Faith in solidarity. Democratic Party president general says the opposition’s fragmentation in the past has played into the hands of President Museveni Even an underdog participates in an election expecting a miracle, a win. Mr Norbert Mao, the president general of the Democratic Party (DP), knows that. He has, therefore, accordingly crafted his slogan for the 2016 general election. “Our campaign slogan will be ‘Against all odds’,” he says. “We should prepare to take on Museveni. There should be no giving up. If we are organised, not only as DP but as the opposition, we could bring change in Uganda.”
To his advantage, there is a now a vacuum of sorts that he could fill. Dr Kizza Besigye, the former Forum for Democratic Change party president, said in November he would not contest for the presidency in 2016 because “the dictator would never allow a free and fair poll”.Mr Mao says doubts cast about the integrity of the forthcoming election are not enough to stop him from participating in the polls. Mr Mao cut his political teeth at Makerere University in the late 1980s and early 1990s. At the time he became more politically active (late 1980s), political parties were in limbo – because the government had restricted their activities to the respective parties head offices. Whoever participated in elective politics then was assumed to be doing it under the so-called individual merit platform within the de facto one-party Movement system.
It was not something Mr Mao agreed with. This is because the government was promoting the Movement, a political organisation, while at the same time restricting the opposition political parties. In 1991 when Mr Mao, who had grown up in a DP family, contested in the Makerere University guild campaign, the government sponsored Noble Mayombo. Mr Mao beat Mayombo who was an officer in the army and would later go to be Museveni’s aide-de-camp, head of military intelligence and permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defence by the time he died.
Noteworthy too is when Mr Mao was at campus, the Movement had adopted some of the World Bank policies such as the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP). The governments that adopted SAPs retrenched many civil servants, under the guise of reducing on public expenditure. They also privatised State
After Makerere, he ran for Parliament and represented Gulu Municipality for 10 years. He later contested for and was elected Gulu District chairperson. Even when Uganda was under a pseudo individual-merit system, the NRM would sponsor those who subscribe to its ideology to run against the diehard DP and Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) candidates. As it is wont to do, the government bankrolled Mayombo to run against Mr Mao during the guild elections. Though he beat Mayombo, it was tough given the government’s financial muscle. He defeated Mayombo largely because Makerere students have a history of opposing the Movement or those it sponsors during the campus guild campaigns.
In 2010, Mao contested for the DP presidency. Though he beat Mr Nasser Sebaggala, the election left the party, which he had hoped to unite, divided. And now, for one whose sights are on State House, there are bigger challenges. The first has to do with his personality. According to the deputy spokesperson of the National Resistance Movement, Mr Ofwono Opondo, Mr Mao is a lone ranger. “He is brilliant. He is articulate. Unfortunately, he is a political loner,” Mr Opondo told the Daily Monitor on November 27. “Mao is not a team builder. He can only be in a team if he is the leader.”
This, Mr Opondo says, puts off some people and could partly explain why for the 10 years that he was a Member of Parliament, his brilliance notwithstanding, he was never made a chairperson of any committee of Parliament. “It followed him to Gulu District, where he failed to leave DP infrastructure,” Mr Opondo adds.
The second challenge Mr Mao has to deal with is the seeming partiality of the Electoral Commission (EC). “We do not have trust in the EC,” says Mr Mao. “The majority of its commissioners are National Resistance Movement members. So it cannot conduct a free and fair election.” The EC says the criticism is “unfair” since instead of raising such concerns with it, the critics prefer to complain in through the media.“The criticism is unfair to the EC,” Mr Jotham Taremwa, the Commission’s spokesperson, told the Daily Monitor on November 27 during a telephone interview. “The appointment of people to the EC is not exclusively held by the President. The President nominates people and forwards their names to Parliament, which represents all Ugandans. I know of a case where Parliament refused to clear an appointee and the President abided by Parliament’s decision,” said Mr Taremwa.
That aside, the EC has shared the 2016 general election timetable with the opposition political parties and civil society organisations, among other stakeholders. “When we give you information, we expect you to use it to your advantage,” added Mr Taremwa. Third challenge is that the opposition is divided.oalition
Given his performance in the 2011 general election, Mr Mao would be better off in a coalition.
The fourth challenge is of Mr Mao’s own making. He has a penchant for attacking the rather more popular Dr Besigye whom he accuses of “stealing DP’s supporters”. He also accuses Dr Besigye of lacking in tact on how to organise civil disobedience.
These could keep off some people who would have considered him favourable if the FDC strongman is truly out of the 2016 race. Worse still, they have lent credence to rumours that his brief is like Maj Rubaramira Ruranga’s; nibble at opposition unity from within as mole. Mr Opondo, however, says Mr Mao cannot be accused of sympathising with the opposition. “He is civilised and respects boundaries.”That aside, Mr Mao says people should not read much in these. “It is normal to disagree passionately because that is what shows we have a democracy,” he says. However, he does not have such disagreements with UPC and the Justice and Equality Movement party. This means an attempt to coalesce would have to have the magnets from the parties.
How he intends to overcome the challenges. First, he says President Museveni should, after consulting other political actors, appoint independent commissioners to the EC. “The majority of EC commissioners have not forgotten where they came from, NRM. None of them can serve independently. So they cannot preside over free and fair elections,” says Mr Mao. EC chairperson Badru Kiggundu once contested for the Rubaga South seat whereas EC secretary Sam Rwakoojo contested for the Lwemiyaga seat. They were beaten.
Since President Museveni found them jobs, they are unlikely to return an election verdict that would upset him, Mr Mao claims. Mr Taremwa counters that since the EC’s offices are open to all Ugandans, whoever has concerns should point them out to the EC. Should Mr Museveni agree to the opposition and civil society demands to appoint independent commissioners to the EC, Mr Mao would then have to turn his attention to an opposition coalition. “We believe if we are organised and united, not only as DP but also as the Opposition, we can bring change in Uganda,” he says. “Our fragmentation in the past has played into the hands of Yoweri Museveni.”
However, this would not be the first time he and other oppositions politicians are mulling the idea of unity. It was attempted ahead of the 2011 elections. But the parties went their separate ways just months to the election. Also, some personalities eclipse some of the political parties in which they are.
Each thinks if he or she were the opposition coalition’s flag bearer, they would increase the opposition’s chances of beating Mr Museveni at the ballot. Because 80 per cent of Uganda’s population is below 30 years old, Mr Mao, who considers himself young, thinks he would win over the youth vote.
In the meantime, however, the DP is opening even more regional offices.
It is also refining its messages to inform Ugandans how different a DP government would be from the NRM or even an FDC one.
“So our messages of being a champion of the rights of the underdogs, of being a champion of individual rights and social justice is a message we must not lose,” says Mr Mao.
And, soon, he says, the party will launch a fundraising drive to raise money for its campaigns.
Some political observers say with a partial EC it will be harder for an opposition candidate to beat President Museveni.However, Mao says though the party has doubts about the integrity of the upcoming elections, the opposition can still beat the NRM.“There are those who have reached the limit of their hope. They have given up. I haven’t yet reached the limit of my hope. So I want to tell you that we are preparing for 2016 as DP.”
“I have ever won un-free and unfair elections. We can win an election that is not free and fair. That is my view as Norbert Mao.”When in 2011 he gave the top seat in the land a shot, he performed dismally, getting only two per cent of the votes cast. Will it be different in two year’s time? Time will tell.Mao’s agenda for Uganda. According to DP’s 2011 manifesto, his government will create one million jobs within three years. It would do that partly through public works projects.It would “reduce the unfair tax burden on the poor”, tarmac all the roads linking district headquarters and increase the agriculture and health budgets from slightly over five per cent to 15 per cent.
It would also restore term limits on the presidency, eradicate corruption and increase the budgetary allocation to the agricultural sector from less than 10 per cent to 15 per cent. Also, it would increase the jobs quota for women from 30 per cent to 40 per cent. Others would be grants for persons with disabilities and rural electrification as well as running water for all health facilities to mention a few.fellow member of the DP, Mr Muwanga Kivumbi, also the Member of Parliament for Butambala, says Mr Mao was a good legislator and that he did wonders for the Gulu local government. “About his leadership of DP, I reserve my comment,” Mr Kivumbi says rather cryptically.
Mr Mukasa Mbidde, another DP man and one of Uganda’s representatives to the East African Legislative Assembly, says: “Mao is a man who grooms young leaders. He contributed money towards my campaign for Makerere University guild presidency in 2001,” says Mr Mbidde. “His only problem is that he does harp about everything he does.”Mr Mao is credited for having proposed that government talks peace with the Lord’s Resistance Army, which is led by Joseph Kony, and had been fighting the government for 20 years. This means his government would choose dialogue in settling differences with its opponents instead of unleashing the State machinery as the NRM does. Tough races expected in Ntungamo, Kamuli and Amuru
Ruhaama MP seat currently occupied by First Lady Janet Museveni could be one of those that will be hotly contested in 2016 if what is going on right now is anything to go by. The area MP’s political assistant, Mr George Bakunda, shies away from discussing Ms Museveni’s plans as the next election draws nearer. “We shall wait for 2016, this is not time for politics,” he says. FDC stalwart Augustine Ruzindana has not given up on the seat he occupied prior to Ms Museveni’s arrival in 2006. He is involved in local meetings and often attends fundraisings in the constituency.
Two other people; Mr Namanya Kakyene, a journalist, and Mr Moses Kahima Mugabe (pictured) are also eying the seat. They are popularising themselves in the electorate. Mr Mugabe works in Sheema District as chief finance officer. Mr Kakyene is a secondary school teacher who has taught in schools across Ruhaama. He also has a degree in public administration from Kabale University and presents Ruhondeeza programme at Voice of Kigezi where he has been for the past five years.Bugabula South .The 2016 general elections might seem some distance away, but state minister for Regional Cooperation Asuman Kiyingi, also Bugabula South Member of Parliament, is not taking any chances. Mr Kiyingi has represented Bugabula South since 2006 when he surprisingly beat FDC’s Salaamu Musumba (pictured), now Kamuli District chairperson. The minister last month seemed to see political enemies in almost every corner. That made him hyperactive on social media. Using his Facebook wall, he attacked all real and perceived enemies.
First was the senior Presidential Adviser on Foreign Affairs, Mr Moses Kizige, then Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga. Mr Kiyingi, who has for the greater part of this year been throwing parties in sub-counties in his constituency to celebrate his 2011 victory over Ms Musumba, is allegedly annoyed that Ms Kadaga seems to be supportive of Ms Musumba, whose position as LC5 chairperson is giving her more time and access to the voters. If developments in Kamuli are anything to go by, Bugabula South will no doubt be a constituency to watch.
Amuru District chairperson Anthony Atube Omach, (NRM) is preparing to vie for the Kilak County seat.
Mr Omach (pictured) has been the chairperson for two terms and says it is now time to offer leadership at a higher level. “Poverty is killing our people due to the selfish interests of some Members of Parliament in the area who have been against investment,” he says. “I will be in a better position to address the issue of investment by telling the locals about the benefits of putting land into proper use.”
However, the current MP Gilbert Olanya (Independent) says he is still willing to serve come 2016. “My district being the largest producer of rice, I have formed Sacco’s so that I can get transport for farmers to reach better markets,” Mr Olanya says. Education sector is still wanting and I think I can still offer scholarships to vulnerable children in the district who always perform well in primary, O-level and A-level exams.”