man to beat in FDC who would take over the mantle in 2022.
Those opposed to the idea of Mafabi biding his time say he has amassed enough groundswell of support to challenge and even beat Gen Muntu come November 2.
To gauge his support among the delegates, Team Mafabi is said to have sampled 800 delegates between February 21 and 24 and the results vindicated those who think that he should wrest the presidency from Gen Muntu.
According to documents seen by this newspaper, delegates were sampled on the candidatures of Gen Muntu, Mafabi, Mr Patrick Amuriat Oboi, Mr Wafula Oguttu, Mr Geoffrey Ekanya, Mr Jack Sabiiti and Mr Moses Byamugisha.
At least 280 indicated they would vote for Mr Mafabi, 230 for Gen Muntu, 40 for Mr Amuriat, 16 for Mr Ekanya 16, Oguttu (16) and Byamugisha (4). 192 delegates indicated they were undecided.
Mr Mafabi has since disassociated his camp from the said survey, saying that he did not sanction it, but it is clear that the race between the two will be a contest of strategies that will be pitting those who believe in fighting the NRM by defiance (Mr Mafabi) against those who believe you can fight it by complying with some of the rules that it sets (Muntu). This was a theme that the survey sought to have clarity on.
“He [Mafabi] is the most popular candidate on the defiance side. At least all delegates know him and claim that he is the only one who can beat Muntu. He is described as Dr Besigye’s blue eyed boy and therefore de facto number 2,” reads the survey under the sub-theme of Mr Mafabi’s strength.
But the survey found out that delegates were not happy that most of the promises Mr Mafabi made to emerge winner in the race for secretary general in 2015 are still unanswered.
“The 2015 campaign promises Nandala made remain unanswered among the delegates (paying for office rent, buying computers for district offices, motor cycles and internet connection to ease communication with headquarters,” the internal survey warns.
Mr Mafabi, however, insists that he people are mixing up promises made as he campaigned for different offices.
“When I was a candidate for the party presidency I promised to mobilise to ensure that offices are operational, have computers and are connected to the internet and provided with motorcycles. I also promised to open up a Sacco for our members. I lost the election. It means they did not buy it. That manifesto cannot be implemented,” he says.
“When I contested for SG I promised to pay the offices and ensure that there is communication with the headquarters. Immediately after the elections I handed over mobile phones to all the district secretaries general. I have also ensured that offices are paid for,” he adds.
On an analysis of his opponents, the survey indicates that: “Muntu has had an advance team in sub-regions which is engaging delegates by highlighting his achievements in the last five years. Some delegates say Gen Muntu has harmonised the party and brought cohesion in the party and therefore should be added another term.”
How many will come up to contest for the FDC presidency is not certain. What is is that the country is set to witness part two of the Muntu versus Mafabi contest.