will bark but not bite
By Edris Kiggundu
& David Tash Lumu
When Alex Onzima embraced President Museveni, offered him
a gift and showered him with praises during his recent visit
to the West Nile region, the Maracha MP knew what was to
Yet a week later, he remained unbothered.
“Politics is about bargaining for allocation of resources.
If you bargain and the other party responds positively,
you also behave accordingly,” he said in an interview,
expressing no regret about his actions.
Those who know Onzima well say he is a very complex politician
who sometimes “acts tough” and other times appears
“simple and friendly”.
Yet like a rope that derives its strength from its feeble-like
appearance, so does Onzima from his mixed persona.
For this and other reasons, FDC is undecided on how to prevail
over him––unsure how this will affect the party’s
At the moment, FDC’s reaction has been limited to
criticism of the legislator’s behaviour by leading
party officials, including the Leader of the Opposition,
Prof. Ogenga Latigo, and the Spokesperson, Wafula Oguttu.
Both have implored Onzima to resign his seat and run on
an NRM ticket–– if he is ‘man enough.’
None, however, has talked of expelling him from the party
and Oguttu emphasised in an interview that expulsion will
not be an option.
Political analysts say FDC cannot punish Onzima because
of a number of reasons.
First, Onzima, who has been in Parliament for the last 12
years, remains popular in Maracha County and the West Nile
region; that is why the party made him its Vice Chairman
in charge of Northern Uganda. As such, they cannot tell
how his supporters will react.
Secondly, FDC has never punished any other ‘rebel’
member, and given the instrumental role Onzima has played
in marshalling support for the party in the sub-region,
the odds are that he will go unpunished.
Dr. Fredrick Golooba-Mutebi, a researcher at Makerere Institute
of Social Research (MISR), argues that Onzima has put FDC
“It is a big dilemma for them because punishing Onzima
would be risky politically,” he said.
“He still has a big following.”
According to the party’s Code of Conduct, FDC can
deal with Onzima in five ways.
They could caution him, he could be stripped of party office,
he could be made ineligible to stand for party office; he
could be fined or expelled.
Yet Onzima is not the first FDC legislator to have his
allegiance to the party questioned.
In 2006, Aruu County MP, Odonga Otto, fell out with the
party after he walked away from the Appointments Committee,
without FDC’s approval.
Otto later resigned as Chairman of the party’s Youth
League and later authored an article in the papers criticizing
Last year, Kampala Woman MP, Sempala Nabilah attracted the
ire of his party after she was adjudged to be hobnobbing
While presiding over a Women’s Day event in Kampala,
Nabilah is said to have praised the NRM for elevating women.
This did not go down well with his party and the situation
was aggravated when she began skipping some of the party’s
weekly NEC meetings.
The situation gets trickier for FDC in that some of the
rebel MPs seem to have the moral support of their colleagues.
For instance, in Onzima’s defence, Arua Municipality
MP, Godi Akbar of FDC wrote this week in The New Vision:
“We should learn from Onzima’s action. He should
be heard and not rebuked because of his statement.”
Onzima fell out with FDC after what he perceived as the
party having sided with Kassiano Wadri over the location
of the headquarters of the newly proposed district, Nyadri.
Onzima prefers Maracha, his constituency while Wadri wants
the headquarters located at Terego.
Oguttu says the matter would have been settled but Onzima
has not attended party meetings for the last two years.
It is unlikely that internal bickering in FDC–or
any other political party for that matter––will
Part of the reason is that many MPs are still coming to
terms with the multi-party system, adopted in 2006.
Under multi-partyism, MPs are expected to operate within
the confines of their parties and toe the party line however
unreasonable it might seem.
This is unlike the Movement system where individuals followed
their conscience and took positions based on their judgment.
Already in NRM, MPs Henry Banyenzaki and Dr. Sam Lyomoki
have run into trouble for increasingly taking positions
on the floor of Parliament, deemed to be contradictory to
the party line.
In the UPC, some members, including influential MPs Cecilia
Ogwal (Dokolo) and Ben Wacha (Oyam North) stood as independents
and recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the
FDC– after feeling sidelined by their party.
For being strict on member behaviour, some members have
taken this to mean that parties are muzzling free speech
and stifling debate.
Yet however aggrieved, MPs cannot do entirely without the
parties under whose platforms they got their political positions.
In many ways, parties play an instrumental role in the
election of the MPs and some like NRM are believed to have
spent heavily on facilitation.
In fact, it is arguable whether some of the ‘rebel’
MPs would have made it to the House without being affiliated
to some political party.
For instance, in the West Nile and Acholi sub-regions,
voters disaffected by government’s failure to end
the LRA war, simply voted for opposition candidates.