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How Museveni gained 10% and Besigye lost it

By Joseph Were

“Unfortunately for Besigye, his team missed even the well known view that polls, even bogus ones, create the so-called “herd” mentality of voters swing to the side of the one reported to be winning.”

“A voter told The independent: “Besigye forgot that he has to get the vote first before concentrating on protecting it.””

I am not anxious because I know the politics of this country,” President Yoweri Museveni told journalists two days before he was announced winner of the 2011 presidential race on Feb. 20 with 68 percent of the vote, “I will win easily”.

His nearest rival, Kizza Besigye, got 26 percent of the contest that most observers agreed was largely peaceful but none was foolhardy enough to pronounce it either free or fair.

Sunday Feb. 20 was one of the quietest nights in Kampala. I drove past a lone man on Jinja Road blowing a vuvuzela. Obviously many were happy that Museveni had won, but this lone man was the only one jubilating. The rest were quiet. They were afraid of what might happen. The result was a fear-packed silence across the country after the election results were announced at Namboole.

That Museveni would still be president after the Feb. 18 election was really never in doubt. That he would win the election was another matter.

As the tallying went on under tight police security in Namboole stadium, a huge contingent of UPDF military police in brand new riot gear complete with red-helmets, batons, sub-machine guns, and battlefront camouflage waited under cover 100 metres away at the Mamerito Hotel owned by a member of Museveni’s campaign team in Buganda, Mamerito Mugerwa. These troops were just one of many that were deployed clandestinely across the country. They were the plan “B” – just in case.

Many voters saw the massive deployment of police and soldiers by police chief Maj. Gen. Kale Kayihura. In a show of force, thousands of troops in full battle camouflage marched on foot from various barracks across the country as police patrolled every nook and cranny on foot, motorcycle and truck. Although very few saw the more secretive deployment of the special military forces, many suspected it. Almost everyone got the message.

“Mzei talina gyagenda,” the meat seller at the local butcher told me as a two-seater plane painted in the sun-flower yellow of Museveni’s NRM party flew overhead blaring out Museveni’s campaign anthem, “Mpa enkoni mpa enkoni (you want another rap?)’. Most voters understood that under the current dynamics, Museveni would not cede power, even if he lost.

June 29, 2010: Electoral Commission chairman Badru Kiggundu announces nomination dates for presidential and parliamentary elections. It effectively releases the electoral roadmap.

August 20, 2010: UPC decides to pull out of IPC leaving the coalition to only four parties and Olara Otunnu was nominated as UPC presidential flag-bearer and campaigned against the Electoral Commission.

October 23: A music producer plays an electronically engineered rap song out of Musveni’s recital of a Runyankore children’s rhyme he had recited to a PWDs rally in Mbarara town at the Lugogo Cricket Oval during a pre-nomination party with the youths. The song “you want another rap” became a hit for Museveni during the campaigns leaving the opposition grumbling that the youth want jobs not songs.

October 28, 2010: Presidential campaigns kick off with eight candidates in the race having been nominated on October 25 and 26. The campaigns lasted for 112 days for the 112 districts. Comedian Paddy Bitama fails to secure nominations after failing to raise the required 7500 signatures from across the country. The EC had received a record 50 people picking presidential nomination forms but only 8 managed to be nominated.

November 25, 2010: Independent presidential candidate Samuel Walter Lubega is reported not showing up for the campaigns for about two weeks due to financial constraints. Lubega skipped some rallies in Busoga.

December 16: Afrobarometer releases first opinion poll that gave Museveni 67% win if elections were held in December sparking anger in the opposition members. Subsequent polls by The New Vision, Synovate and Daily Monitor gave Museveni comfortable lead ahead of his rivals.

January 12: Besigye says Hoima mayor Francis Atugonza was approached by one of Museveni’s sons-in-law with a bribe of Shs 1.5 billion to declare that he crossed to NRM.

January 19: FDC and NRM supporters in Alebtong district (Aloi sub-county) curved out of Lira district clash amid bribery accusations. Besigye’s head of security Charles Tumuramye intervenes to stop the fracas from turning bloody by arresting suspected ring leaders. Two days later Tumuramye is arrested and detained on charges of neglecting his official duty.

January 19: Electoral Commission chairman Badru Kiggundu names militia groups being trained by parties ahead of elections. The Inspector General of Police calls for the disbandment of these militia groups arguing they will cause chaos during elections.

January 22: Besigye rejects new security team police reassigned him insisting on the old one. Police does not give in to his demands. Besigye campaigns without official police security.

January 31: Parliament passed Cultural or Traditional Leaders Bill 2010 amidst opposition from Buganda Kingdom. Buganda had vehemently opposed the bill claiming it targeted its king and warned of more strained relations if government went ahead to pass the bill without due revisions. Some MPs from Buganda especially those in the opposition, made the bill a campaign issue.

February 1: Constitutional Court rules that 77 MPs who switched political platforms ought to have resigned as MPs before they got nominated for parliamentary elections on a political platform different from the one they were elected on into the 8th parliament. The Speaker of Parliament fumbled over what to do with the MPs but later wrote to them informing them of their expulsion from the House and ordered them to refund the salaries they had got since their nomination after the Supreme Court affirmed the court’s ruling that the MPs ceased to be legislators when they were nominated on a different political platform.

February 1: Lone female presidential candidate, Beti Kamya operated on after suffering intestinal obstruction. She was in hospital for a week.

February 16: Presidential candidates conduct last campaign rallies and campaigns close.

February 18: Ugandans vote for president and new parliament in a second consecutive multiparty election.

Compiled by Mubatsi Asinja Habati

This country will be broke by the time this election ends,” a member of the World Bank staff in Kampala warned when the same plane flew overhead another day.  But the woman next door ran around excitedly shouting that President Museveni had just called her to personally request her to vote him. She was the happy recipient of the massive NRM telephone canvassing that stretched from SMSs to a PADX voice message from Museveni.  Some reports claim Museveni spent over a trillion shillings on this election. The man who should know, the NRM Secretary General Amama Mbabazi scoffed at criticism over the campaign spending but offered no facts.

“Every party spent money,” he told a press conference at Namboole soon after the results were announced, “anyone without money cannot campaign.”

What Mbabazi did not say was that not every party could pass a Shs 602 billion supplementary budget at the height of the campaign or access the national reserves, the government coffers at the central bank as his party did. As Mbabazi brushed away any criticism, he also did not say that although election expenses are supposed to be reported under the law, no party does it and the EC looks the other way.

But the Afrobarometer report had indicated that 80 percent of voters believed Mbabazi’s NRM was the chief briber in the election. Therefore, it was as if the money Museveni’s team had pumped into the campaign was dripping out of that plane with each word of the song. If Museveni used money to buy the election, he used fear of the security forces and the threat of instability if he lost to ensure his win was not publicly contested.

The day after the meeting, three leaders of the opposition parties, the IPC’s Kizza Besigye, UPC’s Olara Otunnu, and Independent Samuel Lubega met in Kampala to issue a joint rejection of the results.

Opinion polls played an important part in this election, and they consistently showed Museveni in the lead.  But the opposition buried their head in divisions.

“Museveni will be shocked” was their well-rehearsed chorused. When Besigye and his team analyse their loss, they might as well conclude that it is in the handling of public opinion, reflected in the polls, that they failed most miserably. After Museveni voted in Rwakitura, he made a poignant comment: While the pollsters were going about their work, he said, the NRM was carrying out a census of its supporters.

“We know who our supporters are,” he said, “We know what homestead supports us”.  That statement, revealing NRM’s meticulous planning of the campaign. As always the inner working will remain sketchy, but a journalist privy to some of the planning told The Independent that Museveni largely locked out his usual strategists like Security Minister Mbabazi and the NRM Secretariat and “ran his own campaign.”

As The Independent reported in our story `Inside Museveni’s campaign money’ (Issue 142, December 17-23, 2010), Museveni’s concern has been about money and results. In Museveni’s two previous campaigns, in 2001 and 2006, his campaign team officials stole the money and the campaign ran into problems mid-way due to resource constraints.

This time he appointed former Vice President Specioza Wandira Kazibwe, who also heads the Microfinance Support Center that the government set up to distribute money to selected citizens for small economic ventures, to head his Election Coordination Committee, with Finance Minister Syda Bbumba as her deputy. These would handle the money.

At the time he launched his campaign, he told his team: “We don’t want campaigns which are just floating at the district, sub-county and parish. There are no people there. People are in the villages.”

To ensure results at the grassroots Museveni used strategy crafted by some of his most trusted young Turks and relatives with wide political networks. His younger brother, Gen. Salim Saleh featured prominently as did Presidential Assistant on Political Affairs, Moses Byaruhanga, his sons-in-law, Odrek Rwabwogo and Geoffrey Kamuntu, and New Vision empire boss, Robert Kabushenga. These were propped by Mbabazi’s security network of GISOs and RDCs.

Their plan was to squeeze Besigye out of northern Uganda, scuttle his coalition, and buy off his supporters. The strategy succeeded on all fronts. Besigye posted his worst election result ever.

But the grassroots campaign was also laced with another chilling reminder that Uganda is increasing becoming a police state in which political activity of each individual is being watched.

It is this fear that the opposition wrongly hoped to exploit.

“Over 65 percent of the people surveyed by Afrobarometer said they have to be careful what they say about politics. In any other country that would lead to cancellation of an election,” a leading member of the FDC’s unofficial strategy sanctum (he was allegedly involved in the botched FDC-sponsored Synovate poll), told The Independent. According to him, the voters would reveal their real opinion at the polls. They did. Unfortunately, the voters’ verdict was not what the FDC strategists had anticipated.

Afrobarometers local representative, Robert Ssentamu, of Wilksens must be one of the happiest people at the outcome of this election. His Afrobarometer polls indicated that Museveni would win between 66 and 65 percent of the vote. He won 68 percent. Their closeness to the final result shows that the polls are the only overt instrument that attempted to enter the mind of the voter.

Unfortunately for Besigye, his team missed even the well known view that polls, even bogus ones, create the so-called “herd” mentality of voters swing to the side of the one reported to be winning.

Besigye’s should have countered them by commissioning a more respectable firm to do a poll in his favour. Why didn’t he? Possibly it is because he commissioned the Synovate one, which also showed he was trailing. All this confusion worked on the mind of the voter.

Experts have told The Independent that even without its own poll; Besigye’s team should have studied the subtle responses to some of the Afrobarometer questions. These could have showed them the complexity of Museveni’s perceived popularity and the likelihood of  Besigye’s loss. They could have got clues about fundamental questions that Museveni appears to have answered correctly and Besigye wrongly.  Questions like: “what did the voters really want?”

Most reading of the polls focused on who was ahead and who was trailing. In the ensuing cries of either triumph or acrimony, depending on where one’s favoured candidate was depicted to be by the polls, little attention was paid to the person making the assessment – the voter.

The Afrobarometer polls were based on responses of 2000 potential voters aged mostly between 18 and 44, 50/50 male and female, mostly not educated beyond primary school, overwhelmingly rural, and overwhelmingly Christian.

Afrobarometer showed that in this same group were 53 percent people who reported that they have gone without enough to eat either many times, several times or once or twice; 59 percent do not have clean water, 58 percent have gone without cooking fuel, 74 percent without medicine or medical treatment, and 86 percent do not have an income i.e. they are very poor. Not your perfect picture of contentment or put differently, the kind of people would say are ready for “change”.

Yet, according to the same Afrobarometer statistics, these same people said the present economic condition was either very good or fairly good (58%), the living condition was either very good or fairly good (53%), and the country was going in the right direction (65%).

Besigye’s camp possibly rightly thought the statistics cannot be right. Alternatively, Besigye’s camp could have thought these potential voters were wrong in their perception of things. This view was perceptible everywhere in Besigye’s message of “Change is coming”. Besigye message of change was, as we now know, rejected at the polls.

Voters from the poorest districts gave Museveni the highest percentage of support; Kisoro 94.42%, Nakapiripirit 93.3%, Napak 93.22%, Nakasongola 92.01%, Buhweju 91.1%,Kibaale 91.05%, Abim 90.91%, Kyegegwa 90.88, Kyenjojo 90.74, Bukwo 90.51% and Kaliro 90.26%. Up to 17 of the 20 areas that gave Museveni over 85% of their vote are new districts. They are poor but under Museveni, they see a bright future. But it would be a mistake to conclude at this point that Besigye’s camp was wrong and the voters right i.e. that for example the country is going in the right direction.

The big issue is why Besigye’s seed of change, planted on such fertile ground, barely managed to germinate and died miserably on Feb. 18. The answer lies in an old campaign trick – it has to do with understanding the mind of the voter.

Besigye positioned himself as a change leader. If Uganda was a business corporation and Besigye was advocating change from its current CEO, Museveni, he would certainly have had to deal with the first principle of change management; “creating urgency” i.e. make people want change desperately.

Did Besigye make Ugandans want a change from Museveni desperately? There are three questions that answer this according to Kotter’s model; did he show voters the danger they faced if they voted Museveni? Did he show them how they stood to gain if they voted for Change? Were these convincing? Did he win over outside stakeholders like other opposition leaders, the army, foreign diplomats and governments? Besigye failed to create a critical vanguard for change when he failed to win these over. Any opposition politician who hopes to defeat Museveni will have to create this vanguard. If not, Museveni will win by 90% in 2016.

Besigye’s failure to unite with Otunnu and Mao opened up his FDC’s stronghold in northern Uganda to his opponents. As a result, as Mao got his highest votes in Gulu, 42%, Besigye got 20%, Museveni 29%. Even his vice president and leader of the opposition, Ogenga Latigo lost even at the parliamentary level. Otunnu got his highest vote in Kitgum, 35.35 and Besigye got a paltry 15%. Otunnu also scored highly in Amudat (29.82%) while Besigye got just 2.46%.  It was Besigye’s worst performance. Even the fringe candidates performed best in this region. Lubega’s highest votes were in Moroto 4.47% and Bwanika’s in Kotido, 3.8%. Meanwhile, Kamya spoilt Besigye’s vote in Buganda. She got her highest scores in Mpigi 3.39%, Wakiso 2.31%, and Luweero, 2.08%.

In fact Otunnu swept the north although the competition was between DP’s Mao and NRM. Besigye’s best performance was in the Teso sub-region; Soroti, 61%, Serere 55%, and Kaberamaido 51%. But even here, the competition was really between UPC and NRM.

Besigye failed on another critical change management tenet; creating short-term wins. Initially, Besigye campaigned on removing the Electoral Commission using the “Women for Change”. It failed. Then he shifted to creating an opposition coalition. It failed. Then he announced they would nominate IPC candidates for parliament. They failed. Then they campaigned on blocking the Traditional Leaders Bill. It failed. These early losses exposed Besigye’s Achilles to the voters.

Without forming a powerful coalition and showing voters that he could defeat Museveni, Besigye made it impossible for voters to buy his vision of change. He became like a poor salesperson who fails to sell water to a thirsty person.

Yet, speaking to a staunch Besigye supporter on election eve, I got the sense that they felt Besigye had sold the change message very well. So what was Besigye’s message? He started off with “Together for Change” on the manifesto and ended with “Change is Coming”.  The same confusion surrounded his platform. Was he a candidate for FDC or IPC, or was he running as an individual? His manifesto was labeled `FDC Manifesto” and he was registered as an FDC candidate but his campaign material was not on the FDC website but on “”;  Besigye sold himself as an IPC candidate to the voters, and then there was Ssuubi.  He was definitely a man of many confusing colours.

But what really was Besigye’s vision? In his `Message to Ugandans’ in the manifesto, Besigye dwelt on “leadership that cares, national purpose, clear vision, lost hope, shattered social fabric, and misuse of public. His solution had words like: `work together, and mobilising and inspiring people’. Issues mentioned included creating jobs, raising standard of education, quality health care, freedom and liberty.

According to the Afrobarometer survey, 27 percent said improving health and education was most important, followed by fighting corruption, 24%, and maintaining order, 20 percent. So Besigye’s talking points were 50% spot on.  Why then did they not garner him votes?

The opposition crafted perfect criticism of Museveni’s vision but they failed miserably to create their own believable vision. According to the Afrobarometer survey, for example, Ugandans indicated that they value political stability and peace. Besigye’s team failed to show how they would ensure peace and security after defeating Museveni.

In 2001 and 2006, Besigye showed he knew how crucial this assurance was. “I have 70 percent support in the UPDF,” he told voters in his campaigns. This time, however, he went on an army bashing spree.

Instead of a lucid message on issues, Besigye appears to have concluded that the voters are ready for change and he, accordingly, dwelt on “protecting the vote”. That appears to have backfired.

A voter told The independent: “Besigye forgot that he has to get the vote first before concentrating on protecting it.”

Afrobarometer indicated that Museveni was trusted more at 46%, and his NRM party 40% compared to 14% for opposition parties. In the end, however, over 67 percent of registered voters did not vote for him, 41 percent of them having stayed away. They did not think the vote can make a difference. The 68% Museveni got was from the 59% of the registered voters who turned up to vote.

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