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Inside Mbabazi’s coalition with DP

By Haggai Matsiko and Flavia Nassaka

Mbabazi shined in DP’s stronghold, can he sustain that outside Buganda, across the country?

As former Prime Minister, Amama Mbabazi embarked on the second week of campaigns, he defied talk that the numbers at his rallies would drop significantly the moment he gets out of Buganda, his strategists say.

Democratic Party’s (DP) Mathias Mpuuga, who representsMasaka Municipality and is part of Mbabazi’s top campaigning team has said that contrary to the critics view, outside Buganda the rallies are getting better by the day.

“I am satisfied beyond expectation,” Mpuuga said on Nov.16 when Mbabazi went through Kyankwanzi and held a rally in Hoima, “my candidate (Mbabazi) is proving critics wrong. A steady following is growing, that is unsolicited and that is not fanatical.”  He added that unlike competitors, Mbabazi has a message that will ensure people return to vote and most critically protect his votes.

Another Mbabazi mobiliser, Mukasa Mbidde, who is the DP Vice President also expressed excitement about Mbabazi’s support. “We are leading a campaign that grows everyday unlike competitors who started as elephants and are now treading like monkeys,” Mbidde said, “Ours is support that is not depending on advertising. We have 40 mobilisers in every village and these are doing door to door mobilisation.”

Mbidde said that the 40 mobilisers Mbabazi has mean that he is 10 mobilisers ahead of the ruling party, which has 30 mobilisers per village. Forum for Democratic Change’s (FDC) Kizza Besigye has said that they also have the P10 or ten members per parish.

Apart from the numbers, Mbidde said that to beat Museveni, one needs to first understand his strength. He said that Museveni has the money, message, tools for mobilisation and even repression, and gives people the perception that he will remain the president. He said Mbabazi’s strategy is to match what Museveni has.

“We have made sure that we have all these,” Mbidde said, “What we do not have is the repressive machinery and we do not need it to defeat him. We are going to defeat him.”

Mbabazi has continued to attract numbers at his rallies in western Uganda similar to those after the nomination rally at Nakivubo Stadium and the follow up rallies in Masaka, Mukono and Luweero, which were all characterized by mammoth crowds.

Central Uganda was intended to give the calculated momentum to Mbabazi’s bid against President Yoweri Museveni.

This is because, Mbabazi’s biggest partner under The Democratic Alliance (TDA), the DP, Uganda’s third biggest party, historically, boasts the biggest support in the central region. That also partly explains why Mbidde and Mpuuga are the heart of his campaign.

Like Mpuuga, all the 15 DP legislators hail from the central Uganda districts of Mukono, Buikwe, Lwengo, Wakiso, Bukomansimbi, Butambala, Luwero, Masaka, Kampala and Kalungu.

Some of these MPs like Medard Sseggona, Busiro County East and Mpuuga are at the centre of Mbabazi’s campaigns. Mpuuga chaired his nomination committee. While Sseggona made one of the best pitches for the Mbabazi candidature at Nakivubo, Mpuuga led Mbabazi to another huge rally in Masaka, where he represents the Municipality.

Even in Luweero, Mbabazi attracted large crowds. Observers say it was not easy to tell who between him and his former boss Museveni, who launched his rallies here, had the biggest crowds.

That Mbabazi pulled such crowds in Luweero was energising for his supporters because it is where President Museveni launched the 1981-86 war, which brought him into power and has always held Luweero as the ruling party’s biggest stronghold. This is why the ruling party was started its campaigns in Luwero.

But for some, the crowds in Luweero were not surprising. The area has been slipping away from Museveni and NRM and ruling party legislators have continued to lose here.

DP’s Brenda Nabukenya snatched the District Woman MP slot from under the ruling party’s nose.  Nabukenya’s win was bagged because a lot of opposition politicians descended on Luweero and ensured they won.

By allying with DP and other TDA members, Mbabazi seems to be relying on the power of numbers of legislators to eat into what historically remains a Museveni stronghold. While ruling party legislators have continued to lose in the central, Museveni remains king here. As of 2011, he won 22 of the 24 districts in central Uganda. He lost only Kampala and Wakiso to the current Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) flag bearer, Kizza Besigye. Besigye got 49 percent against Museveni’s 42 percent in Wakiso and 46.8 percent against Museveni’s 46.8 percent in Kampala.

Apart from Museveni, Mbabazi has Besigye to contend with when it comes to the central region and even the eastern region.

Besigye has not campaigned in the central region but if his nomination day rally proved anything it is that he is still a giant of a contender with potential to keep Wakiso and Kampala under his spell and even the about 25 percent average he got in central region as a whole in 2011. Besigye also will not be easy to dislodge in eastern Uganda if the results of 2011 are anything to go by. Overall, Besigye beat Museveni in five districts, the three are from the east—Soroti, Kaberamaido and Serere.  Apart from these three, Besigye’s FDC is strongest in Eastern Uganda. Of its 36 legislators, 18 hail from eastern Uganda. Some of these legislators like current party Secretary General Nandala Mafabi and his predecessor, Alice Alaso are behemoths of mobilisers.

Mbabazi is not afraid, he has already flirted with the east. His most talked about rally to date was in Mbale during his consultations. FDC officials later claimed they had lent him a hand. He, therefore, will be looking to prove them wrong.

But before he does, he has to first prove the NRM wrong in Gulu. This is the ground zero of the DP president Norbert Mao. Mao is even contesting for the Gulu Municipality parliamentary seat. But most importantly, it is here where Mao beat both Museveni and Besigye in the 2011 elections.

He got 44 percent against Besigye’s 11.6 percent and Museveni’s 36.7 percent in Amuru. Mao also got 57 percent against Besigye’s 7.6 percent and Museveni’s 26.6 percent in Nwoya. And finally, 42.7 percent against Besigye’s 20.6 percent and Museveni’s 29 percent. Mao has a major interest in throwing the weight of DP behind Mbabazi. Apparently, DP officials have calculated that by giving Mbabazi their structures, they stand a better chance by tapping into the excitement surrounding Mbabazi candidature and his resources to increase their numbers in parliament.

In the event that they raise more legislators than FDC, they overtake it as the major opposition political party and once in parliament, Mao would automatically be the Leader of Opposition, a position currently held by the FDC’s Wafula Oguttu. Some FDC officials have intimated to The Independent that this plan by DP officials contributed to their parting ways with TDA. It was seen as a move by Mao to connive with Mbabazi and overthrow them.

For observers, this seems the party’s grandest ideas to transform itself. Formed in 1954, the DP is Uganda’s oldest political party but it has tended to lag behind those formed after it like the Uganda People’s Congress, the ruling NRM and FDC, which was formed in 2004.

Amongst its contemporary leaders, it is KawangaSemwogerere and Norbert Mao, who have shone as its leaders. Semwogerere put up a strong bid against Museveni in 1996 that some still think Museveni, who was at the time much more popular than he is today, only rigged himself into victory.

Mao rescued the party from the slumber Sebana Kizito seemed to have dumped it to emerge the third in the election. He had until he came up with the latest plan to ally with Mbabazi struggled to keep the party together.

Mpuuga confirmed what our sources had told us about DP’s plan.

“Away from the candidature of Mbabazi,” Mpuuga said, “this coalition is in essence about the revival of DP. What you are seeing is DP getting out of slumber and taking centre stage in Uganda’s politics. When you look at the nitty-gritty of the campaign, yes there are these other small parties, but it is DP in action.”

Mpuuga explained that this is DP’s time to show that it can thrive despite the attrition of post-independence political parties.

“Today you have a different demographic, young people who owe nothing to the past, that is why the DP must rekindle itself and tap into new political dividends,” Mpuuga added.

Mbidde, who is the party Vice President explained that DP has always been a partner in the quest to have peaceful change in Uganda.

Mbidde explained: “We were there in 1980, in 1986 we formed government with the NRM, in 1996 all parties joined hands with our candidate (Kawanga) under the Interparty Forces for Change (IPFC) to defeat Museveni, we joined hands with Besigye in 2001 because he came from the NRM promising to reform Uganda’s politics and we are doing it even now because another candidate has emerged from Museveni’s house, he doesn’t have a party and sees DP as that partner he can work with to bring about change.”

Mbidde admitted that the DP stands to benefit tremendously. “Under this arrangement,” he told The Independent, “We can assure our supporters that the DP policy will be implemented because we will form the government and ensure that we have the majority in parliament. We will determine business.”

Mbidde said the decision to support Mbabazi was agreed upon by the party leadership, the reason Mao is not vying but is taking centre stage in mobilising for Mbabazi. After lending Mbabazi a hand in central Uganda, Mao will be tested at his ground zero during the Gulu rally. It helps that he has the hand of former UPC President Olara Otunnu—they are all sons of the soil.

Mbabazi was supposed to campaign in Gulu on Nov.17 but insiders intimated that he had decided to continue in western Uganda inorder to avoid being in the same region as Museveni.

For Mao and Otunnu, biggest hurdle for now seems to be proving that they can transfer their support unto Mbabazi. If this election is proving anything, it is exposing the void of the so-called kingmakers. Examples abound of how those once seen as kingmakers are losing to new comers. The most notable example was in the NRM primaries where Justice Minister Kahinda Otafiire considered a historical and kingmaker in greater Bushenyi lost the Ruhinda constituency to little-known Donozio Kahonda , who was even in prison at the time of the elections. But for former presidential contestant AggreyAwori, the Mbabazi-DP coalition, “non-starter” he told The Independent.

Awori added that apart from Mao’s DP leadership being shaky because the core DP leadership cannot work with him. He also thinks the DP legislators supporting Mbabazi might even be voted out.

As for former Leader of Opposition, FDC’s Morris Ogenga Latigo, DP’s plan to swing back as the major opposition party seems to have been informed by a calculation that the rifts in FDC fueled by the Muntu, Besigye contest threatened to break the party.  “The huge rift that was anticipated may not occur,” Latigo said.

However, he caution that the FDC must work on fighting for what it has—the majority in parliament—and fight selfishness by some that has severally threatened to make the party lose its position.

As these other parties plan to undo each other, Mbabazi, who has created a lot of excitement in the 2016 contest against President Yoweri Museveni must as his logo says, Go Forward.

For now, away from DP, the excitement around him comes from the perception that as President Museveni’s former topmost ally, Prime Minister and ruling party Secretary General he knows all the tricks Museveni has used to keep himself in power for 30 years and can use them to turn the tide against the latter.

Some of his aides have even claimed that he knows what the president eats because he has for a long time participated in having it prepared. This perceived insider knowledge is what many in his camp are selling as Mbabazi’s biggest weapon in a contest against Museveni.

Indeed as he launched his campaigns at Nakivubo Stadium, the same day he was nominated, his aides sought to sell this credential. His ability to get all the members of other opposition political parties apart from the FDC and CP further fueled this excitement. Mbabazi who has always said that the taste of the pudding in response to questions about when his supporters in the ruling party would come out, was expected to show part of this perceived political might in especially Buganda.

But while his rallies in Masaka, Mukono, Luwero and Kampala have pulled numbers and have been described as successful, they have not had much sparks or wow effect. At most rallies, his aides, sometimes appeared more eloquent than him because he doesn’t speak Luganda, the language used and understood by the majority in central Uganda. Mbabazi has personally acknowledged to his supporters that Luganda is not his strength but this has not helped much. For many the inability to speak Luganda often sucked energy from his speeches and tested his ability to wow crowds.

Mbabazi’s campaign has also met a few hurdles. In Mukono groups of supporters wearing Museveni T-shirts sought to disrupt his rally. In Masaka, his posters were pulled down and his rally diverted to another venue.

Although major attention seems to be on the numbers at rallies, Mbabazi has been making promises to voters a head of the launch of his manifesto on Nov.21.

In Mukono, he promised the federo system of government. In Luwero, he also promised to elevate Luweero Town Council into a municipality and create capital fund for veterans to access funding. And in Masaka, Mbabazi promised the return of Ebyaffe, among others.  In all these areas, Mbabazi’s major message is that he has what it takes to safeguard the vote.

“I have spent 30 years leading elections, so I know how they work, we are determined and we have capacity to protect the vote,” he told his supporters in Mukono. He said the same in Masaka and Luwero.

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