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Collapse of the Opposition Inter-Party Coalition in Uganda

Catherine Promise Biira

4. Why the IPC Collapsed: Accounts of the Party Leaders

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1The departure of the UPC effectively led to the collapse of the IPC. This section presents the parties’ accounts of the coalition’s demise. It juxtaposes the UPC explanation with that of the FDC and the CP in order to highlight the similarities and differences between the accounts. The section culminates in an analysis of said responses, with the aim of making sense of what actually transpired.

  • 1  Hon. Lukyamuzi John Ken, President of the Conservative Party. Interview held at Baumann House Kamp (...)
  • 2  Dr. Olara Otunnu, President, Uganda People’s Congress. Interview held in Kampala, 17 April 2012.

2As a starting point, throughout his interview with the author, UPC leader Dr. Olara Otunnu described himself as a strong supporter of the IPC. ‘I was a very strong advocate of IPC even before I came to Uganda, even before I got involved in Ugandan politics,’ he said. Although he had some sympathy towards the DP’s reservations about joining the IPC, Dr. Otunnu noted that, while addressing a DP delegates’ conference in November 2009, before he became the UPC President, he made a public appeal for them to reconsider their position. He added that although there were members within the UPC who were suspicious of the IPC and wanted to concentrate on rebuilding the party itself, he personally made it very clear that the UPC should remain in the IPC. This claim is supported by the CP leader Hon. Ken Lukyamuzi who described Dr. Otunnu as ‘being very cooperative initially’, and expressed surprise that the UPC leader ended up withdrawing his party from the IPC.1 Describing the decision of the UPC to quit the IPC as something he had desperately hoped to avoid, and done with ‘a very heavy and agonized heart and a very big disappointment’, Dr. Otunnu said that the UPC realized they needed to pull out ‘quite late in the day’.2 The reasons for this decision fall into two categories: issues arising away from the negotiation table that affected the UPC independent of the IPC,, and substantive issues relating to the raison d’être of the IPC itself.

3Away from the negotiating table, the UPC began receiving reports of other parties moving around the country asking the electorate ‘not to worry about UPC or DP’, since they were now one under the IPC. This, Dr. Otunnu argued, was against the spirit of the IPC, as it was in blatant disregard of Article12.1.1 of the Additional Protocol, which guaranteed respect for the autonomy and identity of parties. Secondly, there were reports that some people were convening meetings to elect IPC leaders in different districts. According to the UPC, this was a case of putting the cart before the horse, as the IPC had yet to agree on any such thing.  Thirdly, there were instances of individuals claiming that they had been selected as district-level IPC candidates by the authorities in the capital, a process that had not yet taken place. Lastly, there were certain activities carried out in the name of the IPC, such as demonstrations, which the UPC only heard about once the event was either underway or already concluded. Perhaps the most striking feature of the UPC’s concerns is less the fact that they relate to violations of the established rules, but that they were all alleged to have been committed by the Forum for Democratic Change. Dr. Otunnu made it clear that there is no other party within the IPC alleged to have done any of these things, and added that these occurrences confirmed the UPC’s worst fears about the FDC. According to the UPC leader, however, none of these concerns constituted the ‘tipping point’ that led the party to leave the IPC.

4Instead, there were three fundamental issues that finally led to the UPC’s decision to withdraw from the IPC. First, the UPC had been pushing for the IPC to take a clear stand on the 2011 elections. The opposition was demanding the reconstitution of the Electoral Commission with impartial officials and the reform of the voters’ register. After long discussions within the IPC, the opposition agreed they would take a common position on the above issues, and exert pressure on the government to meet their demands. The IPC also clearly presented these conditions as the bare minimum required to transform the impending ‘sham’ election into a meaningful contest, without which the IPC would boycott the election. Dr. Otunnu believed that if the IPC stuck together, President Museveni would have no choice but to meet its demands and organize elections on different terms. Some of his colleagues in the IPC, however, believed that regardless of what stance the IPC took, the President would still proceed with the election as planned.

5The IPC was sharply divided on this issue, with Dr. Otunnu on one side and the other members of the coalition on another. Although the IPC had publicly threatened to boycott the election if its conditions were not met, upon returning from a trip abroad, the UPC party leader was informed that the FDC had decided to participate in the election regardless of whether or not the terms were met. This came as a complete surprise to the UPC leader. ‘That was a massive bombshell. To this day I don’t know what really went on. The other parties at the table took a similar position. UPC was stunned and I tried to probe what was happening, ‘he later said of the situation.

  • 3  Interview with Dr. Otunnu, 17 April 2012.

6Once again, Dr. Otunnu was faced with an unexpected situation but this time, his credibility and reputation were on the line. At the international level, Dr. Otunnu says he had convinced the Congress of the United States to take a position on the Ugandan elections.  His dilemma thus became: ‘How shall we explain this?’ To the UPC President, the issue of boycotting the election was ‘really the big thing. It was fundamental to us in the UPC, fundamental to me personally’.3 He described the party’s decision to leave the coalition as the hardest thing he had ever done, and the two-week period between his coalition partners’ announcement that they were proceeding with the election and his party’s decision to leave the coalition as the most difficult of his IPC experiences.

  • 4  Interview with Dr. Otunnu, 17 April 2012.

7The second fundamental issue that concerned the UPC was the process of selecting the IPC flag-bearer. According to the UPC, the parties had agreed to an elaborate process of selecting a single presidential candidate for the Cooperation, which they had already asked their donors to support. According to Dr. Otunnu, however, the process that had been very carefully negotiated was soon disregarded. That further contributed to reducing confidence in the process and the Cooperation. In the words of Dr. Otunnu, ‘the things which had been going on around the country had sown seeds of suspicion and when the about turn came, UPC could not compromise’.4 The issue of the electoral process and the ‘unilateral’ reshuffling of the items they had agreed upon left the party no choice but to withdraw.

8Finally, there were also a few policy-related issues that concerned the UPC, but according to Dr. Otunnu, they probably would not have been sufficient to cause the IPC collapse. The UPC wanted the IPC to put the issue of independent truth-telling and accountability, with the aim of promoting reconciliation with respect to a  series of dark chapters in the country’s history, on its agenda. Dr. Otunnu said he was disappointed that none of their partner parties ever issued a statement on this. ‘They were completely silent on this really big issue. This was a big disappointment to UPC. I made this a very big issue on arrival and I expected that other partners in IPC would at least be supportive of it.’

9To sum it all up, the UPC leader said that ‘smaller and bigger things sort of came together and produced a very big question mark on what the purpose of the cooperation actually was.’ ‘We were not in IPC for the sake of IPC. There was a purpose, there were some objectives, there is some glue that holds us together, one of the main things was demanding for a transparent electoral process. When the things that underpinned the cooperation disappeared overnight, it made no sense to continue,’ he explained.

10With respect to his decision to withdraw his party from the IPC at such a critical juncture, just before selection of the presidential candidate, the UPC leader stated that it would have been even more difficult for them to wait until the selection of the common flag-bearer. He also reiterated, several times, the difficulty, agony and pain the UPC had endured in making this decision, given how strongly they had supported and how much they had believed in the IPC. When asked what the UPC was trying to salvage when it pulled out, Dr. Otunnu argued:

  • 5  Interview with Dr. Otunnu, 17 April 2012.

11‘The IPC lost its meaning and purpose, simply, regardless of everything else. Its rationale, its raison d’être had disappeared, and so on its own terms, it had collapsed.  It was not internal pressure from the UPC that led to this decision. It was pressure generated from within the IPC, although it could have given fodder to dissenting voices within the party.’5

12According to the CP party leader, the Hon. Ken Lukyamuzi, in contrast, the IPC collapsed due to two-fold, flaws inherent to the second Protocol. The first was the virtually universal, yet erroneous, presupposition that to cooperate with a group of smaller parties risks decreasing the status and power of larger parties. As the IPC presented parties with the same opportunities, people from small parties could have very easily caught the eye of other parties, and won the bid to become IPC presidential candidate. According to Lukyamuzi, it appears that there was a fear that some people from small parties might have better personal qualifications for the presidential candidacy than those from bigger parties. This fear of strong competition from people from institutionally small parties contributed to the collapse of the cooperation.

13The second flaw evident in the process of negotiating the second Protocol was the perception that the FDC was dominating the coalition. If the FDC had given an indication that it was ready to accept a candidature from the UPC or the DP, the IPC would probably have maintained the loyalty of at least one of those parties. Right from the first Protocol, Hon. Lukyamuzi said, the impression that it would be very difficult for the FDC to capture power, since Dr. Besigye had run for President twice unsuccessfully, was created. The DP and the UPC wanted to be given a chance to offer the flag-bearer. Taking history into account, however, neither party would have accepted the other’s presidential candidate, as they had strong ideological and policy differences, yet were both equally interested in the position.

  • 6  The UPC has ruled Uganda twice. Following an election in 1980, Uganda’s current President Yoweri M (...)

14Although the DP announced its departure in writing, as required in the first Protocol, the UPC, according to the Conservative Party President, did not. Instead, they made a public media announcement before informing their Cooperation partners, following a boycott of the IPC delegates’ conference for nomination of the flag-bearer. Both parties, however, pulled out of the IPC without attempting to discuss their misgivings, or reach a compromise. According to the CP president Hon. Ken Lukyamuzi, upon his return to Uganda after many years abroad, Dr. Otunnu initially appeared very cooperative: “People had high hopes in him, but the name of UPC was still notorious,6 and it was difficult for him to have been accepted as presidential flag-bearer of the IPC’. Later, however, when the UPC President began behaving differently, it became apparent that his party had a hidden agenda. The CP leader felt that the hard line taken by the UPC regarding the election boycott was just an escape route for the party. By remaining undecided, the UPC party president not only bought himself time, but also maintained his image as a selfless leader interested in cooperating with others. The CP leader, however, also mentioned that he understood that the UPC leader was under tremendous pressure from within his own party, adding that the UPC had internal divisions, which, as he was new to the Ugandan political scene after a long time abroad, its party president struggled to manage.

15Dr. Kiiza Besigye, the FDC leader, recounted the history of the Cooperation, and noted that the DP played an active role in crafting the coalition, up until the moment when the first Protocol was to be formally unveiled to the public. The DP had even booked the venue for the ceremony, but at the last minute, its leader at the time, Mr. Ssebaana Kizito, did not attend due to differences within the party. From that point onward, the DP’s membership in the IPC hung in the balance. The party leader had signed the protocol in a boardroom, but had not committed to it publicly. Following a change of leadership in February 2010, the DP decided not to participate in the IPC. Other IPC leaders tried, in vain, to convince the new DP President-General Nobert Mao to remain in the IPC. The IPC proceeded without the DP, but worked closely with a pressure group called SUUBI, an offshoot of the DP in favour of cooperation.

16In one respect, the UPC’s departure from the IPC was similar to that of the DP. The UPC also failed to attend the official nominations for the IPC flag-bearer without providing notice to its partners. As with the first Protocol, when the DP failed to participate in the official unveiling, the IPC partners arrived at the venue to conduct the nomination exercise, completely unaware that the UPC was not going to attend. Following this event, the UPC sent a list of five objections to the other members of the IPC. Among these objections, in so far as the FDC leader could recall was the allegation that the FDC was dominating the IPC, the claim that the IPC did not have the commitment to promote truth-telling and historical inquiry, and the fact that the IPC had decided to participate in the forthcoming elections. The FDC leader reported that they looked into the UPC’s concerns and established that there was no substantive basis for the assertion that the FDC was dominating any of the IPC institutions. In fact, there was such emphasis placed on equity in the design and management of the IPC organs that, given the size and strength of the FDC, it could even be argued that the FDC was the disadvantaged party. The only possible justification of the UPC’s withdrawal, the FDC leader said, was the IPC’s decision to participate in the election, as this did indeed contradict its initial position. The UPC felt that the IPC should not have used the common electoral platform to participate in the elections, but to campaign against them.

  • 7  Dr. Kizza Besigye, President of the Forum for Democratic Change. Interview held at A4C headquarter (...)

17Dr. Besigye said that the IPC indeed evaluated the pros and cons of the boycott, and realized that without the participation of the entire opposition, it would not be effective. The IPC did not encompass the entire opposition, and furthermore, the other parties had already decided to participate in the election. Therefore, there was a danger of the IPC expending all its political capital accounting for a boycott, while other candidates effectively campaigned for electoral positions. The IPC felt that despite the certainty that the election would not be free and fair; participation would give the opposition further opportunity to sensitize and mobilize the electorate, as well as expose the injustices of the ruling regime. Dr. Otunnu took a different view, perhaps because he was new, he had ‘less appreciation of the factors on the ground’.7


1  Hon. Lukyamuzi John Ken, President of the Conservative Party. Interview held at Baumann House Kampala, 15 April 2012.

2  Dr. Olara Otunnu, President, Uganda People’s Congress. Interview held in Kampala, 17 April 2012.

3  Interview with Dr. Otunnu, 17 April 2012.

4  Interview with Dr. Otunnu, 17 April 2012.

5  Interview with Dr. Otunnu, 17 April 2012.

6  The UPC has ruled Uganda twice. Following an election in 1980, Uganda’s current President Yoweri Museveni of the NRM waged a guerrilla war claiming that the party had rigged the 1980 elections. Since coming to power in 1986, the NRM government has attributed many past atrocities including killings during the bush war, to the UPC which was in power at that time.

7  Dr. Kizza Besigye, President of the Forum for Democratic Change. Interview held at A4C headquarters, Kampala, 16 April 2012.


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