Joseph Mabirizi. The mention of his name at Uganda’s first-ever presidential TV debate last Friday would send the audience into ripples and social media platforms buzzing.
By the time curtains were drawn on the face-off, Mabirizi’s star, or infamy, had soared that a hash tag to immortalise his underwhelming performance was doing rounds on Twitter.
A clearly unknown entity before showing interest in the presidency, Mabirizi was always going to add a touch of comedy to the campaigns. Days before nomination, a mysterious grouping of 17 individuals met and united around him as their joint candidate. They came up with a shadowy body they called The Independents Coalition (TIC).
Omar Kalinge Nyago, the spokesperson of TIC, who was part of consultations that zeroed down on Mabirizi as the man to lead them to the country’s most coveted job, says the decision was down to the liking for results that they saw in him during meetings.
“He [Mabirizi] is not a man of stories. He is results-oriented. He is hard working. He is not a story-teller,” Mr Nyago speaks glowingly of the attributes that attracted the group of 17 political beginners to back Mabirizi. But save for the equally bizarre campaign that Mabirizi is conducting with Maureen Kyalya, the story of TIC ends where it starts.
And so barely a week after nomination, a difficult-to-believe story hit the news; a hotel in Iganga District had been raided by suspected plain-clothed operatives in the dead of the night and they had abducted Mabirizi. He was sleeping there during the campaign trail. He went missing for a day.
When he was later discovered along bushes on the Jinja-Iganga highway, he claimed his abductors wanted him to withdraw from the race. But security dismissed his version as a story meant to shore up his non-starter of a campaign. Usually unsuspecting Ugandans could not buy his version of events.
Ronald Ngobi, a pastor like Mabirizi, who has known him for more than eight years, says the man he knows does not have the cunning of character to fake a kidnapping and shockingly thinks someone wants the 40-year-old out of the race.
“He is such a humble guy. He is not a politician. He was just forced into politics by what is happening in the country. Police should be explaining what happened with the kidnapping,” says Ngobi, who is now part of Mabirizi’s campaign team.
Then as his campaign hit hard times, he decided to pull off a Kizza Besigye feat. He would go to a campaign gathering and rally supporters to fund his candidature with cash
. He was mistaken. A rally in the Kampala suburb of Kalerwe, where he chose to launch his fundraising campaign, flopped as he was booed off the stage.
But not before the presidential debate that a light was shone on the real Mabirizi.
Clad in a grey suit, punctuated with a checked tie, Mabirizi made a grand entrance and was accorded similar treatment to the other six contenders that showed up for the debate.
Journalists quickly mobbed him to get his thoughts on how he was faring in the campaigns and what he expected at the debate.
He quickly harked to his kidnap story and dropped a linguistic blunder.