The daggers are out as President Museveni fights to retain Sebei sub-region, which the Opposition have laid a strong claim to in the ongoing campaigns, riding on discontent over an array of unfulfilled promises and a simmering quarrel over the plight of internally displaced persons.
When Mr Museveni campaigned in the three Sebei districts of Kapchorwa, Kween and Bukwo, he was joined by Kenya’s deputy president, Mr William Ruto, who has ethnic ties with the people of Sebei, in what appeared like a move to leverage Mr Ruto’s influence and woo the disaffected people of the sub-region. At the rallies Mr Ruto spoke in Kalenjin, which he shares with the Sebei.
Despite this and other efforts, the area continued to appear open to voting for the Opposition, with the Forum for Democratic Change candidate Dr Kizza Besigye enjoying an encouraging campaign foray into the sub-region.
Independent candidate Amama Mbabazi has also laid a strong claim to the sub-region, snapping up for himself ruling party MP Abdi Chemaswet, who lost in the party primaries and is seeking re-election as an independent.
In one dramatic incident, as reported in Daily Monitor on February 2, members of Opposition groups who had been presented before NRM vice chairman Moses Kigongo and Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda as defectors to the ruling party in Kapchorwa Town refused to defect and accused the organisers of tricking them.
The two ruling party bigwigs are among the high profile individuals connected to the ruling party who have frequented the area in recent weeks as the battle for Sebei votes intensifies. They, especially Dr Rugunda, are usually accompanied by the Inspector General of Police, Gen Kale Kayihura. Uganda National Roads Authority boss Allen Kagina was also recently in Sebei sub-region to say that work on a key road project will commence soon.
A major sticking point in Sebei is the road that connects the three districts of the sub-region, Kapchorwa-Kween-Suam. Being a hilly sub-region which is rocky in many areas, transportation is hard.
When it rains, residents of Bukwo told Dr Besigye when he campaigned there, one can take a day or more to cover the 77kkm stretch from Kapchorwa to Suam, a town at the border with Kenya. Even on dry days, they said, the journey can take up to six hours.
Because of the challenges of transport, the residents of Bukwo and Kween said they deal more with the people from the western side of Kenya than they do with Ugandans.
“If Mr Museveni’s government cannot care for you they should hand you over to Kenya and you wait for us to come to government and bring you back,” Dr Besigye said to wild cheers in Bukwo.
Hopes that the road would be tarmacked were raised in 2006 with promises of money from the East African Compensation Fund, but the money that was released, said to be $35m (about Shs120 billion), was used to tarmac the stretch from Sironko to Kapchorwa, with the government promising to work on the road to Suam later.
Several promises to tarmac the road have been made since, with FDC secretary general Nandala Mafabi, speaking at the rally in Bukwo, singling out specific promises by President Museveni to tarmac the road.
In his State-of-the-Nation address for 2012, Mr Museveni said Kapchorwa-Suam road was in “category A” of the 19 roads UNRA intended to tarmac, saying government was looking for money to work on them.
Speaking at Mr Museveni’s rallies in Kapchorwa, Mr Ruto said the governments of Uganda and Kenya were in “advanced” stages of working on the road, even on the Kenyan side, to boost trade.
But doubts still seemed to linger among the people of the sub-region as to whether they will get a tarmac road this time.
A few weeks ago, Ms Kagina visited the area herself, just to say UNRA was in advanced stages of having the works on the road start in March.