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Cradle-snatching politics

By Julius Odeke

NRM’s Alengot exposes unpopularity of Teso old guard

It is no secret that the Sept.12 Usuk County by-election that threw up an unlikely winner, 19-year old Proscovia Alengot Oromait, was a turf fight between the old guard; Soroti Municipality MP, 56-year old Mike Mukula and Amuria County MP, 50-year old Musa Echweru, and newcomers, 38-year old Jessica Alupo (MP Katakwi) and 36-year old Susan Amero (MP Amuria).

Jostling started immediately the Usuk County MP, Michael Oramait was pronounced dead suddenly in July. Mukula who is the National Vice Chairman for his party, NRM, in the area and has been a power-broker for decades, anointed Charles  Ojok, the man Oromait had defeated in 2011.

Oleny was damaged goods from the start, having switched allegiance from his UPC party to the ruling NRM after the 2006 elections that he won as an independent. But Mukula stuck with him because, in his calculation, the vote was the NRM’s for the taking. But Alupo, the no-nonsense army major and minister of Education had other ideas and literally chaperoned Alengot to defeat Oleny and nine others.

Mukula was tactically outflanked by the Alupo camp which arranged a quick primary election in Kampala and endorsed the youthful Alengot. Mukula’s protest as the regional party honcho and his appeal to the NRM Electoral Commission to annul the so-called primary were ignored. Alupo’s camp appeared to have the full backing of President Museveni and Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, who later took to the stump with the girl who was born after they had been in power for eight years. Left naked, after being snubbed by his party, and rolled in the mud by Alupo, Mukula’s only hope was a win for Oleny.

Unfortunately, for him, Oleny was totally white-washed. He managed only half of Alengot’s 11,590 votes and with that loss, Mukula’s kingmaker role in Teso now hangs in a balance come 2016.

Oleny’s loss is the second body blow Mukula has suffered in three months. In July, he suffered a setback when two of his co-accused in the GAVI corruption scandal were acquitted by the Anti-corruption Court but he was left alone in the dock to face charges of embezzling Shs210 million. Observers say Mukula’s insistence to drag First Lady Janet Museveni into the scandal, as the eventual would-be recipient of the tainted cash, has not emboldened the flamboyant Teso MP before the powers that be.

Mukula’s camp has capitalised on the chaotic scenes that characterised the voting process to console themselves that the vote was not won but stolen.

They point at the many opposition politicians that were beaten by unknown goons allegedly mobilised by Alupo.

Eight cars were smashed allegedly by the NRM supporters, while the police looked on in some cases. The Teso sub-region police spokesman, Juma Hassan Nyene, told journalists that the police received some complaints from the opposition MPs, including Amuriat Oboi, and investigations are on-going. However, many people in the region are still perplexed at how the goons managed to acquire guns that they used for terrorising the opposition in the area.

Ecweru has said he is not impressed by Alengot’s win since there was massive intimidation by the military and other security operatives.

“This is not the choice of the locals but it’s of the Education minister, Jessica Alupo and some few leaders who spent a lot of money to bribe the poor people to vote for their choice,” he reportedly told journalists in Soroti Municipality.

But the Usuk vote also exposed Alupo in ways that could come to haunt her in 2016. Although she has shown herself to have the security muscle and money to win an election, she has exposed a lack of organisational and strategic ability.

Speculation is rife in Teso that Alupo, who is the Woman MP for Katakwi district is anxious to avoid a face-off with Cecilia Anyakoit of the UPC, who allegedly could have trounced her in the last election if the ground had been level.

Alupo, the speculators say, wants to shift from the district woman seat to the Usuk county seat and is, therefore, using Alengot as a place holder. That could backfire depending on how Alengot, who is already being called a one-term MP, performs and how ambitious she is. By 2016 and aged 23, Alengot will still not be a woman yet for some, but she will no longer be a girl.

The girl who has just completed her A-level university exams and could be joining Uganda Chirstian University, Mukono this semester, could throw her mentor a shocker. Many would love that, including numerous local leaders who Alupo rubs the wrong way.

Alternatively, Alengot could chose to follow in the footsteps of another young lady, Susan Nampijja (former MP Rubaga), who in 2006 entered parliament as a place holder for her father, the maverick John Ken Lukyamuzi who was locked out on a technicality. After one term, she stepped aside to let her father reclaim his seat. Alengot is not Alupo’s daughter and for now, nothing is certain.   But the main opposition political party, the Forum for Democratic Change, has been unusually quick to concede defeat although its Secretary General Alice Alaso, who is also the neighboring Serere Woman MP, is a strong anti-Alupo agent.

Alaso has said Alengot’s victory was bought with as little as Shs 500 per vote because people are poor but she is not challenging it in court.

Opposition UPC’s Jimmy Akena (MP Lira Municipality) also told journalists about the bribery allegations.

“I personally saw the personal Assistant to the Premier Amama Mbabazi moving round the sub-counties in Usuk county distributing money,” he said.

Both concede that Katakwi district, which borders Karamoja region and for quite long it has been attacked by the cattle marauders, is home to vulnerable people who cannot afford a meal a day.

Opposition chief whip, Winnie Kiiza (FDC Woman MP Kasese District) who was also in Katakwi says she has never experienced the kind of torture that the opposition faced in Usuk while monitoring the by-elections.

But Alaso and her party could be preserving their energy to fight another day. Teso sub region has been their stronghold with seven FDC MPs including; Elijah Okupa (Kasilo), Stephen Ochola (Serere County), Alice Alaso (Serere), Angeline Osege (Soroti), Patrick Amuriat Oboi (Kumi), Florence Ibi Ekwau (Kaberamaido), and Peter Omolo (Soroti county).

Even the initial ploys to challenge Alengot’s election on grounds that she was not dully registered as a voter appear to have collapsed. The Electoral Commission has clarified that she registered as a voter ahead of a by-election at the age of 19.

There had been questions by her opponents about when she registered as a voter yet the voters’ registers were not displayed in 2011.  This prompted many to suggest that she illegally registered while at the age of 17 in 2010 when voters registered were displayed.

The opposition’s decision not to pursue any of these leads to challenge the teenagers win shows that, so far, the gods appear to favour her. If Alengot’s luck holds up to 2016 and she decides to hold on to the seat, her friends today, including Alupo, could become her foes.

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