Uganda: Museveni's 20-Year Battle to Win Kampala

18 November 2019

The ruling NRM party is currently involved in a protracted in-fighting over who wields more influence over the Kampala electorate.

President Museveni's recent appointment of musicians Catherine Kusasira and Mark Bugembe, alias Buchaman, as special presidential envoys in Kampala and ghetto affairs respectively, to popularise NRM and recapture the Kampala vote have drawn criticism from a section of party city leaders. They accuse him of undermining the official structures.

But the appointments point to the President's frantic efforts to recapture Kampala for the last 20 years.

In the past two decades, Mr Museveni and NRM have trailed the Opposition in Kampala in presidential, parliamentary and local council elections.

For instance, Mr Museveni last got majority votes in Kampala in the 1996 presidential elections, winning 160,925 against his Opposition rival Paul Ssemogerere, who polled 105,882.

In 2016, of the 522,139 votes cast in Kampala, he got 157,098 (30.9 per cent) while his main challenger, Dr Kizza Besigye, got 334,919 votes (65.9 per cent).

In the neighbouring Wakiso District, out of 484,589 voters, 280,793 (59.97 per cent) voted Dr Besigye while only 172,129 (36.76 per cent) voted Mr Museveni.

Similarly, NRM party candidates have also performed dismally during parliamentary and local council elections in Kampala across the years.

Since 1998, the Opposition has won the Kampala mayor seat and majority parliamentary seats.

In 1998, Opposition candidate Nasser Sebaggala of Democratic Party handed the NRM the first defeat in mayoral elections. He beat NRM candidate Christopher Yiga, who was the incumbent.

Mr Sebaggala derived his popularity from the low income earners and less educated segments of the city population. He was later arrested and imprisoned for money laundering in the United States. In the ensuing by-elections in June 1999, Mr Sebaggala's former campaign manager and also DP candidate, John Ssebaana Kizito (RIP), defeated the NRM-backed candidate, Mr Wasswa Ziritwawula.

After serving his sentence, Mr Sebaggala returned and was reelected in the 2002 elections, defeating the NRM candidate again. In 2006, he bounced back in what had become an all DP race in Kampala.

By 2011, Mr Sebaggala had switched political allegiance to NRM and his political fortunes dropped. Considering his past popularity among the majority slum dwellers, the President appointed him as his mobiliser to recapture Kampala from the Opposition.

The plan did not deliver the projected political dividends as Mr Erias Lukwago contested the mayoral seat.

Mr Lukwago beat NRM candidate Peter Sematimba and five others after polling 229,325 votes against his main challenger's 119,000 votes.

At Parliament level, the Opposition also took six of the nine MP seats with NRM winning three.

The Opposition had Mr Latif Sebaggala, Mr Richard Sebuliba Mutumba both from DP representing Kawempe North and South divisions, Mr Hussein Kyanjo from Jeema party, Mr John Ken Lukyamuzi from Conservative Party and Ms Nabilah Naggayi Sempala of Forum for Democratic Change (FDC).

Mr Moses Kasibante run as an independent candidate. The NRM had Mr John Ssimbwa (Makindye East), Mr Fred Ruhindi (Nakawa Division) and Mr Muhammad Nsereko (Kampala Central).

These were not the only efforts to recapture Kampala. A parliamentary strategy was mooted. Parliament passed a law to change Kampala City Council (KCC) headed by an elected mayor to Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) headed by a non-elected executive director.

The law reduced the Lord Mayor's position to nearly a ceremonial status. The argument was that a political mayor was not effective in transforming the city while a non-elected executive director would improve service delivery which would win over the hearts of the electorate.

Musisi card

Ms Jennifer Musisi was appointed KCCA executive director. By 2011, KCCA operated on a shoe-string budget of about Shs48b only. However by March 2015, with Ms Musisi at the helm, the KCCA budget had shot to Shs580b.

After losing the Kampala vote in the 2016 election, President Museveni blamed Ms Musisi for the outcome.

He accused her of being highhanded and using crude methods of work in handling the city population.

Her appointment too did not deliver Kampala to the NRM. The KCCA budget started dwindling.

In 2017/18 financial year, the budget was reduced to Shs477.62b and in 2018/19, it was further cut to Shs382.52b. According to the budget circular for 2020/21, the budget has been further reduced to Shs325b.

Mr Lukwago said the budget cut is a setback because KCCA will not meet its obligations.

He also said government has resorted to giving out handouts to selected individuals instead of channelling the funds for development programmes within KCCA budget lines.

"Ms [Beti] Kamya (Kampala minister) has a budget of Shs13b yet she is just wasting that money. Mr Museveni moves with sacks of money and gives them out to people to win political favours. This will not solve the problems of KCCA. We need more funding from central government to improve service provision in this city and make the urban dwellers as an engine for development," Mr Lukwago said.

In the 2016 elections, the NRM again lost the Kampala mayoral race to Mr Lukwago. Mr Museveni endorsed local musician Daniel Kazibwe, alias Ragga Dee, as the NRM flag bearer, hoping he would ride on his popularity as an artiste to recapture the seat for the ruling party. This effort too did not yield the desired results.

"It is yet another historic moment for me. I am quite honoured, I am really excited. It is a moment I will live to treasure for a lifetime. I have endured a lot of challenges, and many would imagine I would never live to see this moment. It was not really foreseeable given the challenges which appeared almost insurmountable," Mr Lukwago said shortly after the declaration of the results.

The NRM also lost all the nine parliamentary seats in Kampala to the Opposition.

Independent candidates Latif Sebagala, Mr Nsereko, Mr Kasibante and Mr Kato Lubwama all won, while Mr Mubarak Munyagwa, Mr Ibrahim Kasozi and Ms Nabilah Naggayi Sempala won on the FDC tickets. Mr Allan Ssewanyana was the only DP winner.

Battle for ghetto

Prior to 2016 elections, Mr Museveni promised to annihilate the Opposition by 2021.

He appointed Ms Kamya, a former Opposition MP for Rubaga North on the FDC ticket. But in 2016, she had broken away from the FDC and formed Uganda Federal Alliance, party.

She lost the Rubaga North parliamentary seat to Mr Kasibante and later Mr Museveni appointed her Minister for Kampala Affairs. She promised to deliver the Kampala vote to the NRM.

"I pledge that as you handed over Kampala to me, you will get 80 per cent and above. You know my mobilisation capabilities. Kisanja 2021 is for Museveni," Ms Kamya said after her ministerial appointment.

Mr Museveni also appointed Ms Florence Nakiwala Kiyingi from DP, who had lost to FDC's Naggayi Sempala, as Minister of State for Youth Affairs.

It was hoped that Ms Kamya and Ms Nakiwala would endear the NRM party to the Kampala voters despite having lost the elections.

Before their appointment, Mr Museveni had also appointed Mr Sebaggala as Minister without Portfolio in anticipation that he would use his popularity among the slum dwellers to recapture the NRM support in Kampala.

His appointment was later rejected by Parliament for ineligibility. However, Mr Sebaggala's rating among Kampala electorate had suffered such a nose-dive that he could not continue the moblisation work for the President in Kampala. He has since fizzled out from public limelight.

However, Mr Museveni continued relentlessly to win Kampala back to the NRM, but with little success.

Seemingly frustrated with those he has picked to recapture Kampala, Mr Museveni has now circumvented the official NRM party structures in Kampala and engaged Ms Kusasira and Buchaman whose appointment has triggered a fierce backlash within the party leaders in Kampala who are livid about the new envoys.

Bobi Wine factor

In June 2017, Mr Robert Kyagulanyi, alias Bobi Wine, a local artiste turned politician, emerged from the ghetto shadows to win Kyadondo East parliamentary seat, beating established figures both in Opposition and NRM.

He polled 25,659 votes in a landslide victory to defeat NRM's Sitenda Sebalu who polled 4,556 and FDC's Apollo Kantinti who scored 1,832 votes.

The emergence of Bobi Wine, another Opposition threat in Kampala and now the country, posed a new challenge to NRM. Bobi, who declared himself the ghetto president, is gaining unprecedented popularity among the slum dwellers and the elite, unlike Mr Sebaggala whose appeal was confined to Kampala.

In the latest efforts, President Museveni has recruited artistes Buchaman and Kusasira to capture the ghetto to counter Bobi Wine.

More entertainers, music promoters and different groups within Kampala have been enlisted to popularise NRM.

These join other groups such as Boda Boda 2010. It remains to be seen whether Ms Kusasira and Buchaman will deliver Kampala to the ruling party and the President come 2021.

Their appointment has already triggered a storm within Kampala's NRM ranks, with many accusing the President of favouring people who had never fought for the party.

Ms Kusasira recently irked the party members when she said she is bigger than all the party organs in Kampala, adding that they have to make a formal request before meeting her.

"The position I have is more superior whether they want it or not. They have to formally write to me if they want me to meet them. To be a senior presidential adviser means I am above them. They have to request me to go meet them to see how we can develop Kampala," she said.

The utterance has divided NRM Kampala leaders. Mr Salim Uhuru, the NRM chairperson for Kampala, Central Division, and Mr Godfrey Nyakana, the NRM vice chairperson for Kampala, could not be reached for a comment.

But Mr Uhuru has been variously quoted complaining of the way Mr Museveni handles party issues outside the main party structures.

Capt Francis Babu, the former Kampala Central MP and a member of NRM central executive committee, said the party leaders who are complaining over the appointments have failed to differentiate between government and the NRM party.

Backs Museveni's choice

"The President has a choice for which people he wants to work with as a candidate. He also has power to appoint people as presidential advisers. Those are the functions he is performing as the President and there is nothing wrong with it," Capt Babu said.

"The people who are complaining are wrong because they are the elected party leaders in these areas and their powers cannot be taken away by people Mr Museveni has appointed as advisers and mobilisers," he added.

Capt Babu, however, said the party must take responsibility for the mess in Kampala.

"The people who have spoilt Kampala are not in the Opposition, but in NRM itself where they start fighting among themselves and they go and choose someone else," he said.

"We have good leaders in NRM, we have good leaders even in Opposition. The good leaders are sidelined, then they bring in funny characters. It is not sustainable, it is beginning to crumble down. That is why we have gone down all the way from Mr [Amama] Mbabazi (former prime minister) to Buchaman, from Mr Mbabazi to Ms Kusasira as adviser, can you imagine? It is a shame," Capt Babu said.

Mr Lukwago, who stands between Mr Museveni and voters in Kampala, said the NRM party has realised that it has never delivered in the city and is panicking.

He said Mr Museveni has used different approaches to take Kampala without success. Mr Lukwago described the appointment of Ms Kusasira and Buchaman as a gamble.

"I think he is just taking a gamble. He pressed a panic button. He has no clear strategy on how to deal with Kampala. That is why he wants to circumvent the structured system of the party. Initially, he thought he would use outright brutal force by manipulating councillors by bringing all sorts of proxies here in Kampala to eclipse me," he said.

Leaders from the NRM secretariat were not available to offer an explanation of how the sidestepping is affecting the operations at the secretariat.

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