After contesting and losing four consecutive times, Dr Warren Kiiza Besigye announced that he will not avail himself for the 2021 elections. Although the news of his exit from the political space was largely expected, it was also bad news of some sort for those who have total faith in his brand of politics.
Believe it or not, the man from Rukungiiri had cut a cult figure as the enduring brand of Ugandan opposition politics. He had endured persecution, harassment, sprinkled with tear gas and shed tears and holds the record being the most arrested person in the world. Every year Besigye has been arrested and detained an average of not less than ten times.
But it would be unfair to say that Besigye hasn’t made his contribution to the country’s political landscape. His political activism will be remembered for the reforms that have changed the social sphere. In 2001 when he first declared his intentions to contest against President Museveni, he announced how he intended to scrap graduated tax. This had been a thorn in the flesh for Ugandans above 18 years.
The obnoxious tax had been introduced by the British colonialists not only to contribute to the revenue of the colonial government, but to make Ugandans above 18 years more responsible and productive. The defaulters of this annual tax were normally humiliated by tying them on a rope, dragged to the district headquarters and given corporal punishments or imprisoned.
Most men used to ‘takeoff’ whenever they interfaced with the tax collectors. It was so embarrassing that men dreaded the day they forgot their GT ticket at home or had not paid for the same at all. So when he announced that he was to scrap the GT, all adult male Ugandans vowed to vote for him.
Museveni was faced with a real possibility of losing the 2001 election mostly because of GT. He had no choice but to quickly comply. He promised to do away with the same. Most Ugandans breathed a sigh of relief, thanks to Besigye.
Besigye also put Museveni on task when he announced that he would increase the intake of students to Makerere University by over 2000 students. Ooh, Museveni had to make another concession allowing an extra 2000 students to be admitted at Makerere University. Although Besigye was eventually defeated, he had put a mark on Ugandan society. He was the master of social change that Ugandans had craved for.
Tabs on Museveni
The situation got so messy that Museveni, who revels in having ideology was forced to get native with Besigye. Instead of preaching ideology as a point of strength, he sank as low as accusing Besigye of having contracted HIV/aids. Museveni was warning Ugandans that they were wasting time voting for Besigye because he was soon going to die of HIV/aids!
It’s now almost twenty years, but Besigye has not died of the terrible pandemic. When Besigye contested again in 2006, 2011 and 2016, he was not as effective in pushing the agenda as he was in the 2001 election but he still managed to shake the state to its core. He had lost some steam and run out of ideas that could put Museveni in an uncomfortable position. Alternatively Museveni’s machinery had eventually learnt how to deal with his former doctor.
Dilution of KB Brand
Along the way, Besigye inadequacies started getting exposed. He was accused of failing to build durable structures for his FDC party. Although he still enjoyed mass support countrywide, he was as well deemed a poor manager by notable Party colleagues. Many of them including the likes of Hon Alex Onzima, Hon Betty Kamya, Hon Beatrice Anywar and many others abandoned him for Museveni.
He also suffered from the proclivity of speaking with a lot of aggressiveness which meant that his brand soon suffered from the image of being anger-driven than issue-driven and hence, lost most moderates.
The last kick in the teeth for his presidency aspirations is contained in the judgment by the High Court which stated that the 2001, 2006, and 2012 elections had been rigged with lots of inconsistencies but the same were not substantial enough to affect the outcome of the aggregate vote.
That court verdict put Besigye in a position of resignation from the electoral process to the extent that he never went to court for the 2016 elections. If the courts indeed agree that Besigye had been unfairly denied victory, then what alternative did he possess at his disposal? Indeed Besigye had no choice but to abandon the process. Contesting for the fifth time in a flawed process was not going to be a viable option. He now knows that an election is not a viable instrument for actualizing regime change.
Besigye’s continued democratic attempt at the presidency was beginning to appear like a project of legitimizing President Museveni’s regime. The conspiracy theory was advanced by the fact that since he comes from western Uganda, his participation in the election is geared at rubber-stamping NRM continuity.
Besigye couldn’t extricate himself from another conspiracy which stated that he has a powerful business empire which has never been sabotaged by the regime like it has been the case with other opposition members. He was thus declared a mole. Nevertheless, Besigye holds the ‘world record’ for having contested for president and lost four times in a row.
If he quits completely, Besigye will have joined the league of other serial opposition losers, joining the likes of Zimbabwe’s Morgan Tsivangirai, Etienne Tsesekedi of hitherto Zaire, and Egypt’s Mohammed Eri Baradei who repeatedly failed to unseat Hosni Mubarak.
But Besigye should be inspired by the man who endured long spells of contesting Senegalese Presidency. Former Senegal President Abdalla Wade contested four consecutive times but lost to poet Sedar Senghor in 1978, Abdou Diof in 1980s before winning on the fifth attempt in 2000. Yet it must be told here that by the time Wade won, he was almost heading straight into his 80s. Born in 1926, there are those who believe that Wade was even much older. At least he was almost twenty years older than Besigye’s age today.
Born in 1956, Besigye is around 66 years old. Even if he takes a break for this five year term, he will have the opportunity to come back in 2026 when he will be around 71, an age at which he will still be much younger than Museveni is today. By that time Museveni will be deep into his 80s, ripe for total retirement.
That is a matter of complete conjecture. My statement here is that by 2026, it will be very difficult for Museveni to beat Besigye in an election. For this, I can speculate that the good Doctor still stand a chance of becoming the President if he doesn’t get wasted along the way. What he needs to do for now is backing the NUP candidate, Hon Robert Kyagulanyi and then offer self in 2026.
If he does become a kingmaker in this 2021 election, he will be following closely in the same league of enduring politicians like Railla Omoro Odinga who started contesting many years ago, becoming a kingmaker of Mwai Kibaki , getting cheated along the way but he is now in contention again.
As I speak now Railla Odinga looks like a very good bet to become the next President of Kenya. Besigye must contend with the famous adage of ‘quitters never win and winners never quit.’
- Fred Daka Kamwada is a seasoned journalist, blogger and political analyst for over a decade in Uganda
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