By Eriasa Mukiibi Sserunjogi
The issues, promises that shaped the Bukoto South campaign
When the campaign for the Bukoto South by-election went to the wire, it had all the markings of the violence and controversy witnessed on election day, July 12. Police and opposition activists were pouring into the constituency in their hundreds.
Kinoni, the coordination centre of most campaign activities, was teeming with activity on July 10. Forum for Democratic Change’s Julius Ssentamu would hold his final rally in the town that hosted the campaign offices of the two major candidates, National Resistance Movement’s Alintuma Nsambu and Democratic Party’s Mathias Nsubuga.
By midday, Nsambu was at his office making final preparations. When he spoke to us, he seemed aware that the next few hours would significantly impact the rest of his political career. A former junior minister, Nsambu failed to retain his Bukoto East constituency in 2011, mainly due to accusations that he had done the unforgivable and abused Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi of Buganda.
With the Bukoto South seat falling vacant after NRM’s Muyanja Mbabaali was disqualified due to lack of minimum academic papers, Nsambu tried a rebound. The woman who defeated him in Bukoto East, Florence Namayanja, had now teamed up with Nsubuga, her fellow DP member, to beat him in Bukoto South as well.
President Yoweri Museveni had visited the area two days earlier and Hajj Abdul Nadduli, the Luweero district chairperson and NRM vice chairperson for central region, was there to back Nsambu. They denied that Nsambu insulted the Kabaka as alleged and Museveni argued that if such a thing had happened, he as NRM chairman would have known.
Nsambu said he wasn’t holding a final rally but would use the last six hours of official campaigning to traverse the constituency. Before setting off, we asked him: Did you abuse the Kabaka as alleged? “Of course not,” he said.
“Sadly,” Nsambu said, “the election has been turned into a Kabaka issue by liars. How can they say that the people who fought to restore the kingdom are the ones who don’t like the Kabaka?” He would rather that they concentrated on “developmental” issues.
About three kilometres from Kinoni, at Nkoni, Nsubuga’s final rally was almost entirely about the Kabaka. The venue was probably chosen deliberately, just meters away from the Kabaka’s palace at Nkoni.
Hajj Ibrahim Katale, the Kabaka’s county chief of Buddu (Pookino), put it simply: “This vote is between those who love the kingdom and those who don’t.”
Mukono Municipality MP Betty Nambooze was in charge here, and asked the DJ, “Play the voice, play.”
Nambooze had dug up recordings of the statements Nsambu allegedly made after the closure of Buganda Kingdom’s radio CBS, following the September 2009 Kayunga riots that followed the government’s blocking of the Kabaka’s planned visit to Kayunga district. In the run-up to the riots, Nambooze had worked herself into a near cult figure for Buganda loyalists, especially through CBS.
Appointed by the Kabaka to chair the Central Civic Education Committee, Nambooze used her CBS show to decampaign proposed changes to the land law and other government programmes Mengo disagreed with. Because of what she had done as chairperson of CCEC, NRM’s Bakaluba Mukasa found Nambooze unbeatable in the 2010 Mukono North by-election, even after Museveni threw his own weight into the campaign.
She therefore took to Bukoto South the conviction that a candidate heavily backed by Museveni can be beaten, especially when voters think that the vote is about the Kabaka.
DP’s Muwanga Kivumbi, who hopes the Court of Appeal will uphold the High Court’s annulment of Butambala MP Faisal Kikulukunyo’s election, must have hoped the next stop will be his constituency. Kivumbi is a member of the Mengo-leaning Ssuubi pressure group, and is one of the DP members who despite disagreeing with Nsubuga’s Norbert Mao-led faction of the party, threw themselves into the Bukoto South campaigns.
In one of the recordings Nambooze played, the speaker asks, “… does the Kabaka feed or pay school fees for my children? I will never again prostrate before the Kabaka; me and my children.”
The second clip was about CBS, with the speaker saying he had the power to shut down the station; “We are in power. Being in power means consolidating power.”
Not surprisingly, CBS was heavily involved against Nsambu, with its political show on the evening of July 10, the last day of campaigns, hosting only Nsubuga’s campaigners.
After listening to the recordings, a middle-aged woman in the crowd exclaimed; “That man is shameless. Now why is he denying it?”
“Are you sure that is his voice?” I asked her. “Sure. That is him.”
Nsambu called it a smear campaign, contrary to the Parliamentary Elections Act.
His supporter Moses Kamya, a resident of Nakateete village, blamed DP for involving the Kabaka in politics. “They should leave our Kabaka alone and talk about what they will do for us,” he said. A card-holding member of NRM, Kamya was angry that some NRM members were backing DP’s Nsubuga.
Nsubuga’s campaign was led by Hajj Nasib Ssempijja, an NRM member. Many of the people who campaigned for NRM’s Muyanja Mbabaali in the 2011 election when he beat Nsubuga switched camps and backed Nsubuga. At Nsubuga’s rally, Kampala Central MP Muhammad Nsereko and former Mawokota North MP Peter Mutuluuza, both NRM members, called on Museveni to retire in 2016.
The Buganda Parliamentary Caucus, chaired by NRM’s Godfrey Kiwanda, had urged the people of Bukoto South not to vote for Nsambu but most NRM MPs from Buganda stayed away from the campaigns. On Museveni’s visit to the constituency, a fracas ensued between NRM supporters and Lwengo Woman MP Gertrude Nakabira and Bukoto Midwest’s Isaac Ssejjoba Muyanja, whom they accused of betraying NRM by not supporting Nsambu.
But the Kabaka issue aside, area NRM members were also angry that Nsambu had crossed from another constituency, edging out the more locally favoured David Bbaale, who they said was rigged out of the party primaries.
The Devil at work?
In his final message to voters, aired on CBS, Masaka Municipality MP Mathias Mpuuga, warned against “Devil’s Knights”, messengers of the NRM camp whom he said would go around distributing goodies like soap to woo voters in the two nights before voting.
Probably Mpuuga had heard stories like the one of John Kateregga, a resident of Kikenene village. One evening during the campaigns, Kateregga’s son returned from school excited that they would soon start serving porridge at his school.
Kateregga had already heard campaigners for NRM’s Nsambu making that promise. Faced with a candidate said to have deep pockets, Kateregga and parents like him were tempted by the prospect that their children might have something to eat at school.
But they also recalled a candidate in an earlier election who piled electricity poles in a nearby village promising to connect it to the power grid, but carried them away soon after he was elected. “We have been told so many lies,” Kateregga said.
My boda boda chauffer told me he had just paid Shs 9,000 for a litre of petrol that had been selling at 3,500 a day earlier. He thought he knew the cause of the jump in the pump price.
“They [Nsambu’s camp] don’t want us [Nsubuga’s camp] to move about to protect our votes,” he told me. I almost believed him, until an hour later, a journalist posted on the social network Facebook that in Kasese, where there was no by-election, a litre of petrol was going for Shs 45,000.
But not all spoke about their choice so freely. David Kyazze, a shop keeper at Kinoni, said he feared the Police and DP supporters pouring into the area from Kampala would clash and provide just the cover to enable Nsambu to rig.
But in the end, Nsubuga’s popularity could have contributed less to his victory than Nsambu’s character, who seemed to have run short of friends and allies. Even the 10,427 votes Nsambu polled looked like victory, given that Nsubuga polled 11,854 votes. FDC’s Ssentamu came a distant third with 59 votes while independent candidate Daniel Katula Mubiru managed only four votes.