The Observer (Kampala)

4 December 2012

Uganda: Ssemujju Nganda - the Return of Salaamu Musumba

On the morning of Friday, November 30, Proscovia Night Salaamu Musumba was declared the new Kamuli district chairperson. Musumba polled 49,356 (67%) votes while the ruling NRM's candidate, Thomas Kategere, got 21,239 (29%).

This was a personal triumph of a resilient woman who has survived internal FDC bickering and Mr Museveni's political guillotine targeted against leading opposition leaders.

Musumba has lost four elections in the last six years, elections she didn't deserve to lose. In fact she represents the finest of women politicians in Uganda. From FDC, together with Maj John Kazoora and Capt Guma Gumisiriza, Musumba championed the preservation of presidential term limits in our Constitution during the 2003-2005 controversial changes.

Museveni repeatedly issued threats against her and Uganda Federal Alliance boss Beti Kamya, because of their relentless and ruthless criticism of the life presidency project.

Musumba and Kamya, I believe, were the most feared opposition women politicians in Uganda at that time. Beti Kamya acrimoniously left the FDC to form her own political party, after her bid to become Secretary General failed.

Kamya's complementary role to the main opposition cause will always be missed. Musumba remained in FDC but we nearly lost her to the EALA elections this year.

What started as a bona fide exercise to choose two FDC EALA nominees, ended up being a front by some senior party leaders against Musumba.

They ganged up to punish her for what they consider arrogance and constant criticism. The truth is that Musumba hates mediocrity and being a quick thinker, she wants things done quickly.

If you, as an adult, are conducting yourself as a juvenile, she will tell it to you in your face. This approach that makes her an incredible woman has unfortunately won her lots of enemies.

I am pleased the people of Kamuli have finally remembered her and I know they will get more than what they ever bargained for. Her victory, however, represents two fundamental shifts in the country's politics.

The first shift is a general rebellion by NRM leaders against their party chairman, Gen Yoweri Museveni. Museveni met Kamuli NRM councillors, MPs and other leaders from Busoga sub-region to sort out their differences before the Kamuli by-elections.

The councillors assured him that they were not going to support Thomas Kategere who had controversially been elected NRM flag bearer. Museveni even attempted to persuade his party to throw their weight behind an independent but to no avail.

Museveni is no longer the all-powerful, rich and revered kingmaker. It is possible to defy him and still survive the political turbulence. Of course he is still a clever actor who knows when to force things.

In Kamuli, he didn't employ the full wrath of the state and there was limited bribery. The reason he didn't employ full force was because he still considers Kamuli an NRM stronghold. Crushing Musumba supporters would mean crushing NRM supporters.

And since Museveni wants to perpetually stand for president, he would rather sacrifice Kategere for his own political survival. If Museveni facilitated rigging, like he has done elsewhere, many had threatened to quit NRM for good.

That is what many proclaimed NRM supporters told me in Namasagali sub-county, where I was deployed on polling day. It is not that Museveni had struck a deal with Musumba like some NRM members have been made to believe. The above factors influenced the behaviour of Museveni.

In fact, even with the highest provocation by Musumba supporters who flashed the V sign at his rally in Kamuli town, the response was only tear gas shortly after the rally, but not arrests.

Finally, the second shift is the persistent loss of support by the NRM. The ruling party has so far lost about eight high-profile by-elections and won just about two. The losses have been registered in Jinja municipality, Butambala, Entebbe municipality, Luweero, Bushenyi-Ishaka municipality, Kasese, Bukoto South and now Kamuli.

The NRM has only won in Usuk and Kween. Gilbert Bukenya retained Busiro North by not selling himself as NRM. It no longer requires politicians to be NRM or to be in the good books of Museveni to win an election. Increasingly, Museveni is becoming a political liability, more than an asset.

But the most important lesson, especially to all opposition politicians, is: never give up! However long it takes, truth will one day triumph. Salaamu Musumba has suffered, but has finally made it.

The author is Kyadondo East MP.

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