For Esau Hinamundi, an NRM-leaning LCII chairperson in Nabiswege parish, Kibaale Sub-county in Namutumba District, President Museveni will have to put in extra shifts if he is to maintain or even improve on the 78 per cent votes he garnered in Busoga sub-region in the 2011 polls.
Speaking on the sidelines of Mr Museveni’s rally on a hot afternoon at Bukono grounds late last year, Hinamundi expresses his opinion as he illustrates the hurdle of poverty in the sub-region that stands in the way of an easy ride for the ruling party.
Once teeming with textiles, steel rolling mills and copper smelters, Busoga – the one-time fulcrum of Uganda’s industry – has now gone down under, with industries pegged back by years of neglect, mismanagement and the 1990s wave of privatisation. As the industries went into ruins, so did the major source of employment for the natives, leaving behind an impoverished lot.
With a poverty incidence of 33.2 per cent in eastern Uganda against the national average of 32.2 per cent, according to a Uganda Bureau of Statistics (Ubos) report, eastern Uganda is one of the poorest areas in the country.
Though the Ubos report did not zero down on the specifics of Busoga, a 2014 report by Development Initiatives, a London-based NGO that works on poverty alleviation, indicated that 40 per cent of the people in Busoga live on less than a dollar a day [Shs3,500].
The poverty in the area was worsened by an outbreak of a jigger infestation in 2013 that left an unspecified number of locals effectively out of action, unable to fend for a living.
To drive home the crisis of impoverishment in the area, Mr Hinamundi uses the failures of the Naads programme, one of the many poverty alleviation projects in the area, to vent the frustrations the locals have with Mr Museveni.
Established in 2001 to help improve agricultural advisory services, the programme has been marred by graft and distribution of fake seeds, forcing Mr Museveni to call off one of his cherished projects at least twice.
“The seeds that are meant to be distributed are sometimes stolen. Then some are poor quality. Then they are not enough. Even the money is stolen. We need modern farm inputs if this programme is to transform the lives of our people. People here are farmers but the soil is very bad and there are no fertilisers,” says Mr Hinamundi.
The poverty in the area has been the crying call for the Opposition, which denigrates Busoga as the “headquarters of poverty” in Uganda, warning residents to do away with the complacency that makes the government indifferent to their plight.
With his poverty alleviation projects not delivering as expected, Mr Museveni was confronted by this poverty when he set foot in Busoga sub-region on December 20, 2015, with his first rallies in Namutumba. At Bukono, a constituency just curved out of Busiiki, voters could not even be seduced by the novelty of a new constituency.
He thus chose Busoga to market his four- pronged magic bullet to deal poverty a fatal blow; he will indiscriminately throw money at everything penniless in the area.
Under Mr Museveni’s anti-poverty war, the Naads purse will increase from Shs200b to Shs1 trillion, the Women Fund from Shs7b to Shs234b, Youth Fund from Shs54b to Shs234b and the Micro-Finance Fund from Shs44b to Shs180b.Reciepients will access interest-free government loans.
“The rats that steal the millet from the granary will not stop me from planting more millet and putting it in the granary; You do not refuse to sleep not to dream,” Mr Museveni has been arguing at rallies, defending why he still has to pump in money even when thieving officials go unpunished.
But these programmes have left nothing of impact. The Micro-Finance Fund was run down by under the watch of former vice president Specioza Kazibwe while the youth and women cash rarely trickle down to the would-be beneficiaries.
But Mr Museveni chooses to pass the buck for the failure of these programmes to the Resident District Commissioners (RDCs) whom he accuses of failing to stem abuse of cash. Some, like the Namutumba RDC, paid with their jobs as Mr Museveni sought to make a statement.
With his anti-poverty projects hitting many walls, the Kyabazinga row and the bickering between Busoga NRM principals such as Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga and Works junior minister Asuman Kiyingi, Mr Museveni has his work clearly cut out here.
And with FDC leaders like MPs Wafula Oguttu [MP Bukooli Central], Abdu Katuntu [MP Bugweri], Paul Mwiru [MP Jinja Municipality East], Salaamu Musumba [Kamuli LC5 chairperson] and Muhammad Kezaala [Jinja mayor] lurking in the background, Mr Museveni has a full plate.
For Fred Mugabe, the LCI for Kiranya in Kibaale Sub-county, Maureen Kyalya, the only female candidate in the presidential race, though unknown at the national stage, can manage to claw away some figures from Mr Museveni.
“Having worked on many poverty alleviation projects, she has links with people. And being a woman, you never know, women might want to simply vote one of their own,” Mr Mugabe says.
Not to lose footing in the Kyabazinga row, Mr Museveni paid a courtesy call to Columbus Wambuzi, the heir to the late Kyabazinga, who lost the battle to Wilberforce Gabula Nadiope.
Angered by the loss of the battle over the Kyabazinga, Wambuzi’s supporters in the Kaliro are said not to be very comfortable with Mr Museveni and are reportedly warming up to Opposition candidates like Go Forward candidate Amama Mbabazi.
Mr Mbabazi, who has been put on notice by Kadaga who accuses him of meddling in cultural affairs of Busoga Kingdom, caused concern in the Busoga NRM camp when he gate-crashed the coronation celebrations in Bugembe, Jinja in December last year.
As Museveni left Busoga and hit Kigezi sub-region, the backyard of the FDC’s Kizza Besigye and Mbabazi, his two main challengers, what he experienced in Busoga sub-region was certainly not what he wished for.
MUSEVENI’S BUSOGA SUB-REGION VOTES
In 2001, President Museveni got 572,963 votes out of 1,165, 459 registered voters.
His share declined to 452,877 in 2006.
However, he bounced back in 2011, polling 533,084 out of the 1,277,855 registered voters in Busoga sub-region.