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Myth of Bukenya popularity in north

By Morris DC Komakech

New politicians in NRM should never forget they are picked for public relations purposes

The prospect of having former vice president Gilbert Bukenya contesting in the 2016 general elections as presidential candidate has generated comical sentiments. My area Member of Parliament, Otto Odonga (Aruu County) was the first to fire a salvo in public regarding the seriousness of Bukenya’s Presidential candidature in light of his purported popularity in northern Uganda.

I have read several commentaries and social media analyses of this subject and of utterances by Bukenya in media statements. Since Bukenya has publicly declared that he is a contender against President Museveni, this becomes a matter of public interest. It is important to scrutinise and evaluate the candidate as he is – with the frame of reference to his purported popularity in the north.

I first had personal contact with Dr Bukenya, then as Vice President in 2000 at Serena Hotel. He had come to officiate at a closing ceremony of a two days’ workshop on corporal punishment in schools that was organised by Uganda Human Rights Commission.

Then, I was secretary for National Affairs at Uganda National Students’ Association and founding President of Pan African students Union, which is now defunct.

Bukenya had picked me out from the crowd due to my eloquent advocacy against any forms of corporal punishments. When we spoke, he was interested in knowing which part of the country I came from and I obliged to volunteer that information.

It happened that he knew my father, like most of the people who were adults during the 70s and the times of liberation struggles against Idd Amin Dada.

One thing Bukenya shared with me was about his participation in guinea worms eradication in northern Uganda. As a young medic, one of his early assignments were to eradicate guinea worms in Kitgum district and according to him, he enjoyed his time there.

Beyond that, Bukenya could not pronounce a name of any place in northern Uganda with precision or confidence. But a long time had passed and the memory of northern Uganda and in particular – Kitgum, where Bukenya spent his formative medical practice years had significantly changed. Was Bukenya still relevant to the region? Did he have roots there during his tenure as VP?

Well, I can tell three things about Bukenya; He is not an astute politician, he is an administrator; Bukenya lacks originality, he is an impersonator and; Bukenya lacks the edge in mobilisation and therefore, is without national appeal.

I could substantiate in details about all my assertions here about Gilbert Bukenya, but for space limitation. A brief overview of these points however, will do.

When I say that Bukenya is not the kind of astute politician President Museveni or Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi are, I really mean it in that sense of ruthlessness. Anyone vying against the two NRM honchos must reflect critically first on the intricate link between Museveni and Mbabazi; their historical intimacy, existing political networks, syndication, loyalty and symbiotic trends between the two politicians.

It is ironic that Bukenya fails to see these linkages relative to his political location within the NRM fabric. Bukenya knows that his tide changed course profoundly the moment he stood in the way of Mbabazi by vying against him for secretary general of NRM. Mbabazi is politically located inside the lifeline vessel of the NRM and Bukenya is not close to the queue.

The quick lessons learned therefore should be that people who jump into the NRM now or later, especially when picked for publicity and public relations purposes, should not forget so soon that they have been appointed to serve just that purpose and nothing other.

This also brings me to my second assertion that Bukenya lacks in originality and is merely an impersonator.  This weakness will dent his credibility and therefore his prospects. For the many years Bukenya served as VP, he underwent serious metamorphosis – transforming himself into a perfect “dummy” of Museveni.

Video clips of Bukenya gradually changing his character to speak, gesture, swagger and assume the posture of his boss are all over the internet. I mean, one can admire and emulate his superiors, but to transform one’s entire being wholly from the original self to a “Museveni” was rather exhibiting a strange form of physical and psychological sycophancy unprecedented in Uganda’s politics.

In the eight years Bukenya served as VP, his only project that he can count on is the upland rice. Definitely for regions of Uganda where upland rice cannot grow, this project only exists in news. But most importantly, the revelation that Bukenya is famous in the north must be rebuffed and chided because statistics do not stand by him.

As VP, Bukenya never stood by the people of Northern Uganda during the war or internment. But it is not only Bukenya; most vice presidents to Museveni have always undermined, neglected or perpetuated disregard for the people of northern Uganda and their struggles.

So, it is categorically a false perception that Bukenya is famous in the north. We take account of all politicians who stand by us during our need and at an appropriate moment, we will reflect on their values to us.

I contended that Bukenya is a weak mobiliser whose influence does not transcend the Busiro/Buganda stretch. His organizational skills and resources cannot match that of the establishment especially if he plans on running against President Museveni in 2016 for nomination or as NRM candidate on false perception of selfworth and popularity.  I wish him all the very best.

Morris Komakech is a Ugandan social critic and political analyst based in Canada. Can be contacted via

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