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Why violence in NRM primaries

A voter checks if he is in the register ahead of the NRM primaries

THE LAST WORD | Andrew M. Mwenda | Last week, NRM primaries degenerated into violence. Candidates and their supporters clashed with opponents leading to the shedding of blood. Some people died. The army and police were called in to keep the peace. There was massive rigging. Some people were surprised that such violence and fraud had happened. I was personally surprised it was not as violent and widespread. In 2010 and 2015, we witnessed worse incidents. I have been expecting the situation to get much worse before it gets better.

Politics in poor countries is a game of high stakes and therefore of very high risks. Life is over-politicized, making every section of society agitated. People assume one’s economic advancement depends on politics. Public debate is awash with wild claims and allegations that politician X or Y is rich because he is a minister or MP. Therefore competition for power, especially democratic competition, tends to widen the spread. Elections become a life and death struggle. Each side seeks to win by hook of crook hence the violence.

In India, the longest running democracy in any poor country in the world, competing sides hire vigilantes and rogues to kidnap rival candidates, attack polling stations and steal ballot boxes, burn opponents houses etc. In Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Zambia, Gambia, Senegal, Ivory Coast and Benin, similar incidents happen between rival political parties running for office. The more corrupt and thuggish a candidate, the higher are the chances of being elected and reelected. In the Uganda of President Yoweri Museveni, however, this violence is intra and not inter party.

The issue of analytical significance therefore is not the violence per se (I take it as a given) but that in Uganda ruling party politicians fight among themselves even before facing the opposition in national elections. This is evidence that there is little opposition in Uganda. The real elections are those inside NRM i.e. that those who win the NRM nomination stand a near certain chance of winning the national elections. If the national election turns out to be peaceful, it will only show how little there was at stake – the real competition having happened in NRM primaries.

Electoral violence in Uganda has always largely been an internal NRM affair. The worst election violence was in 2001 where Dr. Kizza Besigye, an NRM stalwart challenged Museveni for the presidency. It was as if Besigye had opened the Pandora’s box. All of a sudden vigilante groups emerged orchestrating violence against Besigye supporters. Kalangala Action Plan of Kakooza Mutale, Nyekundiire in Mbarara, Elgon volunteers in Mbale, etc. became active. The army, especially the 4th Division under the Brig. Henry Tumukunde, CMI under Noble Mayombo and ISO were all active in it.

After the election the seventh parliament instituted a committee to look into the violence and its report is depressing but also illuminating. It showed that most of the violence was unleashed by state agents such as the army, DISOs and RDCs or vigilante groups allied to the state such as Kakooza Mutale’s KAP. The report said more than 176 people were killed. In comparison therefore, the 2020 violence is baby-food. Most of the hype is because of social media. And this time the army and police were not actively involved in the violence but only called in to keep the peace.

The violence of NRM primaries found me in my village home in Fort Portal. As I ran and drove crisscrossing the many hills and valleys, I could hardly find any other political party on the ground except NRM. There are very few politicians outside of the major urban enters who enjoy great name recognition and prestige in the different ethnic regions of Uganda who are willing to stand as opposition candidates. Museveni has literally crowded the opposition out of the market for such powerful and influential pillars of opinion through one of the most broad-based patronage systems ever witnessed in post independence Africa.

Museveni and Uganda’s chattering elites may continue to pontificate about political violence but they cannot stem the tide. In fact I am surprised that the more political competition gets intense, the less violence we are seeing. The opposition in Uganda are deluded to think this is a problem particular to the NRM, and that if it was them all would be peaceful. In fact if the opposition groups like Defiance and People Power had similar command of the political situation, the violence they would unleash on this country would make NRM’s look like chicken-feed.

As already noted, our violence is because many Ugandans believe that politics as a highway to riches. Nothing has been so misleading. Most of Uganda’s politicians are actually poor. This is because to be a successful politician means that you have to share your income, legitimate or otherwise, with the electorate. Of the 464 MPs in Uganda, less than 20% have access to bribes and other corrupt deals to generate money to sustain the demands made by the electorate upon them. Most therefore have to spend their own money to meet the ever growing demands of their constituents.

Ugandans are really blind to their own reality. Our country has a very high anti incumbency bias – nearly 65% of all incumbent MPs (and other elected officials) are not returned at elections. This is because voters expect their MPs to serve the role of the executive by delivering public goods and services –roads, hospitals, clean water, electricity, etc. And few can do that. So voters punish incumbents for what they are actually not supposed to do. But they also expect MPs to be charitable, giving money to the sick, paying school fees for them, meeting their funeral expenses etc.

This is why, whenever you meet MPs who lost an election, you find them in a destitute state. Then you wonder where did all the money go. The point is that what they earn as official salary is too small to meet public expectations, and they shared it with a very disloyal electorate. Even those MPs who have access to corruption and extortion opportunities are cannibalized to near zero by their electorate. Why do people continue in these elections? It is a bet – like in business – where only 20% succeed.  The point here is that in a poor country like Uganda, the deepening of democracy goes hand in glove with corruption and violence.





  1. Mr Mwenda always as ever you have scattered around your otherwise would be good point until you blamed uganda’s opposition for the naked shameless violence and impunity in so called NRM party primaries, recently helder last Friday. So called NRM party because before you joined them argued and correctly so that there’s nothing like an nrm party but rather a person called Yoweri M7!! But anyway that was/ is a fact that every young adult of 15 years plus is acutely aware! Andrew you say that as you ran and drove criss-crossing the many hills and and valleys (beautiful scenaries) of Fort Portal you only saw NRM party on the ground! What an irony! It was nrm/Yoweri M7 conducting his party primaries and now here is Mwenda expecting opposition to participate in nrm primaries so that he can apportion violence on them. And last but not least the intra party violence, rigging, intimidation , bribery and fraud witnessed in the nrm party primaries during every cycle of elections tell you M7 can never give to Ugandans what he doesn’t have – democracy! Just imagine if this was happening in any of the opposition political parties M9 would have a field day!

  2. Well thought of but you haven’t failed to give opposition a piece of your mind as often Mwenda. You have often blamed and blamed oppositions in Uganda claiming they lack organisational and mobilisation strategies as though you have been stying in the cave without access to information on political annihilation and suffocation that opposition are squeezed under by NRM. Mwenda, how many times has People Power/NUP, to which you sarcastically subscribe of late, been left free to market it’s ideaoohgies to other parts of Uganda without torturous and inhuman interferences from state operatives who don’t deserve the title police?

  3. 1.Most Ugandans participated in the NRM Primaries coz they know NRM is still great.
    2.Election periods are sometimes light moments for Africans.
    3.The outcome of elections in Uganda are shapes by factors like; revenge;high expections from voters, voters demanding to be bribed before they cast their vote and to a small extent family linage like the late Francis Ayume’s son won coz of the family background.
    4.I Personally did not like the idea that MPs abandoned the districts they represented previously and opted to stand in the newly created constituencies;Somehow most of them lost coz it was a sign of greed and taking voters for granted.
    5.People Power this time got NRM off guard;they decided to participate in the NRM primaries so that they elect weak candidates who NUP would defeat.
    6.It would be good for NRM to allow those who lost by a small margin to stand as independents after all they would still be independent MPs but NRM leaning.
    7.Most Ministers lost in the primaries because being appointed a Minister in Uganda is a big deal;Voters
    expect a lot from them because they meet the President regularly.
    8.A law should be introduced banning the appointment of MPs as Ministers because they have alot of work.
    9.Evelyn Anite has nice shoes actually; she is the only Minister in Africa who knows how to walk in Stilettos all her shoes are like that of Melina Trump;may be the Koboko chaps dont care.

  4. Still on reckless violence (in this case nrm party members esp candIdates carrying guns) and causing untold mayhem and on occasions death; this to Mwenda is just a storm in a team cup! But reverse that situation to the opposition (some of whom also carry legally acquired firearms), Mr M9 will be on the moon biting his tongue, prophesying how opposition can be far more worse than his nrm!
    However Mr Mwenda should rest assured that sooner than later he will be proved wrong when opposition finally captures power because whether you like it or not M7’s biological clock is not in his favour! And believe me you or not once M7 is out of power this so called NRM outfit will completely disintgrate and will probably never ever again rule Uganda. If in doubt ask current Kenyan president Mr Uhuru Kenyatta where his founding father’s party called KANU is? So as day follows night M7 will go down with his nrm outfit, period!

  5. “Violence is intra- party and not inter party”? That made me laugh seeing all the brutal treatment Ugandan opposition has borne the past 33 years. I wonder which country you live in Andrew and where you get your “facts” ? ….and oh by the way…. even in America where I have lived for over twenty years, politics is about money and accumulation of wealth you just don’t know about it by watching CNN from Uganda. You need to be in USA to realize that pork and lobbying is driven by dollars. The only difference with Uganda is that the pursuit of money is marked by visceral and less sophisticated violence meted out by Museveni’s goons and State machinery.

  6. Guys, we know that mwenda is among the top most group of people that have made uganda’s fortunes sink. Andrew is helping in handcuffing ugandans, is not only a journalist but also a low key influence peddler withing government and private institutions.

    Andrew is a close friend to some members of the first family, and he uses his closeness to the first family to black mail, any body that is against his friends, hence mwenda is at the top of the dirty games in uganda, this explains his non stop skepticism and cynicism being driven by his egos not necessarily pro uganda or pro people, powered by the argue to print him self to riches.

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