Uganda: Lessons and Opportunities For Change From Bobi Wine's Parliamentary Seat Victory

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New Member of Parliament, Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu a.k.a. Bobi Wine addressing mammoth crowd. Photo--Facebook

[Letter From Gulu]

Last week, Kampala was awash with the news of reggae star Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu's a.k.a. Bobi Wine's landslide victory in the by-elections of Kyandondo East parliamentary constituency. He garnered over 25,000 votes and his closest rival, the ruling dictatorship's National Resistance Movement (NRM) party's Sitenda Sebalu polled a paltry 4800 votes. FDC’s Apollo Kantinti polled slightly over 1000 votes. The other candidates polled less than 1000 votes altogether.
Congratulations Mr. Kyagulanyi for winning with such a huge margin.
Mr. Kyagulanyi’s victory has elicited a lot of debate and excitement about the imminent possibility of change in Uganda. The change being sought is presumably multi-dimensional, but a lot of times our debates have tended not to give Ugandans their succinct distinctions. The mistake we make is, therefore, to lump everything in the word change, believing that all changes are positive. That is a mistake I believe we should never again make as a country. We must know the change we want and then build the vehicle that will deliver it.
Are we talking about change for the sake of it? Are we talking about a change of guard? Or, we are merely talking about a change from President Museveni to another president? Are we talking about a peaceful change or we are students of Machiavelli? He opined many years ago that the end justifies the means. What about the political culture and political system that the NRM has built and entrenched in our land over the years? How do we as a country disentangle ourselves from it?
Once we can answer the above questions and many others not asked here, then we can have an informed discourse about the vehicle that can deliver the change that we want as a country. We need no reminder that since independence in 1962 we have witnessed many regimes take over power only to be deposed through violent means later.
These violent changes have cost the country a lot in terms of human lives and properties. Certainly, they have also halted the growth of our democracy as well as socioeconomic development. Worse of all, violent political changes introduced the politics of movements and activism in our country. The politics of movements and activism are usually devoid of organization, long term coherent thinking and planning. Furthermore, it exalts mortal souls over systems.
I want to argue that even people power is only efficacious in the context of organized political parties. Otherwise, if people power engenders change in an environment that is lacking in political organization, it will only make a bad political situation worse. Countries that experienced the Arab Spring revolution are a good case in point. Almost all of them except Tunisia are very unstable politically, and, in the case of Egypt, the army which was being fought is back in charge.
In my view, Uganda needs change yesterday. But this change should be peaceful and emanating from well organized political parties that can give rise to a new political culture that will deliver real socioeconomic and political transformation to our country. We don’t want to have change for the sake of it or merely a change of guard. We want substantive changes in our socioeconomic and political systems. Those are the changes that will deliver a country that will fulfill our aspirations as citizens.
And, I want to submit that substantive transformation can only come from well organized and institutionalized political parties. Not a movement. Not even politics of activism or people power per se. Not war or individual leaders’ charisma. Yes charismatic leadership is important in delivering change but only in the context of a political party that is capable of clipping excesses of such leaders.
I have seen a lot of commentary in regard to Mr. Kyagulany’s victory castigating political parties for being inept, irrelevant and unable to deliver change to Uganda. Really? The problems of political parties in Uganda should be placed in proper context. Indeed, as a result of Gen. Yoweri Museveni’s rule, organized politics is facing extinction in Uganda. And, he deliberately did this to nourish his power retention ambition.
However, because our political parties are currently facing a myriad of problems does not remove the fact that they are the most viable political vehicles that can deliver substantive transformation to our country. It is like having a bad driver and blaming a vehicle for an accident. Political parties are not the problem. On the contrary, they are the solution.
The debate should, therefore, be about fixing the problems that political parties currently have and not ridiculing or casting doubt on their relevance and organizational capabilities. Political parties in this country need to have a fresh legal regime that will provide funding to all of them as long as they meet a certain minimum standard. With funding, political parties can fix their inadequacies in skilled human resources, equipment and facilities that can allow them to operate optimally. 
Mr. Kyagulanyi’s triumph should therefore inspire us to believe that indeed we can change our country if we work hard and act in concert with one another with a clear message. But this should be anchored on an organized political party pedestal, not merely an individual leader’s charisma.
Last but not least, his victory should inspire us to believe that it is possible to have a generational transition in leadership.
 

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