By Morris DC Komakech
It was a referendum, to tell President Museveni that the people of Amuru they value their land above petty politics
Amuru has just concluded electing a replacement to Betty Oyella Bigombe who was seconded to World Bank as Senior Director for Fragility, Conflicts and Violence. Whatever that position entails, Bigombe secured a more respectful position than her pitiful one as Minister of State for Water, considering her seniority in NRMO.
This time, Amuru people switched their position from NRM to Opposition FDC, which could also mean that the 2011 vote was for Bigombe, rather than NRMO’s.
The outcome of the by-elections should not be taken lightly, going to 2016. Amuru is one of the areas in Acholi that got battered terribly by the two decades of insurgency. Our memories are still fresh with the Atiak Massacre of April 20, 1995 in which over 300 lives were lost. Later, then-Vice President Specioza Kazibwe, while visiting the scenes of the massacre, was quoted in the media making unsavoury remarks about the people of Atiak who were killed. With such a dark spot in its history, it was surprising that the NRM candidate, Ms Akilli Amongi could even win in Atiak!
Atiak is relatively an urbanised centre, itself having been a home to one of the largest internment camps where life conditions were described as squalid and unbearable. The hopelessness and powerlessness that shaped the perceptions of the people there could have endeared them to the ruling Party for material gains. Further, it appears that most of the voters in Atiak are alienated from the harshness of rural life characterised by land grabs by soldiers, family conflicts, and forceful eviction for Madhvani plantations.
The other implication is that, the anticipated fortune of the NRM in this region is imaginary. There has been this false perception that NRM has made inroads in Northern Uganda. It appears that these areas tend to vote for individual quality rather than the Party. The regime minders front the various post-conflict reconstruction programs such as PRDP, NUSAF, restocking, etc, as a reward or a favour rather than a right for the neglected region. For the locals on the ground, these programs have translated into fringe benefits for them. The proceeds from these services are evidently benefiting the regime cronies. Take for instance, the unequal distribution of war compensations, including selective cattle restocking, moreover with malnourished animals. These services have compounded the misery of the people and driven them into ambiguity about post conflict development. Given the fusion of the State with the incumbent political party, people are having difficulties discerning government programs from NRMO’s, and are shunning them.
Amuru has been in the political spotlight over a long period. From the days of Divinity Union in the 90s to the recent open discovery of potent oil wells, the regime and its elements had eyed Amuru for grabs and they are still fixated on that trophy. Amuru has rich, fertile land, endowed with vast minerals and a large rural population. The land is what beholds the populace. It is these attributes that the regime so wishes to usurp from the people, to dole out to sham investors whose agenda is to enslave the people of Amuru on their own lands. This by-election therefore was a sort of referendum, to tell President Yoweri Museveni that the people of Amuru mean business, and that, they value their land above all pettiness of politics.
One of the biggest implications of this by-election is the way it united the Opposition. Ugandans love to see UPC, DP, FDC, etc, working together as they did in Amuru and Luwero. Many commentators praised that harmony of the interparty coalition in Amuru, claiming that it illustrated a degree of maturity which Ugandans expect, to be able to trust the opposition with power. While the NRM licks its wounds, the big questions going forward is; what political fortune awaits a divided opposition in 2016?
Morris Komakech is a Ugandan social critic and political analyst. Can contact via firstname.lastname@example.org