Thursday May 29 2014

Luweero: Years of mistakes starting to have repercussions in NRM heartland

By Karoli Ssemogerere

Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga and her clerk Jane Kibirige have the difficult task of scheduling the swearing-in of Democratic Party MP-elect Brenda Nabukenya.

Under parliamentary convention, she is supposed to be sworn in at the first sitting of Parliament after the gazetting of the results of the by-election. The first sitting will be the reading of the Budget due early June.

Ms Nabukenya turned a 30 vote difference in the 2011 by-election into a 16,000 margin, more than doubling her 2011 polling totals to 38,582 votes. NRM’s Rebecca Nalwanga, a school proprietor, padded her 2011 margin by 7,000 votes.

In the rural hamlets and communities of Luweero, the race was more even than the results show.

There are three big lessons from Luweero. First, the diminishing returns associated with handouts at election time. These returns may today guarantee NRM results in new areas they have wrestled from the opposition, like northern Uganda, but they have started to backfire in central Uganda where they began.

Already, consternation and anger is building on these cash give-away parties popularised first by the President and then Members of Parliament that ignore the crushing poverty in the rural areas.

In Malawi, Joyce Banda will live to regret employing the same approach that is likely to have cost her the presidency. This cash is not more than a status symbol clearly marking the haves and privileged from the have nots.

Second, the election is a referendum on the economy. Agriculture continues to underperform. Prices for principal crops like coffee, maize, fruits – all grown in Luweero – have continued to fall in real terms. South Sudan’s near collapse has depressed prices for foodstuffs grown in the region.

And as the age gap in the two classes of voters for the winner and runner-up, the government’s time hiding behind selective statistics masking the big unemployment problem in the country is coming to an end. Serving ugali to youth leaders at State House will not solve the problem.

It is time to go back to the drawing board as rising unemployment is not only an economic problem but a security issue. Fortunately, there are two countries that have attacked this problem upfront: Kenya and Zimbabwe.

They have economies that are urbanised but are upfront about the unemployment problem. At the height of their economic problems, governments were not shy about publishing unemployment rates of 50 per cent and 70 per cent respectively. This has informed steps to manage and moderate unemployment.

The last major take is the misuse of the State’s police power. Last week, this page noted that the role of the police was a liability. Use of force is unnecessarily hardening hearts and minds of the population.

In Luweero, the IGP was able to mass incredible numbers of police from all over the central region into the 13 sub-county district. The IGP has made a case to his superiors that he also needs services of the military police to augment his officers in such situations.

The military police’s role is to enforce military discipline and this has obvious pitfalls. Neither has endeared him to subordinates or the military where he is a serving military officer.

Parliament seems to have lost any capability of reining him in after approving him for a third term as IGP with what has turned out to be false promises to moderate use of force.
For the Electoral Commission, its work will continue to have a question mark by its acquiescence in the misuse of police power. Under the Constitution, the Electoral Commission is supposed to be an independent in the exercise of its functions.

Observers at the tallying centre in Luweero were worried whether this independence is subject to phone monitoring and unnecessary delays in announcing election results.

Mr Ssemogerere is an Attorney-at-Law and an Advocate.