In August, Patrick Oboi Amuriat, president of the opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), ousted Kasese Woman MP Winnie Kiiza from the coveted position of Leader of Opposition in Parliament (LOP) after two years in the job and replaced her with Gulu Woman MP BETTY AOL ACAN. And two months after her elevation, Aol is still struggling to stamp her broad authority over opposition MPs.
In a live tweet chat with journalists and social media enthusiasts, Aol addressed her challenges and spoke at length about how former party president Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu’s departure two weeks ago has left a gap and hurt FDC’s strength. Sadab Kitatta Kaaya recorded the session.
There are disagreements within the opposition in parliament; as LOP, how are you planning to end the wrangles?
My plan is to visit all opposition party headquarters. I don’t want to meet only party presidents but also [other] leaders to interact and enlist their support in working together.
The only opposition party in parliament that I have not visited is JEEMA [Justice Forum] because something happened; otherwise, I would have [concluded] the visits.
I’m talking to members of the opposition one-on-one. I’m also organizing to meet them in caucus. I have already organized one for FDC although the turnout was not good because it rained on that day, and there were a lot of other activities. Some members sent apologies; some were in court, others upcountry.
Now that we are in recess, it is not possible to get members of parliament very easily. That means [the meeting will be pushed] to November. My emphasis is, we have diverse opinions [but] can still meet and do constructive work.
If we can meet and work together, we should be able to accommodate each other as long as we have a bit of respect [and] tolerance. There is no way you can be a good politician without being tolerant and respectful to other people’s views.
If we in the opposition want meaningful change, we cannot refuse to work with each other. Personally, I believe I’m soft with hardliners too. The first person to oppose [my appointment] was Hon Odonga Otto but I sat with him and had a one-on-one [discussion], and I say, I respect his view.
Let us not always undermine each other, where I am weak, please come and be my strength; stand with me, because although I am the one on the steering wheel, it is our office. When we all work hard, the success is for all of us, and we will all smile.
As LOP, what are the key things you want to focus on?
The main one is to keep government in check but we also need to prepare ourselves better. Should there be any change tomorrow, we should have our people on the ground.
In parliament, we have to focus on what government brings. For example, [government] actually borrows a lot; everyday, loans, loans…it is us in the opposition to monitor how these loans are put to use – the effectiveness of the loans, and if the loans are kept redundant, it should be us to question government.
Are you working on any bills or motions that you want to take to parliament?
Right now, we have a bill on the National Legal Aid [by Gulu Municipality MP Lyandro Komakech]. You know, our people are so poor, and can’t access justice, which calls for a national legal aid policy. It should not just be run by only non-governmental organizations or our development partners; government should be involved.
At the moment, we have not sat as opposition to prepare but we will sit after recess [because] there could be many motions and some statements like the one I made on electoral reforms.
When Hon [Raphael] Magyezi brought his Constitutional (Amendment) Bill to remove age limits, his argument was that time was running out. In the 9th Parliament, they said we couldn’t handle the electoral reforms because of time, and they promised that the reforms would be handled within the first two years of the 10th Parliament but up to now, they haven’t been tabled.
On [October 4], the prime minister [Dr Ruhakana Rugunda] assured us [that the reforms are going to be tabled] and I have given them a month because while we cry a lot during elections, and [also get] a lot of [election] petitions, we address the symptoms but [ignore] the root causes [of the electoral problems].
There is also need for a review of the Constitution because the current Constitution vests a lot of powers in the president, which makes it difficult for the people of Uganda to push through their agenda.
We need to revisit some kangaroo laws like the Public Order Management Act; we need blind laws – laws that follow everybody whether you are in the ruling party or in the opposition, the law equally applies to you.
You have maintained a shadow cabinet composed of people openly opposed to you, some have given up their seats on the Opposition front bench. How are you dealing with this?
One thing you must know is that even when things are okay, members of parliament are difficult [to manage]. I have attended meetings here but if you raise seven or eight out of the 29 members of the shadow cabinet, that is the biggest number you can get in ordinary meetings.
But I don’t want to say those people have said no. As I told you, I want to talk to people. There were things that pulled us back a little bit but I am waiting for the dust to settle.
My expectations were to unveil the shadow cabinet immediately after independence, but now that we have gone on recess, we have pushed that to when parliament resumes.
There is a general feeling that the opposition cannot achieve much unless it is backed by the People Power formation. What are your thoughts about People Power and the New Formation of Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu?
To me, People Power is supposed to be a pressure group, and I heard that Hon [Robert] Kyagulanyi even said that it isn’t a party but something [like a vehicle] to bring about change. [Kyagulanyi] is very popular; you know the population of Uganda [has more] youths – the youths are so many including children; so, where they have interests, we must not ignore them.
Kyagulanyi is one of my members in the opposition; I want to say that when people are struggling, we should not try to block things people seem to be following. The followers are there because of what Hon Kyagulanyi is standing for. He is standing for the freedom of the people, he is standing for change.
I personally believe that Hon Kyagulanyi is in the struggle, fighting for the same cause. I support him very much in his struggle against the regime, and, if the people in the opposition find a way of coming together before 2021, it is even better.
What do you say about Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu’s New Formation?
I think the New Formation is hurting the strength of FDC because a gap will be left, whether we like it or not. If one person leaves, he creates a gap and very many leaving will create a gap.
In politics or any organization, there should always be a listening ear. If we listen, we should also try to adjust. Probably, there was no mechanism to help when some people had that dissenting voice.
When some other people complain that there is name calling, you know, moles…the moment you come into politics and you fear being called names, then you aren’t a politician. But it is your actions that should speak volumes to the people, if your actions are contrary to what people say, then, you will prove them wrong. So, I think that name calling isn’t a big deal for me.
Mechanisms, which used to exist in FDC like the elders [council] are no longer active. The disciplinary committee used to be active but I think it is no longer very active, and, with politics, it is very difficult to discipline members; so, sometimes you need to dialogue.
I think dialogue wasn’t given enough space, [leading to] the split [and creation] of the New Formation.
You talk of problem-solving internal mechanisms being inactive, are you implying there is a systems breakdown in the party?
Although that mechanism is not seen at work especially the elders…I was told there were some elders who tried to bring these people to dialogue. I want to say all is not yet lost.
Sometimes when there is a lot of pressure, it makes you make a wrong or right decision. So, the forces around Gen Muntu made [him to take] that decision very fast when there were still avenues for dialogue.
[Since] New Formation isn’t a party yet, according to what I heard from Gen Muntu, all is not lost yet. When you want a peaceful way, it isn’t about right or wrong, but how can we come to compromise.
When you are in a compromising position, you don’t become a hardliner. So, hardliners both in New Formation and FDC, I would appeal to them to go slow, analyze and focus on what can bring people together.
You try, if it fails, it is okay. But even another political party is not bad because it will still be in the opposition. As long as it is strong and will work together with [other opposition parties].
The New Formation should not look at those of us who are still in FDC as bad. I loved it when I was in Gulu and Hon Reagan [Okumu] called in during a radio talk show where I was and said the problem of FDC did not start today but way back at its inception.
That means that if the problem started at the inception [of FDC], it should have been solved by now. Those people who knew the problem and didn’t work on it, did bad. They should bring it out now so that it’s solved.
Do you know what the problem is, and what do you think is the best way to handle it?
I saw Gen Muntu’s complaints and I feel the issues he raised could still be handled by the elders. By elders, I mean people in FDC who are over 70 years who have now taken a backseat. If they love FDC very much, they should come and [offer counsel], we should continue to talk to Gen Muntu and all the others who have left the party.
You talk of a new shadow cabinet, are you going to purge the Muntu loyalists?
There are some individuals who have said no because they want to take a break.
Parliamentary work is not the work of Gen Muntu, Dr Kizza Besigye, Eng Patrick Amuriat or Hon Jimmy Akena’s UPC. It is the people’s work. I have those who seem to be pro-Muntu who are totally in agreement with doing parliament work and we are working together very well. If there are people who aren’t willing to work, we will not force them.
Like it or not, in leadership, we have something called the inner circle. So, that inner circle of my predecessor will not feel so free to work with me.