It may be 2013, but it is already campaign season in Sembabule with all eyes on the 2016 general elections. And the various NRM camps are sizing up each other through public consultations.
Foreign Affairs Minister Sam Kahamba Kutesa heads one camp - the 3K (for Kaguta, Kutesa and Kawooya (Anifa Bangirana) - the district Woman MP; Lwemiyaga MP Theodore Ssekikubo heads the NRM Patriots camp, which also has Yumbe RDC Herman Ssentongo and former Presidential legal aide Joy Kafura Kabatsi.
District officials, tired of pleading for favours are weighing their alliance with the 3K group, which outsmarted its opponents and swept most leadership positions in Sembabule, in the last election. Residents regularly complain of a poor road network, collapsing health and education sectors and poor access to water, with a jerry can of water costing up to Shs 1,000.
"We want to know whether government has written Sembabule off the map of Uganda. It's as if we are living on an Island where residents are not entitled to good roads and safe and clean water," Dick Kizza, say the Vice Chairman of the district NRM youth league.
The breakdown in the district's service delivery is also blamed on the endless political quarrels at the district which Kutesa has failed to stop. Kutesa had been scheduled to meet the district leaders at his Kisekera farm on December 29, 2012 to iron out the differences that have pitted some members of the district council against LC V Chairman Elly Muhumuza. According to sources, the Kisekera meeting never materialized, as Kutesa opted to meet family members to discuss his political future.
Early campaigns for 2016
There are indications of cracks within the 3K group, with some planning to run against their colleagues at the district. And some in the NRM Patriots group are taking advantage of the disgruntlement. Kabatsi, who lost the Sembabule Woman MP race to Anifa Kawooya, has already started her campaigns for 2016, actively courting some of the disgruntled 3K campaigners. Kabatsi launched her campaigns on January 19 at her Ntusi farm, where she hosted a group of campaigners - including some 3K campaigners.
"We have been locked out of better services because of the 3K chain. All the leaders we voted for are not benefitting us, maybe because the majority of them have no stake in this district," John Kamugisha, the LC 1 and NRM Chairperson for Lusaana in Lwebitakuli Sub County said at the meeting. Kamugisha said he was leading his entire executive to the Kabatsi camp.
The meeting also evaluated Kabatsi's performance in a previous election. One of the reasons cited at the meeting was the confusion created by President Museveni during the 2008 by-election for the district Woman MP when he told different rallies that although he understood Kabatsi well, it was not the right time for her to go to Parliament.
"How sure are we that he will not come back to cause more confusion, and how shall we deal with it?" wondered Charles Bakalu of Kampala village in Lwemiyagga Sub County.
Others asked Kabatsi to steer clear of NRM politics, arguing that it may ruin her chances.
"With more people talking about how they are fed up with the government, it will be wise if you avoided NRM, because some people may want you, yet they are tired of the man at the top because of NRM's performance," noted Matia Ssekidde. But Kabatsi was cautious not to criticize Museveni.
"We need to change our voting patterns and stop thinking that it's only NRM candidates that will perform. Namayanja [Bukoto East MP] didn't have to become an NRM for the road to Bukakata to be worked on," she charged.
However, Kabatsi said her past disappointment would not stop her from contesting in the NRM primaries. Kawooya, who is not new to campaigning early herself, indicated that she was watching the situation closely.
"Kabatsi is not my problem, she is only confusing the people," said Anifa Kawooya when contacted by The Observer.
Despite telling us in an earlier interview that she despises anyone who starts campaigns early, Kawooya hit the campaign trail on January 29, with meetings at the parish level. She says she plans to spend at least two weeks in the district each month to consolidate her support.
To achieve this, she launched a group called Voluntary Village Trainers' Association (VVOT- A) but loosely used to mean Vote-Anifa. She started off in Lwebitakuli Sub County, her stronghold, where she blasted some village chairpersons for hosting her rival- Kabatsi. To ensure that the village leaders keep with her, she has given each of them 10 coffee seedlings and 20 plastic chairs for the parish council meetings, but with one condition, keep Kabatsi away from their areas.
Denying Kabatsi an opportunity to address village meetings is one effort to ensure Kawooya maintains her hold in the area. She has also asked that locals should not allow Kabatsi to donate less than Shs 500,000 at fundraising ceremonies in the area.
"She has a lot of money, do you think she has used up the money she took with Basajjabalaba from State House?" Kawooya told a meeting at Kasambya Primary School in Lwebitakuli.
When contacted, Kabatsi said she would not take Kawooya's accusations lightly and may consider legal action.
"I'm not the minister of Finance or the governor Bank of Uganda or the Attorney General who approve and make payments for compensations," Kabatsi told The Observer.
The early campaigns have also brought former district chairman Herman Ssentongo and Irene Kyomugisha into the fray. The two took advantage of Ssekikubo's home coming party on January 27 to make public their 2016 ambitions. Ssentongo wants to reclaim his district chairmanship, while Kyomugisha is keen to take on Kabatsi and Kawooya.
And the campaigning has already shown signs of getting ugly, as tribal sentiments take centre stage. Some voters are unhappy that Kawooya denounced the Buganda kingdom and resigned from the Buganda Parliamentary caucus last year. The Baganda form the biggest portion of the district's population followed by the Bakiga and the Bahima and Banyarwanda.
On two previous occasions when the Kabaka Ronald Mutebi visited the district, Kawooya and Kabatsi jostled for an opportunity to catch the Kabaka's eye. It was Kabatsi who took the day when Ssentongo (then district Chairman) and Ssekikubo reached out to the Kabaka and invited him to visit her farm.
Considering the impact of the Baganda vote on her side, Kabatsi is now eating into Kawooya's withdrawal from the caucus to show more allegiance to the kingdom. She has let it be known widely that she sponsored the popular Entanda ya Buganda show on CBS FM radio, and the Enkuuka end of year fete at Lubiri. But Kawooya said she is not bothered by this, arguing that she knows how to play her political game.