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Gaps in Museveni’s team in Buganda

By Independent Reporter

In the last election in 2011, President Yoweri Museveni swept 19 of the 24 districts in Buganda with an average above 70% of the vote. He won another three borderline districts and lost district, Bukomansimbi. Going into the 2016 elections, however, questions are being asked whether the apparent lack of influential figures on Museveni’s re-election team in Buganda should worry him.

The smart bet, it appears, is that in end Museveni will win or lose in Buganda based on how effectively he leverages his patronage system, State institutions and informal connections, especially the different individuals with whom he has been associated since the bush was days. It may, in fact, have nothing to do with the clout of his campaigners in the region. But that has not stopped pundits from analyzing the Museveni team in Buganda and assessing what the president is up to this time and his chances of success.

Museveni is also a shadowy campaign strategist, who deploys his troops on numerous flanks and layers. On paper, however, Museveni’s 2016 campaign team might look any like any of these.

Team A: Al hajji Moses Kigongo, the perennial ruling NRM party vice chairman. He is backed by Vice President Kiwanuka Sekandi, Luweero motor-mouth bush war veteran Abdul Nadduli, former powerful ministers Janat Mukwaya and Syda Bbumba, and even State House strongwoman Brig. Nalweiso. Someone called this the `Jurasic team’ – average is 65 years old. It becomes immediately clear that this team is very different from the team announced by NRM Secretary General Kasule Lumumba. That is team `B’.

Team B comprises some personalities with pork for the Museveni table. These include businessman Godfrey Kirumira, the chairperson of a club of Kampala billionaires called Kwagalana, Lawrence Mulindwa; the prominent school owner, and the soft-spoken but results oriented Primary Education State Minister John Chrysostom Muyingo. Thrown in after these are personalities like junior ICT Minister Nyombi Thembo, Sylvia Namabidde, Nyanzi Sentamu, Dr Nathan Kalema, Margaret Ssekidde, Benjamin Kalumba Ssebuliba, Rashid Ssenyonjo, Kibirige Muhamad (Not of Jeema), Hajat Aisha Kyakuwa and Hamidu Mawejje. The others are Daniel Mutebi, Edward Sengonzi Damulira and Rose Nalubowa. These are either little-known politicians or losers in the NRM primaries. The agenda in naming them to the campaign team appears to be to pacify and cage them to ensure they do not `cause trouble’ by running as independents. These will play no critical position on Team B aka `The Pretenders team’.

Then there is Team C aka `the shadow dream team’. These have no official or visible role but have heavy name value behind the scenes. These include ministers Sam Kutesa, Amelia Kyambadde, Muruli Mukasa, Abraham Byandala, Aida Nantaba, Rosemary Najjemba, Maria Mutagamba, Muruli Mukasa, and former minister Maria Kiwanuka. Some of these boast critical connections of allegiance to Museveni while others exercise soft-influence, and even maverick soldiers like Brig. Kasirye Gwanga.

Museveni deploys any of these teams whenever he deems them fit for purpose. Taken together, however, pundits are weighing them against past Museveni teams in Buganda and even the opposition teams of Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) candidate Kizza Besigye and Go-Forward candidate Amama Mbabazi and his Democratic Party (DP) coalition.

The 1996 dream team

Until he decamped from the ruling party in 2004 over the deletion of presidential term limits from the Constitution, Jaberi Bidandi Ssali, had for at least two decades been the most influential politician in President Yoweri Museveni’s government from Buganda. He always played a central role in Museveni’s political campaigns in the central region, even ahead of perennial ruling party vice chairmam Alhajji Moses Kigongo and Foreign Minister Sam Kahamba Kutesa. By 2004, the region also had then-powerful vice president Gilbert Bukenya.

When Bidandi left, the task of Museveni mobiliser shifted to Bukenya and Kigongo.

To back up this duo going into the 2011 elections, Museveni’s government had a number of other powerful ministers, including the former Attorney General Khiddu Makubuya and former Finance Minister Syda Bbumba, both of whom have since been fired. Bukenya was fired in May 2013 and briefly sent to jail over his alleged role in fraudulent procurements during the Commonwealth Heads of State and Government Meeting (CHOGM 2007) in Kampala. Syda Bbumba and Makubuya resigned from cabinet in 2012 after a parliamentary investigation implicated them in dubious compensation to NRM-linked businessman Hassan Bassajjabalaba.

The exit from Museveni’s government of all these figures has led to the emergence of some not-so-new figures, but who have different styles of operation and on the face of it don’t seem to give Museveni’s campaign effort in Buganda a boost.

Take vice president Edward Ssekandi, Bukenya’s replacement. Despite being the highest Muganda in Museveni’s government, he is a relative unknown in most parts of Buganda outside the greater Masaka area. Since his appointment as vice president in 2011, Ssekandi has probably not visited even half of Buganda’s 24 districts.  This is not without reason, however. Yusuf Nsibambi, a Kampala-based lawyer who is a member of the opposition FDC, says that Ssekandi is “a good student of Museveni politics.” Nsibambi says Ssekandi studied what caused his predecessors problems and decided to avoid repeating their mistakes. Nsibambi says that what caused the late Dr Samson Kisekka, Museveni’s first vice president, on Museveni’s own admission, was his closeness with, and apparent sympathy to Buganda Kingdom demands.

Kisekka, then in his 80s, was too old to pose a political challenge of his own to Museveni, but Museveni still felt uncomfortable with him and he accused him of trying to incite the Baganda against his government, Nsibambi says. Kisekka was fired.

Enter Prof Gilbert Bukenya. He was younger than Museveni, ambitious and hailed from populous constituencies – Ganda and Catholic. Bukenya, according to Nsibambi, did too much work to popularise himself, including popularising upland rice, that Museveni and people like Amama Mbabazi, then security minister and NRM secretary general with ambitions of his own, got concerned. Bukenya referred to Kabaka Mutebi as “my friend”.

Nsibambi argues that Ssekandi is best served by keeping a low profile and doing only what he is assigned to do. This implies, however, that he won’t be able to cultivate the clout he needs to influence voting patterns in Buganda beyond his Bukoto Central constituency in Masaka, which he himself struggled to win in the past.

In fact, it would appear, Ssekandi is so disinterested in leadership within NRM that he wouldn’t even offer himself for the position of vice chairperson for Buganda, which his predecessor, Bukenya, occupied before he unsuccessfully vied for the secretary general job against Amama Mbabazi.

Hajji Abdul Nadduli, the NRM vice chairperson for Buganda, is himself so devoid of influence that he even lost the party flag bearer race to retain his seat as Luweero district chairman. To retain the position of vice chairperson for Buganda region at the NRM delegates’ conference last month, Museveni had to intervene to convince Hajji Muyanja Mbabaali to let Nadduli keep it without voting. No wonder that despite being the vice chairperson of Buganda region, Nadduli is missing on the campaign list released by secretary general Justine Lumumba Kasule.

The Buganda campaign list

A quick look at the list of campaigners proposed by secretary general Justine Lumumba Kasule suggests one thing; the thinking was to select people who will commit all their time to getting Museveni re-elected instead of having to pay attention to their own election battles.

Janat Mukwaya, the chairperson of the national campaign team who hails from Buganda, for instance, has been out of elective politics for five years. A bush war fighter and Museveni loyalist, however, she has been very deeply involved in all Museveni’s re-election drives. During the last campaigns, in late 2010, she was involved in an accident as she drove to eastern Uganda for campaigns.  A possible down-side to her involvement at such a high level, however, is that she is not very popular herself, even in Mukono South, the constituency she used to represent in Parliament. Her victories in 2001 and 2006 were indeed laboured, and insiders in her constituency politics say she opted not to run again in 2011 because she feared she would fail to get re-elected. In fact, her anointed successor easily lost to Rev Peter Bakaluba-Mukasa, who was transferring from Mukono North to Mukono South amidst serious protests by Mukwaya herself.

Lumumba can argue, of course, that Hajji Moses Kigongo led Museveni’s campaigns in 1996 and 2001 without himself having ever stood for election. Hajji Kigongo, the first vice chairperson of NRM, has, like Museveni, never been subjected to a vote within the NRM structures. But when he led campaigns, he was deputised by Jaberi Bidandi Ssali, also from Buganda, who until he left NRM seemed to know very well how to get elected and re-elected, in addition to being billed as a good organiser.

“Campaign team doesn’t matter”

Lumumba’s current team for Buganda includes people who lost in NRM primaries and a number of relative unknowns in the political circles.  Sources at the NRM secretariat told The Independent that Lumumba, being a technocratic secretary general who is not seeking re-election herself, was looking to put together a team that would basically offer technical support and generally leave the politics to President Museveni.

The source says that once the infrastructure for conducting the campaigns is in place, Museveni hopes to pull the levers he has always pulled to get the Buganda vote, just like in other areas.

And there are some indications of what institutions are considered central in this, going by some of the names on his re-election task force as released by Lumumba. Businessman Godfrey Kirumira, the chairperson of a club of Kampala billionaires called Kwagalana, makes it to the list of campaigners for obvious reasons – the campaign needs financing. Sources say he is in charge of mobilising money from big businesspeople for that purpose.

And then there is Lawrence Mulindwa, the former head of the federation of Uganda Football Association (FUFA). Probably of more interest, Mulindwa is the proprietor of an elite high school, Kitende, which has a big student population. He also has influence among other educationists. Educational institutions have for years been a key hunting ground for votes for President Museveni, and he maintains close ties with many individuals who run big schools and private universities.

Primary Education State Minister John Chrysostom Muyingo, for instance, apart from his connections with the Buganda Kingdom, owns several high schools and is highly influential in the education circles. Insiders say this played a big role in his appointment as minister.

Private schools aside, sources close to the workings of the system say that it is hard to come across a head teacher of a big government-supported high school who does not back Museveni. Opposition politicians, in fact, have in the past claimed that schools are havens for vote rigging.  Nadduli has now added his voice to this claim. He lost the NRM primaries for Luweero district flag bearer to Ndawula Kaweesi, his longtime nemesis in the district. Kaweesi’s house was torched in one of the many incidents of violence in the primaries. Nadduli told The Independent, in connection to this, that whoever torched Kaweesi’s house could have been angered by the “disgusting” rigging that he said Kaweesi carried out, especially coordinated in schools and even involving under age school children. He claimed to have evidence to prove his allegations.

State institutions crucial

Schools aside, Museveni has been accused of relying on State infrastructure, especially the Resident District Commissioners and intelligence officers at the district, sub county and other levels of purposes of vote hunting.

“We are not competing with a political party because NRM isn’t one,” FDC presidential candidate Dr Kizza Besigye told The Independent, “We are competing against the State; NRM is a politico-military institution that has allowed a semblance of political organisation outside the State.”

Besigye accuses the police, especially police boss Gen Kale Kayihura, “elements in the military”, and intelligence officers at different levels of being “Museveni’s principal campaigners”.   Museveni is expected to heavily rely on soldiers under the auspices of “Operation Wealth Creation” (OWC), which took over the distribution of seeds, livestock and other assistance to farmers under the National Agricultural Advisory Services.

The responsible soldiers have registered residents in their different jurisdictions in preparation for distributing different items, including livestock. Besigye calls this a “gimmick to plant false hope in the minds of citizens that they will get cows, pigs, goats, etc”. Whatever name one gives it, however, observers expect it to be a potent tool for Museveni. He has already promised to increase financing for the initiative, pledging to inject Shs 1trillion into it next financial year.   Museveni is looking to exploit OWC to good effect in Buganda, especially in the so-called Luweero Triangle were it was first piloted over two years ago.

Such initiatives, according to Tamale Mirundi, a presidential advisor on media, “are more meaningful to the people than Museveni being associated with what you people call influential figures. People don’t eat influential figures.”

On his campaign trail in Buganda, Besigye moves with Rubaga Mayor Joyce Nabbosa Ssebugwawo, a former Buganda Kingdom official who is also biologically related to the Nabagereka, Sylvia Nagginda, the Queen of Buganda. He is also backed by Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago, probably the most popular politician in Buganda at present, and other Buganda loyalists like MPs Ssemujju Nganda and Kasibante Moses.

Former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, on the other hand, is backed by former Buganda Katikkiro Mulwanyammuli Ssemogerere and MPs Medard Sseggona and Mathias Mpuuga, two former Buganda Kingdom officials. Mbabazi has attempted to make inroads into the Buganda establishment for purposes of cultivating political capital.  He, for instance, attended the finals of the Buganda Counties football tournament at Namboole stadium last month, where Kabaka Mutebi was chief guest, and he is also expected to attend the Enkuuka festival, a year-ender carnival organised by CBS, the Buganda Kingdom radio station and presided over by the Kabaka.

Buganda de-politicised

But, it is noteworthy, politics involving Buganda is probably at its lowest ebb since the restitution of the kingdom in 1993. Agitation involving the demands for the return of the kingdom’s properties that were grabbed by the central government when the kingdom was abolished in the 1960s is at its lowest, especially since the appointment about two years ago of Charles Peter Mayiga as Katikkiro.  Mayiga has sought to redefine Buganda Kingdom’s focus from a belligerent protagonists fighting for space in the political arena to an entity focused on pursuing economic superiority to begin with. Mayiga, also, achieved a normalisation of relations between the kingdom and President Museveni, leading to the return to the kingdom many of properties that the central government had held for over four decades.

This, in the estimation of many, politically benefitted Museveni in Buganda, while it angered some previously Mengo-focused politicians who no longer see eye-to-eye with Mayiga. They accuse Mayiga of selling out to Museveni.

Mukono Municipality MP Betty Nambooze, for instance,  tool to Facebook to accuse Mayiga of brokering the return to the NRM fold of former vice president Prof Gilbert Bukenya, who had joined the Opposition and was looking to stand against Museveni. A story with similar claims appeared in the Observer newspaper, prompting Mayiga to deny it in the same newspaper.

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