Uganda: In Running for Lira MP Seat, Dr Aceng Walks a Thin Line

On July 5, Health minister Jane Ruth Aceng made a surprise announcement that she will run for the Lira District Woman Member of Parliament seat in the forthcoming elections.

"I also want to state clearly that because I have been working with the government and government has supported me, has loved me, I will stand on the NRM ticket," she told journalists in Lira Town.

Dr Aceng's announcement has since generated mixed reaction from Lango sub-region. Political analyst Patrick Odongo says since Dr Aceng decided to put her foot in the "historically murky waters of Lango elective politics", a few people have deep misgivings about her latest adventure.

"Some people have pointed to her strict disciplinarian management style where she rubbed many people the wrong way. Others have urged her to instead seek international assignments the way Winnie Byanyima has," he says. Ms Byanyima is the executive director of the United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS).

The paediatrician, who is currently at the level of senior consultant, seems to have enjoyed her career and risen to the top as a doctor. But what does this latest announcement mean for Dr Aceng's career?

Mr Dennis Olodi, a political analyst, says many voters have a perception that politicians are people who are dishonest. And when they see professionals like Dr Aceng joining politics, they think she is killing her career.

Mr Hamza Okello, a youth leader of the Atek Okwer Ibu clan, says many people would prefer the minister to continue serving them as a civils servant to joining politics.

"If by any chance she manages to get into Parliament, then she may use that to widen her professional scope globally. But if she fails, then that may mark the end of her public life," he says, adding that Dr Aceng could be joining politics under some influence.

"Anyone who has known Dr Aceng for a long time will get to know that her personality doesn't fit our current trend of politics. I don't think she is as aggressive as her opponents and I highly doubt her ability in crowd-pulling, which is significant in the politics of today."

But not all hope is lost. Her entry also presents an opportunity.

"When we have many value-based people coming to join politics, they also spur interest from the elite to come and take up the mantle of not only leading, but also changing the morals of the society when they take up leadership positions," Mr Olodi says.

And Dr Aceng, who served as a medical superintendent and director of Lira Regional Referral Hospital for 15 years, is determined to take up the mantle. She is confident that her services to the nation have pleased Ugandans, a reason many have been asking questions, but also encouraging her to run for a political position.

"First, I want to appreciate the people of Lango for their great love and support, but most of all for their prayers. They prayed for me when I worked here (in Lira) for over 15 years; we lived among them, they loved us and gave me a lot of blessings to go when I was picked by the President to go and work as the Director General of Health Services," the minister said during her announcement.

"And in their commitment, they continued to pray and I was appointed minister, a position that I still hold to date. And I am also sure that since they have seen the good in me, and encouraged me and prayed for me, they will also see the good in me and vote for me."

Implication

But people think Dr Aceng's announcement has caused a lot of discomfort within the National Resistance Movement (NRM) party because three NRM women are also eyeing the same seat. She will also have to tussle it out with the incumbent, UPC's Joy Atim Ongom.

Ms Linda Auma, now the Resident District Commissioner of Amuru, has also declared interest in running for the seat.

Ms Auma, the late David Oyite-Ojok's daughter who lost to Atim in 2016, was NRM's flag bearer in the last elections. Other hopefuls are Ms Gloria Akello and Ms Sarah Awor Angweri, all said to be interested in contesting on NRM ticket.

"Within NRM there is discomfort because her (Dr Aceng's) rivals have issues. Auma has unsettled cattle compensation pledges that will continue to follow her. And the rest are little known," Mr Okello says.

During the 2016 campaigns, Ms Auma promised that if elected, government would compensate people that lost livestock during the two-decade insurgency in northern Uganda. But President Museveni while addressing a rally at Lira Mayor's Garden in 2016, stained her chances of entering the August House when he said the government did not have adequate resources to compensate people for the lost animals.

Out of annoyance, voters abandoned NRM candidates and voted for the Opposition. NRM lost both the Lira Municipality MP and mayoral seats to the Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC).

A UPC candidate also uprooted then Housing State minister Sam Engola from Erute South Constituency while the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) took over Erute North.

Nonetheless, some critics seem to suggest that Dr Aceng's entry has little or no impact on the political landscape in Lango.

"I don't think she will be a big factor in Lango politics. Remember before Covid-19, her presence was only felt among the urban elites, who possibly had contacts with her as she exercised her work," Mr Okello says.

"Unfortunately, majority of these elite are detached from the community and they do not have a major influence in election process."

Ms Auma welcomes Dr Aceng to the race, but warns her of touch times ahead. "I have been in politics, I could say, throughout my life. And in all the political offices I've held for the last 20 years, I have been competing and it has not always been a simple race. It has been a very tough race," she told Sunday Monitor on Wednesday.

In 2016, Ms Auma says she lost to UPC's Atim not because she was a weak candidate.

"In my own analysis, I lost not even because of cattle compensation. I lost because of betrayal by some big shots in NRM and I was robbed of my victory from the Electoral Commission," she claims. "Now I am coming back in this race to reclaim my victory, not even the minister [Aceng] can stop me."

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