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Museveni reveals strategy in Buganda

By Dicta Asiimwe

Forget the Kabaka, just look at the money

The relationship between President Yoweri Museveni and the King of Buganda, Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi is fated to be acrimonious. What else could have led Museveni to be campaigning in the controversial district of Kayunga on Feb.2, just a day after Parliament had passed the controversial Cultural Leaders Bill?

Museveni has recently been brutally bruised on all fronts in his war to tame Kabaka Mutebi.

The Cultural Leaders Bill was Museveni’s latest salvo. It had been designed with two objectives, one tactical, the other strategic. Tactically it was to scare Mutebi into a photo opportunity with Museveni before he started campaigning in Buganda. It failed. Mutebi refused to even receive Museveni’s phone calls.


Strategically, the Bill was to clip the Kabaka’s wings by lowering him to the same level of Museveni’s appointed tribal chiefs. It appears to have failed here too, despite its being watered down to accommodate Buganda.

So on Feb. 2, Museveni found himself campaigning at Kayonza Primary School, an old school of four tiny unpainted concrete block buildings with old, rusty corrugate iron-sheets and blue windows. With about 400 people standing, it was one of Museveni’s smaller rallies. But in attendance was the family of Museveni’s appointed chief of the Banyala, a secessionist tribe in the area, Baker Kimeze. The Kabaka was not represented.

However, after the national anthem had been played, Museveni asked his team to play the Buganda anthem Ekitiibwa Kya Buganda. The Banyala anthem was not played. As the people here say, `big is big’ – the Kabaka is big in Buganda. In fact, an NRM leader in Kayunga district, George Nsamba Kumama, told The Independent that the government is now trying to reconcile the Banyala with Buganda kingdom.  Towards the beginning of the presidential campaign late last year, Museveni reopened the kingdom’s CBS radio station. All was being done to calming emotions. But how far will Museveni bend over to please him?

The Buganda vote is important to Museveni.

In 2006 and 2001 Buganda accounted for about 30 percent of his total vote tally. With her contribution of 26.7 percent of the national votes, Buganda remains a critical region to win.

Therefore Museveni, who started his campaign in Buganda on Jan.19, is walking a tight path in a land where his popularity is at its lowest ever.

He seems, however, to have decided that his best bet is to steer clear of controversy. His strategy is now three-pronged: making money, service delivery, and pushing blame for government failures away from himself.

In effect, Museveni has turned the stereo-typical street-talk of “Baganda love money” into his campaign platform in Buganda. It is a crude rehash of the message that his 2001 campaign manager, Bidandi Ssali popularised as the “Oliya kewekoledde?” or `have you prospered” campaign.

“Sometimes your leaders want to mislead you by talking about tribes, religion and others,” he is telling rallies, “but the most important thing is your income.”

In multi-tribal Kayunga, he hammered this message using proverbs in Luganda, Runyankore, Lusoga and Lumasaba.

Museveni’s rallies are unique because civil servants like district officials in charge of education, health, agriculture, and even leaders of known support groups like the Uganda Taxi Operators and Drivers Association (UTODA) attend.

They are handy if Museveni is to pass-the-buck for his failures.

Kayunga has traditionally had a big problem of absentee landlords that has morphed into massive land sales since Museveni pushed through a land law. Many evictions happen here as, voters say, the law made it more profitable for the landlords to sell their land than to keep tenants on it for a paltry Shs 1,000 per year.

“My landlord lives in Masaka but the government expects him to come to Kayunga, collect Shs 5000 from his five tenants and then go back,” one voter at the rally said.

An area MP who is also the Minister for People with Disability, Suleiman Madada, reminded the President that he had not fulfilled a pledge to pay land owners in Bbale County so that they do not evict squatters.

Museveni attempted to blame government officials for allegedly not protecting from eviction, and failing the micro-finance Savings and Credit Cooperative Organisations (SACCOs) and the National Agriculture Advisory Services (NAADS).

“Government workers become lame long ago,” Museveni said “everywhere I go I have to fight them because they never do their jobs.”

But when he told people at the rally to line up, get registered to get protected, nobody moved. Apparently, Museveni’s promises are treated as a joke.

At Kayonza, the NRM chairperson Abdul-Rahim Makka told Museveni that if he fulfilled his promise of a tarmac road that would connect Kayunga to Busoga, he would get 99 percent of their vote. Of course, the official knew that Museveni cannot tarmac a road in days.

However, where services have been delivered Museveni will get votes.

Tom Kazibwe, the MP for Ntenjeru North said the NRM would get overwhelming support because the area got piped water recently and Madada said his constituents had been connected to the national electricity grid.

But avoiding the nitty-gritty could backfire on Museveni. Mary Nansukusa, an NRM mobiliser in Nazigo sub-county in Kayunga district told The Independent they are worried when Museveni does not address common people’s problems like increasing commodity prices and transport costs.

“Every time I go looking votes,” she said, “old women especially ask why sugar which is produced here in Kakira is expensive.”

While the prosperity message is important in Buganda, the richest region in Uganda, according to Uganda Bureau of Statistics figures, leaving a rally without answers to increasing poverty could push more people than Nansukusa’s old women away from Museveni.

Many see that while Baganda remain the richest, the same statistics indicate that the western region, namely Banyoro, Batoro, Banyankole, and Bahororo, are catching up fast. Many Baganda resent that.

A continuation of Museveni’s rule will surely lead the west to overtake Buganda. Will Baganda use Feb. 18 to punish Museveni? And does everything really depend on the Kabaka’s goodwill?

The Independent under the headline: “Will Museveni yield to Buganda’s demands?” (Wednesday, 05 August 2009) reported how Vice President Gilbert Bukenya who is the leading NRM politician in Buganda said in an interview that in Buganda “no one listens to Mengo.”

At the time, Museveni and Buganda were fighting over Kampala Capital City Bill 2009. It was passed with ammendments despite Buganda’s objections.

The story explained how Museveni has over time realised that depending on the Buganda vote to win elections is not the best strategy. Accordingy he has devised another strategy for 2011 that will not hold them hostage to the demands of Mengo and the Baganda generally.

The NRM Buganda National Vice Chairman, Abdul Nadduli, who is heading the NRM campaign team in Buganda, said as much. He told The Independent recently that Museveni “does not need to campaign in Buganda”. Nadduli says Museveni is still indomitable in the region and there are enough local mobilisers to canvass votes for him.

“Museveni can just pass through the different districts of Buganda to talk about whatever pleases him and we will still win,” Nadduli says.  Nadduli was not giving away the whole plan.

Under Museveni’s plan to bypass Buganda, he will attempt to consolidate his support in the western region, especially in Bunyoro, Toro, Ankole, Kigezi and Rwenzori, and attempt to win over voters in what have been historically opposition strongholds in Teso and northern Uganda in Acholi and Lango.

In 2006, Museveni won 75% of the vote in the west, with around 1.5 million votes. Besigye won only 19%, with around 400,000 votes. 690,000 registered voters in western Uganda did not vote in 2006.

Meanwhile, in Teso, Besigye beat Museveni 70% to 20%, with a total of 225,000 votes to Museveni’s 65,000. In Acholi, Museveni performed poorly, winning only 15% with 43,000 votes. Besigye won 75% with 214,000 votes. Finally, in Lango, Museveni garnered even less support, winning only 12% with 45,000 votes, far behind Besigye at 71% with 257,000 votes. The total of registered voters who did not vote in 2006 in these three regions was 444,000. There are therefore essentially 1.1 million votes up for grabs in these regions alone, since so many registered voters never even showed up on voting day in the last elections.

The new strategy will hinge largely on whether the NRM is able to win over opposition votes in northern Uganda. The NRM has campaigned in these areas on the success of the Peace, Recovery and Development Program (PRDP) and the return of peace.

Meanwhile, Museveni must also continue to court Buganda so that his support is not completely eroded.

All opposition parties have promised to either give Buganda a federal status in Uganda or pursue a federal arrangement for all of Uganda basing on Buganda’s demands. Museveni alone has not offered federalism. Why is that?

There have been media reports that Museveni has sunk as Shs 20 billion into Buganda to salvage his perceived faltering support in Buganda. Without denying or confirming the use of money to win votes in Buganda, Nadduli asked: “If Obama can use money in his campaigns, how do you expect us in Uganda not to use it?”

The use of money could be a critical strategy to woo back disaffected voters. Museveni is quite aware that the resentment generated by the clashes with the kingdom administration has not been diminished by his high sounding political promises of Bonna Bagaggawale (Prosperity for All), NAADS and offers of free primary and secondary education. Even before the current standoff, Museveni’s support in Buganda had started a downward curve while the opposition’s support curve was moving up although the rise or drop was not big.

In 2001 Museveni got 65% of the Buganda vote compared to 59.7% in 2006 while his closest challenger Kizza Besigye, who just entered the political scene received 33%. Besigye’s vote increased to 39% in 2006 despite the fact that he was in prison on treason charges and had little time to campaign and did not reach many parts of Buganda. Out of the 60 official campaign days, Besigye spent 52 in court.

Today he has no case in court and has more time than in 2005/2006 to move around Buganda canvassing support.

A pro-Buganda pressure group called Ssuubi 2011, which was formed in alliance with Besigye, is drumming up opposition support against Museveni.

But Ssuubi’s entry has also inadvertently turned this election in Buganda into a referendum on the extent to which the Baganda feel the Kabaka’s pain. Whether the Mengo administration’s fallout with Museveni has trickled down to the ordinary man or woman will determine who wins Buganda.

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