Mugisha Muntu's Beyond Regime-Change Vision: How ANT Wants to transform political culture in Uganda

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Mugisha Muntu. Photo: ANT
 
Black Star News publisher Milton Allimadi’s Q-and-A with Mugisha Muntu, leader of the Alliance for National Transformation (ANT) political party in Uganda, covered a wide-range of topics including: Muntu’s thoughts on Uganda’s 2021 elections; Gen. Yoweri Museveni’s regime; the ANT’s short-term and long-term plans; the path toward regime-change in Uganda; the role of the Ugandan diaspora in national development; and other topics. 
 
BSN: Mr. Muntu, please tell our readers how the Alliance for National Transformation has evolved since its launch last year. How have Ugandans responded to the motto "Country before self?" How much has the membership grown by? Are you satisfied with the pace of growth and what have been some of the party's major achievements over the last year? 
Muntu: In our mobilization approach we have chosen to target leadership recruitment at the different levels of where we are establishing party branches. These are the at the village, parish, sub-county, constituency, district and national level. We target opinion leaders at those levels who share the same values as the party espouses. That is why we concentrate on town hall meetings within the first phase of our recruitment-and-mobilization program. The second phase will involve rallies and media in which we will be targeting mass recruitment as a way of popularizing the party and expanding the membership and the party support base. We are systematic in the work we are doing within the first phase. More could be done if we weren't operating in quite a restrictive environment.
 
“Country before self” means you do the right thing for your country before any selfish interests. When you have the responsibility of overseeing any public service programs, you carry out your duty effectively. As an ordinary citizen you take interest in matters affecting your country, you make it your duty to become involved in the affairs concerning your country which means you must do all it takes to understand the issues and equip yourself with the knowledge and skills to participate positively in the affairs of your country. Ugandans are beginning to appreciate why as ANT, we're calling on good people to join politics.
 
The Alliance for National Transformation was launched on 22 May 2019. Since the launch, we have conducted a number of activities. We secured headquarters at a central location in Kampala, so we have a prime location. Our interim leadership are implementing their work-plans.
 
Our party has attracted members who have joined a political party for the first time in their lives. They have cited reasons such as, the fact that ANT believes in building from the bottom-up, which ensures that ordinary citizens are directly involved in creating solutions for issues that affect them. They believe what they say matters and that their ideas and suggestions will be taken seriously. This is not a party for the elite where all the instructions come from the mythical ”from above." 
 
They also want to be involved with a party that has a number of core values that they believe have been lacking in Uganda's political discourse, especially, tolerance for divergent views and respect and dignity for our fellow country men and women who don't support our ideas. Not only does this party preach democracy and inclusion but everyone can see that we put it in practice. To ensure that we practice what we preach, the ANT carried out a sub-regional tour for training of our leaders country-wide. In barely seven months, we have already covered the 21 sub-regions in Uganda.
 
The majority of the sentiments during the course of the seven months has been positive. Ugandans are beginning to understand that, yes, we must change the regime, but also the change must be qualitative and therefore translate into the betterment of the lives of the ordinary citizen. And that is why as the Alliance, our goal is to create a political organization that will transform the political culture in Uganda. In the last seven months of operation, it is clear that Ugandans are embracing our message of changing our political culture from violence, hatred and blackmail, to one of cooperation. It is not a "you against us," approach, it is about building a country for all of us by attracting good people to join the political discourse and contribute towards shaping the destiny of our country. That is why it is important that we continue to maintain good relations with sister parties and cooperate where possible. 
 
As a result, Ugandans are registering via our online app, they are supporting us with ideas and finances, they are walking into our headquarters to show their appreciation for what we seek to achieve for our country. We are transforming the political culture in Uganda. 
 
BSN: What are some shortcomings, if any, that the party needs to address? 
Muntu: More work needs to be done to influence mind set changes within our people. We find this to be the most challenging issue above all other challenges that we face. The majority of Ugandans want change but most are not ready to actively participate. They hope someone else will bring about change create systems for good governance from which they can benefit without their active participation in creating what they desire to see happen.
 
There are many Ugandans who have the requisite skill sets and abilities to lead and be part of a transformation process. Most of them however have the impression that politics is, as is said, a “dirty game.” They want no part of it. Our argument is that yes we agree that that is the current reality. However that needs to be changed to a new desired reality of clean, transparent and accountable political practices. Is it possible? Yes it is possible, for we see it practiced in quite a number of countries elsewhere in the world. We believe we are as good and capable as any other people on this planet. What anybody can do, we can do. We intend to keep hammering this message until we attract a number of leaders into politics who believe likewise to be able to shift the balance of forces in favor of those who believe in good governance principles.
 
As much as we are receiving support from Ugandans, we still have to labour to explain to Ugandans why it is their responsibility to support political parties financially. People are learning that when they finance the party's activities they have a say in how the party operates and they know the sources of funding are from the party's supporters. This is what true transparency means. This party will not advance the agenda of any individual member. These supporters who contribute will demand accountability. Their contributions will be put to good use and there will be regular announcements about how the funds are used. Most of the activities, for instance the sub-regional tours, cost money. Ugandans should focus on the core of the matter, why do we do what we do? It is because we all want good governance. It is good governance that will create a Uganda where we can all thrive and be able to unleash our full potentials and succeed in whatever we choose to do. This is a country rich in natural resources, minerals, land, water, sun for solar power. Why is it that income per head, according to the World Bank and Uganda government statistics, less than $800, the lowest when compared to Kenya's and Tanzania's and even Rwanda's? 
 
The Alliance will restore healthcare services. A healthy country means citizens live productive lives, they work better and contribute more to society. If the education system is functioning, it means our children will be able to compete with children from the best schools in Africa. If our roads, bridges, transport and communications system operate efficiently, it means our citizens are traveling around the country and in neighboring countries and also trading goods and services. 
 
This is ultimately why we do what we do, so that as a people we can enjoy a decent standard of living, and pass on a more developed country to the next generation. However, just like in any other venture, one must first invest to be able to enjoy the returns. It is for that reason, that we as a people should be concerned enough to ensure that we provide the resources that will enable us to create the Uganda we want. 
 
BSN: Where does the ANT enjoy most of its support from? What sectors of the public does the bulk of support come from? Urban, rural, youth including students? What about the diaspora?
Muntu: We fortunately have had good reception from all sectors of our society. We have only to target our messages and activities relentlessly and we will be able to build strong support bases within the women and youth.
 
Our support from Ugandans in the diaspora is growing, and we are building systematically. We now have contacts in all the countries where we seek to create ANT chapters. The diaspora have interest in ensuring good governance. They remit about 1.4 billion dollars annually to Uganda, and are part and parcel to the development of our country. ANT's message of building institutions that are stronger than individuals resonates with them. They know that only enduring institutions of governance can develop this country; not an individual or individuals. Why should any country collapse because of any individual or clique who eventually would be out of power anyway? 
 
Ugandans see hope in a party like the Alliance for National Transformation. This party is not only building for elections, more importantly, we are creating a platform for generations to come.
 
BSN: What would you say to those who fear that creation of a new party, as was the case with ANT, just further divides the opposition forces which should unite into a single force to end 34 years of authoritarian rule in Uganda?
Muntu: Our understanding of unity differs from those who express such fears. We believe you can have unity around a common purpose even when you have many political groups or parties. What matters most is not the numbers but the character, experience, intentions of the actors within the parties and groups. Our experience has been that even if you have only one or two political parties, if they have internal contradictions which they cannot resolve, they will be unstable. If you have unstable units within a coalition, the coalition itself will be unstable and most likely ineffective. We believe our own decision to separate and start ANT will enable people to draw positive lessons to this debate. It is a question of time. As we speak, we have no hostile relations with any other political group or party. We just concentrate on how to manage ourselves. We believe with time we will meaningfully contribute to solid relations within the opposition as a stabilizing factor.
 
BSN: If you had the power to change Uganda's economic policy what would you do? Would the government play a larger role in some sectors and what would those be? 
Muntu: There are areas in our economic and political conditions where the government inevitably has to play a big role. There are still many sectors within our country which are not attractive yet for private investments but are critical in the smooth functioning of the economy. The government therefore has to take a direct or in some cases a leading role in such sectors. Infrastructural developments are key in this regard; rail, roads, water provision, electricity generation and transmission, education and health provision.
 
BSN: Mr. Muntu, Uganda has not had a single peaceful transfer of power from one president to the next. Ugandans born in 1986 don't even have the concept of a president being voted out of office. Some would go as far as to say Ugandans have become accustomed to rigged elections by the incumbent. What can you tell readers to convince them that 2021 will be any different?
Muntu: It is a phase we have been going through in our social political development. It is possible to end the vicious cycle where we have change of governments but continuity of the same political practices and culture. It is within our means to end this culture. There are enough Ugandans who understand the situation, who detest the situation as it is. We only need to get more and better organized to change it. It is one of our focus in ANT to effectively participate in closing that chapter so that it only remains part of our history.
 
BSN: If at the ANT Party Convention you end up as the party's standard bearer for the 2021 election, given the powers that the incumbent General Yoweri Museveni has, including the ability to unlawfully divert state resources for his presidential campaign, how would your party counter that abuse of resources?
Muntu: We have no illusions that we or any other opposition actor can stop General Museveni from the abuse of national resources during the electoral process. He is already doing so. We also have no illusions that there will be a level playing ground in the 2021 electoral process. Our understanding is that no dictatorial regime ever creates a level playing field. Our participation in 2021 is therefore not going to be based on any expectation that the political playing ground is going to be level. That there will be a transparent, free and fair election. Our participation will be from the understanding that we can only overwhelm the regime from a position of superior organization. That is why we focus all our efforts on getting well organized. We know for sure that when you are well organized and disciplined you can overwhelm such a regime in spite of all the odds ranged against you.
We have seen in a number of by-elections where we have overwhelmed the regime in spite of the odds against us. We only have to replicate what we do at a constituency or district level, in such cases, on a nation-wide scale. It is a tough task but possible. The biggest advantage we have is that the desire for change across the country is massive. We only need to apply good organizational skills and discipline to change that situation in our favor as the forces of change.
 
BSN: If you haven't personally heard this yourself, you must have been told that some people say "Muntu would be a fine leader and has all the qualities, the intellect, the ability to relate to and communicate with Ugandans of all walks in life, the skills to work with all the various opposition groups and leaders, and the vision of how he would like Uganda to look like. But even though he was a military general, he's too gentle for Uganda's politics when it comes to confronting a dictator." How do you respond to this?
Muntu: We do not share the belief that it is the aggressiveness or toughness of any individual leader that is the necessary ingredient in bringing about regime-change. We believe that it is the strength of an organization put behind a capable leader that can lead us to not only regime-change but in a qualitative change in terms of the social, political, and economic management of the post-Museveni period. That is why we concentrate our efforts on party building to ensure that we are a well organized and disciplined force. We also are simultaneously working to create harmony and good organization in the coalition building process. The combination of the two, put behind any credible candidate, can lead us to victory. To believe otherwise is to put the cart before the horse in our estimation.
 
BSN: You obviously have the advantage of having been a major actor in Uganda's political history both as a soldier and now as a civilian. You have the benefit of being able to view the trends in the country's politics from the lens of both a soldier and civilian.
How intense do you believe the demand for change is today in Uganda? And even though the history of the last six decades does not justify optimism, do you think this change can occur peacefully? If so on what basis do you take that position? 
Muntu: The desire for change is real and is deep. The reality however is that we are dealing with an incumbent who is not psychologically ready to relinquish power. Unfortunately quite a number of people are in a state of fear. Change however creates its own dynamics. It never matters whether a leader wants to leave or not. When the conditions for change hit a turning point, change happens. The problem that stems from that situation though, when change is not prepared for, and therefore not managed in a predictable way, the situation can head in any direction. We find ourselves currently in that kind of situation in Uganda. The situation is ripe for change, the incumbent is unwilling to let go. 
 
Challenging as the situation is, it is our responsibility in the opposition to factor its uniqueness in our preparations. As we head towards 2021, I personally suspect there might be periods when we will go through very slippery ground as a country. We should not expect the regime in such a period to act rationally. When leaders whose only focus is how to hold on to power start losing control, they become desperate and act irrationally to a point where the stability of the country no longer matters. One hopes we do not reach that point but should we do so, we as the opposition and other actors of influence outside politics have to be well prepared and sufficiently coordinated to walk the country through such a slippery path. It is therefore incumbent for us to prepare for a smooth change but also for the worst case scenario.
 
BSN: Is there something about you that has been misunderstood by the public or misrepresented by those who don't wish you well that you'd like to correct?
Muntu: There are a number of things people do not understand yet about me. I seem not to fully fit in the perception of what a politician should act or be like. I will not change the way I do things so as to fit in that perception of what the public has of politicians. In any case, that perception, I suppose, has been the source of all our political problems. I believe people will get to understand us with time, through how we will consistently apply ourselves in managing the challenges we are faced with. Our successes in overcoming those challenges will change the current perception of politicians to new ones.
 

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