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Analysis | CHRISTOPHER KISEKKA, BAKER BATTE & BLANSHE MUSINGUZI – URN | Although the Buganda voting block is widely considered a prize of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM), available data and official results from recent election cycles indicates the opposition is making steady inroads and some observers think it might finally slip away.
Previous election data shows that voters in districts that make up Buganda or the Central region (Kampala inclusive) have constantly been voting more for NRM’s Yoweri Kaguta Museveni than any other candidate.
This is interesting as well as it is telling, because in almost all the five presidential elections, the feeling and temperature normally reads like the region is about to break with the incumbent, but never does. The incumbent will on January 26 have made 35 years solid years as the president of Uganda.
To illustrate this, in the 2001, 2006 and 2011 elections, the opposition whose candidate was Dr Kiiza Besigye, was only able to win one district; Kampala, in each of those elections.
In 2016, with the opposition performance against Museveni improving, Besigye was only able to win three districts; Wakiso, Masaka and of course Kampala with 59.97 percent, 50.69 percent and 65.93 percent respectively, of the votes cast.
However, looking at the data keenly, there is one thing that might put a smile on the faces of the opposition; that is, even when Museveni was winning in Buganda, the margins have kept falling at every subsequent election.
With 5.65 million voters which is approximately 31.18 percent of the total registered voters and the NRM advantage on a downward spiral, Buganda is seen as a critical voting block which any candidate who wishes to win must bag.
In this year’s election, the battle for the heart and soul of Buganda seems to be between National Unity Platform candidate, Kyagulanyi Robert Ssentamu and Yoweri Kaguta Tibuhaburwa Museveni. A number of political pundits we spoke to for this story think that Bobi Wine will most likely take over Besigye’s support base in Buganda or even eat into pockets of Museveni’s strongholds.
These pundits point at districts such as Mukono, Buikwe, Buvuma, Kayunga, Luwero, Butambala, Kalungu, Kalangala, Bukomansimbi among others where Besigye’s vote grew from an average of 33 percent in 2000 to nearly 47 percent in 2016 as districts that will most probably swing to Kyagulanyi’s side.
However, there are some districts where NRM appears to have had a consolidated presidential vote win since 2000. These are areas where Museveni has always won by above 70 percent of the cast votes. These include cattle corridor districts such as; Lyantonde, Mubende, Kiboga, Kassanda, Kyankwazi, Gomba, Nakasongola, and Nakaseke.
Dr Mukwaya speaks out
Dr Ben Mukwaya, a former minister of Health in Buganda Kingdom says if there is any possibility of people in these areas to vote against the NRM, it will be because of problems such as the increasing land grabbing and the unjustified cattle quarantine. Mukwaya says the two factors have heavily affected the locals in these areas.
“The quarantine that was placed on those people, they have not been able to sell their animals for a long time, and no reason was given to them. It could sway their voting pattern,” Mukwaya said.
No wonder, even prior to the official campaigns President Museveni made a number of visits to these areas to try and solve the rampant land grabbing cases. The same issue has been haunting NRM parliamentary candidates who have been tasked to explain what government is doing to solve the sticky issue.
But as the debate on who will win Buganda rages, the other political commentators say, the test of Kyagulanyi’s capacity will be seen in his ability to protect his vote.
Like Kizza Besigye before him, Mwambutsya Ndebeesa, a lecturer of political science at Makerere University argues that Bobi Wine’s party lacks organizational capacity to protect their votes and thwart rigging. If he can have this capacity in Buganda, he says, Bobi Wine will likely perform better than Besigye in the region.
Ndebesa says Kyagulanyi has home advantage
“It’s not going to be business as usual as it has been in the last 35 years. The political support base in Buganda has shifted towards the opposition…but this doesn’t mean that NRM doesn’t still have support in Buganda, especially in the rural areas,” Ndebesa says.
Ndebesa adds though that, “You cannot rule out ethnic voting patterns and moods and emotions emerging today. Bobi being a Catholic, a youth from Buganda will obviously give him an advantage. He also having not carried the baggage of having been part of the NRM in the past like other candidates who have challenged Museveni before like Muntu, Biraro, Besigye, Mbabazi, Tumukunde from Western Uganda. That will give him an advantage over the other challengers of Museveni.”
Another political commentator, Dr Jimmy Spire Ssentongo says in an environment that doesn’t allow a free and fair election to take place, it’s hard to rely on statistics to predict electoral outcomes.
“Maybe we should say that with all the rigging, the opposition was able to score this or that. So, most likely the votes that Besigye got would most probably go to Kyagulanyi because people who are tired of Museveni are looking for alternatives with capacity and possibility to remove him,” Ssentongo said.
He adds that unless Kyagulanyi placates the loopholes that have dogged candidates before him, its not hard to predict the outcome of the Thursday election.
Muhammad Kibirige Mayanja, a former presidential candidate in the 1996 race, too notes that the election has always been characterized by vote rigging and violence; two factors that according to him, will again determine who becomes the next president. He also takes a swipe at the statistics arguing that themselves alone, they cannot clearly paint a picture of what happens during elections.
Museveni no longer savior in Buganda
A retired Prof of Uganda’s contemporary history who asked not to be named to speak freely, said that President Museveni has been a darling for Buganda because of violence that was committed by previous regimes.
However, according to this professor who has written extensively about Uganda’s politics, this mantra of a savior seems to be eroding every passing day. He attributes this to the increase in the number of young voters who neither know nor are interested in knowing about Uganda’s troubled past.
“The violence witnessed in this election campaign will likely cost him some votes. It has tarnished the reputation of the NRM. Even old people like me are starting to think otherwise,” the old professor said.
Asked about whether Kyagulanyi can ride on these grievances of the young people to scoop the prize, the Professor answers in the affirmative. “Yes, if young people vote, and there is no election rigging, you never know, he might get more votes,” he answered.
Is Kyagulanyi’s tribe an asset?
Apart from the 1996 election which had Paul Kawanga Ssemogerere, Buganda has never had a leading candidate, hailing from the region. Those interviewed for this storysayalthough tribal aspects are an important factor in Buganda’s vote, its influence is not as strong.
“I think the number of Baganda who will vote Bobi Wine because he is a Muganda is not as frightening as those who will vote for him because of his age. Teenagers throughout Uganda will vote for him because of his age,” the Professor said.
Dr Mukwaya also notes that voters these day, more so in Buganda are not much focused on tribal issues but anybody who stands a realistic chance of defeating President Yoweri Museveni. Mukwaya says Kyagulanyi will certainly perform better than Besigye in Buganda.
“The youth of today do not foster those differences, tribal, religion. Being that Kyagulanyi has no burden that could come if he had worked with Museveni before like Besigye, he comes in a free man. Also consider the youthful constituency he commands,” Mukwaya said.
Yusuf Serunkuma, a researcher based at Makerere University says many things are in Kyagulanyi’s favor that would make him the favorite to win the Buganda vote.
Why Buganda will vote for Kyagulanyi
Serunkuma however says the Baganda will not vote for Kyagulanyi because of his tribe but rather because he is the main challenger to Museveni.
But like Mayanja and Ndebesa, Serunkuma says all these advantages Kyagulanyi possesses, pale in the face of the nature of the elections in Uganda.
“His tribe matter to a certain degree because the incumbent president is shamelessly pornographically tribal,” Serunkuma said. “But however he cannot win because he is not the one counting the vote neither is he the one organizing moving and sending voting materials. If he is given a Buganda victory, Museveni would have invited onto himself a hostile Kampala.”
When you put the question of whether Kyagulanyi can win in Buganda, those who speak for the NRM look at you in disbelief; wondering how you can even ask such an obvious question.
Justine Kasule Lumumba, the Secretary General of the NRM when she was asked by URN recently during a news conference she exuded confidence. Lumumba said that even in districts where the NRM was defeated like Kampala and Wakiso, President Museveni got more votes there than he got in other districts which he actually won.
“I’m confident that even this time, my candidate will win,” Lumumba said.
This Thursday, Ugandans will cast the ballots to choose who will be their next president and Members of Parliament. Other than Museveni and Kyagulanyi, the race also has nine other candidates namely; Patrick Amuriat Oboi [FDC], Norbert Mao[DP], Mugisha Muntu[ANT], John Katumba, Willy Mayambala, Nancy Kalembe, Joseph Kabuleta, Henry Tumukunde and Fred Mwesigye [all independents].