16 March 2011

Uganda: Lukwago - a Politician of All Seasons

Kampala — When the government in 2008/09 embarked on leasing out Kampala markets to local investors, one Member of Parliament decided to make the fight against the policy his hallmark.

Turning up suddenly at either Nakasero or Kisekka markets, Kampala Central MP Erias Lukwago would get a standing ovation from the vendors before the police, again caught on the wrong foot, would swing into action--chasing away the legislator or hauling him off to Central Police Station.

Mr Lukwago's rallying cry then was that vendors should get first priority to manage the markets, even as the government thought they were short on cash to undertake the investments. Not oblivious to the political ramifications, President Museveni took the other way--ironically seeming to side with Mr Lukwago that the vendors should get first chance.

It is on that basis that businessmen like Hassan Basajjabalaba and Col. Fred Mugyenyi were asked to hand over land titles of key markets to KCC and vendors. If President Museveni was to claim credit for this, it was obvious there was one person he would share the shine with--Mr Lukwago.

It is not surprising therefore that on Monday, during the re-election, traders at Nakasero Market lost their cool when Kampala Central Division chairman Godfrey Nyakaana made an impromptu call to the area during voting. Mr Nyakaana, an agent of Pastor Peter Sematimba, was heckled by the traders who asked police to whisk him away.

In their words, Nyakaana and Sematimba were part of the wider machinery trying to fight a man many of them have come to consider not just their advocate but the embodiment of their fight for survival. When the count was finally done at Nakasero, for example, Lukwago had a resounding 626 votes opposed to Sematimba's 129.

Looking at Lukwago today, one would be surprised to learn that he cut his political teeth only five years ago. In 2006, known more as a budding constitutional lawyer, Lukwago took on NRM's Francis Babu for the Kampala Central MP seat--and in a close contest floored the latter.

The political journey for Lukwago had begun. In the following years, he developed a reputation of fieriness and boldness. Not known to shy away from controversy, he took on the government both on the streets and in court.

In April 2007, together with his Aruu County colleague Odonga Otto, Lukwago was arrested after he planned a demonstration at the Constitutional Square to protest the actions of new rag-tag stick-wielding militia, the Kiboko Squad. In court, they were ironically charged with traffic offences, far from the political blame they were anticipating.

Whereas Lukwago had joined the 8th Parliament on the Democratic Party ticket, he was among those consumed by fights for supremacy in the party--that saw him not only ejected as its legal adviser but even threatened with expulsion.

Together with the likes of Mukono Municipality MP Betty Nambooze, Lukwago opposed the election of Norbert Mao as DP president in February 2010 at the Mbale delegates' conference. The crack had developed. Since then, Lukwago's political lair has become a bit of a mystery.

Although he insists that he has never left the DP, Lukwago, like Nambooze, in the just-concluded presidential election supported the FDC candidate, Dr Kizza Besigye. Insiders say in return, Dr Besigye silently endorsed Lukwago, offering him a state-of-the-art public address system and two vehicles for mobilisation.

The father of four was born to Hajj Muhammad Mirundi and Hajjat Salmati Nkayaga and has over 20 siblings. He says locally, he is inspired by former DP boss Paul Kawanga Ssemogerere, while internationally he looks up to Martin Luther King Jnr, Nelson Mandela and Mahtma Gandhi.

Asked about what drives him, the bubbly politician says, "I love to uphold equity and justice. I always ask myself in anything I do whether I am not denying others justice. Honesty is a virtue to me. I am also very assertive and whatever I set up myself to do, I pursue it to its logical conclusion."

This might just be his sixth year in active politics, but the man who now becomes Lord Mayor already has a political CV that many a politician would envy.

The former student of Kampala Students Centre, who later studied Law even when he had been admitted to study SWASA at Makerere University, is an ardent football fan and supports KCC FC in the Uganda league while Arsenal is his English club. He now embarks on a new political journey that could either make or break his long-term political ambitions--which many around him say--are set on occupying State House.

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