By Andrew M. Mwenda & Bob Roberts Katende
Her victory leaves Museveni ahead of Besigye in Buganda
She is diminutive in stature but firm in her devotion to Buganda kingdom, the Democratic Party and Catholicism. Her opponents discovered this combination can be devastating when Betty Nambooze, 43, or `madam teacher’ as her supporters adoringly call her, beat six candidates to clinch the hotly contested Mukono North constituency by-election.
It was a fitting finale to the many battles she has fought; from being ‘kidnapped’ by the government because of her opposition activity to having her Sunday night show on the Buganda Radio CBS Fm being kicked off air. These battles endeared her to many people, especially her fellow DP members, the Baganda, and Catholics.
The by-election arose after the Supreme Court ruled Bakaluba Mukasa had stolen the previous election. That, however, did not stop him from donning the Church of Uganda reverend’s dog-collar in a bid to lure the religious vote.
As tension rose on the May 25 election night at the tally centre inside the packed Mukono district offices, Nambooze pulled out another rosary (she already had one around her neck) and started running her fingers through the beads as if reciting a prayer. During the campaigns, she had assured her supporters that she would win despite all the top guns of the ruling NRM party ganging against her ‘ and she won.
Since then, her victory is being seen to shade more light on the bigger picture of how the next general elections may be shaped, especially President Yoweri Museveni’s fortunes in Buganda. President Museveni, Vice President Gilbert Bukenya, Secretary General Amama Mbabazi, myriad RDCs, security agents, police, and voter-beater Kakooza Mutale combed for votes for her opponent and incumbent MP, Rev. Bakaluba Mukasa.
‘I voted for Nambooze because she is strong on Buganda issues like land but in 2006 I voted for President Museveni,’ said Saida Namugwanya, who cast her vote at Buwuki polling station in Nama County. Nambooze once headed the Civic Education Committee that was put in place by the Kabaka to sensitise his subjects about the dangers of the Land Bill that was later passed by parliament.
‘The results show that Baganda take issues to do with the Kabaka seriously. We supported him (Museveni) in 1986. The chiefdoms he is creating to weaken Buganda will not deliver him victory. We Baganda will do that as long as our concerns like opening CBS are sorted out,’ argued Kavuma Kaggwa an elder from Kyaggwe. ‘The election served as a reminder that we shall deny him (Museveni) support even in the coming elections.’
Such sentiments might have been shared by many Baganda who constitute about 66percent of the total population in Mukono district according to the 2002 Population Census. But NRM Secretary General Amama Mbabazi downplays the assumption that NRM has lost support in Buganda. He was quoted in the press saying that despite the loss, ‘Mukono North is not a typical voting pattern for Buganda.’
Testing Mbabazi’s claim
Looking at previous elections, it is clear President Yoweri Museveni’s electoral strength has always come from western
Uganda, Buganda and Busoga. He has enjoyed tenuous support in the wider eastern Uganda and rejection in the wider northern region.
If Baganda share a common voting pattern, Mukono would reflect that. In 2006, out of 345,000 registered voters in the district, only 221,000 (64 percent) turned out to vote. Museveni got 57 percent of the votes and his main opponent, Kizza Besigye got 39 percent. In 2006, Museveni got 61 percent of the vote in Buganda against Besigye’s 34 percent.
Many observers believe that the growing animosity between the central government and Mengo will significantly erode Museveni’s electoral fortunes in 2011 in Buganda, especially among Baganda.
If the decline in his vote in Buganda is big, Museveni would need to increase his margins in northern Uganda in order not to be at a disadvantage.
There appears to be a relationship between Museveni’s support and that of NRM parliamentary candidate, Bakaluba. Both the President and Bakaluba got almost similar votes in all the sub counties. For example, in Goma in 2006 Museveni and Bakaluba both got 49 percent. In Kyampisi, Museveni got 58 percent against Bakaluba’s 63 percent, a difference of 5 percent. In Mukono Town Council, Museveni got 41 percent against Bakaluba’s 42 percent. In Nama, Museveni got 62.5 percent against Bakaluba’s 61 percent.
There is a notable decline in Bakaluba’s performance in 2010 across all Sub-Countries which may reflect a general trend of declining support for NRM and worry Museveni.
For example, in 2006, Bakaluba got 49 percent in Goma, which is peri-urban, but this fell by 7 percent to 42 percent in 2010. In Mukono Town Council, which is urban, Bakaluba got 42 percent in 2006 but it fell to 37 percent – a decline of 5 percent. However, Bakaluba maintained his vote in the rural Sub-County of Nama but which also has the least population of ethnic Baganda at 60 percent; in 2006, he had 61 percent and in 2010 got 60.8 percent, a decline of only 0.2 percent.
However, in Kyampisi Sub-County, which is rural but has the highest concentration of ethnic Baganda in the whole of Mukono at 82 percent, Bakaluba got 63 percent in 2006 and in 2010 got 55.5 percent, a fall of 8.5 percent. It is possible that such a big fall in voter choice in a rural constituency that is predominantly ethnic Baganda may be because of the wrangles between Museveni and Mengo. It is significant that in Nama, which is rural like Kyampisi but has fewer ethnic Baganda, Bakaluba’s vote remained unchanged.
However, even Nambooze’s vote in Kyampisi declined by 2% from 46% in 2006 to 44% in 2010. This may suggest that there is increasing voter apathy in the Sub County rather than anger at Museveni for his wrangles with Mengo.
Has Museveni lost Buganda?
Here is the intriguing question: would Museveni fair better than Bakaluba in the same constituency? Secondly, it is
possible that many Baganda feel angry at Museveni for his closure of CBS and for his wrangles with Mengo but would this translate into anger against every NRM candidate especially if, like Bakaluba, the candidate is a Muganda? Did people in rural Mukono vote for Bakaluba because he is a Muganda or because he is an NRM candidate?
If precedent is to be used as a guide, then we can refer to the 1980 election. At that time, Baganda hated Milton Obote, the leader of the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC). UPC fielded Baganda as candidates for electoral seats in Buganda. UPC candidates lost miserably in all the 34 seats except one in Buganda.
It seems then that Museveni, the NRM presidential candidate, may perform just as badly as Bakaluba, the NRM candidate.
The election in Mukono therefore is significant because it tells how the wrangles between Mengo and the central government are impacting on voter behavior. Except for Nama Sub-country where he almost maintained his margin, Bakaluba’s percentage in the other three Sub-counties declined by an average 6.5 percent. If Museveni suffers a similar decline across Buganda, he will have fallen from his 61 percent in 2006 to 55 percent. In other words, he will still win in Buganda.
From this perspective, it is fair to say that people in Buganda would tend to vote for a political party rather than an individual. If this preposition holds water, then Bakaluba’s performance shows that the battle between Mengo and Museveni has diminished the president’s appeal among rural Baganda but this decline is not politically tragic. The hype about Mengo and the Kabaka holding the hearts of Baganda may be just a myth.
But before NRM can celebrate this analysis, there is a catch: voter turnout was 43percent only in 2010 compared to 64percent in 2006. Mbabazi has blamed the NRM loss on low voter turnout. But who would a low turnout favour ‘ the ruling NRM or the opposition?
How candidates have performed in Mukono North 2006-2010
|Ethinic (Baganda)||Museveni||Besigye||Nambooze||Bakaluba||Nambooze||%age change||Bakaluba||%age change|
Many observers say that there is widespread discontent in Uganda against Museveni personally and the NRM generally because of gross corruption, nepotism and institutionalised incompetence of the government. Even in the far reaches of rural Uganda, the failures in public education, healthcare and infrastructure are creating ever increasing discontent against the government.
‘This (Mukono North win) was an eye opener for the opposition that if we work hard, we can tap the support of Baganda who are fed up of NRM,’ said Joseph Balikuddembe DP’s MP for Busiro South. Observers say there were others issues at play in Mukono like religion and the court’s ruling that Bakaluba participated in election fraud, pressure on the Electoral Commission to deliver an ‘acceptable’ result (Despite this, the Kalagala Polling Station which had showed that the journey to total independence of the commission from manipulations is far from over).
However, the opposition in Uganda does not inspire confidence and passion because it is weak organisationally, lacks a coherent and appealing message and looks clumsy and inarticulate. It is possible that because of these weaknesses, those who are angry at the current government do not find inspiration in those seeking to unseat it.
Secondly, because of Museveni’s control of the army and the history of electoral violence and rigging, it is possible that many disenchanted people do not believe it is possible to remove the president through the ballot box. Such apathy can lead to low voter turnout.
As our recent analysis showed (see: ‘Numbers don’t lie/But voter turnout trends tell another story’ in The Independent Issue113) the low turnout favours the NRM ‘ to put it differently, a higher turnout would mean people feel confident that they can change the government.
The election also served as a test for the opposition Inter-party Cooperation (IPC). Although Nambooze’s DP has refused to join it, IPC members were in Mukono North campaigning for her. It is, therefore, likely that many non-DP but opposition supporters voted for Nambooze.
For opposition strategists, therefore, Nambooze’s victory is good news. In all the four Sub-counties, she got a higher percentage of votes in 2010 than Besigye did in 2006. In fact she improved her performance between 2006 and 2010. Comparative figures of her performance in 2010 against Besigye’s performance in 2006 are as follows: In Goma, she got 57 percent against Besigye’s 45 percent, a difference of 12 percent. In Kyampisi, she got 44 percent against Besigye’s 36 percent, a difference of 8 percent. In Mukono Town Council, Nambooze got 62.7 percent against Besigye’s 51 percent, a difference of 11.7 percent. And in Nama, she got 38 percent against Besigye’s 32 percent, a difference of 6 percent.
In fact, Nambooze’s personal performance increased impressively between 2006 and 2010. For example, in Goma in 2006 she
got 49 percent, in Kyampisi 46 percent (a decline of 2%), in Mukono Town Council 57 percent, and Nama 36 percent.
Based on these figures, the opposition can be cautiously optimistic.
There is, however, still one problem for the opposition. If the IPC, among other factors, delivered victory to the opposition,
will this make DP reconsider its decision to join them?
‘There is nothing to reconsider,’ says Kenneth Kakande the Deputy Spokesman of DP. ‘Our position has been clear. Let’s cooperate at parliamentary level and have different candidates at the presidential level to deny President Museveni an outright win in the first round.’ Others say, however, that if that attitude persists, and DP and various opposition parties split their vote, it would favour Museveni.
Nambooze supports DP joining the IPC. But can the firm resolve of this diminutive but smooth-talking woman change her party position?
If that does not happen, then euphoria about her election win might settle to a grim reality: Winning the constituency was the easier part. In the broader scheme of things, it may be difficult for the opposition to dislodge Museveni from power and for Buganda, prove difficult to marshal sufficient numbers in parliament to secure their kingdom demands.