Enter the entertainers
With exactly 365 days to the nomination of candidates for the 2021 Member of Parliament campaigns, the political temperatures are heating up across the country.
As is the norm around this time of Uganda’s electoral cycle, wedding ceremonies, church service and even funerals rarely end without prospective candidates making their intent known to the voters.
More potential candidates are increasingly using social media platforms to announce their intentions for elective politics. The bolder ones who are determined to make bigger investments are buying advertising space in traditional media platforms like newspapers, television and radio to announce their ambition.
Their script is the same: They say they want to serve and uplift the well-being of the people in their communities.
One of the surprising names this time is popular musician Joseph Mayanja who goes by the stage name, Jose Chameleone. Many thought it was his usual theatrics when he announced that he intends to run for the highly coveted and hotly contested Kampala Capital City mayoral seat in 2021. But he appears serious about it.
Chameleone, who will be 42 at the next election in 2021could have run for office as early as 2001 when he was 22-years old. Instead, the man who calls himself the ‘music doctor’ put all efforts in his music; releasing hit after hit, until he became the most recognized musician in East Africa. As CEO of his Leone Island music label, he has made some money. Many known musicians in Uganda and East Africa, gained fame under him. So why has he joined politics now?
“When service fails in a state, people start waking up,” he told The Observer in an interview, “Some of us got up because the tasks we send these people for, we too can do them. We can deliver services the way we want them.”
Even more determined is another musician Ronald Mayinja. He says he wants to go to Parliament in 2021 to help his people of Gomba in central Uganda.
Mayinja who over the last decade has serenaded his fans with politically-charged songs like Tuliku Bukenke, Tulwana na Nguzi (We are fighting corruption), “Africa, Ani agula ensi” (Africa is up for sale) and Sente y’ekibi (evil money) told The Independent on Aug.02 that he has decided to “fight for his people” of Gomba East because his constituency has lagged behind other areas for far too long.
Mayinja told The Independent that; “Compared to other parts of the country, you could be forgiven to think that my birth place is not in Uganda and yet it is not too far away from Uganda’s capital city, Kampala.”
“We don’t have a hospital, we only have “simple” clinics, and the education sector is too poor with children studying under trees while unemployment among the youth is too high while the elderly are destitute.”
“Everything is just a mess,” Mayinja, 43, told The Independent. He says he intends to use his parliamentary position alongside the contacts he has made both here in Uganda and abroad to uplift his folk from abject poverty.
Asked why he needs to go to parliament to do this, Mayinja told The Independent that it is difficult for him to mobilise when he is not into mainstream politics.
“Sometimes I have to deal with the police that accuse me of unlawful assembly,” Mayinja said.
Should Chameleone (mayoral race), Mayinja and other showbiz personalities eyeing various seats succeed in going to the 11th Parliament in 2021, they will be following in the footsteps of man-of-the-moment Robert Ssentamu Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine; the popular musician who won the Kyadondo County East MP seat in 2017 in dramatic style and is now vying for the presidency.
Others of this ilk include Kato Lubwama (Lubaga South), gospel singer Judith Babirye (Woman MP, Buikwe District) and radio personality, Peter Ssematimba (Busiro County South).
It’s all too easy
Most of the showbiz gang are lining up because Bobi Wine’s win made it look easy.
Onesmus Mugyenyi, the deputy executive director of the Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE) says becoming an MP has got easier – by dilution of expectations.
Previously, Mugyenyi says, voters wanted someone who exuded reason and ideas. As a result, people feared to stand for MP unless they thought they had a lofty contribution to make.
“Today, it is completely different,” he says, “Either, the citizens have given up and they know that MPs do not do much and they send in anyone.”
Then Mugyenyi says, it is also important to understand that the country has been chopped up so much to create smaller constituencies— a development which has eventually created a big Parliament.
By doing this, Mugyenyi says, opportunities have been created for people who would otherwise have not actually thought about contesting. The downside to this is that it has “dumbed-down” the quality of MPs in Parliament.
“It is no longer about the ideas that bring these people to Parliament; it is the financial muscle and resources that are bringing these people to parliament,” he says.
According to Henry Muguzi, the executive director of the Alliance for Electoral Campaign Finance Monitoring (ACFIM), that is because Ugandan voters punish incumbents and favour new faces.
“Prospective candidates already know that these positions are there for the taking because everybody knows that about 70% of the MPs might not come back,” he told The Independent on Aug.01.
He says his conclusion is based on analysis of the last three parliaments; the seventh, eighth and ninth parliaments, where the turn-over rate of MPs has been quite high.
Dr. Patrick Wakida, the executive director of Research World International, a Kampala-based polling firm, calls the MP’s job a “position from which people earn for just talking.”
“It’s a highly paying job and yet you earn for almost doing nothing and not many Ugandans earn up to Shs20 million a month,” Wakida told The Independent to explain why jostling to be MP has become so intense.
Crispin Kaheru, the coordinator of Citizens Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU) also adds that considering that the presidency is ring-fenced, the MP role is the highest available level of political achievement for the more ambitious people who hope to join cabinet as the apex of their aspirations.
“Don’t forget that it is a high public profile opportunity for business networks; many young MPs use their time in the House to broker business deals, broker contracts and tenders, besides getting school fees for their higher education.”
Cissy Kagaba, the executive director of the Anti-Corruption Coalition-Uganda (ACCU), is blunter. “Besides prestige, money is the number one reason why most people covet the position of MP,” she told The Independent, “If you insist that the MPs are in Parliament to serve the people, remove the money element out of the equation and see how many will remain in the House.
“Tell them that they are going to earn like a teacher, a doctor or any other ordinary public servant and see how many will go there. They have the power to determine their emoluments. Who would not want to have the entitlements that they have?”
Kagaba says the reason people are willing to mortgage their property and take bank loans is because this is a form of business and that is why the first thing the new MPs do is to increase their emoluments once they have sworn in.