By Edris Kiggundu in Kampala, Uganda
Maj Gen Gregory Mugisha Muntu, 54, finally made it to the apex of opposition politics after winning a closely fought election to become president of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), replacing the inspirational Col Dr Kizza Besigye who has been at the helm of the party since it was founded in 2005. For a man who has kept a low profile and led from behind most of the time, Thursday’s victory thrusts him right into the public spotlight. Many are fooled by his outsized easy-on-the-eye character into thinking that the general is a soft man but his close watchers tell the story of a strong willed and principled man.
Early in 2005, when the then nascent FDC was opening a party office in Gulu, a couple of gunshots rang out nearby as the party officials prepared to book accommodation at one of the town’s decent hotels. Scared, many party officials, including the late Dr Suleiman Kiggundu, then party chairman, scampered for cover at the reception.
One official stood still and appeared unfazed. It was Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu, the party’s then secretary for mobilisation. An official who was there remembers Muntu telling his visibly frightened colleagues: “When you hear the sound of a gunshot, you know [that bullet will not hit you]. The bullet that hits you in many cases you do not hear it.” This episode points to Muntu’s often hidden brazen inner character. Beneath that boldness, there’s also Muntu the introvert politician, who regularly keeps to himself and whose political style, some people say, would thrive well in developed democracies where politics is played by the rules and where there is no shortcut to success.
Over the years, the FDC has taken the fight to the ruling NRM. It has led demonstrations against NRM’s excesses, which have earned the party’s long-serving leader, Besigye, a badge of honour as President Museveni’s most ferocious opponent in the 26 years of his rule. As Muntu steps into the retired colonel’s seemingly oversize shoes, it will be interesting to see whether he will maintain the party’s confrontational style or alter its DNA and give it a new identity altogether. Muntu’s reluctance to get soiled in our muddy political waters has earned him criticism from some party faithful who believe FDC must be militant to succeed.
In the campaigns, his main opponent, Nathan Nandala-Mafabi, often projected him as an armchair leader who kept away from the running battles with police. Yet there are others who feel it is people like Muntu who can bring sanity and respect to our politics. In fact, some people have suggested that with Muntu at the helm, people who were long disenchanted by the militant antics of our local politics might be lured back into the fold. Muntu, however, has his work already cut out for him. The campaigns for the party leadership have left the party fractured. He needs to heal the rifts and unite all the supporters. Then he has to rejuvenate the party ahead of the 2016 elections.