NTUNGAMO-Mr Justus Karuhanga, a former State House employee and nephew of First Lady Janet Museveni, has been contesting to be NRM flag bearer for Rushenyi MP seat against Mr Mwesigwa Rukutana since 2006.
When Mr Karuhanga lost in the October NRM primaries last year, he chose to take on Mr Rukutana on an Independent ticket unlike in 2006 and 2011 when he obliged by the NRM regulations not to contest against the party’s official candidate.
The election for the flag bearer was the most chaotic and controversial in western region.
Supporters of Mr Karuhanga burnt all ballot papers and other election materials from Ngoma Sub-county, protesting what they called rigging.
There were two other candidates; Mr Amon Kamugyene and Mr Herbert Nyongozi. Results were never announced.
Ms Maria Mirembe, the party registrar, claimed then that a computer virus destroyed the results.
After mediations and consultations involving the team led by Maj Rubaramira Ruranga, Mr Rukutana was announced the party flag bearer without announcing the number of votes each candidate polled.
Supporters of Mr Karuhanga at one time waylaid Mr Rukutana, who was campaigning together with his friend, Mr Bob Kabonero, and beat them up.
Mr Rukutana threatened to leave NRM and contest as an Independent.
He accused Mr Karuhanga of using state agencies to intimidate and harass his supporters.
“Mr Karuhanga has been campaigning, saying he comes from the First Family, is related to the First Lady and has been parading security personnel to campaign for him.
This is unfortunate because I also have relationships which I can use. It is not good to harass my supporters,” Mr Rukutana told journalists at his home on the eve of the election.
Mr Mohammed Byabasheija Rwomushana, Moses Mugisha, Mr Paul Karibwende and Joshua Atukunda, all independents, and Mr Dan Rweiburingi Kiriyo of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) are the other candidates in the race.
The constituents, however, maintain that the real contest is between Mr Rukutana, who is also the Deputy Attorney General, and Mr Karuhanga, also a lawyer.
Some voters read dynastic politics in Mr Karuhanga’s unwavering determination to take the seat. His close relatives served as leaders of the constituency. Some see greed in Mr Rukutana’s seeking for a fourth term.
The community has not been spared the tribal politics in the past and presently. Located on the border of Ntungamo District with Kabale District and Nyagatare District of the Republic of Rwanda, Rushenyi is a cosmopolitan constituency. There are diverse tribes, including Rwandans, Bakiga and Banyakole.
The customs and values of such tribes have somehow got fused. The people, to a greater degree, live in harmony socially and economically.
However, it is politics that has been threatening the unity. The constituency is composed of Ngoma, Rugarama, Kayonza and Rubaare sub-counties and Rubaare Town Council.
Some mobilisers of Mr Rukutaana and Mr Karuhanga are rallying support by invoking tribal sentiments. Mr Rukutana, who has been area MP since 1998, belongs to the Banyankole sub-group of cultivators, who, together with the Bakiga, largely derive their livelihood by growing crops.
Mr Karuhanga, on the other hand, belongs to Banyankole sub-group, who together with Banyarwanda, largely survive on rearing cattle.
After Uganda gained independence, part of Rushenyi was put under Ruhaama and was represented by Mr James Arthur Kangaho, a brother of Mr Edward Kataaha, who is the father of Ms Museveni.
The other part fell under Kajara County and was represented by Grace Ibingira. Later, Mr Yona Kanyomozi became the MP.
In 1987, Rushenyi became an independent constituency, and Mr Kangaho’s brother, John Wycliffe Kazoora, was elected to the National Resistance Council.
Mr Rukutana was elected Constituent Assembly delegate in 1994 but was defeated in the 1996 MP race by Kazoora.
Kazoora died in 1998 and Mr Rukutana won the highly contested by-election thereafter.
He defeated Mr Charles Rubahama, a son of Kazoora, and Mr John Ahumbukire.
This was seen as a victory for the non-cattle keeping community who were in a political contest of sorts with cattle-keeping residents.
This was at the same time Mr John Wycliffe Karazarwe, another relative of Ms Museveni, and Mr Patrick Buriku from the non-cattle keeping community, were tussling for the Ntungamo LC5 seat.
Mr Karazarwe took the seat in a contest themed on tribal politics.
To calm his followers, Mr Buriku was taken to work in the President’s office. According to Ms Constance Kabonero, a key political player in the area, they convinced President Museveni to ensure that Mr Rukutana emerges as a strong political figure.
In fact, they lobbied for him to get a ministerial position as a way of dealing a blow to the sectarian sentiments that were boiling in the area then.
“We asked Rubahama to drop out as the seat was not hereditary. This (his taking of the seat) would have also generated more sectarian tensions…,” Ms Kabonero told Ntungamo Development Magazine in 2013.
To people like Ms Peace Rugambwa, the Operation Wealth Creation officer for Rushenyi, Mr Rukutana has not done much for the constituency.
She says they need to forget about sectarian politics and work for the development of the area.
“I think Rushenyi has grown enough not to go back to past history of sectarianism. Rukutana has overstayed and he is doing nothing here as a Member of Parliament.
This is the poorest constituency in the country; he has to go if we must develop. No one should hide under politics of sectarianism to make him a king,” she says.
However, Mr Dan Buteera, the Ngoma Sub-county councillor, says Mr Karuhanga should not lay claim to the seat because it is not hereditary.
‘Seat not hereditary’
“Rushenyi was in hell we can’t afford to take it back to hell, this is an NRM constituency and we need to preserve what we have now. We support Rukutana because he promotes peace here. We have told Karuhanga that Rushenyi is not a hereditary seat but he cannot listen. We shall vote another person when time comes,” he says.
Mr Karuhanga, however, says his agenda is to mobilise constituents to harness their resources, guide them on how to use them productively and lobby for them from government.
“We ideologically differ totally.
He (Rukutana) believes for an MP to deliver must be extremely wealthy, for he believes he must touch his pocket to solve any problem. But my belief is that a leader’s role is to mobilise society to utilise their resources and guide them on productive use of those resources then lobby from government and other partners’ support to push them to another level,” he says.
He adds, “Our people have understood this difference in us and it’s amazing how easy it is becoming.”
Mr Rukutana says: “NRM had done a lot for Rushenyi and I have been in the lead. We have provided water, all the villages now have electricity, the roads are worked on and maintained and there is some sense of improved household incomes. This is why people are voting NRM, they get everything they want. Now we shall focus on preaching President Museveni’s message of improving household incomes through agriculture. People know it’s the NRM that can offer the best, no one can defeat an NRM candidate here.”
He adds: “I have overwhelming support; I won the NRM primaries and beat the second runnerup with a margin of 3,000 votes. Many people will probably vote me, including those who never voted me in the primaries. Though there were some few areas where there was discontent eventually, the NRM electoral commission cleared everything and people are contented. They know that it’s NRM that can steer this country to prosperity.”
In 2011 elections, Mr Rukutana polled 29,203 votes while his rival Mr Nathan Magara (FDC) got 7,985 votes.