SIRONKO-The former Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, Mr Nathan Nandala Mafabi, has declared that he will again offer himself as a candidate for the Budadiri West seat in Bugisu sub-region, a constituency that was hotly contested in the 2011 election.
Early indications are that the 2016 race here is building up to be another bruising battle.
“There are already people moving around in the constituency to replace me, I am now telling them that I am still around and I will stand to represent my people in Budadiri West again in 2016,” Mr Mafabi told the Saturday Monitor in a recent interview.
Mr Mafabi ran away with the seat in 2011 on the promise of salvaging the rural people in Budadiri West from poverty; improving social services, especially in public health, and fighting for the welfare of the common man. There will likely be an audit of his progress in that direction in the coming campaign.
In 2011, the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party lined up Dr Beatrice Wabudeya, the then Sironko District Woman MP, to take on Mr Mafabi. But despite heavy deployment of State resources, including using the security forces, Mr Mafabi trounced Dr Wabudeya in the race. Mr David Livingstone Giruli, a contestant, stepped down in favour of Dr Wabudeya.
At the end of polling, and after hours of anxiety and tension, Mr Mafabi was declared winner of Budadiri West constituency with 23,702 votes against Dr Wabudeya’s 9,336.
Mr Mafabi portrays himself as a man who turns things around. His most prominent reference points include Bugisu Cooperative Union (BCU) which he rescued and returned to profitability.
The others are his well-documented work as chairman of the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament and his eventful time as a Leader of the Opposition in Parliament (LoP).
His trademark in-your-face style has already shown itself at the several rallies he has recently addressed in the constituency.
“I have come to cut down the mango tree again; your work is to eat the mangoes, because you do not have to hassle climbing the tree this time,” he said at one rally.
“If President Museveni comes here that he is campaigning for an NRM candidate, tell him that Mr Nandala Mafabi is waiting for you in Budadiri West. He should not waste his time here because I am still around and my people still want me to represent them. I am ready to show them that it’s not about their money,” Mr Mafabi said.
The MP’s record as chairman of PAC and BCU benefitted from experience acquired as a tax assessor at Uganda Revenue Authority. That he holds a degree in Statistics and Economics and a Master’s in Economic Policy and Planning (all from Makerere University) would obviously helped.
His confidence may have taken a hit after he lost to Maj Gen (rtd) Mugisha Muntu in the November 2012 campaign to replace Dr Kizza Besigye as president of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC).
He unsuccessfully petitioned the party, observing that Maj Gen Muntu had not won fairly. Months of acrimony down the road, the new party president shook up the internal leadership, dropping Mr Mafabi as LoP whom he replaced with Bukhooli Central MP Wafula Oguttu.
“I actually have a lot of time now with my constituents and anybody coming to stand against me must prepare well, for dropping me from the position of LoP was a blessing in disguise and now that I am the chairman of BCU [again], this keeps me in touch with my voters,” said Mr Mafabi.
Although he once saw himself as the president of Uganda’s most powerful opposition party and even a president of Uganda, he seems to have revised his aspirations, putting off higher ambitions to the future.
“And for now, I am going to support Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu for the presidency. I am going to be quiet; to concentrate in my constituency but I will again show up at the right time. For this failure was a lesson to me,” he said.
Mr Mafabi’s popularity is closely tied to the fortunes of BCU where he was recently returned unopposed in vote to choose a new chairman.
In 2008, BCU was about to collapse. Bugisu elders, including Mr Enoch Musundi, put their political and religious differences aside and set out to restore it to its former glory.
According to Mr Musundi, a former union chairman and now director, aware that age could not allow them move swiftly to restore their union’s glory; they chose Mr Mafabi to spearhead the revival.
Mr Musindi says two years down the road, the union was out of danger and registered many achievements.
“For me this was a reward for my excellent work at the union, farmers believe in me and I trust them although government wanted to use a number of them who belong to NRM to fight me but I am back to help farmers fight poverty through cooperatives,” said Mr Mafabi.
“The union was revived and this explains why we voted him back as chairman. And do you know that upon his re-election recently, private coffee buyers have now increased their coffee from Shs2,400 to Shs6,600 per kg? This is the man we need for Bugisu sub-region and Budadiri West,” said Mr Muhammad Wetaka.
The Race for Budadiri West
Another elder, Mr Zubairi Nandala an ardent supporter of NRM, said he is mobilising people to vote back Mr Mafabi as MP for Budadiri West. “We are bitter as NRM supporters. Why does the President hate people who work well? People who fight graft in the country?” he said.
The incumbent though should expect competition from young NRM cadres who admired him and thought this was his last term in Parliament.
One such new entrant is Mr Paul Wokou, an accountant and former employee of Umeme from Buyobo, one of the biggest sub-counties in the constituency. He is a businessman in Moroto District.
Mr Wokou says: “We have had Mr Nathan Mafabi since 2011. The people of Budadiri West have also decided that I represent them.”
Another likely contestant is Mr Sam Wambaka, a teacher and consultant with Uganda Management Institute.
The interest of Mr Wokou, however, faces the complication of Mr Wambaka, known to be also a local mobiliser for the ruling party, setting the stage for possible division of the NRM’s
“I am coming into the race not because anybody has failed to deliver but I am coming with a new strategy of involving the local people in implementation of the government projects,” said Mr Wambaka.
Mr Wambaka from Buwasa Sub-county in Bugwagi is also the chairman of the Aids service organisations in Bugisu sub-region and chairman of TeleStar football club in Mbale.
Other NRM-leaning possible candidates are Mr Jack Kisolo, an accountant with Uganda Revenue Authority and Mr Andrew Wasukira, the Sironko District engineer.
Any appeal Dr Wabudeya may have had locally appears lost with some locals insisting that since she is serving government in another capacity (sitting on the National Awards Committee, among others), the former minister should not return.
The other candidate in the race includes Mr Giruli who has lost to Mr Mafabi twice.
In a district where Mr Mafabi influenced the election of only FDC candidates to both the council and Parliament, 2016 is going to be something of a referendum on both his and the Opposition’s credentials as an alternative to the ruling party.
Depending on which side of the fence one sits, the outstanding question is likely going to be how did the Opposition politicians perform in respect to delivering of services to the people.
Mr Sam Wambaka: He is teacher and consultant with Uganda Management Institute. He is also the chairman of the Aids service organisations in Bugisu and chairman of TeleStar football club in Mbale.
Dr Beatrice Wabudeya: The former Sironko District Woman MP contested unsuccessfully in 2011 against Mr Nandala Mafabi for the Budadiri West seat. She is currently the presidential awards committee chairperson.
Mr Paul Wokou: He is an accountant and former employee of Umeme from Buyobo, one of the biggest sub-counties in the constituency. He is a businessman in Moroto District.
Mr Jack Kisolo: He is an accountant with Uganda Revenue Authority.
Mr Andrew Wasukira: He is the Sironko District engineer.
Mr David Livingstone Giruli: He stepped down in favour of Dr Beatrice Wabudeya during the 2011 Budadiri West parliamentary election.