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Lesson from Hoima by-election

Justine Kasule Lumumba (left) and her NRM team won latest battle

The opposition in Uganda believes that power is everything. They believe one does not need better policies backed by the appropriate social forces – only a good heart.

That once in power the rest will work out with “iron necessity” to a desirable end. Yet it is difficult to rally people whose actual interests you do not understand. For then, you cannot organise them around what they want (bottom-up). Instead you promise what you think they want (top-down welfare/charity) This is the reason the opposition has no plan to address the real challenges of Uganda’s economy: to create better jobs and opportunities for trade etc.

Consequently, the opposition has pitched its message on dolling out more welfare. Where Museveni has offered free education and free health, the opposition promises to make it better i.e. “we want to be a better version of Museveni”. Bobi Wine went even further when asked about his policy proposals. He said he intends to implement NRM’s Ten Point Program because Museveni has been poor at doing exactly that. This hogwash can win over the angriest sections of the population and nothing more.

For the NRM, its electoral performance is a tragedy not of poor performance but of contradiction. Museveni has actually been a very successful president by both historical and contemporary records. He has stabilised the political dispensation in a country that had once been plagued by military coups and civil wars, thereby giving Uganda a prolonged period of stability. He has buttressed this by putting the economy on a long-term growth trajectory thereby guaranteeing economic prosperity for a sizeable section of the population. He has tolerated a decent level of freedom and individual liberty, both political but most especially economic.

Yet in spite of this, and also largely because of it, middleclass Ugandans are angry and frustrated. This is even the more ironic because Museveni is in the most developmental phase of his presidency – witness the investments in infrastructure for roads, electricity, water, air transport, hospitals, schools etc. Any government would be reaping windfalls of political support from such massive investments. Yet the Museveni government seems to be reaping the opposite – increasing popular anger and frustration. Why?

NRM abandoned siasa (strategic communication and political mobilisation) long ago. Today it believes in crass bribery, dolling out envelopes of cash to supporters and critics alike backed by a sizeable doze of repression. The contradiction is that the NRM were most effective at communicating when they were doing very little and abandoned it when they are doing so much. Perhaps they have also deluded themselves into the belief that the investments they are making are self-evident. Yet making such investments without communication is like winking at someone in the dark: you know what you are doing, they don’t.

More critically, economic transformation has greater potential to generate mass discontent than economic stagnation. This is because as people are more educated, come to urban areas and are exposed to the world, they become more aspirational. The rate of growth in expectations outstrips the rate of growth in opportunities. The mismatch between expectations and available opportunities lead to social frustrations. This is why strategic communication and political mobilisation are absolutely vital for a rapidly transforming society. This is the logic Museveni and NRM have failed to register.

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3 comments

  1. ejakait engoraton

    “NRM continues to win elections in spite of declining support. The opposition claims this is because NRM steals their votes but fails to explain why they won Kyadondo East, Bugiri and Arua.”

    REALLY, is this the kind of reasoning from an intellectual or whatever one wants to call themselves.

    IT is like someone is brought to court and accused of “stealing cars”, and then answers “if I steal cars as you say , how come there are traffic jams in Kampala”.

    M9’s analysis on anything these days, is as the people from where WINNIE comes from would say, is worth “diddly squat.”

    I rest my case.

  2. 1. Earth moving equipments are roaring in all corners of Uganda in search of wealth why wouldn’t Ugandans vote for M7?
    2.The stakes in Hoima were so high and if at all M7 had lost the election it would have had a devastating effect on him .
    3. People power have to pull up their socks they are the type who would play with visitors shoes.
    4.Africa has lost alot of time carrying out experiments with democracy.
    5.Why don’t People power participate in discussions that lead to policy review?

  3. My view point as far as Hoima by -election are concerned, I suggest that everyone should ask themselves this question? Were these elections free and fair. The answer to is straight forward,.
    I was disappointed and dismayed how both sides have Militarised them but more especially, M7 government. It has never been interested in building a democratic society.
    No military man who holds a gun intimidates citizens at every turn will ever believe in democracy.
    Look at M7’s history . He has never believed in being under any leader other than himself. He has kept on recycling himself ever since he left Dar la’ salam University. KYIKOSI Malumu, FRONAS, NRA, NRM / NRMO . He has never contested power with anyone in his own party . Let alone others.
    On the part of opposition ,yes they don’t have the leathal force to counter M7’s Militias but they should not issuing empty threats and tunting Movement people,. Instead, teach your supporters other tools that are in the constitution. Let Ugandans know that M7 does not own the Military it’s for all Ugandans. Let the Military know that they too are being misused and abused by M7.
    His militia they don’t pay taxes for their up keep but Ugandans do. Call every tax payer to stop paying taxes once the Military comes out .some will say it’s against the law but that’s the start to have a debate about the role of the Military in elections.

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