Africa-Press – Uganda. Asked why Opposition party National Unity Platform voted for Rebeeca Kadaga as Speaker for the 11th Parliament, Mityana Municipality MP Francis Zaake responded that they intended to annoy President Yoweri Museveni.
As chairperson of the party, Museveni was by default behind the NRM candidate, Jacob Oulanyah, who eventually won.
Though cheeky, this assertion is very loaded. In elections where people feel they have nothing to lose and gain realistically, they can afford to be naughty with their vote. That is how comedians end up defeating viable candidates.
In the last election NUP sounded a clarion call. They asked all and sundry to simply ‘just tick’ the umbrella symbol. So effective it was, that when many of the successful candidates embarked on victory parades to thank their voters, the latter would not reorganise them.
Political organisations get here when faced with a recalcitrant behemoth like the NRM party is. As it stands, fused with and funded by the State, buttressed by its often vicious security apparatus and facilitated by all arms of State, it is almost impossible to organise rationally and expect to win against such a State party.
Those opposed to it then decide to be of a nuisance value to it.
Scanning social media, brings life to this assertion. The amount of conjecture, innuendo, rumours, falsehoods and outright lies is the weak man’s hapless effort to subvert the NRM which they may not match in Parliament and all spheres of local government let alone violently.
It is very effective in the short run as the government is ever on the back foot defending itself in the battle for hearts and minds. The spokespersons have their work cut out for them as they defend the government and NRM against all manner of claims, both genuine and preposterous.
But in the long run it backfires on the Opposition. Amilcar Cabral, the Guinea Bissau revolutionary author , once said ‘remember always that people do not fight for things that only exist in the heads of individuals. The people fight and accept the necessary sacrifice in order to gain material benefits, to live better and in peace, to experience progress and to guarantee the future of their children.’
The trouble withOpposition parties in Uganda as they stand now is that they are very articulate in as far as identifying and elucidating on the predicament this country faces. Poverty, corruption, violence by the state, sectarianism, you name it, they have said it over and over again.
But human beings have material needs that can’t wait to be answered. A mother with a sick child won’t be told that the reason she can’t access medicare is because the bad government is corrupt. They urgently need treatment before engaging them with academic exercises.
That is why areas such as northern and eastern Uganda once Opposition strongholds have gradually started ‘backsliding’ and gravitating towards the ruling NRM to which they had antipathy.
The people are convinced that their hostility towards the government is the cause of poor service delivery.
They listen to this and weigh it against the Opposition which similarly does not provide material answers and has no chance of taking power in the current set up. They move away from voting against the government (to annoy it) and take a risk of voting for the NRM.
Opposition political parties of the future are the ones which will turn the other cheek. The ones which on top of identifying the problem may as well provide practical answers to the quandary in which their followers and those they would like to convince.
It is not easy but as Ewa Letwoska, a prominent Polish Lawyer and one time Ombudsman of Poland, once said, democracy is not fancy window shopping it is back breaking work.
There is urgent need for new thinking that has a direct effect on delivering genuine material benefits to the people.
At the risk of being subverted by the government, has any party tried to mobilise and start savings groups and revolving funds from which the plethora of small scale farmers and traders borrow?
Has there been an effort to organise famers into cooperatives and fund the buying of farming implements and the produce thereafter at beneficial rates to them?
Colonialism felt the pressure of cooperatives in many African settings as farmers and business people became more self-reliant and sustaining. Their wellbeing was not a result of handouts from the government. NRM is not different from the colonial government. People who rely on it materially (including MPs) cannot oppose it effectively.
The current set up where a few Opposition politicians make it to Parliament and only grab headlines because of what they say on the floor or the drama that plays out as they physically defy the government is only good for aesthetics. But it will never be of any threat to the status quo.
The individual Members of Parliament will benefit in terms of huge salaries, cars and allowances but nothing much will change.
The time for new thinking and leadership is now. We need to have a new approach that goes beyond holding rallies, hosting talkshows and demonstrating on the streets.
It is not enough to say that it is not easy because the government will subvert all efforts as is the wont. If the Opposition cannot show that it can materially change the lives of the people, a time will come when the people will get tired of listening to the same message of the ills of the government.
Leadership is about innovation. Innovation is a response to challenges and it comes with changing the way matters are approached.
Mr Sengoba is a commentator on political and social issues