Tuesday, June 23, 2015

FDC Acrimony

The first challenge I faced when I returned to Uganda in June 2010, was finding a place to stay. The home that I owned jointly with John Bwomezi was leased out to tenants after John retired to the farm at Karwera in 2007 so that was not an immediate option. There was also the matter of my political objective, which in the short term was to register as a party candidate in a Constituency where I could run for a Parliamentary seat. From the beginning my political objectives came together as a result of what some would call reverse engineering. Instead of identifying the issues in a constituency where I lived, I would start exploring local issues after identifying where I would be staying. It did not seem of great consequence to me at the time as the issues at the national level where I had my primary focus had not changed but had rather intensified in the intervening 10 years.
I had returned home with a few suitcases filled with clothes for me and the girls and hardly anything else. There was no shipment arriving soon with furniture, household items and a vehicle. Our most treasured household items were kept in storage in Lake Mary, FL where we hoped we would retrieve them someday. We had nothing besides the clothes on our backs and in our suitcases as well as some money in the bank. Yet, I arrived to the Ugandan belief that anyone coming from ‘outside countries’ must have plenty of money. New words had entered the ‘Uglish’ dictionary while I was away and I got enough of people telling me ‘Well be back,’ which apparently was the new way of saying welcome back. 7 out of 10 times this welcome would be followed by a conversation suggesting that I assist with funding anything and everything from a political campaign to an upcoming wedding. I found it mildly odd that this had become standard behavior for my people, that there was no shame in asking directly for money and not for charitable causes but for personal use. No one seemed to think there was a problem with begging from someone who ‘appeared’ to have money. We had become a begging nation and had no qualms about it.
One person who knew that my pocket was really shallow and thin was my father. He knew that I needed help more than many of the people who were extending their hand to ask me for a few dollars and he also knew that I was too proud to admit it so without waiting for me to stretch out my own begging bowl, my father offered me a roof over my head. Before he retired to Mbarara my Dad had built investment homes in Kampala, which he let out to tenants. The house in Bugolobi was currently vacant and the search for a tenant was immediately abandoned as he opened its doors for my daughters and me. The house had basic furniture but no electrical appliances so Dad bought us a cooker and later a refrigerator. I was thus installed at a high-end residential address on Luthuli Rise and after registering at the polling station down the road at the Bugolobi flats, I felt ready to continue pursuing my political objectives starting with becoming the FDC candidate for Nakawa constituency where my new home happened to be. And so with my father by my side I arranged a press conference at a school compound in Nakawa and announced my intention to run for Member of Parliament in the 2011 elections only a few months away.
It did not cross my arrogant mind that there would be anyone within the party who would not support my move to represent FDC in Nakawa or anywhere for that matter. I had last run for elections in 2001 when opposition Reform Agenda candidates were so rare that we had to look around for people to fill too many vacant constituency seats. Well guess what? While I was away, the opposition had grown, created structures and actually had more candidates than vacant seats in the more opposition friendly districts like Kampala. So party leaders had to engage in a delicate balance of egos and cautious negotiations before endorsing any internal candidate for a seat. Oops, well no one had warned me so I had stormed in on the wings of my enthusiasm and belief in my credentials; and announced my candidacy without proper consultation – the quintessential activist assuming party support for whatever action I took. This however was not 2001 when Beti Kamya and I decided nonchalantly which party posts we held. This was 2010 and I had just stepped on some delicate eggshells and ruffled enough feathers to ensure that from then on any action I took, any statement I made had enough critics within the party that I needed no external opposition.
I had heard about tensions within FDC between Reform Agenda activists and the seasoned PAFO legislators who had come together to form the FDC party. The legislators scorned RA activists calling us seasoned election losers while RA activists regarded PAFO legislators as soft armchair activists who feared the streets. Then there were tensions between the older political hands and the young activists who were anxious for change. There were also regional issues and competition within regions, which had led to the exit of Beti Kamya. From serving on a team in 2001 where I had no need to look over my shoulder to ascertain what any of our activists were saying – we were all facing one adversary – the Movement; I now found that in order to navigate my way within the party I needed my eyes focused on the rear view and side mirrors to see where the next blows would come from. My adversaries were not necessarily outside the party they were sitting right there on my team. The relationships had become so complicated that I never, ever managed to own or associate with the FDC party leadership as I had with Reform Agenda activists.
So that is how I found myself running against a party electoral commissioner Michael Kabaziguruka, a youth activist who had been eyeing the Nakawa seat and working towards becoming FDC candidate for the area. My arrival meant that he would no longer be unopposed and we would need a primary election to decide. At first I was not bothered about competing with Michael but then I started hearing stories, true or false about electoral irregularities that mirrored the ones we were fighting at the national level. Moreover, the party leadership not only avoided discussing Nakawa issues, they avoided meetings with me altogether! Before long I was writing letters to the party leadership similar to the ones I had written to the Electoral commission in 2001 and I was instructing lawyers to sue my party for electoral fraud. The primaries battle for Nakawa FDC candidacy became so acrimonious that in the end it was more personally hurtful to me than the 2001 Parliamentary election where I had faced only external threats. I was in total disbelief when a senior party leader told me I had no idea how much a number of FDC leaders, including women leaders were enjoying my pain in Nakawa. Nothing had prepared me for these challenges within the party and I felt disoriented and incapable of focusing on wider campaign issues.
By and by my old activist friends Daudi Mpanga, and Conrad Nkutu picked me up from home one evening towards the end of 2010; and drove me to Kizza Besigye’s farm in Gayaza. KB was still President of FDC and also presidential candidate for the forthcoming elections but because presidential and parliamentary elections were now held on the same day, I had not given full time assistance to his campaign and helped only where I could. We met Besigye at his home and after spewing my venom and accusing them all of abandoning me to the wolves I realized that my friends were gently telling me to let go of Nakawa before it swallowed me into political oblivion. I cursed them a lot and threw a tantrum but I knew at the back of mind that David, Conrad and KB would never act against my best interests.
At 50 I know that the acrimony of FDC elections in Nakawa in 2010, liberated me from blind and blanket support of the opposition party enabling me to look critically within our fold and support selectively only those issues and candidates that I believed deserved my support.

— feeling disappointed.

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