This week UPC president Olara Otunnu announced that he will not be standing for re-election for the party’s top job when his term expires next week.
This comes only days after DP president Norbert Mao announced he was taking leave from his duties as leader to recuperate. Mao last year was hospitalised in Nairobi for acute pneumonia and has not been back to his best since.
"Between the two of them they did not win five percent of the vote in the last election – Mao got 1.86 percent while Otunnu managed 1.58 percent of the votes cast in the 2011 presidential elections, but their colourful characters, earnestness of their losing campaigns and unvarnished conviction that the NRM must go for the country to progress will be missed...
Mao, ever since his bruising battle for the guild presidency in 1990 against the Noble Mayombo, has always seemed destined for state house. Unfortunately Mayombo passed on, but there was a promise made that, down the line they would replay that famous guild election, but this time for the highest office in the land. A seasoned battler who successfully faced down the NRM thrice in Gulu –twice as MP and the third time for the chairmanship of the district, and then prised the leadership of DP from its traditional Ganda stewards, one felt that in full flow his oratory and confidence would be a match for anyone standing in his way.
In Otunnu, swept into this city on the wave of optimism that came with the victory of Barack Obama in the US. Not averse from bluster and bombast Otunnu moved quickly to wrestle the reins of UPC from his local rivals before standing for the presidential elections in 2011. A campaign that petered to an embarrassing halt with him refusing to vote. Since then he has been the most beleaguered party leader in Uganda, a situation which was not rescued by his show of bravado in facing down the water cannons of the Uganda police in full public view.
The former UN Under-Secretary also cemented a perception that his rival Yoweri Museveni learnt almost three decades ago, that you have to be on the ground to make a telling political challenge. Being in “exile” – however accomplished you are, will not help you at home. A useful lesson for all those intending candidates abroad.
We shouldn’t forget too, that perennial presidential contender Kizza Besigye stood down as leader of FDC, though it does not disqualify him from being the party’s flag bearer again.
The three men’s stepping back may very well mean that their respective parties get a new lease of life. Initially one can expect some chaos as rivals jostle for position --- even in the case of DP, but as they settle down one can expect some new vigour.
"Looking forward to the 2016 polls one may be forced to question the timing of Mao and Otunnu’s actions. Will their respective parties be able to resolve the internal political struggles in time to promise a credible campaign?...
At least the FDC has accepted General Mugisha Muntu’s leadership being a flag bearer at next year’s polls may be another thing, but there is a semblance of stability in the party that could serve them well next year.
Another lesson from Besigye, Mao and Otunnu has to be that discontent with the government and a charismatic flag bearer count for little without an organised structure to project your intentions. There really are no miracles in politics, a leader’s first order of business is to build, takeover or co-opt an organisation to further their aims. There are no short cuts.