Taking Stock of the Hostility, protest vote against Museveni and NRM

Saturday, January 23, 2021

The just concluded election was tough in many respects starting with the Covid-19 pandemic that has reshaped everyday life, and people accustomed to large political fanfare of crowd size couldn’t quickly adjust. The results, now getting behind us, and losers softly absorbing their loss, has given President Yoweri Museveni and NRM comfortable margins throughout the country although it also points to protest votes in Buganda and Busoga hitherto stronghold which the NRM must quickly deal with. 

The NRM politicians in many areas fell on own swords of self doubt, inefficiency, unprincipled conflicts, lack of focus and seriousness, which together made them unable to effectively confront external opponents spreading falsehoods, hate, fear and intimidation. The strong arm approach by the police against some opposition candidates also riled voters. The youth demographics, their expectations for better job opportunities and higher incomes were headaches that amateurs just roping into politics made them believe are easy to deal with in a flash. In Buganda the hostility, radicalism and protest were engineered by Mengo, and it isn’t clear if they will be able to keep the radicalism within acceptable bounds.

In total thirty-eight ministers fell, some earlier in the NRM primaries. Four ministers chickened out of the NRM primaries having read their fate in advance. An aggressive and sustained political assault by opposition, elements in the Buganda Kingdom, Catholic Church, and partisan media was left to run wild un-countered for a long period with sectarian innuendoes that the Baganda had been used, exploited, dispossessed, impoverished and abandoned by the NRM, and those who associated with it were seen as traitors and made the scapegoat.

Thus Buganda politics has returned to the days of immediate post-independence, UPC I, post-Idi Amin and UPC II of a reactionary sub-ethnic nationalism. NRM’s internal malfeasance including arrogance and failure to engage the population is largely to blame. The fall of Vice President Edward Ssekandi had been expected but few people spoke about it openly, while majority of ministers and MPs became transactional politicians only visible when soft money is available. Since 1986, Buganda has had the best after restoration, recognition, and overvalued monetary support to its cultural institution. The Baganda as a single ethnic group have enjoyed the most, biggest, and largest lucrative appointments to public offices although they continue grumbling. Religious leaders, including from the Catholic Church have benefited most and many wonder why the hostility being expressed openly at the pulpits. In Buganda there was extreme intimidation of NRM supporters by DP and NUP activists. 

The rancor in Buganda is fueled by insatiable greed, intrigue, false superiority complex, and ignorance about the dynamics in Uganda’s politics. Many people in Buganda including elites, often don’t know beyond their origin except Kampala, which political manipulation take advantage of. The open sectarian campaign in Buganda to dispossess those from other regions of their legitimate property helped mobilise and galvanise the rest of Uganda including Acholi and Lango that had hitherto remained ambivalent to the NRM. It has been a rude reminder to Buganda’s arrogance.

In Busoga it is embarrassing that Museveni, the strong brand was rejected yet other NRM candidates out-performed. In Kamuli, Speaker Rebecca Kadaga got 98,000 votes while Museveni only polled 18,000. At Kadaga’s polling station, Busobya Kisementi (Mbulamuti), Kadaga polled 283 while Museveni got 178 votes. Because of internal bickering there was no campaign strategy or sustained engagement in Busoga as most leaders focused on themselves. Many were in Busoga for appearances rather than campaign. The concerns of fishermen harassed by the UPDF were left unattended to, while that of sugarcane growers wasn’t explained even though solutions had been given. Across the country it is evident that most NRM leaders are detached from the population hence the widespread hostility against them. Throughout the country radio and television station, news anchors, and presenters were hostile to Museveni. Most media houses swatted development issues aside and focused more on sensation and populism.

When Covid-19 struck in March last year and government began to distribute food items in Kampala, it was discovered that many Ugandans had been abandoned and were living on the margins of society like Kasokoso, Kinawataka swamp, and the many back alleys with makeshift shacks, tree shades, disused vehicles as dwelling places and squalor is the order of life. With the prolonged shutdown of the country, and its informal economy many Ugandans are going through multiple strains making urban and rural communities take their anger against NRM and Museveni. Among the fishing communities, arbitrariness and harassment by UPDF soldiers deployed to curtail abuse of the industry made many very angry because government never rescued them in time.

Consequently, rural and urban poverty, youth unemployment, perception of widespread corruption, neglect, impunity, and glaring inequity in wealth distribution and opportunities became the fuel driving the just concluded elections. From remote villages of Ndolwe, Kalangala, Buyende, Zombo, Kapchorwa, sprawling townships and urban centres, opposition groups empty in content but only formed recently as election vehicles, successfully whipped up anger against Museveni and NRM to cause the storm that has shaken Uganda.