This week Professor Venansius Baryamureeba threw his hat into the presidential race.
For those who know him, this has not come as a surprise. While on the face of it Baryamureeba is not a front runner, his action is an interesting one given our country’s political history.
This running on individual merit is a “creation” of this administration.
"When the NRM took power in 1986, while they were militarily credible they were politically thin on the ground. This is not to say that they did not have a lot of good will.
In order to redress this imbalance NRM suspended political party activity and introduced the individual merit phenomenon – where people need not be sponsored by a party to run for any political office...
This decision had two major effects.
One, it made it possible for thousands of people who were previously locked out of the existing party structures, to vie for office loosening their allegiance to existing parties.
Secondly and related to the above, it allowed the NRM to build up its political base with the new comers to politics and by coopting some of the existing political operators. The strategy was so successful, so much so that the NRM has been in power longer than all the previous governments before it combined.
A return to multi-partyism in 2006 however failed to make the break from this concept of individual merit causing much headache in the political parties and even the NRM.
In a multi-party set up the party’s agenda overshadows individual ambition. If one falls out of line, disciplinary measures by the party can be brought to bear on the culprit, which may very well lead to an end of a political career at worst or a stint in the political wilderness.
What this has done in more established democracies is to restrict political contest to a handful of parties, with independent candidates being an aberration.
Which brings us back nicely to Baryamureeba.
At the moment Baryamureeba’s candidature can best be seen as an announcement of his arrival on the political scene rather a credible challenge of President Yoweri Museveni’s three decade long tenure as the country’s CEO. Baryamureeba could only do that in a system like Uganda’s where independent candidature is common enough that it is not an anomaly.
Independent candidates are important in any political system because they are not burdened by the baggage of incumbency or the reputation as barefaced opportunists that opposition parties are often saddled with.
That being said the independents lack the networks that established parties have, making their chances not unlike casting ones bread upon the waters and hoping it comes back buttered.
In the last election Norbert Mao and Olara Otunu the flag bearers for the Democratic Party (DP) and the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) between them failed to muster five percent of the vote in the presidential elections. Their party’s showing in the parliamentary polls was just as dismal.
The Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), managed 26 percent of the presidential vote and have the most seats in parliament of any opposition party. The FDC have grown due to the charisma of their flag bearer Kiiza Besigye in the last two elections and as seen as the home of the former NRM who see it as comfortable landing ground between the NRM and the traditional opposition parties.
"In the less than 12 months within which Baryamureeba has to muster a realistic challenge against Museveni, he needs to build a nationwide network and ratchet up his charisma quotient...
The latter is easier to do than the latter, but heck! This Uganda give it a shot prof.