By Patrick Odongo Lango
Many new political parties that sprung up to ride on the democratisation waves that swept the world in the late 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, invariably had a single agenda: to end one party rule and dictatorship.
Those who succeeded, like in Zambia, Kenya and Ghana, to mention but three, changed their fortunes forever; but those who failed, like in Zimbabwe, Uganda and Tanzania, have been struggling to stay alive. That is the risk that all one-issue agenda parties face; lacking ideological coherence to define broad policy agenda; once their single objective eludes them for long, their members get disillusioned, they fragment and diminish.
In contrast, parties with clear ideological moorings and broad policy agenda tend to be more resilient and adaptive. For example, when you meet an American Democrat or a Republican, you can be pretty sure of the positions they will take on policy questions ranging from abortion rights, size of government, welfare state and government regulations. This is similar to the two dominant parties in the UK: the conservative party and the Labour party.
In Uganda, apart from UPC, NRM, DP, and perhaps the defunct Conservative Party, the millennial political parties or formations, namely the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) and the People Power movement, are bereft of any clear and coherent ideological orientation upon which their economic or political thinking and policies are organised. They seem to merely react to the latest headlines or trending stories on social media. For instance, when Robert Kyagulanyi, the People’s Power de facto leader, was asked on a television interview what economic policies their movement espouses, he naively said that it is to scrap the unpopular Over the Top Tax on social media (OTT).
On the other hand, the FDC, the official opposition party in Parliament, has dropped all pretense at laying claims to governing, and has fully embraced the futile street politics of Kizza Besigye, the perennial Presidential elections loser. Instead of laying out alternative policy positions, the FDC President and puppet to Kizza Besigye, Patrick Amuriat Oboi, has unthoughtfully embraced the defiance agenda of Besigye without realizing the weight of responsibility of being an official Opposition Leader. Being the leader of the opposition means that you are a government in waiting— and governing is a serious business.
Tellingly, when the Independent Electoral Commission published recommendations concerning COVID-19 considerations and its implications on 2021 General Elections, including the use of media spaces to conduct electioneering, the Opposition lost its head. They deemed it totally unacceptable.
Yet in previous elections petitions, the opposition had complained about being denied media space to air their views. With expanded media outreach, the Opposition can reach more people than with political rallies alone. We have witnessed how rallies can be deceptive; John Patrick Amama Mbabazi drew massive crowds in the 2016 elections, but this translated to less than 2% of the vote.
So it’s amazing that the opposition is throwing away this great opportunity to reach Ugandans with their messages using the media. Instead of saying “thank you very much, can we also consider more ways”, they’re throwing away a big opportunity. This is simply because the opposition has one agenda only: gunning for the presidency even when that is out of their reach, given the weakness of their national structures and bases.
It’s very dangerous to be one an issue political party — you risk irrelevancy. There is nothing in politics as dangerous for your political life as being considered irrelevant by voters. The fact that the opposition seems to oppose an opportunity to reach large swaths of the population through radio, television and the internet has exposed the bankruptcy of ideas that suffer from. This is a godsent opportunity for the opposition that they should take with both arms.
The world has seen how premature easing of restrictions on public gatherings has led to a serious resurgence of coronavirus infections in the United States of America.
Given our limited resource envelope, this is not a risk worth taking. In the end, the same opposition leaders will end up criticizing the government when Coronavirus becomes uncontrollable in Uganda. The government cannot play cavalier politics with the lives of Ugandans simply to boost the inflated egos of politicians seeking employment in elected office.
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