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Besigye fails to rally Buganda power brokers

By Eriasa Mukiibi Sserunjogi

New pressure group emerges to oppose Ssuubi

When retired Col. Kizza Besigye appeared with two former Buganda Kingdom prime ministers at the launch of the ‘Ssuubi 2011’ pressure group on June 7, most observers concluded that he had put the Buganda block vote in the bag.

Political mobilisation in Buganda primarily revolves around the kingdom and the Kabakaship is the principal tool around which it takes place.

So when Besigye appeared at Pope Paul Memorial Centre in Rubaga with former Buganda Prime ministers (Katikkiro) Mulwanyamuli Ssemwogerere and   Dan Muliika, it was a political coup in many ways. Ssuubi was hatched as a platform for putting Buganda’s demands on the 2011 election agenda.

It was widely inferred that Kabaka Ronald Mutebi had sent the duo to mobilise his people against the NRM government, with which the kingdom has recently had a tumultuous relationship that culminated in the September 2009 Buganda riots which left at least 29 people dead in clashes with security forces.

Although seven men and one woman are running for the presidency, support for Museveni, whom Besigye wants to kick out in the February 18, 2011 poll, is expected to dwindle among ethnic Baganda. In fact, pundits claim, Museveni is now focusing more on the vote of non-Baganda living in Buganda. Ideally, that would leave the Baganda vote free for Besigye.

Most observers were, however, surprised that Besigye had managed to get two men, who rarely agree on how to fight for Buganda’s rights, to support him.

Five months later, however, the Pope Paul photo op. appears to be working against, rather than for, Besigye.

Muliika, who is at the centre of Besigye’s woes, confirmed to The Independent that he is in advanced stages of co-founding a new pressure group that will be diametrically opposed to Ssuubi.

Muliika says ‘no election held under the existing system can deliver the change Uganda needs’.

‘Why should Besigye go and speak for us (Baganda) in the rest of Uganda?’ he asked.

Muliika says the problem of pressure groups like Ssuubi, is that ‘they confine Baganda politicians within Buganda and they lose the opportunity to explain to the rest of Ugandans their vision for Uganda.’

He says the pressure group he plans to launch soon will get prominent Ugandans to traverse the country and engage with the rest of Ugandans about common interests.

Muliika says his group has members from all over Uganda and they have ‘already secured some funding from our international friends.’ Muliika named renowned elder-politician, Prof. Dan Nabudere, as his partner in this new project. When contacted for details by The Independent, Nabudere declined to comment on the matter. He said he was in South Africa.

Muliika, probably Buganda’s shortest-serving Katikkiro, was removed after the 2006 general elections, after serving one year, reportedly on the instigation of President Museveni since Muliika had made sustained comments throughout the campaign period that were perceived to support Besigye’s candidature.

But Muliika is planning his pressure group against a backdrop of disillusionment among some Mengo loyalists who now doubt the ability of Besigye’s Interparty Cooperation (IPC) to deliver Buganda’s demands.

By signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Ssuubi and the IPC, it was hoped that Buganda Kingdom leaning politicians would play an influential role in mobilising Baganda voters basing on the kingdom’s grievances.

But the smaller political parties within the coalition, The Independent has learnt, were not to let Ssuubi steal the limelight from them.

As Besigye sought to bolster his presidential bid under the umbrella of unity, the smaller parties, it appears, were hatching a plan to ride on the coalition to accentuate their clout by capturing parliamentary and local government positions.

Key events Ssuubi and Besigye are using to campaign in Buganda

July 2008, Mengo officials ‘“ Information Minister Peter Mayiga, his deputy Medard Sseggona and the chairperson of Kabaka’s Central Civic Education Committee (CCEC), Betty Nambooze, are arrested and incarcerated beyond the legally permissible 48 hours.

October 2008, Kabaka Mutebi is blocked from proceeding to Nakasongola — while campaigning there, Museveni promised the Baluuli protection from anyone who may want to dominate them culturally. Buganda-leaning media played the President’s speech loudly.

September 2009, Katikkiro John Baptist Walusimbi blocked from proceeding to Kayunga to prepare for Kabaka Mutebi’s visit. Riots in various urban centres within Buganda lead to at least 29 deaths and CBS, the Kingdom’s FM radio station, is switched off air by the government for a year.

Nov. 25 2009, land law amendments passed despite Mengo’s strong opposition

March 16, 2010, Kasubi Tombs, the burial site of four of Buganda’s former kings, are burnt. Presidential guards kill at least two people as President Museveni forces his way to inspect the burnt sites. The Kabaka of Buganda sheds tears as he inspects the sites.

One of the smaller parties in the coalition, Jeema, has moved to maximise benefits. Party spokesperson Yahya Sseremba is excited that his party is on the brink of nominating over 300 candidates to run in next year’s elections, the highest number in its 15-year history. He says they could end up with about 30 candidates for parliament. Only its secretary general, Hussein Kyanjo, is a member of the outgoing parliament.

‘After the election we could turn out to be bigger than parties like UPC and DP,’ Sseremba says.

Another smaller party, Michael Mabikke’s Social Democratic Party (SDP), has according to its Secretary General Henry Lubowa, nominated over 80 councillors in Kampala alone. Lubowa, who is eyeing the Rubaga North parliamentary seat, was set for nomination on IPC ticket, oblivious of the process of selecting the IPC flag bearer. He argued that he is not subject to IPC primaries on account of being a party secretary general.

Running on IPC ticket not only entitles a candidate to having his nomination dues and other logistical needs like printing posters catered for by the grouping, it also entitles him to association with Besigye, who is deemed popular in several areas. This would increase the chances of the smaller parties having their candidates elected.

Selection of IPC flag-bearers has been the main cause of friction within the loose coalition of five parties. Ssuubi’s insistence that it is the sole determinant of IPC candidates within Buganda has proven to be oil for the fire.

It has coloured Makindye East legislator and current IPC rotating chairman, Mabikke’s declaration as IPC flag-bearer for the Kampala mayorship by the IPC electoral affairs chief Rubaramira Ruranga, and his tiff with Kampala Central MP Erias Lukwago, who Ssuubi had recommended to run on the IPC ticket.

But Ssuubi-leaning IPC Spokesman, Ssemujju Nganda, sprang up to announce Lukwago as the IPC candidate.

Then, Mabikke announced that he had sacked Ssemujju from his position as IPC spokesman, a decision IPC Secretariat Administrator, Dr Frank Nabwiso and Rubaramira say is invalid.

Jeema and SDP accuse Ssuubi of being partial to a group of politicians who are disillusioned with their party, the Democratic Party (DP), and are seeking political refuge in Ssuubi and IPC.

Lukwago, Ssemujju, Ssuubi national coordinator Medard Sseggona, Mukono North MP Betty Nambooze and Masaka Municipality aspiring MP Mathias Mpuuga are viewed as the firebrand of Mengo, the Buganda Kingdom power capital. They operate under the patronage of Mulwanyammuli.

For this reason, Mulwanyammuli’s mediation efforts have on some occasions been frustrated by intending candidates storming out of meetings, as was the case with Jeema national chairman Muhammad Kibirige Mayanja in a meeting held in Wakiso town to choose between him and former Buganda Kingdom minister Sseggona.

Mabikke also stormed out of a similar meeting on Katonga Road where a group of Ssuubi eminent persons sought to persuade him to give way for Lukwago, who they said stood more chances of success in the Kampala mayoral race.

Museveni’s support within Buganda declined from 65 percent in 2001 to 60 per cent five years later, while that of his closest challenger, Besigye, grew by six percentage points to 39 percent over the same period.

In the recent past, Museveni’s relationship with the kingdom has hit its lowest mark. This presents a real possibility for Besigye, to bag the Ganda vote.

Besigye has remained non-committal in the conflicts between candidates. He fears that creating the impression that Ssuubi members are ‘sidelined’ within IPC could be used by IPC’s opponents to eat into its potential support within Buganda.

A Buganda Kingdom vernacular newspaper has already indicated that some members within the coalition are radically opposed to Buganda issues, which is why they are ‘fighting’ Lukwago’s bid for Kampala mayorship.

But it remains doubtful that the Kabaka’s agents wield much clout in any election. Besigye’s hope is that Ssuubi can make a difference.

Besigye’s third challenge to Museveni could fail unless he can get the much anticipated Buganda block vote.

In 2001, a group of Mengo ministers including current FDC vice chairperson for Buganda Joyce Ssebuggwawo, Ssewava Sserubiri and the late Kamala Kanamwangi, openly campaigned for then Besigye’s Reform Agenda.

They suffered a double blow; Museveni defeated Besigye by a 33 percent margin in Buganda and the Kabaka, immediately after the election, dropped them from their posts.

A similar situation occurred in the 2006 campaigns when Museveni again beat Besigye, albeit with a lower 26 percent margin within Buganda, despite then Katikkiro Dan Muliika openly criticising him during campaigns. The Kabaka dropped Muliika shortly after the election.

However, in all the elections since 1996, President Museveni’s campaigns in Buganda have always focused on his contribution to the restoration of the monarchy in 1993 and what he has done for the kingdom since then.

The opposition, have always hoped to capitalise on Mengo’s grievances against the central government, especially the failure to establish a federal system of governance and the delay to return some of the kingdom’s properties held by the central government since the 1966 crisis.

But Museveni has usually effectively countered these challenges. He has consistently claimed that he is the one who restored the monarchy, against the will of the army, and that its continued survival largely depends on his being around. Once in a while, senior military officers have spoken against the monarchy as if to confirm Museveni’s claims.

In the 1996 election, Museveni’s campaign capitalised on a rumour that his challenger, DP’s Paul Ssemogerere, had agreed to return then exiled former President Milton Obote. Obote was loathed by ethnic Baganda due to his quarrels with Sir Edward Muteesa II, whose reign was ended by Obote’s attack on the Lubiri in 1966. This rumour is thought to have swayed the vote of some Baganda.  Division within IPC and Muliika’s renouncing of Ssuubi’s effectiveness could do the trick this time.

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