FDC presidential candidate for life, Kizza Besigye, first declared his intention to run for president for the first time on October 28, 2000. On November 19, only three weeks later, I wrote this article for The Monitor, raising the very issues I am raising today. I have cut more than two thirds of the article so as to have the read focus on the core issues. For a full article see the post below.
Monitor November 19, 2000: Is Besigye Going Up Or Down!
First, most of these groups are at odds with each other. While it is possible to bring Mengo and Rubaga together, and multiparty organisations have been conducting broad consultations on how to defeat Museveni, it is not automatic that they will adopt Besigye as their candidate. The colonel has a lot of footwork to do to realise his ambitions. His success will depend on the ability to insulate himself and his campaign strategy from clientelistic forces that think his candidature is a clique project.
For example, the problems that Besigye thinks have derailed the Movement from its original objectives are likely to permeate his presidential bid. A clique of people in his campaign office whose links are clientelistic thinks that any criticism of the colonel’s strategy means the person voicing it “has been bought”. The same clique thinks that every warning that Museveni should not be taken lightly because he has many achievements to his credit in this country means the bearer of such a message is a supporter of Museveni.
It appears that attempts to wave off any criticism, or point of concern this way, will make it difficult for Besigye to get honest and independent opinions. In fact this is the very issue that Besigye is accusing Museveni of. So Besigye needs to be transparent and treat divergent views as a legitimate and necessary requirement in his campaign enterprise without compromising the confidentiality of his efforts.
This brings us to the third and most important factor that will weigh heavily on whether Museveni’s opponents can beat the president. The challenge for Museveni’s opponents, especially Besigye, is to craft a message that will sell among the peasants, especially in western, central and eastern regions. There is a misleading view among many political commentators that there is increasing mass poverty in Uganda, especially among the rural people. The facts do not seem to bear out the holders of this view.
Most social-economic indicators in western, central and eastern regions show that the NRM government has been the first to effect a progressive and qualitative improvement in the lives of the rural poor in this country since 1971. The Poverty Eradication Action Plan drawn up by the ministry of Finance in Uganda has become the showpiece that the international donor community is selling to other Countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America to combat rural poverty.
Liberalisation policies have brought mass consumer goods that only yesterday were unknown to peasants, or seen as luxuries even by the urban elite to every village in the country. Some good work has been done on the infrastructure and lack of transport is a thing of the past.
Decentralisation has brought so much money into the hands of districts and sub-counties and the elite are using it to distribute political patronage. And most important, UPE (whatever its weaknesses) is Museveni’s most important asset in the countryside. For the first time since 1971, peasants have seen government build classrooms in rural schools.
This pleasant picture of NRM government achievement does not automatically mean that Museveni will defeat every (or any) challenger. Rather it raises serious concerns on how to craft a message that recognises these gains but promises to do more, and that the current gains are in danger because of Museveni’s intransigence, arrogance and nepotism.