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Museveni fights for eastern vote

By Agather Atuhaire

Mbabazi could replace Besigye as regional opposition favourite

Analysis of political campaigns often throws up unsubstantiated claims and the commentary on the 2011 general elections is no exception. Among the popular myths being peddled is that President Yoweri Museveni won the north. He did not.  In fact he got his least votes there – 27% in Nwoya, 29% in Gulu district, 39% in Kitgum, 49% in Lira, 46% in Pader. Museveni’s highest tally was 70% in Otuke, and 60% in Oyam.

Instead, the figures in northern Uganda show two outcomes that are often mixed up. The first is that the opposition vote that previously went to Museveni’s main rival Kizza Besigye in that region, was split between him and the Democratic Party candidate Nobert Mao. The other is what is widely known; that Museveni defeated Besigye in that region for the first time.


Another emerging myth related to the northern one is that Museveni has previously performed badly in eastern Uganda and is likely to be routed in 2016 by independent candidate Amama Mbabazi, the former prime minister and NRM secretary general who is leading the Go-Forward coalition.

The pundits point at the three districts of Soroti, Serere and Kaberamaido where Museveni lost to Besigye. In Soroti, Besigye garnered 61.9% of the vote against Museveni’s 34.9, in Serere Besigye got 55% and Museveni 40.8%, and in Kaberamaido Besigye got 51.9% against Museveni’s 43%.

The other strong point is that Besigye had beaten Museveni in about half of the region’s districts in the 2006 election.

In reality, Besigye might have done better in eastern than elsewhere, but Museveni defeated him hands down in eastern Uganda. The sense of Besigye’s strength in eastern Uganda is reflected in the numbers. In the 32 districts that comprise the greater eastern region, Besigye’s tally was about 28%, two percentage points above his national average vote tally of 26%. Museveni on the other hand saw red in eastern Uganda if his average vote tally there is compared to his national average. In the 32 districts, he got an average of 65%, which is three percentage points below his national average of 68%. Therefore, Besigye is strong in eastern Uganda but he did not defeat Museveni there. But 2016 is not 2011.

In a presage of what possibly lies ahead in 2016, some observers say, five ministers from eastern Uganda failed to secure the party flag in the primaries for members of parliament. Ministers Daudi Migereko, Sarah Opendi, Jessica Alupo, Asuman Kiyingi, and Irene Muloni were beated in the October races.

President Museveni appears to be succumbing to the doomsday outlook for his prospects in eastern Uganda. It is widely believed it is the reason he on Nov.11 engineered a Museveni in a mini-reshuffle to replace the ministers that saw him appointed three easterners to replace two westerners and an easterner in his cabinet.

That was a surprise because Museveni has never appointed ministers from one region in a single reshuffle. It would have been less surprising if it had been from the West which has always seemed to be his favorite when it comes to choosing ministers but not the East which has until recently had only three cabinet ministers.

What is more surprising is that two of the people he was replacing (Kategaya and Nyakairima) were from the West. Octogenarian Kirunda Kivejinja, Bukedea Woman MP Rose Akol, Bunghoko South MP Michael Werikhe were appointed to replace the late Eriya Kategaya, the late Aronda Nyakairima, and the late James Mutende.

The timing of the reshuffle also caused wise-watchers to wink. Many wondered aloud why Museveni was carrying out a reshuffle, less than three months to the end of his term after he had comfortably left some of the slots unfilled for more than two years. Kategaya’s position had been vacant for almost three years now since his death in March 2013.

The view in the bars and taxis is that Museveni plotted the new appointments as a strategy to neutralize his opponents in the region. Bubulo East MP Simon Mulongo, who is also from the east, belongs to Museveni’s party and was defeated in the primaries, told The Independent Museveni was smart to make that move.

He said it was high time Museveni appeased and appreciated the people of eastern Uganda because they have felt marginalised for so long and could easily run out of patience at the polls in 2016.

“Do you know that the entire region from Jinja all the way to Karamoja had only three cabinet ministers?” Mulongo said, “How do you think that makes the people feel yet one region (Western) has 20 ministers?

“In fact, Greater Bushenyi alone has more than five and Sheema, one district has two cabinet ministers.”

Before the recent appointments, the Eastern region had Daudi Migereko as minister for Lands, Irene Muloni in Energy, and Jessica Alupo in Education. Mulongo predicts Alupo will not retain her cabinet position in 2016 because of her decision to stand as an Independent after losing in the party’s primaries.

But why is the region so important?

Eastern Uganda has over 4 million voters. In 2011, it had 3,520, 368 registered voters. It also had the highest voter turn up because of these 64% turned up to vote. The region has a volatile voting behavior and the records show how it easily changes from one candidate to another.

This, Mulongo says is because of the region’s social-economic status. Mulongo says because poverty levels are high in the region, its people are the most disgruntled and the most desperate.

They, therefore, are perceived to favour someone that they hope to change their fortunes. Mulongo says this makes the ruling party the most vulnerable in the region because the people think they have nothing to lose by not voting the party they think has marginalised them for long.

“I remember I was on Museveni’s campaign team in 2006 and the people in the region, especially in Teso would ask me why I was campaigning for someone who has marginalised us for a long time.” He said, “Teso told me they would vote for Besigye and indeed they did.”

Makerere University Professor, Sabiiti Makara, one of the authors of the popular book “Elections in a Hybrid Regime” agrees with Mulongo.

He says that people from Eastern Uganda have always felt left out and marginalised both economically and politically hence they feel they do not owe Museveni and the NRM government anything.

“People who feel marginalised can be easily swayed by the opposition,” Makara said, “Museveni can’t risk losing over 4 million votes.”

Makara said the Eastern vote is still up for grabs and can be the decisive vote in 2016. Among the issues that make Eastern Uganda a special case, according to Mulongo, is the region’s diverse ethnicities. He says because of many ethnic groups, the people in this region tend to have different aspirations.

“The East is the only region where people can’t speak to one another because of the sharp differences in their languages,” he says, “as such, each ethnicity has its own expectations.”

This, analysts say, could work in Mbabazi’s favour. After declaring his Presidential aspirations in June, Mbabazi significantly chose to kick start his consultations from the Eastern region.

Before police stopped the process after he had held only three meetings, the region had already shown Mbabazi overwhelming support going by the crowds he attracted at these consultation meetings.

Sources say, Museveni was so threatened that he ordered Police to stop Mbabazi’s consultations with bullets and teargas. It did not help matters that the Electoral Commission and Police started making up unconvincing explanations about how he is breaching the law (Presidential Elections Act) before Police reprehensibly stopped his consultations in September.

Sources say Museveni realized Mbabazi could potentially threaten his interests in a region that has proved to be volatile. What is often missed is that Mbabazi might , in fact, instead claw away part of Besigye’s support in the region and hand Museveni another uncontestable win eastern Uganda.  The smart money would say they saw a similar scenario when Norbert Mao washed out Besigye’s popularity in northern Uganda.

The argument is that being the newest in the race, the region might choose him over Besigye and Museveni.

Makara reasons that’s why Museveni has been trying to reach out to the region in the recent past. He said the latest ministerial appointments could have been to make the people of the region feel included and appreciated.

Makara, however, doubts the ability of some of these appointees to deliver the political clout that Museveni needs in the region. He points at Kirunda Kivejinja who he says no longer wields that much influence in the region.

“Kirunda Kivenjinja has been losing elections in Bugweri County for three times now,” he said, “that means he doesn’t have any political weight anymore and might not be very useful to Museveni.”

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