Maj. Gen Mugisha Muntu, the Secretary for Mobilization in Uganda’s largest opposition political party, Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), is campaigning to become its president when the party holds its delegates conference on November 22. His other opponents are the Leader of Opposition Nandala Mafabi and MP Geoffrey Ekanya.
Following three independent opinion polls that placed Muntu ahead of the pack, Red Pepper’s ARINAITWE RUGYENDO sat him down for an interview in which he revealed the reason why he fell out with President Yoweri Museveni under whom he served as the country’s longest Army Commander. Below are the excerpts.
Red Pepper: What, in your view, is Uganda’s biggest political challenge?
Muntu: The biggest political challenge facing Uganda is leadership. After independence, the excuse was a limited pool of human resources. But over time, this has slowly been overcome. 50 years later, this is
not a major problem. What has instead been missing is a true and accountable leadership. The current regime- which has enjoyed the benefit of hindsight- has had the chance to learn from the past mistakes and therefore, there is no reason they should be repeating past mistakes in the area of leadership.
Red Pepper: But we have had political stability for nearly three decades. What leadership are you talking about?
Muntu: The political leadership and those who manage the affairs of the state. Their ideological orientation is now almost similar to the past. They believe in the ideal of democracy but they do not
practically believe in it. Or if even if they do, they don’t exercise it. They mostly use it as a facade. When you look at other issues like equal opportunities, justice and equality before he law; in Uganda, if people commit a similar crime, the law applies onto these people differently.
RP: Is that a problem of political leadership really?
Muntu: Yes! Everything starts from the leadership ethos in the country. Good leadership is premised on the fact that leaders must place the interest of society before their selfish interests. Once leaders are committed to serving society, the country develops and then individuals develop. What is causing conflict in Uganda is selfishness on the part of the political leadership. The level of mismanagement and corruption is as a result of this bad philosophy of self-service. You can see the regime is now stuck. They don’t even know how to manage their own internal processes of transition. We are at crossroads.
RP: Why are you bothered about them? Why don’t you focus on FDC?
Muntu: You see, they are the ruling party once every one in NRM is uncertain, the country will feel it. For us in FDC, we don’t want to experience that. So we should get bothered about NRM in order to craft
a future for this country.
RP: A number of Ugandans are asking what ideology does the FDC stand for?
Muntu: Our ideology is clear. We stand for a democratic environment in this country, observation of human rights, equality before the law, justice for all, delivery of services using the national resources and observation of the principle of separation of powers. But we also recognize that while these are not things that are tangible, we notice that what is in the immediate interest of our people is health
delivery, investment in agriculture through modernization in order to create employment at the various stages of agricultural production.
RP: Recent opinion polls have placed you ahead of your rivals. What is ‘President’ Muntu’s main focus?
Muntu: Eliminating corruption. It is my conviction that eliminating corruption should be at the core of any Government. The money leaking out through corruption is enough to solve some of the critical areas afflicting this nation. Every Ugandan knows this. The money lost in corruption is 25 percent of the national budget. If we stopped this, the country would move forward. I will also focus on unemployment. The number of universities and tertiary institutions has increased but graduates have no jobs. This nothing but – a time bomb.
RP: What makes you think you can succeed where NRM has failed for three decades? It’s not that easy!
Muntu: Look. To succeed in solving these problems you need one thing; good governance! In FDC, we have ensured we start practicing these values early enough as a way of building a culture of good governance within ourselves. You can’t give what you don’t have. We have had internal elections. This election is the third one. By the time we have a flag bearer for the general elections in 2016, we will have gone through two other exercises of this nature. Building this culture will help us to easily govern the country. This is also a way of building trust among our population. It will be easier for the population to believe us because of what they see us do not what they hear us say. The main question is; do we do what we say? Yes. And it is through this that we will be able to transform the political culture in this country in which the people begin to look beyond what politicians say to what they do as the basis of their political and electoral judgment. Ugandans have never seen a transition at party and national levels. It is only the FDC showing it is possible to compete and that you can have an incumbent peacefully step aside.
RP: Your opponents say the recent polls have been manipulated in your favour. What do you say about that?
Muntu: The polls have been carried out by two independent news organizations and an independent research firm. In any case they can carry out their own poll. If you look at the polls, the basis is trust.
The delegates think they can trust me. How do I manipulate that? In all the public offices I have held before, I have not engaged in excesses and abused power. I hold a track record of consistency. I joined the bush when I was 23 and I wasn’t in conflict with the regime because my family was deeply embedded with UPC. When I got injured, I treated by the same regime. When I got better, I had to run back to the bush and joined the Mondlane unit, which had about 100 guns. You can ask yourself why I had to back when I didn’t even know we would capture power. It was because I was convinced our cause was the right one. I think the delegates know that someone like that, who can take decisions for the general good in critical situations, is trustworthy. That’s why I am beating everybody in all the polls.
RP: You served President Museveni as his longest Army Commander. He trusted you. Why did you fall out with him?
Muntu: I didn’t leave the Movement. The Movement left me. The Movement left us. Museveni left me with the same objectives we fought for. He is the one who abandoned those objectives! We didn’t go to the bush to fight for Museveni. There was no Movement. The first name was a ‘People’s Resistance.’ When we joined Prof. Yusuf Lule (RIP), we then formed a ‘Movement.’ The substance was the objectives we were struggling for. Museveni and his people remained in the form. We remained in the substance. We have never wanted to betray the objectives we were fighting for. Some of us we have remained with
those objectives to fulfill what society wants to feel at ease with. Nobody is going to do this for us. Even developed countries had people who had to sacrifice. It is going to be the same thing here.
RP: Is that a veiled threat?
Muntu: Not at all. All I am saying is, if you have a track record that deep, why would you be working for a group that has lost track? It is that group which has lost track that abandoned us.
RP: You present an interesting scenario here. Do you see in yourself a compromise candidate for 2016?
Muntu: There are two groups in NRM. Those who feel it is going to be a challenge when I become FDC leader. They know we are capable disintegrating the Movement. So, they spread misinformation among
delegates not to vote for me. These are the hardliners in NRM. Then we have the moderates. These ones are favorable to us. They want us to grow. They see a possibility of a leader who can work across and see one who can work with them. They are very many. Even FDC knows that in me, they have a leader who is able to help them expand into the Movement territory. Here’s the mathematics. There’s about 42 percent of the population who didn’t vote in 2011 and a big chunk is these are Movementists or their sympathizers. So where else can we expand to? It has to be into these 42% fence sitters. Some people feel I am that candidate who can make it possible. You need a leader who is able to penetrate and attract the middle class and others who are sitting on the fence.
RP: Some people look at your military background as both a negative and positive attribute.
Muntu: I have had the other side (opponent’s camp) say people are tired of the military. To me, that’s not the issue. What matters is credibility. If I’m military and a micro manager, an intriguer, then it would be a problem. But where you have someone who is an ex-military and has good leadership skills, then that is good. At times, military experience comes in handy and necessary. Sometimes you need leaders who have ability to analyze situations not only internally but also strategically. Military attributes should be looked at as an advantage.
RP: Talking about strategy, what should be Uganda’s geo-political strategy especially in the Great Lakes Region?
Muntu: East African Community leaders need to spend more time on how the development of the region can be critical for the development of the sub units. Instead, they spend time on their units. The stability of Congo would fundamentally uplift this whole region. My view is that they need to get more deeply in thinking about how to uplift the region for the next 50 years. They are instead involved in temporary solutions; knee-jack solutions. They are firefighting and not deeply involved in a continuous process of stabilizing the region. I support the direction the Great Lakes Initiative is taking. Our leaders of the region need to spend time on in-depth studies into how to comprehensively respond to these challenges and on how to solve them in the medium and long term. The future now depends on how we exploit and take advantage of this resourceful region ‘coordinating’ as a region. They must be bold in making decisions that even affect sovereignty. They need to cede certain powers to the center order to integrate the region in a deeper way.