A couple of weeks ago, Go Forward presidential candidate Amama Mbabazi metaphorically likened himself to a soft “snake”, which he said can swallow a cow.
His metaphor was in response to another allegory his long-term ally, President Museveni, had used days before while commenting on the December 13, 2015, clashes in Ntungamo District.
The soft and calm Mbabazi last Sunday went vote hunting in the eastern region of Sebei and Karamoja where he yet again came face-to-face with campaign hurdles that can be said he helped create for the Opposition when still in government for the last 30 years.
The former prime minister met frustration at his rallies; intimidation of his supporters, defacing his posters, being denied access to venues and obstacles from police and RDCs.
Mbabazi started campaigns in the hilly Kapchorwa District on Sunday where the gathering at the main rally at Boma Grounds was modest. Notwithstanding the sparse population of hilly villages, supporters and spectators showed up and many looked on from a distance.
His fixer in the sub-region, Kween County MP Abdi Kisos Chemaswet, who also doubled as his translator, somewhat managed on the part of mobilisation.
The people looking on from the outside, a few when asked, expressed disapproval for the presidential candidate preaching the gospel of “change”, but others claimed they had been warned by local authorities not to attend Mbabazi’s rally.
Besides the need for “change”, which he said is now, Mbabazi preached job creation in Kapchorwa, improved salaries for teachers, medical workers and the police using money saved from needless expenditures like that of State House. He also vowed to put an end on police brutality.
From Boma, the Go Forward candidate made several stopovers before wrapping up the day at Binyin village in Kween. The reception there was still modest, but a little large compared to Kapchorwa.
Nakapiripirit and Amudat
The trail expanded to Nakapiripirit and Amudat. What he encountered there were dusty and bumpy roads, poor access to clean water for both cattle and households and schools and health facilities with poor structures. The two districts are predominantly inhabited by Karimojong and Pokot pastoralists.
On the way to the first stopover at Namalu Town in Nakapiripirit District, two Land Cruiser vehicles pasted with NRM candidate Yoweri Museveni’s posters were seen coming from the direction of the town. And on arrival, the town was all painted yellow.
The reception was modest, but warm. Men cheered and flashed his Go Forward sign as the women ululated.
But as Mbabazi was leaving, some started chanting President Museveni’s slogans and flashing the thumb sign. Apparently because Mbabazi left them with no money.
He then proceeded to Kadam, making stopovers at Lolengai and Lolochat villages. But residents also claimed they were being intimidated and warned not to attend Mbabazi’s rallies. The residents also pointed fingers at unknown people in the area who they believed were from security.
RDC denies claims
The Nakapiripirit RDC, Mr David Lomet Modo, however, dismissed claims of anyone demobilising Mr Mbabazi’s supporters, let alone intimidating them.
“For me as chairman of the district security committee, my work is to ensure everyone is safe, including Mr Amama [Mbabazi],” he said.
In Amudat, a predominant area for the Pokot cattle herders, some took off their grazing time and turned up at the Kalas Girls School playground in Upe County. The rally had been scheduled to start at 3.30pm, but due to hiccups in areas where he started, Mbabazi arrived 25 minutes to 6pm, the official closing time for campaign rallies.
The mood was a little upbeat; his posters had been plastered all over the trading centre and he was warmly received. Mbabazi, flanked by the former External Security Organisation director general David Pulkol as his translator, promised to better the lives of the people in Karamoja sub-region if elected next head of State.
From Amudat, Mbabazi took his campaigns to Kaabong where he met a very difficult time. The roughly 200km drive from Moroto, where the Go Forward candidate spent the night, to Kaabong started with an accident involving a Super Custom van carrying Mbabazi’s private security team. Eight passengers on board sustained minor injuries.
Also ahead was a dark cloud hanging over Mbabazi’s visit. In Kaabong Town, he was denied access to the main venue at the former sub-county headquarters where FDC flag bearer campaigned from while in the area.
Mbabazi’s rally was instead shifted to the Kidepo airfield, about 4km away from the trading centre.
The Kaabong District police commander, Mr Peter Cerekom, said “the decision had been taken by the district security committee to avoid inconveniences caused by rallies in trading centres”.
In Kaabong were also scenes of scuffle between people dressed in T-shirts of Mbabazi and those dressed in President Museveni’s, in the full watch of the police. However, DPC Cerekom says he was not aware of any of such incidents.
At the Kidepo airfield, some local leaders could be seen dispersing the gatherings that had been drawn by a marching band from the trading centre.
Residents talked to said they had been told by the local authorities to either leave or stay and face the wrath of teargas.
After about 15 minutes, the airfield was just shy of 50 people. The gathering only returned when Mbabazi showed up, about 12 minutes to 6pm.
Warm reception in Kotido & Abim
As the sun rose from the beautiful hills in the background of Kotido, police started taking position in the main trading centre where the rally was to take place.
Unknown people in a Land Cruiser pasted with NRM posters could be seen giving out yellow T-shirts to counter Mbabazi’s supporters. Sessions of confusion and fights engulfed the town until a handful of military officers showed up to restore calm.
The previous night, Mbabazi had been blocked from a Catholic Church-owned radio, a decision the station manager attributed to the district security committee.
Mbabazi addressed a well-attended rally at Kanawkat market, from where he vowed to return the pride of Karamoja if voted.
From Kotido, Mbabazi proceeded to Abim District that was recently in the news when Dr Besigye visited the district hospital. He then addressed the main rally at Abim Primary School.
In Moroto on Thursday, district authorities denied Mbabazi the proposed venue and he was pushed to Boma Grounds.
Moroto RDC Hellen Pulkol defended the decision, saying Mbabazi was reassigned a venue because the first one would disrupt business since it was close to the business centre.
At Boma Grounds, Mbabazi, who was dressed in Karimojong attire and given a local name ‘Ariong’ [son of a chief] only, addressed a handful of crowds. This bitter spectacle was erased by a rather large gathering in neighbouring Napak District.
Residents in Napak said they were one of the first districts to cooperate with government during the disarmament programme in return for access to clean water and veterinary facilities, but none has been delivered.
Besides his posters being defaced and replaced with those of candidate Museveni, Mbabazi also had a brief confrontation with the area RDC and police who tried to block him from making a drive through town. He was later allowed to go through.
By the time he wrapped up his last stopover in Karamoja in Lorengecora village in Napak, it had been a week of escapades for Mbabazi.
Much as he has kept his cool throughout the time, Mbabazi, while addressing journalists in Kotido decried the injustices and provocations meted on his camp, but vowed to stay calm.
“I will stick to my message of tolerance because I am a democrat,” he said.