In 2001, Museveni got 78 percent of the Busoga vote and 70 percent in 2006. However, the omens are not good for Museveni and the NRM this time, writes The Independent's Eriasa Mukiibi in this December article.
To get to Nawankandulo village in Buzaaya County, just slightly off the Jinja-Kamuli highway, one must take a narrow, bumpy road whose Busoga reddish-brown earth surface sends the cars in our convoy skidding.
I took this road on Nov.26 with retired Col. Dr. Kizza Besigye, who was on the campaign trail in the area. Nawankandulo is the village of the prominent Foreign Affairs Minister of State and area MP, Isaac Musumba. In Besigye’s convoy was Mukasa Sowed, the man who wants to kick Musumba off the Buzaaya County MP seat in the elections next year. Ironically, Besigye’s guide in the area was Salamu Musumba, who – you guessed it, is Mrs Musumba.
They took different political paths; Musumba remaining in President Yoweri Museveni’s National Resistance Movement (NRM) party camp and Salamu joining the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) of Besigye. However, their relative did not change and Salamu did not miss the opportunity to arrange a tantalizing meeting between Besigye and her uncle-in-law, Musumba’s uncle.
The venue of Besigye’s rally was an open place about 150 meters away from Musumba’s home and overlooked a couple of matchbox, sugar and tea-selling tiny shops and a ministry of Health dispensary that formed what passes for a trading centre in rural Kamuli.
Mzee Musumba, Salamu’s uncle-in-law, lived a short distance nearby. He was perched on a stone, next to what appeared to be his kitchen doing a round of sunbathing and appeared startled when Besigye’s cars parked in his compound. He moved hesitantly towards the car, curiosity written all over his face. Clad in a faded blue denim shirt, black trousers and red slippers, the old man looked your typical village folk. His house was also typically small, rusty-brown iron-sheet roof and walls that would do with a fresh coat of paint.
Salamu introduced Besigye and the old man embraced him. Seats were hastily arranged and a motley crowd of about twenty people gathered around the compound that was covered in parched greenery. Besigye, who is the presidential candidate for a loose grouping of five political entities, the Inter-party Cooperation (IPC), dived right into campaigning.
I was among the original founders of the NRM, he told the crowd, but I jumped ship once the party started serving the interests of a few. He delved into the poor state of health care, saying there are no essential drugs in government facilities to the extent that 20 women die in labour every day, many due to lack of basic drugs like those that stop bleeding.
“Iffe tusekula miti,” interjected Mzee Musumba - meaning “We have resorted to local herbs”. It was a one-liner packed with all the frustration people in the area feel about the poorly-run health sector. Besigye, who has couched the February 18 general election as a referendum on President Yoweri Museveni’s failure to eradicate poverty, especially in the Busoga sub-region, jumped on it.
The Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) on Oct. 26 announced that the number of absolute poor Ugandans had not only reduced by an impressive 7.8 percent since 2006 to 23 percent, but that the poor’s absolute figure had actually reduced from 8.4 million to 7.1 million to date, seemed to provide ammunition for Museveni’s campaign.
But Besigye spoke adamantly about how the common man’s lot has worsened and how Museveni’s continued stay in government will further worsen matters. It will be even worse for Busoga, he said, a region he said holds the crown as the “headquarters of poverty” under the NRM government.
Soon it was time for the rally proper and off we scampered. Besigye spent eight days in Busoga and spoke at numerous rallies and stopovers and home visits.
At all venues he stuck to the same message: “You know all about the prevailing situation and I needn’t waste time elaborating on it,” he would start out before making a quick wrap up of the situation, carefully picking on issues that touch the locals. “I have been made to understand that a kilogram of maize grain goes for Shs 100 here,” he said as he sought to connect with the audience. At Nawankandulo, the crowd roared back that a kilo sometimes sells at Shs 50.
“That means that after six months of hard work, a farmer gets paid Shs 10,000 for a sack of maize grain,” he said before launching into the hook, “How many fish can one buy for Shs 10,000?”
Two, one, shouted the crowd in anger. “So six months’ hard work earns you a fish or two to eat in one meal!”
Besigye would then plunge into the rosy Uganda, the Basoga would enjoy if they elected him on February 18, 2011. He would establish national food reserve stores to buy produce from farmers at predetermined prices.
“We shall set prices before the start of the season at which the stores shall be buying produce, but on harvesting, you will be free to sell to those who offer higher prices and only sell to the stores as a last resort,” he said to applause.
His government will support irrigation and institute tractor hire services where farmers will use the tractors and pay for the services after selling their produce. “This system was working here in the 1960s, it is neither new nor non-practicable,” he assured voters.
Forget the angry Besigye of 2001, 2006. This one is calm, smiling, dancing and jovial. He continually seeks to engage the audience before reeling off more promises. He promised a uniform minimum sum for whoever qualifies for university and a student loan scheme from which students will borrow to pay the balance of their fees.
“You will no longer have to sell off your land for your children to go to university,” he declared to excited audiences.
Busoga region has always voted overwhelmingly for Museveni and the NRM in past elections. In 2001, Museveni got 78 percent of the Busoga vote and 70 percent in 2006. However, the omens are not good for Museveni and the NRM this time.
As Besigye campaigned in Buzaaya, Musumba was up to some business that could not have been music to his boss, Museveni’s ear.
A day earlier, on Nov. 25, he had been nominated to try and retain his Buzaaya County MP seat, but this time as an independent candidate. The area NRM party members had kicked him off the party ticket in favour of Martin Muzaale. Two NRM candidates on the ticket could favour FDC’s Sowed Mukasa.
A similar situation is playing out in Salamu’s Bugabula South. Lands state minister Asuman Kiyingi also defied his party and got nominated to run again, despite having lost to former Makerere University guild president Morris Kibalya in the race for NRM flag bearer. Kiyingi is displaying his campaign posters alongside Museveni’s. That could favour Salamu.
Salamu is FDC’s point woman in Kamuli district, which she says is the capital of Busoga politics. She combines eloquence, a quick wit and powerful mobilisation capacity. On Nov. 25, the day she got nominated to run for Bugabula South MP on an FDC ticket, her house in Namwendwa village in Kamuli district was a centre of intense activity.
Booked for nomination at 10:00 am, she showed up six hours later. “I couldn’t leave home because I kept receiving delegation after delegation,” she later told The Independent. Seated on steps in her tiled-floor living room close to mid-night, she said there is a big possibility that they will this time deliver Busoga to FDC.
“We have ensured that we work closely together and not undermine one another as FDC leaders in Busoga,” she says as she tries to contrast the situation with NRM leaders within the sub-region whose wrangles over who has more influence have been widely documented.
Dr. Frank Nabwiso, the administrator at IPC headquarters who is running for Kagoma County MP in Jinja district, told The Independent that FDC’s campaigns in Busoga are coordinated by an eight-officer strong team that works closely with the FDC national mobilisation secretary, Maj. Gen. Mugisha Muntu. Salam and Nabwiso are part of this team.
Nabwiso, like Musumba, relishes his chances in Kagoma County, where he is facing nine NRM-leaning candidates. He believes NRM’s failure to unify its support behind one candidate in each constituency is a pointer that it is ready to surrender Busoga to FDC.
He says FDC has fronted candidates in all constituencies in the sub-region except Bukooli Central in Bugiri district, which they agreed to leave for Jeema president Asuman Basalirwa. Since none of the other IPC partner parties has fronted a single parliamentary candidate in Busoga, the race is very much between FDC and NRM.
Salam, who is fondly referred to as Maama Busoga, feels her party’s support has grown phenomenally in the region, especially due to what she calls the neglect of the sub-region by the current government and incessant mobilisation on their part. She predicts that intimidation and voter bribery will this time play an insignificant role in swaying the Busoga vote.
This is the third time Salamu is trying to resurrect her electoral fortunes in a period of five years. She lost the Bugabula South seat to Lands state minister Asuman Kiyingi in 2006 after Museveni promised the voters that he would appoint Kiyingi minister.
Less than five years later, the voters turned against Kiyingi, probably as a signal that his being a minister had not delivered what they had expected. Salamu vied for the Kamuli district chair in 2007 still with no success, in a battle that heavily drew in President Museveni.
After her nomination on Nov. 25, Salamu told her party supporters in Kamuli township that there is a lot to look forward to since the ground has shifted from under NRM’s feet. And she seemed to speak on firm ground. Her entry into the township had caused paralysis as people run in droves to receive her, which was not exactly the case with the candidates that had been nominated earlier, including Deputy Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga.
Flanked by the contestant for the Kamuli Woman MP seat on FDC ticket, Prossy Naikoba, Salamu braved a heavy downpour punctuated with hailstorm on her way from the district council hall where the nomination took place.
Naikoba, who is challenging Kadaga for the second time, is an administrator at FDC headquarters at Najjanankumbi in Kampala.
She fancies her chances this time round, claiming her challenger has been panicked into spreading rumours that she has bribed her out of the race. Naikoba is thankful to Salamu, who she says has mentored her politically. She believes the anti-incumbency tendency in Kamuli, which saw two ministers lose primaries, will spillover countrywide.
But Musumba and Kiyingi don’t think so. Alfred Waiswa, Kiyingi’s supporter, told The Independent at Namwendwa in Bugabula South that his candidate and President Museveni will win and the NRM primaries were not a good indicator of what is to come.
“We have learnt that there are many FDC supporters who voted in the NRM primaries and their objective was to vote for candidates they would easily beat in the parliamentary elections,” claimed Waiswa.
One of Musumba’s assistants told The Independent that the voters could have wanted to punish his boss but now that he had “repented”, they are likely to return him to parliament.
Kadaga, on her part, has a trump card she hopes shall help her keep her seat. Alongside her campaign poster hanging in the Kamuli town council roundabout, is that of Prince William Gabula Nadiope IV, one of the candidates for the post of Kyabazinga (King). Kadaga backs Nadiope while most NRM-leaning politicians back Prince Edward Wambuzi, the son of the most recent Kyabazinga, Henry Wako Muloki.
Since Prince Nadiope of Bugabula hails from Kamuli district, the local voters are expected to back whoever backs him for the contested seat and Kadaga argues she is best placed to ensure Nadiope’s enthronement because she has the clout in government.
The electoral fortunes of party parliamentary flag bearers could swing the same way as those of their presidential candidates; another reason for President Museveni to not only fight for his political life but that of his lieutenants’ in Busoga too.
When Museveni starts his campaigns in Busoga sub-region beginning Dec. 13, erasing what Besigye told the voters will be crucial.
Besigye seemed aware of this whenever he spoke: “They (NRM and Museveni) will come here and try to lie and even bribe you,” he reminded the voters, “take the bribes but you have an even more important duty -ensuring that those who try to bribe you do not win because if they do, you will pay back the bribe ten thousand times.”
Salamu thinks the voters have taken Besigye’s message to heart and points at the many NRM people who dished out money in the NRM primaries but were defeated.
But FDC could come under pressure over candidates it is fielding who have not been in active politics and were convinced to run just days to nominations.
Two of them said their party had paid their nomination fees, was in the process of printing campaign posters for them, and get them vehicles, and fuel to run campaigns. Where is the commitment?
Although Besigye’s support in Busoga grew by 12 percentage points from 2001 to 29 percent in 2006, President Yoweri Museveni still beat him by 40 percentage points. Besigye believes that is now in the past. He says better organisation and NRM’s poor performance in the poverty eradication drive punctuated by corruption gives his party a clear edge in Busoga. In two months, we will know if he is right.