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Museveni and Busoga: a sentimental affair?

President Museveni campaigning in Busoga at an earlier trail

At least until the 2011 elections, President Museveni’s support in Busoga sub-region has been shaken, in part, by an aggressive climb in opposition activity. As the 2016 general election nears, SULAIMAN KAKAIRE examines NRM’s strength and prospects of retaining its majority support.

Busoga sub-region is a known NRM stronghold. But Asadi Kato, 28, a businessman in Jinja town, wonders how NRM keeps winning in the region without addressing the real issues affecting the common person in Busoga.

“The poverty levels in Busoga are so high. This place used to be the industrial city and people used to come here in search for jobs but now residents of Jinja leave this place to look for jobs elsewhere,” Kato said on Lubias Road as he and colleagues discussed the state of Busoga. Among issues identified as pertinent to Busoga by Kato and colleagues, who are in their 20s, include unemployment, poverty, poor education and health care system.

In the first presidential election under NRM in 1996, Museveni won by more than 95 per cent of the valid votes in Busoga region. That dropped to 76.3 per cent in the 2011 general election.

Busoga accounts for about 10 per cent of Uganda’s voting bloc. Over the years, Museveni’s support in the region has dwindled. In 2001, Museveni’s score declined to 80.05 per cent, a decline of 15 per cent compared to his performance in 1996.

An analysis of Museveni’s vote share shows that in 2001, Museveni got 572,963 votes out of 1,165, 459 registered voters. This declined to 452,877 in 2006. But in the 2011 election, Museveni’s vote share rose to 533,084, in an area with 1,277,855 registered voters.


In March 2012, when NRM lost the Jinja [municipality] East by-election, which was won by FDC’s Paul Mwiru, a group of political leaders from Busoga sub-region visited President Museveni at State House-Entebbe to discuss the ramification. Mwiru beat NRM’s Igeme Nabeta.

The group, which included district chairpersons and resident district commissioners, was led by Rebecca Kadaga, the speaker of Parliament and chairperson of the Busoga parliamentary caucus.

The NRM leaders told Museveni that his failure to end poverty in the region and disunity within the NRM caused the defeat. The NRM leaders told Museveni to forget about 2016 if he did not respond to these two sticking issues. With the benefit of hindsight, the political events in Busoga region in the last three years trace their origin to the March 2012 meeting.


When Museveni delayed to respond to their concerns, some senior politicians in Busoga urged Kadaga to run for president.

“We thought that because of the popularity she had at the time, she was the right choice to steer us to Busoga’s glory,” said one MP.

Although at the time Kadaga did not openly express interest in the presidency, her close associates embraced the idea. In response, the pro-Museveni people in the region organized a presidential visit to the region. In 2013, President Museveni visited Busoga at least 10 times and met mostly elders.

Majdu Dhikusooka, the NRM vice chairperson for Jinja district told The Observer that “Museveni visited the region to launch some of the projects he had promised the people of Busoga.”

During the visits, Museveni donated Shs 250m to the Busoga Youth Trust, Shs 200m to Busoga Tourism Initiative and a Toyota Hiace to Busoga Pride Cultural Group. In 2014, during the NRM liberation day celebrations in Mayuge, Museveni rolled out the operation wealth creation, under which coffee, fruit, maize and bean seedlings and seeds are being distributed to war veterans.


Isaac Mufumba, a senior journalist in Busoga, told The Observer that Museveni’s visits to Busoga were intended to neutralize former prime minister Amama Mbabazi’s support.

“He [Mbabazi] had mobilized in this region. People were stampeding over Kadaga but the fact is, it is Mbabazi who had established a network that was more of a threat,” Mufumba said.

It came as no surprise that when the NRM parliamentary caucus passed a resolution (in 2014) that declared Museveni as NRM’s sole presidential candidate, Busoga became the main promotional ground.

“The money that was spent in Busoga was quite much. In fact, when MPs came back to promote the resolution, one could think the general election had started,” Mufumba said.

Dhikusooka and Hajji Badru Watongola, the chairperson of Kamuli town council, are among prominent NRM leaders in Busoga rumoured to be sympathetic to Mbabazi. The two, however, in separate interviews denied any links to Mbabazi’s presidential bid.

“I worked with Mbabazi at the time because he was secretary general of the party. But, I have never at any time worked with him to promote his bid,” Watongola said.

Senior NRM leaders in Busoga insist that NRM is still strong. Shaban Nkuutu, the chairperson of Iganga district, admits that NRM’s support had declined but insists it has rebounded recently after government started to deliver on its promises.

“There were concerns in the past but right now the NRM government is on the right course and there is no worry that it will not retain the majority support,” Nkuutu said.

Nkuutu, who leads one of the districts with waning support for Museveni, argues that things like electricity coverage, access to water, health care and roads, which have been lacking, have been availed to most parts of Busoga.

“If you look at all the roads connecting Busoga’s major towns to Jinja, which is the main town, have been constructed, except Mayuge-Namayingo road that is currently under construction,” he said. The roads constructed include Jinja-Kamuli, Jinja-Iganga and Iganga-Namutumba, Iganga-Kaliro and Iganga Bugiri road.


Dr Frank Nabwiso, a former MP for Kagoma in Jinja and a keen analyst of Busoga’s politics, argues that NRM’s strength is not premised on its delivery on promises made.

“Issues affecting Busoga people are poverty, unemployment, poor education performance and health care system. And if you check the statistics by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics, these issues remain a problem,” Nabwiso said.

Nabwiso, however, said that to understand NRM’s support in Busoga, one needs to appreciate the voter behavior of Busoga people.

“The people of Busoga are generally sentimental voters. Rarely do they vote issues and in areas like Jinja and Iganga, where elections have been issue- based, you can see that NRM has struggled to gain the majority support,” he said.

Nabwiso argues that NRM has relied on a friendly media in Busoga to maintain its support. “During the election period, like now, this propaganda media gives messages that project the NRM as strong and you know our people are gullible,” he said.

Currently, the main radio stations in Busoga are owned by NRM leaders. These include Baba FM, owned by Jinja West MP Moses Balyeku; NBS FM and Smart FM owned by Nathan Igeme Nabeta the former MP for Jinja East. Others include Source FM, and Victoria FM, whose shareholders are NRM politicians.

Ismail Mayengo, a resident of Jinja town, avidly listens to the radios. He said most radio stations in Busoga are partisan.

“Most of the journalists on the stations are NRM. Opposition politicians are not given an equal platform during election time,” Mayengo said, pointing out an incident last month when Baba FM refused to host former FDC President Dr Kizza Besigye.

Apparently, internal fights within NRM in Busoga and failure by the ruling party to address the region’s problems have provided an opening for the opposition.
In the next part of this special report, we examine how the opposition has made some inroads in Busoga and the challenges it faces.



















































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