Uganda’s oldest party, the Democratic Party (DP), has a solid social base and a heroic historical mission. These notwithstanding, it has not been able to enjoy electoral success or the opportunity to govern since Uganda’s independence in 1962.
Besides the hostile climate of tyranny that has thwarted the efforts of the party, there are also internal weaknesses in the party that must be diagnosed correctly and treated bearing in mind that you cannot treat a cancer using Vaseline. Most of these weaknesses relate to the absence of an inspired and united leadership and membership to lead the mass crusade for the party’s noble ideals.
No one can deny that DP has noble ideals. After all is it not the party of the underdogs? Is it not the party that challenged the sectarian colonial hierarchy?
Is it not the party that has been the most consistent flag bearer of human rights? Is it not the party that is most pro-private enterprise? But as it is said, you cannot launch a missile from a canoe! The DP must make itself capable of launching a political fight for its values, which are also indeed mainstream values cherished by Ugandans.
A ship that sails the oceans and rides the rough waves must have both a strong anchor and tough sails. In DP’s case it can be said that it has a solid anchor but its sails are in tatters. While the party cannot drift because it has a firm anchor of values of principles and values, at the same time it cannot embark on its charted voyage to power because it lacks the sturdy sails of political strategy to tap the many winds.
I have observed that the party has lacked the will to seize the time and make itself the flagbearer for our national aspirations. I have watched as a dejected membership has drifted either into apathy or petty radicalism. I have watched as the party leadership has been co-opted into the anti-democratic schemes of the hegemonic NRM and its leader Gen Yoweri Museveni.
I have watched as the twin vices of indiscipline and opportunism have kept the party preoccupied with petty squabbles as opposed to a focused march on the path to power.
I did not keep my frustrations to myself. I have discussed them at every available forum. I dare say mine was one of the voices that started calling out for serious reforms in the party way back. But it has always not received the required response from the leadership of the party. At one point I even toyed with the idea of starting of a new political party. But I felt that I was running away from a good fight. I have to fight the good fight.
I recall that, in one meeting I had with young supporters of the party who felt that instead of abandoning the party, I should play a greater role in the reforming the party.
A young man told me that it was only among the pygmies of Ituri forest that one death in the homestead leads to the whole family abandoning the homestead. He challenged me not to abandon support for the DP just because of the current mishaps and apparent lack of direction.
This common wisdom fired me up. It led me to the current question, which I pose. Whose party is it anyway? Does the DP belong to the top leadership, a section of the membership or does it belong to all the members, supporters and the nation, which looks to it to actualise their aspirations?
DP belongs to all of us who believe in its ideals, and anyone who seeks to make it the property of an oligarchical or sectarian clique is wrong and should be told so in no uncertain terms.
I am also convinced that the party now has a strong nucleus that seeks a rejuvenation of the party as a democratic, united, people’s party. Like I did in my first race for the party presidency in 2005, I still proclaim myself to be one of that number.
I proclaim myself to be a new democrat. There are many new democrats in Uganda who want to see a reformed, combat ready party and their time has come. As Franklin Roosevelt once said, “new conditions impose new requirements on government and those who conduct government.” Therefore, DP must renew itself. While its timeless anchor of values remains impregnable it must make its sails capable of weathering hostile storms and riding strange winds that beset our voyage as a party.
So what is to be done? We shall consider this question in the next part of this article.
Mao- is a Ugandan politician and the President of Democratic Party