Kenya opposition leader Raila Odinga and his Ugandan counterpart Dr. Kizza Besigye have peculiar similarities. Both have unsuccessfully contested in multiple presidential elections and sworn themselves in as Presidents. Should they fail to clinch the presidency in their lifetime, they will have an even more striking commonality; that of never reaching the Promised Land like the Biblical Moses.
Months before Odinga took “oath” on January 30, 2018, he had popularized a narrative of him being Joshua, Moses’ assistant, who would eventually get his people to Canaan. Unlike Odinga, Besigye cast himself as Moses. In an address to a team of Sebei FDC regional delegates in August 2015, Besigye said he had “to deal with the Pharaoh and we get out of Egypt then the Joshua’s can take over the mantle.”
Whichever identity they embrace, both Odinga and Besigye personify the achievements and struggles of the Opposition in East Africa. In the recent past, the Opposition has increasingly found itself operating in a political straitjacket. For instance on the day that Odinga declared himself the “People’s President”, Tanzanian Opposition was restrained from voicing its views in Parliament regarding crime incidents including the fatal shooting of its Chief Whip Tundu Lissu. Malindi MP Ally Saleh had just proposed that a judicial commission be formed to investigate the gun attack on Lissu when the Chairman of Parliament, Andrew Chenge, interrupted his speech saying that the language he used was unparliamentary. In response, Saleh discontinued his presentation on a bill that seeks to amend the written laws but insisted that the Opposition stood by its views. He was making the presentation on behalf of Lissu who is currently in Belgium for treatment.
Tarime Rural MP John Heche, a vocal critic of the government, says the Opposition has had an extremely difficult experience since President John Pombe Magufuli took power in 2015. He accuses President Magufuli of arbitrarily curtailing their freedom to operate and express themselves. “His ban on political rallies has made it hard for us to champion our ideals to the citizenry. His party however still holds political gatherings nonetheless.”
Dr. Benson Bana, a political analyst and lecturer at the University of Dar es Salaam, partly attributes the current political environment for the Opposition to the illiberal nature of President Magufuli unlike his predecessor Jakaya Kikwete. He also blames it on the demeanor of the Opposition. “Most of the times they are abusing the President and calling him a dictator. How can he listen to or grant them audience in such a case?” Looking at Magufuli’s forceful style and edicts, it is not difficult to see why the moniker is applied to Tanzania’s president so often.
On July 26, 2016, Tanzania’s main opposition party Chama cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (The Party for Democracy and Development) CHADEMA, formed a coalition against dictatorship dubbed UKUTA (Umoja wa Kupambana na Udikteta Tanzania), a Swahili acronym for “Wall.” It was a defiant move against President Magufuli’s ban on public rallies which they said violated the Political Parties Act. Recently, CHADEMA party members were angered by its own leader Edward Lowassa’s visit to President Magufuli. The former premier praised the President saying he was doing a good job and needed to be encouraged.
According to Heche, Lowassa erred in praising the President at a time when the country was grappling with violations of the law and highhanded rule. In a Press Release dated January 15, 2018, Lowassa explained that it was President Magufuli who invited him to State House to convince him to return to Chama cha Mapinduzi (loosely translates to “party of the revolution”), the ruling party, but that he had declined. “I told the President that my decision to leave CCM wasn’t trial and error,” said Lowassa. A day after Lowassa met Magufuli, Arusha Regional Commissioner Mrisho Gambo disclosed that Lowassa had enlisted his help in gaining audience with the President. “Lowassa stated through the delegation he sent me that he was ready to come back home.”
Dr. Bana believes it’s hard for Lowassa to rejoin CCM having defected to CHADEMA shortly before the general election in 2015. Lowassa, he says, is the biggest asset and political capital of the Opposition. “He wields a lot of political clout and appeals to everyone including those in the CCM,” Dr. Bana told Africa Uncensored. The recent mass defections from the Opposition to CCM have cost CHADEMA and other parties. Those who have ditched their parties include Patrobas Katambi (CHADEMA’s Youth Wing Chairman), Siha MP Dr. Godwin Mollel (CHADEMA), former Home Affairs Minister Lawrence Masha (CHADEMA), Kitila Mkumbo (ACT-Wazalendo), Francis Mwigamba (ACT-Wazalendo), and Kinondoni MP Maulid Mtulia (CUF). Legally, parliamentarians who change parties mid-term must relinquish their seats and participate in by-elections. CCM has granted all of its recent lures direct party nominations to recapture their seats in the coming contests.
Heche dismisses the defections as self-seeking and not founded on principle like that of former Singida MP Lazaro Nyalandu who resigned and crossed over to CHADEMA from CCM after being a member for 17 years. There were allegations that those who defected from the Opposition had been bribed. Currently CCM has 253 Parliamentarians to CHADEMA’s 70 members, outnumbering CHADEMA by almost four to one.
Compared to Tanzania, Kenya’s Opposition is stronger and has fared better in the prevailing circumstances according to Makueni Senator Mutula Kilonzo Junior. “It’s the Opposition that has driven politics since multiparty to the extent that its leaders ended up becoming Presidents or influential people,” says Mutula, a member of Wiper Democratic Movement-Kenya party one of NASA coalition affiliates.
When asked why the Opposition in Kenya and East Africa has been unable to take over power, Mutula attributes the inability to the power of incumbency. He says it’s a challenge to campaign against a system that has government resources and public funds at its disposal. Professor Herman Manyora, a political analyst and lecturer at the University of Nairobi, concurs with Mutula but says the Opposition outfits in East Africa are not mature and strong enough to take on established ruling parties. Uganda’s National Resistance Movement (NRM) has been in power for 32 years while CCM has ruled mainland Tanzania for 41 years. “KANU is still the party governing Kenya albeit through proxy. In fact, the Jubilee party’s leading luminaries are KANU progenitors,” states Professor Manyora.
The Jubilee party has in the past used its numerical strength in parliament to pass laws deemed self-serving to the chagrin of the Opposition. In the run up to the October 26th general election, Jubilee MPs unanimously approved the Election Laws (Amendment) Bill 2017 which sought to, among other things, strip the chair of the electoral body of his role as the only returning officer for the presidential election. Opposition legislators were absent. The Jubilee party boasts of 140 legislators in the National Assembly while NASA coalition affiliate parties share 103 seats as follows: Orange Democratic Movement 62, Wiper Democratic Movement-Kenya 19, Amani National Congress 12, and the Forum for the Restoration of Democracy-Kenya 10. The remaining 47 seats are distributed among other parties and independent candidates.
A clear majority in the Ugandan parliament has also paved the way for the NRM agenda as witnessed in the recent enactment of the law scrapping the 75-year presidential age limit. A total of 317 MPs voted in favor and 97 against while two members abstained. Out of the 97 legislators, 27 came from NRM. The leadership of the NRM Parliamentary Caucus demanded that they apologize or face disciplinary action. Two months before President Yoweri Museveni, 73 years old, signed the bill into law, the Ugandan Parliament released 29 million Ugandan shillings ($8000) to each of the 449 MPs to facilitate consultation of the age limit bill with their electorate.
But several MPs rejected the cash terming it a bribe and returned the money. Kyandondo East MP Robert Kyagulanyi popularly known as Bobi Wine was among them. A fierce critic of President Museveni, Kyagulanyi stated that the money was being spent on a matter that did not need any consultation whatsoever. “Ugandans made it clear long ago that they are opposed to a life presidency. They don’t want the Constitution tampered with in any way.”
Though an independent legislator, Kyagulanyi is one of the MPs in the Opposition who are a constant headache to President Museveni. Through music, he has castigated Museveni’s regime and called for his resignation. But sharp criticism of the government alone is not enough, notes Dr. Philip Kasaija, an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science and Public Administration at Makerere University, Kampala. According to him, the Opposition parties must unite behind a common goal and offer viable solutions to the problems Ugandans are facing. “As at now, the Opposition is very fragmented. Unless they solve internal wrangles and get organized, it will be impossible for them to remove Museveni from power,” Dr. Kasaija told Africa Uncensored.
There are 29 registered political parties in Uganda with NRM being the biggest followed by Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), the main Opposition party. NRM enjoys more than two-thirds majority in parliament with 293 members while FDC formerly led by Dr. Besigye has 36. The number of independent MPs is 66. The Opposition’s weak numerical strength coupled with internal disputes have only worsened the situation.
While acknowledging Besigye’s repeated failure to clinch state power, Dr. Kasaija believes that the 61-year old veteran politician still has a chance at becoming President. He however notes that there are other opposition leaders capable of ascending to the presidency with the exit of Museveni. “It’s hard to give specific names but be sure that great leaders will emerge as soon as Museveni gets out of the picture,” he says.
Dr. Bana says the Tanzanian Opposition can only become strong if it does a thorough self- introspection, changes its leadership and nips the defections in the bud. “The President has already taken their agenda and is implementing it. Unless they strategize wisely, their appeal on the citizenry will be lost and thus cost them their strength in parliament.”
This may be true of all opposition formations across the three East African nations. With their governments looking to bring all dissent to heel, and a young population whose institutional memory of past gains is waning, this moment of crisis may be more than a passing cloud.
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