22 April 2018

Uganda: Does It Pay to Oppose or Support Museveni?

Early last week, the rains came down in Butaleja District, destroying Leresi Bridge. Activity on the Nabumali-Kachonga-Butaleja-Busolwe-Namutumba road was paralysed.

The destruction of the bridge, which was constructed in the 1960s, meant that children could not go to school for fear of drowning. Transportation of rice, the main food and cash crop in the area, was hampered.

"We have complained several times to the President over the nature of the bridge, but nothing was ever done to rehabilitate it. We have also reminded the President about the promise he made in 1996 to tarmac the main access road, but nothing seems to be happening," Ms Milly Mugeni, the Butaleja Woman MP, says.

Ms Mugeni's cry followed a weekend, April 14 and April 15, in which Mr Museveni made two visits to two different parts of the country, Bugiri District in the east on Saturday and Rukungiri District in the west on Sunday. They were visits that came with contrasting fortunes for the hosts.

In Bugiri, he attended a thanksgiving service organised by Bukooli Central MP Solomon Silwanyi where he hailed the locals for having voted out Mr Wafula Oguttu, the former Leader of the Opposition in Parliament.

"I congratulate the people of Bukooli Central on voting out Wafula Oguttu who habitually fought NRM programmes and was a disadvantage to the people of Bukooli whose interests he was not serving," Mr Museveni said.

Along with the speech, came a pledge to give 600 iron sheets and 400 bags of cement to Isakabisolo and Nankoma primary schools.

Contrasting fortunes

The following day, Mr Museveni visited the people of Rukungiri, home of former presidential candidate Dr Kizza Besigye. To these, he gave both speeches and goodies, including cars and machinery worth more than Shs5b to help them in the fight against poverty.

"The money I am using here, I have taken it from my pocket as President but there is a lot of money in your government but you don't know how to get it. You don't know each other and you don't care. The young ones [people] have been caught up in FDC which is deceiving them," Mr Museveni said at Rukungiri Stadium.

The people of Butaleja have never been caught up in FDC. They have always voted for Mr Museveni and the NRM. In 2011, he ran away with 41,178 (72.21 per cent in the district) votes against Dr Besigye's 13,251 (23.24 per cent).

In 2016, he still won with 38,812 (56.49 per cent) and Dr Besigye got 27,147 (39.51 per cent) votes. The NRM swept all the three parliamentary seats in the district, with James Waluswaka taking Bunyole West, Moses Nagwomu Musamba taking Bunyole East and Ms Milly Mugeni taking the Woman seat.

Likewise, the people of Bugiri, the home district of NRM Secretary General Justine Lumumba Kasule, not only voted out Mr Oguttu, but also voted Mr Museveni and other NRM candidates in the last election.

If Mr Museveni's claim that voting for NRM and against Opposition candidates such as Mr Oguttu was anything to go by, the goodies that went to Rukungiri, which was won by Dr Besigye and voted FDC MPs except the Woman MP, whose election has been annulled and faces a by-election, which she could easily lose, would perhaps have gone to places such as Bugiri and Butaleja.

What the figures say

Before turning his sights on Rukungiri, Mr Museveni had shortly after the 2016 election donated to groups in Kampala and Wakiso districts. Between August 17 and September 9, 2016, he donated cash to the tune of Shs600 million and light machinery such as welding machines, carpentry and car washing equipment to groups of market vendors, artisans, metal fabricators, car washers groups in Katwe, Makindye, Kawempe, Nsambya and Mulago.

All the handouts, made in the richest districts of the country, were in the name of fighting poverty. Lest we forget, Wakiso and Kampala had both voted against Mr Museveni, just like Rukungiri.

A report of a study entitled "Estimating District GDP in Uganda," sanctioned by the United States Agency for International Development (Usaid) and released last year, indicates that the recipient districts are far better off than the majority of the other districts in Uganda.

The report puts Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita in Wakiso at $3,250. That of Kampala stands at $2,665 while that of Rukungiri stands at $244. Bugiri, with a GDP per capita of $181, cannot be said to be doing well and would, therefore, have been more deserving of such an intervention.

Before it, the World Bank's Uganda Poverty Assessment 2016 Fact Sheet had indicated that proportion of the poor living in the north and the eastern regions increased from 58 per cent to 84 per cent between 2006 and 2013.

The same report indicates that households in central region have much higher levels of human capital, assets and more access to services and infrastructure than those in other regions. An example given was electricity where 32.3 per cent of the households in central were connected while only 3.7 per cent, 5.8 per cent, and 8.6 per cent in the north, east and west respectively were connected.

It would, therefore, appear that help is going to those who should have come last and not those who should have come first in terms of need. And the argument that Mr Museveni rewards those who vote against him better than those who vote for him is rendered currency.

The debate

The manner in which the donations have been handed out has sparked off questions about equality and equity or the lack of it, but the deputy director of the government-owned Media Centre, Col Shaban Bantariza, scoffed at the allegations.

"The President doesn't go around equitably distributing things. He gives them according to the need," Mr Bantariza argues.

So, what then informs Mr Museveni to "assist" groups in, say Rukungiri and Wakiso where they might not be in dire need of help and not those in Bugiri or Butaleja?

Senior Presidential Press Secretary Don Wanyama says most of the donations are based on happenings in the places where Mr Museveni goes.

"Most of the donations follow appeals by people and the President responds based on availability of resources and what he thinks is the most pressing. In the case of Rukungiri, the President explained that he had met some youth who appealed for help," he says.

However, Mr Crispy Kaheru, the coordinator of the Citizens' Coalition for Electoral Democracy (CCEDU), argues that the donations are informed by politics and not a desire to help the beneficiaries wriggle themselves out of poverty.

"That is purely politics. The gestures are not of a President doing his normal duties, but of one seeking to make Opposition strongholds look at Mr Museveni and the NRM with more favour," he argues.

The figures seem to back him up. Statistics from the 2016 general elections seem to lend credence to the belief that Mr Museveni is giving much more attention to those who voted against him than those who voted for him and the NRM.

Save for Kitgum, which he won marginally, taking 21,806 (41.84 per cent of the votes) against Dr Kizza Besigye's 19,057 (36.56 per cent) of votes, Mr Museveni got a bit of a whacking in all the other districts where the donations have happened.

In Rukungiri, he got 56,425 (48.29 per cent) against Dr Besigye's 58,883 (50.40 per cent) of the votes. In Kampala, he got 157,098 (30.92 per cent) while Dr Besigye got 334,919 (65.93 per cent) of the votes.

In Wakiso, he got 172,129 (36.76 per cent) as Dr Besigye ran off with 280,793 (59.87 per cent) of the votes.

In an interview that he gave Sunday Monitor following the March 15 Jinja East parliamentary by-election, the NRM communications officer, Mr Rogers Mulindwa, indicated that the party had redrawn its strategy with a view of attracting younger voters and those with an inclination to the Opposition. "We are starting to draw a picture of what we want Jinja and other parts of the country to look like. We are going to focus on recruiting more people and luring those in the Opposition to join the NRM. We are going to put attention on young people to make them understand how government programmes works," he said.

Mr Bantariza argues that while he might not know what has actually informed the decision to give to groups in those particular districts, there would be nothing wrong even if it had been done for purely political reasons.

"The President is the national chairman of the NRM, so he would not be wrong if he were to do something to help his party to hold on to power. Any party which doesn't want to hold on to power should never have risen to take it in the first place," he argues.

There are also issues about the delivery of the Rukungiri goodies, which came 10 days after the Electoral Commission (EC) released a programme for the by-election that was called following the Court of Appeal's nullification on March 22 of the election of Ms Winifred Matsiko (NRM) as the MP for Rukungiri District. The verdict was reached on the basis of proof by FDC's Betty Muzanira that the February 2016 election was marred by voter bribery.

While appearing before the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee of Parliament on Monday, the chairperson of the EC, Justice Simon Byabakama, pointed out that there is a grey area in the law as it does not define when the President is performing his duties as the leader of a political organisation or as the President of Uganda.

At the same, Justice Byabakama pointed out that actual campaigning had not kicked off when the donations were made. Some of those who have raised issues with the timing of the delivery of the campaign goodies insist that while he may not have breached any law, his actions still amount to an attempt to influence the outcome of the election.

Additional reporting by Yahud Kitunzi

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