Every once in a while, in the election euphoria, a popular candidate emerges and excites the voters. Certainly, in the early years of his uninterrupted rule, President Museveni was widely written about in endearing terms.
Twenty eight years ago, Mr Museveni brought relative stability to most of the country after decades of dictatorship, spearheaded the fight against HIV/Aids pandemic, kicked polio out of Uganda and promised a “fundamental change”.
Then, the Ugandan economy in 1986 was $1.55 billion. Today it is more than $24.5 billion (Shs64 trillion). Uganda’s tax collection in 1986 was only Shs5 billion compared to Shs9 trillion this financial year. Therefore, the poverty and unemployment in the country today notwithstanding, Uganda’s economy has grown 16 times since Mr Museveni took power.
Almost 18 years since Mr Museveni’s 1996 landslide victory in the first election since the controversial 1980 polls which he lost, analysts say because of runaway corruption in public service, the popularity of his regime has plunged. The President of today is different from the one of 1986.
Senior politicians who spoke to the Daily Monitor are of the view that even with the peace in the country, over the years, Uganda has steadily reverted to a brand of divisive and vindictive politics not dissimilar from the factionalism which ruined the country between 1966 and 1980.
Opposition politicians like Nandala Mafabi (Budadiri West) and Reagan Okumu (Aswa) lament that the President has split the country through “nepotistic tendencies”, a claim Presidency minister Frank Tumwebaze dismissed as “ludicrous” and “total lies” intended to “mudsling” the President.
But in the shadow of Ssabalwaanyi (master of fighters) — President Museveni’s pet label -- some observers say other political darlings have started to emerge. One of such ‘pets’ is the current Speaker of Parliament, Ms Rebecca Alitwala Kadaga, also the woman MP for Kamuli District.
In recent weeks the volume has been turned up by those who think her time has come. The Kadaga-for-President drums were first beaten in Parliament late last year. But Ms Kadaga waits in Mr Museveni’s wings as the country searches for possible successors to her boss, whom the opposition want to retire in 2016.
Probably, it is not by coincidence that the President has taken to visiting Kamuli District, in deed some remote corner of Busoga sub-region, every two months lately. Perhaps no politician has had a better 2013 than Ms Kadaga, the chairperson of the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians – International, has drawn attention and praise for her relatively sober stewardship of the 9th Parliament. Her supporters speak about her “pro-people” and “pro-poor” approach to issues of national importance.
Ms Kadaga has allowed free debate in the House, and fights for transparency and accountability. Her reward: the rising calls from people asking her to run for President in 2016. Eastern Uganda is the only region never to have produced a President for this country. This could partly explain why the calls for a Kadaga presidency are loudest in her Busoga sub-region.
Other pundits, however, suspect that the push for a Kadaga presidency could be a “handiwork” of tribal politics. People like retired Bishop of Busoga Diocese, Cyprian Bamwoze, have counselled caution, telling the Speaker to beware of the likely traps lurking behind this push and asked her to concentrate on her current job.
Bishop Bamwoze said quite famously that he was putting “the bell on the cat” because he knows how to handle its jaws. He asked her to delay her candidacy, fearing that “these are dangerous waters, you don’t dare swim upstream because the stream will wash you down”.
The former bishop went as far as to say that those pushing Ms Kadaga to run for President “are stupid”. Typically, the Speaker responded with equivocation to Bamwoze’s warning, saying she cannot control what people think or say about her. “I know how leadership is ascended to. We have party structures and a political timetable. My interest is in serving the people and I think am doing it as a Speaker,” she said.
Within the ruling party, the official position appears to be: dismiss the excitement as a passing fancy. Party faithful are confident Mr Museveni will again present himself as their flag-bearer in what promises to be an even more intense contest with an opposition that has not stopped campaigning since the disputed February 2011 polls.