While Teso remains a predominantly Opposition-sympathetic sub-region, much of the outcome of 2016 general elections is this time likely to depend on the individual merit of the aspirants as party significance in overall results for the region continues to dwindle, a local official has suggested.
The traditional Opposition stronghold constituencies that for many years had denied the ruling NRM grounds in Teso are beginning to give way, according to this official.
“The Opposition is not prepared at all for Teso this time. They are only in urban centres and their impact is not being felt by voters in the villages anymore. On the other side, President Museveni is doing a lot of grassroots [mobilisation], so for him, the ground may be prepared,” Mr Michael Ongwara, the chairperson of Pingire Sub-county in Kasilo County, Serere District said.
He, however, did not divulge why he felt there is a shift in alliances.
But for those eyeing grassroots positions under the NRM, the tide may not be all that favourable in the coming general elections as most of the incumbents are believed not to have delivered as promised to their constituents.
NRM representatives have been castigated by some locals for not delivering on crucial issues affecting the common person in rural Teso.
During the 2011 general elections, the ruling party swept through 12 constituencies across the sub-region while the main Opposition party, Forum for Democratic Party (FDC) took eight areas.
“Some constituencies voted for NRM because they had been promised their areas would be elevated to districts. It is about [time for] the next election yet nothing has been delivered on such pledges,” former Amuria LC5 chairperson, Mr Julius Ochen (UPC) said.
The government put a cap on formation of new districts last year with President Museveni publicly saying during a function in Kololo, Kampala on September 9, 2013, that there is no evidence to support his previously held belief that they took services closer to the people. There are 112 districts in Uganda.
In March, the government indefinitely stayed its proposal for the creation of new districts, saying there is no money to fund them.
President Museveni, according to other sources close to the parliamentary Local Government Committee, directed the Minister for Local Government, Mr Adolf Mwesige, to withdraw an earlier motion he tabled in Parliament seeking the approval of 25 new districts.
In the newly-created Serere District where it had been anticipated that the NRM would receive a landslide victory, this never came to pass.
“Support for the Opposition in Serere is still strong and it might not be easy for NRM to neutralise FDC support in the area,” said Mr Julius Odeng (FDC), the former chairperson for Bugondo Sub-county in Kasilo County.
The ruling party continues to eye most of the coveted constituencies in Teso, setting the mood for what could be very stiff competition within the party itself.
NRM so far has the biggest number of likely aspirants who have shown interest in vying for various constituencies in Kumi (woman), Agule, Ngora and Katakwi.
“The biggest hurdles NRM will be faced with this time are due to the longstanding internal feuds that are threatening to erode its chances in the region. A number of unresolved conflicts surrounding previous primary elections are also a big undoing for the NRM in Teso,” a senior member of the NRM in Katakwi District, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal from the party, said.
For instance, in Usuk County, Katakwi District, the Minister for Education and Sports, Ms Jessica Alupo, and Eastern Youth MP Peter Ogwang have variously expressed an interest to vie for the constituency.
The by-elections of September, 2012 to replace the late John Oromait, who was the then MP for Usuk, also left deep political scars on those who contested in the NRM primaries but were edged out for lack of the blessing by the NRM king makers in Katakwi.
Former Usuk MP Charles Oleny Ojok had lost his bid in the 2011 general election. So, when the by-election to replace the late Oromait were announced, he thought lady luck had smiled his way.
“There is a lot of internal NRM machination in Katakwi. When Oleny thought he could make it back through the by-election, he was only met with a rude shock. The primaries were manipulated and he contested as an independent candidate,” the senior NRM official said.
The political scars left behind by alleged rigging that marred by-election of 2012 to replace the late Oromait are yet to heal. His daughter, Proscovia Alengot Oromait was controversially elected to replace her father with the support of Ms Alupo.
“I really think the NRM will be white-washed in the coming elections. Most of them have failed to identify with the electorate and many of the constituencies are up for grabs by new faces,” Mr Peter Eceru, a Teso-based lawyer and an anti-corruption activist, said.
Several miles away in Kasilo County, for nearly 15 years, the constituency has been dominated by FDC.
The incumbent, Mr Elijah Okupa (FDC), has since 2001 occupied this seat and still wields considerable support despite his failure to fulfill some outstanding pledges.
This constituency is one of those that the ruling NRM has prepared for in the coming elections. The new challenger is Mr George Owanyi Akwaan.
The only time NRM enjoyed support in Kasilo was during the National Resistance Council and Constituency Assembly Delegates days in the ‘90s. Ever since, however, the opposition has dominated in the area.
Where it could be hot
As 2016 draws closer, it is continuously becoming evident that the fiery contests for parliamentary seats in Teso could be in Kasilo and Ngora counties.
Ngora incumbent Francis Epetait (pictured) has not publicly indicated he will be coming back for the general elections.
“Time will come when I will declare to my people whether I am standing or not. It is them people to decide,” Dr Epetait said.
But although still a favourite in the county, Dr Epetait may bow out of the race due to health concerns that have worried his close family members.
“His family members are asking him to stay out of politics and take care of his health but he has not given his decision,” a family friend, Mr Moses Okalebo, said.
The Minister of State for Tourism, Ms Agnes Akiror, has already hinted she will be vying for Ngora constituency, adding to a long a list of other NRM members already nursing similar ambitions.