Sunday May 12 2013

Four times in 16 days in Busoga, what is Museveni’s agenda?

President Museveni (L) hands over Shs250 million to Busoga youth chairperson Sanon Bwire at the end of last month.

President Museveni (L) hands over Shs250 million to Busoga youth chairperson Sanon Bwire at the end of last month. The gesture attracted criticism, most of it, in social media. FILE PHOTO 

By ISAAC MUFUMBA

President Museveni’s motorcade has become quite a common sight in Busoga. In the last 16 days, Mr Museveni has visited the region a record four times. First he attended the April 19 burial of the LC3 chairperson of Bulopa Sub-county, Gerald Kibeyo. Mr Museveni was not personally known to Mr Kibeyo. The only reason that was given by Kamuli Resident District Commissioner, Mr Jackson Asiimwe, was that Museveni had deemed it fit to attend the burial of the man who was meant to be his guest at his country home in Rwakitura.

The following day, Museveni returned to the region, this time heading to Kaliro where he launched the Busoga Youth Forum and gave the youth a sack containing Shs250 million, a lorry, an omnibus and another Shs15 million.

On April 29, Mr Museveni was back in Iganga District where he presided over the launch of the Pneumococcal vaccine. On May 4, the President was back in Jinja where he launched two initiatives; the “Relay from Jinja to Skellef tea, Sweden” and “Paint the City Bright” campaigns aimed at marketing Jinja as a tourist destination.

Museveni was yesterday expected to be in Buyende where he was to preside over the Kagulu Hill Climbing Challenge, which is aimed at boosting activity around the Busoga Tourism circuit. Reliable sources indicate that Mr Museveni will soon return to Jinja where he is expected to preside over a fundraising drive for the Jinja Christian Center (JCC).

What is he chasing?

At no prior time has Museveni shown as much interest in the goings on in Busoga as he has in recent times. So what is he chasing in Busoga? Officially, Museveni has been and will be returning to Busoga to deliver on his many promises and boost the region’s tourism initiatives, but then it is also historically known that the President often makes similar visits to areas that are considered of vital importance to the ruling NRM every two years after a general election, but regular visits suggest that there is more to the visits than meets the eye.

Kamuli boss says

Kamuli District chairperson Salaamu Musumba also the vice president of the opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party, argues that it is Busoga which is renewing its allegiance to Museveni and the NRM. “We are the ones who have been inviting him. Two of the visits, the one to Bulopa and the one to Iganga were incidental, but we invited him to Kaliro, the people of Jinja invited him to the Source of the Nile and we invited him to Buyende,” she argues.

Former Jinja Municipality West MP Harry Kasigwa, who is also a member of FDC, defers.
He says Mr Museveni has already started politicking, an assertion which Jinja RDC, Richard Gulume, does not dispute.

“Politics is a continuous game. The only politician who stops politicking is a dead one. Besides, there is what they call consolidation,” Gulume says. Kasigwa describes Museveni’s sojourns as “the mathematics of survival” and part of the process of putting the NRM’ house in order.

“Museveni knows that he is losing Buganda and that he has lost ground in much of the eastern Uganda. It is important that he secures Busoga which is one of the few strongholds he still has in the east” he argues.

Kadaga factor

According to Kasigwa, though the Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, has never clearly declared her intentions to challenge him for the Presidency, Mr Museveni would rather work on the assumption that she is mustering her energy to challenge for the job and, therefore, move to nip her ambitions in the bud by closely working with her on matters such as rallying the people of Busoga around the promotion of the Busoga tourism circuit.

This, according to Kasigwa, also explains why Museveni, who was at the Source of the Nile in Jinja only two days after the May 2 landmark ruling that allowed the so called NRM rebel MPs to retain their seats, did not attack her for the decision.

“I think Kadaga is now a thorn in his flesh because he is so afraid of seeing another person emerging, but he could not dare attack her. Even this move that the party made against [Theodore] Ssekikubo, Tinkasimire [Barnabas], Niwagaba [Wilfred] and [Muhammad] Nsereko is about self preservation” he argues.

So while he could have given the youth a sack of money and vehicles to help them start up income generating activities, Kasigwa, says, his interest is really in consolidating his hold on the 549,679 votes that he garnered from a region that has 1,023,287 registered voters and ensuring that no challenge comes from there.

Poor region

However, despite the visits and handouts, questions about his will to make strategic interventions to help change Busoga’s economy abound. “If you compared us to Northern Uganda you would wonder who is coming out of war. Busoga remains an enclave of poverty yet we have not been at war, neither have we suffered any natural disaster. The question is why when we have been doing everything (voting) right,” Musumba says.

The district boss adds that bad government policies have caused unprecedented poverty and made begging the biggest occupation, a position Lands and Urban Development Minister, Daudi Migereko, who is also the MP for Butembe County, disagrees with.

Busoga, he says, has excellent infrastructure – good schools, roads and over 106 health centres and continues to attract major investments especially in tourism. Migereko prefers to ignore the fact that industries like East African Steel Corporation, Printpak, Chillington Tool Company, and Papco Industries have closed shop or those like Engaano and Bread Limited are running way below installed production capacity.

He points at Kakira Sugar Works which is currently undergoing a $68 million expansion which will see power generation increase from 22 to 52 megawatts and sugar production from 140,000 to 180,000 tonnes.

Migereko says food production, just like the number of industries, has increased.
Three new fish processing plants opened, edible oil producers increased from 2 to 6; Steel manufacturers from 1 to 5; and wheat processors from 1 to 5.
He says many small scale industries have come up to employ more people than the traditional industries.

But why has this not translated into a better economy or living standards? Indeed a recent Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) report: “Spatial Trends of Poverty and Inequality in Uganda: 2002-2005,” lists Busoga as one of Uganda’s poorest regions.

Musumba says is down to lack of a hub to run the local economy. She says while the handouts to the youth are welcome there is need to look at bigger policy issues, adding that the region is now pushing for affirmative action and special programmes aimed at resuscitating the economy, adding that focus is being placed on a revival of the cooperatives as a driver of production, but will Museveni buy the idea?

While speaking at the Source of the Nile, Museveni described Jinja Mayor, Muhammad Kezaala’s decision to invite him as an act of wisdom. “Kezaala is very wise because he knew that I have resources to support this tourism promotion,” he said.

There can never be a doubt about that. Only those with resources can put Shs250 million in a sack and hand it out to groups of hungry youth, but for most of Busoga, the question is just how much of those resources can be put to serious poverty alleviation programmes and not mere political posturing?

imufumba@ug.nationmedia.com

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