In about 10 days, Jinja Municipality East will go for a parliamentary by-election scheduled for March 15.
The events leading up to this by-election date back to the February 18, 2016, polls in which Nathan Igeme Nabeta of the NRM was declared winner with 7,770 votes and Mr Paul Mwiru of FDC second with 7,635 votes. Mr Mwiru challenged the outcome in court alleging fraud in the tallying process.
Lady Justice Lydia Mugambe overturned Nabeta’s victory and declared Mr Mwiru the elected MP. Mr Nabeta ran to the Court of Appeal which overturned Justice Mugambe’s ruling and declared the seat vacant.
The race has attracted eight people, the highest number ever to have come up to contest for the constituency since the 1989 elections that saw the National Resistance Council (NRC) expanded to 270 members to allow for the inclusion of people other than the 38 historical members.
They are Nathan Igeme Nabeta (NRM), Paul Mwiru (FDC), Mr Paul Mugaya of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) and Independent candidates Faisal Mayemba, and Francis Wakabi, Christine Monica Abuze, Richard Henry Nyanzi and Hatim Isabirye Mugendi.
Mr Nyanzi is talking about the need to promote health, boost education and coverage of safe water.
“I will improve the health sector by building more health facilities, donate ambulances to save lives of people, especially pregnant mothers, build public toilets, restore the education glory of Jinja because it has deteriorated especially in traditional schools,” Mr Nyanzi says.
Ms Abuze, a former Leader of the Opposition in the Jinja District Council and the only female in the race, is talking about the need to struggle for the elevation of Jinja to city status, saying with it will come funding for the maintenance of infrastructure such as roads.
“We petitioned Parliament on the issue of elevating Jinja to a city status but it is still pending and this is a work of the Member of Parliament, but the MP in the area has not played their role. So I’m the right person to give quality service to residents of Jinja,” Ms Abuze says.
However, the focus is on Mwiru and Nabeta who are facing off for the fifth time since 2006. Nabeta claims many more victories here. He won in 2006, 2011 and 2016. Mr Mwiru’s lone win was in the February 2012 by-election.
Opposition rallies behind Mwiru
Street battles broke out between rival supporters when Nabeta was declared winner of the February 2012 polls. The police, which had earlier heavily deployed in the town, was forced to swing into action. They fired teargas and live ammunition and made a few arrests.
The police’s action and rumours that NRM top officials and a prominent businessman in the town had been at hand to pressurise then returning officer Anthony Mwita to declare Mr Nabeta the winner of the race, aroused anger towards Mr Nabeta and sympathy towards Mr Mwiru.
Mwiru is hoping to cash in on that anger and sympathy and the support of the main Opposition political parties, which were represented at the nominations at the Busoga Square and at the opening rally held at Danida Grounds in Walukuba Masese Division, to ride to victory.
The main thrust of his campaign has been on improvements in the areas of education and health.
While Mwiru had supported Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu against Mr Patrick Oboi Amuriat in last year’s race for the FDC party presidency, a poll that has since left the party divided, he was boosted by the presence of Mr Amuriat and a host of other party stalwarts who never supported Gen Muntu.
Mr Amuriat who lavished praise on Mr Mwiru as a trustworthy and able legislator, vowed to fight vote rigging.
“We are going to protect our vote from being stolen. We lost in the previous by-elections in Busoga because our votes were stolen but this time round we are not going to entertain vote rigging,” he said.
Other Opposition figures who were present include DP spokesperson Paul Kenneth Kakande, Kalungu West MP Joseph Ssewungu, FDC vice chairperson for eastern region Salaamu Musumba, Leader of the Opposition in Parliament Winnie Kizza, FDC secretary general Alice Alaso and MPs Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda and Abdu Katuntu.
Odds against Nabeta
For now the odds seem stacked against Mr Nabeta. Some of his problems are at home, while others are not and, therefore, could be out of his control.
One ghost that refuses to be exorcised is his academic qualifications. They are once again a major talking point.
“When others are questioned about their qualifications they simply bring them out and put them on the table, but whenever Nabeta is asked he tells us that he got a lawyer who will explain them well. Can’t the papers speak for themselves?” wonders, a one Musa, a boda boda rider based at Biashara building.
But Nabeta says he went to Busoga College Mwiri for his O-Level before moving on to the United States where obtained a diploma in Business Administration.
At home he finds one of his brothers, Mr Moses Kyemba, backing up his main rival following a family inheritance dispute.
Kyemba accuses Nabeta of having forged the signature of their late father, Nathan Nabeta, to become the heir. The matter is yet to be disposed of by the Chief Magistrate’s Court in Jinja so Mr Nabeta is reluctant to discuss it.
The NRM’s district branch, which he heads, is divided between those who are loyal to him and those who are loyal to his predecessor, Jinja West MP Moses Grace Balyeku. The two men have been at loggerheads since the September 17, 2015, vote at Kakindu Stadium which saw Balyeku lose the district chair, managing only 197 votes against Nabeta’s 242 votes.
Balyeku had always portrayed himself as a colossus with unlimited access to all powerful offices in the land. The defeat left him unmasked. He ran off to his Baba FM and berated several party officials who he accused of having taken sides. No good came of a petition that he filed with the party’s electoral commission.
On February 08, Mr Museveni convened a meeting of NRM leaders in the district at the Civil Service College and forced the two to reconcile and put up a public show of unity. He also charged Mr Balyeku with the responsibility of ensuring a win for Mr Nabeta, but Nabeta’s supporters remain suspicious of him.
“We, so far, have no cause to believe that he will do contrary to what he promised to do before the party chairman and all the party leaders in the district,” says Mr Ahmed Osman Noor.
Nabeta also has to deal with the fallout from the December 20, 2019, vote which saw Parliament pass the Constitution Amendment Bill 2017 and in so doing lifted the upper presidential age limit of 75 and effectively handed Mr Museveni a chance to contest for office for a sixth term if he wishes.
He is accused of having gone against the wishes of his people, a point around which his detractors are working.
“He decided to touch it. So let us also touch him,” Ms Musumba said at Mwiru’s main rally in Masese.
“Did we ever send him to vote in favour of lifting the presidential age limit? He did it on his own. He needs to be taught to obey instructions,” says Hezron Waisswa, a resident of Walukuba.
Age limit ghosts
Mr Nabeta insists that his decision to vote in favour of lifting age limit was based on what he found out during the consultation process.
“I consulted and they told me to vote in favour. May be my crime was that I did not consult enough, but I consulted,” he says.
However, the biggest challenge is the public anger that has been building up over the NRM’s management of the economy.
While unemployment remains quite high, especially among the youth, very little seems to have been done to address the problem. One of the ways through which this was meant to be partially addressed was through the operations of the Lake Victoria Information Communication Technology and Bio-Technology (LAVIT), which is closely associated with Mr Nabeta.
The firm announced in August 2010 that it would open up a $200 million (approximately Shs720 billion) ICT park in Jinja. The project which was subsequently launched by President Museveni had been expected to open up close to 10,000 job openings and have a multiplier effect on the town’s economy, but it has never taken off leaving Mr Nabeta and Mr Museveni looking like liars.
“People simply think of dismantling! Dismantling, dismantling. That is their obsession with me, but people should know that it is not easy for one to make a name for himself,” Mr Nabeta says.
He says that if re-elected his focus will be on improving health centres in Masese and Walukuba, construction of markets in the same areas and helping the fishing communities move into commercial fishing.
NRM and FDC on test
However, while Mr Nabeta is certainly fighting for his political life, this race might not really be about this constituency.
Sources within the ruling NRM have since told Sunday Monitor that the party is bent on using this by-election to test the waters ahead of a planned referendum to extend the term of the President from the current five to seven years and the Local Council elections.
While the EC is yet to announce the referendum, the Deputy Attorney General, Mr Mwesigwa Rukutana recently revealed that Cabinet has been working around it.
“I presented a paper before Cabinet and it was decided that the referendum will happen before November. By the way that could mean that it happens tomorrow,” he told Sunday Monitor a few weeks back.
Party sources indicate that there are fears that public anger towards the party remains high.
“This by-election presents us with an opportunity of judging how angry the public is. We should then be able to know how to deal with it,” the source said.
To that end, the source said, the party secretary general Justine Kasule Lumumba has been deployed and given a reasonable kitty to not only ensure victory, but also use the exercise to come up with a blue print on how the party will approach elections ahead of the referendum and the EC elections in other parts of the country. A win for Mwiru would from the foregoing be a telling blow.