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Symbolism at the presidential candidate nominations 2011

By mubatsi habati & dicta asiimwe

Bidandi’s lanterns, Naomi’s black dress, and Besigye’s new barber 

This time, the presidential candidates’ nomination days – Oct.25 and Oct.26 ‘ exceeded expectations.

The frenzy, excitement, and colour of the mammoth crowds on streets that had been perfectly cleared of traffic compensated for the loss in number of candidates who were whittled from the 40-something who picked forms to a manageable seven.

It was an event marked by symbolism. The angelic white uniform of the not so angelic Electoral Commission team; the Progressive People’s Party candidate Bidandi Ssali’s glowing orange-lit lanterns; and Uganda Peoples Congress candidate Olara Otunnu’s vintage floral black and red shirt, were all chosen with a message in mind. Otunnu’s shirt was so embroidered and so flowing-like that one wag said designing it was possibly what delayed his nomination.

Fashion-wise, however, the cream of the cream was Naomi Mao, aspiring First Lady of Democratic Party (DP) candidate Norbert Mao. Her little black dress hugged her not-so petite figure perfectly and her giraffe brown-on white clutch bag stole the night.

Naomi had rehearsed well. When her husband moved to shake hands with the presiding Electoral Commission staff, she deftly snuck into the photo op and received the certificate of registration with Mao.

Even veteran First Lady, Janet Museveni, not to mention wannabe Susan Bidandi Ssali, must have gone green with envy. When they had the chance, they stayed glued to their chairs.

Message-wise, however, the day belonged to Beti Kamya, candidate of new-kid on the block, the Uganda Federal Alliance (UFA). She had a single-powerful unique selling point: vote me and get a federal Uganda.


But she also threw in an appeal for the gender vote. Apparently, at a recent conference with Ugandan women activists, which was also attended by Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, they resolved to pressure President Yoweri Museveni to appoint a woman vice-president. But why bother, she said, just vote for me and you get a woman president without depending on someone else’s mercy.

This time Forum for Democratic (FDC) President Kizza Besigye, who is the joint Inter-Party Co-operation (IPC) candidate, went to the right barber. He looked dignified and mature, a far cry from the youthful back-bush cut he had in the 2006 election. More importantly he was seconded for nomination by Joseph Ssemogerere, a former Katikiro of Buganda Kingdom. Besigye wants the Buganda vote. Some of his supporters wore the FDC blue and the Inter-Party Cooperation (IPC) orange.

As usual, as his convoy snaked to Nakivubo Stadium in downtown Kampala city for his post-nomination rally, he had his skirmishes with the pro-Museveni police.

At the rally Besigye told the crowd: ‘Everybody knows that the NRM government has failed and this time we do not need to remind people about that Museveni’s winning percentage has been going down at every election.’ He continued: ‘We will tell people what we will do when in office of the President and victory will be ours. We have been matching towards the frontline and the NRM is at the edge and this time they won’t escape defeat.’

The man to beat, President Yoweri Museveni, and his graceful First Lady were ordinary but they made up for lack of imagination with their choice of delegation. Museveni, 64, opted to combine the old with the new. He was proposed by bush-war veteran and NRM historical, Moses Kigongo and seconded by recent recruit to the NRM, former FDC MP Alex Onzima.

As early as 9 am, thousands of youthful NRM supporters thronged the city centre, Entebbe and Jinja Roads to cheer Museveni as he headed to the Mandela National Stadium Namboole to be nominated for the fourth time. Thousands more painted Kololo Airstrip yellow, the colour of the NRM campaign.

The crowds in yellow T-shirts and waving dry banana leaves (symbol of Museveni’s eternal rule) were joined by the bodaboda motorcycle taxi riders also in yellow shirts and caps. ‘Tajakugenda, Tajakugenda, Tajakugenda, Oo Tajakugenda’ they chanted meaning ‘Museveni will never lose’.

At 10:07 am Museveni became the first candidate to be officially registered by the EC. He arrived at Namboole with 20 members of the party’s Central Executive Committee who later turned up at Kololo in a yellow bus with inscriptions of the numerous districts where NRM boasts a presence and ‘NRM PakaLast’ meaning ‘NRM forever’.

When Museveni arrived at Kololo at 2:30 pm, the NRM fans were ecstatic. The ground was filled with the deafening blows of yellow whistles, vuvuzelas and joyful ululations.  Never mind that to pull such crowds, the NRM paid the cheerleaders and fueled the bodaboda motorcycles. Some, as has become the norm, complained they had been diddled.

Before Museveni could take to the podium, NRM secretary General Amama Mbabazi invited Alex Onzima who seconded Museveni’s nomination to explain why he did it. Onzima, right on cue, criticised his erstwhile colleagues in the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) leadership.

The strategy became clear: Onzima and Kampala Mayor Ntege Sebagala, who formerly was of the Democratic Party, had ‘seen the light’ by crossing to the NRM. Museveni is anxious to capture areas he has persistently lost in previous elections. Onzima promised to deliver the West Nile vote to Museveni and Sebagala promised the Buganda vote. The Presidential election is set for February 18, 2011.

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