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The future of FDC


Summary: The Forum for Democratic Change blames its modest progress on a repressive opponent in government. This threat is real and lethal, especially in the short-run. The long-term and indeed life-threatening problem of Uganda’s largest opposition party is its lack of a relevant and distinct ideology.

Author Biography: Yahya Sseremba is the publisher and editor of The Campus Journal news website.  

The unlevel political playing field that is tilted in favour of the ruling party tells why opposition parties have always moved one step forward, two steps back. The unfair rules of the game – an electoral body that is unilaterally hired and fired by the head of state, an armed force that takes sides, a public media that doubles as a mouthpiece for the people in power – has seriously constrained the development of multiparty politics in Uganda and in most of Africa.

To these constraints add outright state persecution – trumped-up charges, cruel crackdown on peaceful demonstrations, incommunicado detention – and life becomes hell for opposition activists.  Yet these obstacles, immense and intense as they may be, are likely to end with the inevitable end of the dictatorship that orchestrates them. By no means do they pose a lasting hazard to the progress of multiparty politics.

The greatest obstacle to the permanency and potency of Africa's political parties is their imported ideologies that are not only difficult to discern, but most importantly, make no sense to the voters. This is what threatens the future of the Forum for Democratic Change, or FDC.

Ideological confusion  

The FDC subscribes to center-right conservatism, an ideological formation that opposes ‘big’ government, or government involvement in social and economic affairs. If this party seized power, in simple terms, it would scrap the Universal Primary and Secondary Education, privatize much of what has remained of state enterprises and restrict its administration to law enforcement. The conservatives, to be precise, understood free market capitalism too literally.

This, superficially, is not the case with Social Democracy to which the Uganda Peoples Congress and the ruling National Resistance Movement parties claim allegiance.  Social Democracy promotes government intervention to provide or at least to subsidise essential services like education and health. These ideological differences matter a lot in Europe, and they explain why the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, a German-based NGO that champions Social Democracy, strictly does not work with conservative FDC; it restricts its donations to the NRM and UPC.

The importance that Europeans attach to such ideological differences also explains why the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, another German donor that advocates center-right ideologies of Christian Democracy and Conservatism, primarily works with the Democratic Party and to some extent the FDC. If these differences have weight in the West, they are totally meaningless in Africa.

These differences are pointless because they are more mythical than real – they are just variants of the ruthless capitalist system. The ruling Social Democratic NRM Party – which has sold off almost every state-owned enterprise, which has starved public universities of basic facilities, which is imposing new taxes on water even though most citizens already do not afford clean and safe water – cannot be different from its rival Conservative FDC Party that opposes government intervention to help the helpless.

Even the Democratic Party that is founded on Christian Democracy is bent on upholding capitalism with all its liberalism, including protecting gay ‘rights’. This is what Christian Democratic parties are doing in Europe – granting that a man has the right to sleep with another man – even though they may not necessarily support the legalisation of such marriages. The world order that followed the 1945 collapse of fascism and the 1989 demise of communism ushered in ideologically-indistinguishable political organisations wherever western politics took hold, with a notable exception of Muslim countries where Islam-rooted parties are rising.

This homogeneity leaves no fundamental difference between the FDC and NRM or any other major party in the country. If the FDC is not ideologically distinct, it follows that the party derives its votes not from what it is, nor from what it stands for, but from other factors – temporary factors.  Prominent among these is the personality of Warren Kizza Besigye Kifefe.

Perishable Personality

Whereas African culture places society ahead of the individual, in African politics individuals tend to overshadow organisations both in internal maneuvers and in external stardom. The idea that the NRM may not outlive Mr. Museveni as a formidable organisation can also be said of the FDC and its founding leader, Dr. Besigye.

Besigye derives his charismatic appeal from his courageous character.  As a serving military officer who was expected to follow without questioning, Besigye authored a dossier in 1999 that exposed his political and military bosses as opportunists who willfully degenerated into a self-centered clique. His subsequent spirited election race against Museveni and the resultant incessant persecution he endured exhibited to the electorate a level of fortitude that many Ugandan politicians lacked.

To this profile add his bodily endowment – enormous eyes, thunderous voice, rough and dark physique – and a kind of lionhearted icon crops up. This personality convinced many that Besigye was more than any other politician equipped and determined to oust Museveni. His personality pulled crowds to the Reform Agenda, which later became FDC. As Besigye relinquishes party leadership to an heir too small-footed to fill his shoes, the FDC is pulling down its tallest crowd-pulling monument.

The monument would still have to come down anyway, for it’s born of a woman. The demise of such persons often comes with the turn down of their organisations. It makes no difference whether such a person leaves behind strong party institutions, for the voters were not interested in the organisation per se – they were interested in the person, in the individual. This is the problem of Africa’s parties, excluding a handful that amassed lasting mass appeal by leading liberation struggles, such as South Africa’s ANC, or by exploiting decades of single-party dictatorship to indoctrinate the masses, such as Tanzania’s CCM.

But even these unique parties still count on the popularity of their founding fathers. To boost its chances ahead of the 2009 general election, the ANC found it necessary to parade Nelson Mandela, despite his agedness and feebleness, at a campaign rally.

African parties whose appeal transcends individuals are often based on tribe or religion – not ideology in the western sense. But the FDC is too late to share on that kind of sectarianism.

Missing out on sectarianism

Such parties that thrive greatly on ethnicity include Kenya’s Raila Odinga-led Orange Democratic Movement, which plays the Luo card and Mwai Kibaki’s Party of National Unity, which feeds on the votes of the Kikuyu. In Uganda such tribe-rooted politics is not as extreme and as bloody as it is in the neighboring country, but neither is it unfamiliar.

Tribalism is the only reason why the DP and UPC can still raise some Members of Parliament and stay relevant. Whereas the UPC lost its Anglican constituency to the new kids on the block, it has maintained its ethnic electorate in the Lango sub-region of the North. The party draws all its 10 MPs and its four district chairpersons from this place – the birthplace of its father Milton Obote.

The same applies to the Democratic Party whose influence has rapidly retreated in recent decades to its traditional stronghold of Buganda. All the party’s 13 MPs and its two district chairpersons come from Buganda. The ruling NRM party, despite its fairly countrywide support, identified itself primarily with the Ankole sub-region of western Uganda.

The FDC, which draws many of its leaders and members from Ankole-Kigezi, has equally been associated with the western region. But the opposition party is far from dislodging the ruling party from this area. The FDC will further alienate itself from its alleged Ankole-Kigezi identity should it elect a non-Munyankole party president later this year. Without a clear ethnic identity, the FDC is either unwilling or unable to play the ethnic card.

Unlike the Democratic Party and Uganda Peoples Congress that have exploited their tribal roots to retain some political relevance, the FDC will have nothing that matters to the voters as soon as it loses its magnetic leader. If the DP and UPC are shadows of their past, the FDC may not be survived by even a shadow.



STAGNANT PARTIES: Why DP, UPC & JEEMA have failed every test except survival

How ‘Islamist’ Arab Africa will affect Black Africa

The Museveni contradiction  

How Buganda lost Uganda


0 #1 Smith Ongom 2012-09-30 22:31
Our task is a difficult one. We are attempting to deal with a problem created by the ambitions of Neocolonialists whose aim is the eventual control of the whole World.
We also live in a World of Giants and Dwarfs, the dwarfs are constantly worried by the tendency of the giants who prefer the dwarfs to live in their shadows.
0 #2 K.K 2012-10-02 22:31
The Forum for Democratic Change is a loose calation which doesnot ebven deserve any recognition..of course at the moment they are the leading opposition party in the country but that has only been a result of the so called "Besigye Wave", we need to know how FDC is going to survive in the next many years provided that it has no grassroot structures, Besigye's re-election as Presidential Candidate is contested by many members of the FDC and ofcorse the new player in the field of politics at the level of Presidential candidate be it Muntu or Mafabi..all that seem to be a ver ybig disaadvantage for FDC and I dont see it surviving the next 10 years...not to mention its reduction in the number of M.P as opposed to the previous house 2006-2011.
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