NRM MPs' bid to sell President Museveni as sole candidate in 2016 has run into trouble in Kanungu, the home district of his political rival Amama Mbabazi. Area MPs who toured the district last week to sell the Kyankwanzi resolution(s), among them the declaration of Museveni as sole candidate, met with hostility here, the birthplace of a prime minister believed to nurse presidential ambitions of his own.
The Observer has learnt that since the party announced that it would distribute money meant to facilitate this campaign, the Kanungu MPs, Dr Chris Baryomunsi (Kinkizi East) and Elizabeth Karungi (Woman MP), have received some text messages warning them against taking the sole candidature campaign to Kanungu.
The Observer has reliably learnt, for instance, that Mbabazi is yet to pick his share although his colleagues took theirs.Sources have told us that Mbabazi (Kinkizi West), advised his Kanungu colleagues not to pick the money before consulting their constituents on the matter.
However, Dr Baryomunsi and Karungi picked the money, a fact confirmed by Government Chief Whip Justine Kasule Lumumba. Lumumba told us on Friday that Mbabazi, who is also NRM secretary general, has been reluctant to pick the money.
"The PM told us to first hold on; that he would get back to us," Lumumba said.
"We are still keeping his money because he says he first wants to consult the CEC (Central Executive Committee of the NRM), observe the situation, and then discuss with the president basing on his analysis of the situation," Lumumba added.
Several NRM MPs have hit the campaign trail across the country to popularise a resolution they passed during their retreat at Kyankwanzi in February, declaring Museveni the sole party candidate in the 2016 elections.
Mbabazi is by all intents and purposes the main target of the campaign. In Kanungu, the two MPs tasted the electorate's hostility on April 22, when they were invited to the district stakeholders' meeting at Ngoto Resort hotel in Kanungu town. During the meeting, Baryomunsi and Karungi were firmly told not to sell the Museveni sole candidacy project in the district if they wanted to keep their seats.
"I feel saddened that the government easily mobilised Shs 6bn to give to MPs to popularise President Museveni's bid for another term in office yet the same government has for more than two years now failed to find Shs 4bn for the reconstruction of Mitano bridge where women and children drown every week as they try to cross the river to access services," said Caleb Kipande Tumwesimire, the district NRM general secretary.
Mitano bridge was washed away by heavy rains in May 2012, closing off the main entry route to the district. Reconstruction of the bridge has suffered procurement challenges, leading to widespread frustration and attracting the president's attention. Museveni has met delegations from Kanungu to discuss the bridge and other issues.
"All the time he invited us to Rwakitura, he was simply wasting our time, and now that our own son [Mbabazi] is expressing interest in the big chair, we may have our issues finally addressed," one local leader said.
The meeting, which was called to discuss the district's development opportunities, was attended by politicians, local government technical staff, civil society and religious leaders. The Bishop of Kinkizi diocese, Dan Zoreka, led a group of religious leaders. The politicking was ignited by Dr Baryomunsi, who criticised journalists for focusing on the sole candidacy resolution yet the NRM caucus had agreed on many other things.
"This matter [Museveni's sole candidature] came in after it was reported that there were some party members who were already campaigning for 2016 yet this would disrupt the implementation of the manifesto," Baryomunsi told the meeting.
The remarks of the outspoken MP, who is a known rival of Mbabazi, sparked outrage.
Some participants demanded that the MPs apologise for supporting the resolution without consulting their people. Kanungu Woman MP Karungi shot back that there was no need for an apology since MPs do not have to consult their electorate on each and every issue. The meeting got even more heated as some participants warned the MPs against mentioning the name Museveni in the district.
"Never talk about Museveni again in Kanungu unless you are sure that he will come and vote for you in 2016," one leader shouted.
"Kanungu hospital is likely to be closed soon because of a Shs 13m water bill and the MPs are getting money to popularise Museveni who has been in power for close to 30 years. Are we really doing a service to the people?" wondered Tumwesimire.
The district's LC-V chairperson, Josephine Kasya, district councillors James Kaberuka (Kinkizi town council), Frank Byaruhanga (Mpungu sub-county), and Elias Kanyonza, the Rugyeyo LC-III chairman, told the MPs that the people of Kanungu are worth more than the Shs 5,000 some people in other districts have been receiving to endorse Museveni.
"Since 1998, he has been promising to tarmac the Rukungiri-Ishasha road but he has still not fixed that road. We told the people enough lies and we are running out of steam. We shall not go on like this," LC-V boss Kasya said.
Boxed into a corner, Karungi tried to explain that the campaign money was obtained from the NRM caucus' savings. But she was instantly labelled a "Museveni girl" who risks losing her seat at the next election.
Meanwhile, after attending Easter prayers at St Andrew's Karubaizi Church of Uganda, Mbabazi convened the Kinkizi West constituency executive committee meeting at his home in Karubaizi village. Here, Mbabazi supporters asked him to come clean on his presidential ambitions.
Later, during a two-hour appearance on his Kinkizi FM radio, Mbabazi was asked again to declare if he wants to be president.
In response, he said:
"I am a disciplined cadre who is bound by the party rules. I have not declared my ambitions now but when time is appropriate, I will officially announce."
A source close to Mbabazi has told us that the PM has chosen to keep his cards close to his chest as he consults far and wide. The extent of Kanungu people's anger will be put to test on May 25 when President Museveni visits Bwindi Community hospital to commission a nursing school.