Leave Besigye, Amama Fight for the Spoils

By Ofwono Opondo

16 Nov 2015

Eight presidential candidates are a mouthful as few will remember them through the campaign circle, and those going into this election without a compelling message on stability, progress, hope,  jobs and incomes, I’m talking to you, the opposition, are begging to lose.
Before all the theatrics of Amama Mbabazi and Kizza Besigye and the need for an alliance that hasn’t been, the opposition’s biggest fear about this election is having to run against President Yoweri Museveni. And perhaps as you have seen during the past week of the NRM conferences, presidential nominations and rallies, and unveiling of the manifesto, they were right to worry. Flights to the US, Kenya, Ghana and finally to England where Kofi Annan mediated to a have a joint opposition candidate for Uganda failed, it looks like the money taps too could dwindle.
At the NRM conferences especially Namboole, Museveni was vastly younger, more poised, athletic and polished, and whoever advised, deserve some credit. I wondered to myself what difference age actually makes because Museveni soared above the rim while the others still believed that old men can’t jump.  We case state categorically that the multiplicity of candidates is a futile attempt to make this race appear tight and therefore force a re-run, but Museveni is heading for a landslide within the first round.
In a campaign where the opposition is trying to frame the message as the future versus the past in an attempt to create the perception that NRM and Museveni have outlived their shelf value, this nugget will instead hurt the opposition. In fact many see that the NRM will channel Museveni’s visible strength and swat ‘young’ Mbabazi, Besigye and their sidekicks away.
In a particular humiliation of Mbabazi, he has so far been unable to get sufficient support particularly from NRM leaders and members, and now hopping away with disgruntled nonstarter MPSs from DP and FDC who seem to eye more of his wallet than real policy alternatives to NRM. Such support should routinely be granted as a courtesy, especially to a longtime politician like Mbabazi, although political watchers see a similar rebuke given to Aggrey Awori and Norbert Mao when they attempted to run for the presidency.
NRM has intercepted copy of an e-mail from Mbabazi’s political campaign office encouraging the unsuccessful parliamentary candidates during the primaries not to accept defeat, and instead run as independents were his GoForward wagon would allegedly facilitate them with money. Many losers particularly incumbent MPs have testified before the NRM arbitration committee that Mbabazi political scouts are pressurizing them to oppose Museveni. Indeed many knowing that NRM and Museveni are not only strong but also likable brands in their respective constituencies have conceded and are surrendering without a fight. Uganda has moved forward a great deal, in fact both social-economic transformation, and generational leadership transitions are taking place simultenously which make Mbabazi’s slogan sound hollow.
This campaign is going to be the turning point for the opposition, if voters realize that Mbabazi and his ilk were paper tigers after all. Mbabazi has found scant support on the presidential primary trail with all opinion polls showing he is in third place. And by his admission after nomination on Tuesday where he said perhaps inadvertently “I always come after President Museveni.”
And so far in his engagements Museveni has commanded the stage not just in style but also in substance, pivoting at every opportunity to the economic issues-household incomes, attracting investments, improving universal healthcare and education, and providing employment, the theme that should define this election. That’s the political sweet spot, yet the opposition doesn’t even aim at it preferring only to talk about the need for ‘change,’ and as in Mbabazi’s words “change that nobody can stop.”
Mbabazi has this far tried a decent outing, with his core message that inequality is a moral issue and that we need to have inclusive growth. It may be a powerful message but his utter lack of slickness surely plays well to voters who want authenticity. Whenever he has got on a roll, his every-other-word and hand gestures show he isn’t genuine because before now Mbabazi had never talked about maternal healthcare, education for the underprivileged and spreading incomes. Even the lie that he only wants to be a short-lived president for a peaceful transition will fall flat.
And yes, on every public media Mbabazi has appeared he has stumbled when pressed to explain his record on his personal massive wealth, and government policies such as telephone tapping, security measures, democracy, rule of law and adherence to constitutionalism, and he will not run away from the questions. Among these are his position on the most controversial steps to amend the Constitution to remove term limit, enactment of the Public Order Management Act (POMA), and expelling dissenting MPs from the NRM.
And for Besigye, he will the second candidate who unfortunately hasn’t transformed from his old colourful ways as a bitter, angry, and threatening presidential candidate putting off many a voter. Besigye is a brand the collective opposition created years back and now finding difficulty dumping.