Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Painful Politics

After it was established that I was now truly disgruntled with the FDC party leadership in 2010, I started hearing tales that I would never have been told during my honeymoon phase with the opposition. I heard of backstabbing stories between and amongst party stalwarts that would put Brutus to shame. I listened and I hurt and then I listened some more. I thought of the decade spent fantasizing about a glorious future when the forces of change finally realized their goal. I had been such an idealist and unapologetic optimist but now started wondering if my ten years of poverty-stricken activism abroad had been wasted. My advocacy writing was immediately impacted because I could not advocate for any cause in which I did not have confidence. My regular opinions in the Ugandan press had been inspired by the unwavering belief that the opposition and its allies could deliver good governance and equitable opportunities where the government had failed. After experiencing electoral malpractice laced with gleeful malice within my own party, the seeds of doubt were planted that moderated my confidence and naivety. My writing became more cautious and less frequent. The positive outcome of this process was that I now clearly appreciated why we needed to build strong democratic institutions that could protect us even from the very individuals who build them.
Two women came to mind as I weathered the primaries storm in FDC. The first was Miria Matembe a former Minister of Ethics in President Museveni’s government who had fallen out of favor for opposing the removal of presidential term limits which paved the way for the incumbent to run for the presidency for as long as he wished. Following her falling out of favor, Miria Matembe not only lost her ministerial post she also lost her Parliamentary seat as women’s representative for Mbarara District in the 2006 elections. She had run and lost as an independent candidate against Emma Boona the candidate of the National Resistance Movement party.
In the Spring of 2006 Miria was awarded the Reagan-Fascell Fellowship for democracy activists and practitioners and she came to Washington DC at the time I was working in close by Bethesda, MD with the Womens Learning Partnership. We interacted with the same group of democracy activists, attended the World Movement for Democracy meeting in Istanbul, Turkey and spent a lot of time together both professionally and socially. She invited me to share the podium and comment on her final presentation at NED: “Participation in Vain: The Betrayal of Women’s Rights in Uganda”
During our many conversations I asked her why she had not embraced FDC like some other dissenting legislators and why she had decided to go it alone as an independent Parliamentary candidate. I tried to convince her that there was room for her in FDC women’s leadership if she would only join us. Miria told me that I did not understand FDC and it was no longer the Reform Agenda that I dreamed of. She told me she was not prepared to engage in petty squabbles for leadership positions in an opposition party. When I seemed not to grasp her meaning, Miria explained using an analogy, that when a woman goes through a bad divorce, she should not rush into the arms of another man. She should take her time to understand the reasons that caused her first marriage to fail before getting betrothed again. I understood the analogy alright but still did not fully grasp why she was being so cautious about joining the opposition party that stood for all the issues that she expounded so passionately. My tribulations with FDC colleagues in Nakawa finally helped me fathom what her wise political mind had discerned years before when I had no clue.
The other woman who came to mind was Beti Kamya my old time buddy from the Elect Kizza Besigye Task Force. Beti had fallen out of favor with the FDC leadership in 2009 and been formally expelled by the party in 2010. I followed the saga from my US exile in pain and disbelief. Beti had stayed behind and weathered many storms after the 2001 elections when some of us fled the country. Beti Kamya, like me served as special envoy in Dr. Kizza Besigye’s office and was a strong activist during the Reform Agenda days. She had held the Reform Agenda banner high and remained an outspoken activist when most people disappeared from the opposition scene. She was rewarded with a Parliamentary seat by the people of Rubaga North in 2006. She had failings like all mortals and one was quite familiar. She assumed that everyone in the opposition appreciated her hard work and contribution and therefore she had earned the right to be recognized and rewarded by her peers. It is a threshold that is unconsciously crossed by many ardent activists – a sense of entitlement sneaks up on us and we fail to appreciate the resentment that this causes some colleagues. Their natural reaction then become to pull us back down to earth where we belong and in Beti’s case they executed sweet revenge with such brutality it left her wounded and the party scarred. Beti fell out with FDC in 2009 after a bitter row over the succession for party chairman, after Sulaiman Kiggundu died and she sought to replace him. Her ambitions were gleefully thwarted by party colleagues and she left.
When Beti learnt of my woes in Nakawa, she invited me for a cup of tea at Protea Hotel in Kololo. She had a wry smile on her face as she reminded me of the numerous phone conversations in which I had begged her not to leave the party. She may not have verbalized it but her eyes were saying: ‘I told you so!’ She spared me the sarcasm and we enjoyed a good laugh and catching up with each other’s lives. Then she invited me to join a party that she had founded after being expelled from FDC, the Uganda Federal Alliance. She advised me that it was time to step off the FDC bus as it had taken a new direction from the one we originally thought it would take. Now I understood this analogy and I knew exactly where she was coming from, but I was weary of jumping off buses that were losing their course and I told her as much. It was time to manage the navigation of the bus I was on without necessarily jumping off. We parted with a hug and went back to do whatever we could to try and steer the course of our respective buses and hopefully make a contribution towards good governance; the issue that had brought us together in the first place.
At 50 I know that political engagement can be brutal in a very public and unforgiving way and I salute all those women who step up to participate in politics in our chauvinistic and patriarchal society.

feeling pained

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