After clinching what Opposition leaders have termed as “a juicy deal”, former vice president Gilbert Bukenya last week put all his cards on table and undertook to support President Museveni, a man who he has vilified since he was sacked from Cabinet in 2011.
News of Prof Bukenya’s return to Mr Museveni’s NRM, a man he had vowed to take on in the February 2016 polls, thrilled NRM supporters across the country and amazed Opposition politicians, who had hoped to rely on his political clout to deliver Buganda votes.
To NRM leaders, Prof Bukenya, a man they once despised as a “political clown” after he defected to Opposition in search of a seamless vehicle to help him deliver the change he promised Ugandans, is now a “progressive leader.” The ruling party officials now claim he could not sustain moving with “a losing team” under The Democratic Alliance (TDA), a coalition of Opposition parties that seeks to take power from President Museveni.
Prof Bukenya, who has been nursing presidential ambitions, said last week that “there’s no other focused candidate with the qualifications to run this country other than the incumbent, President Museveni.” The Busiro North MP claimed that TDA, where he was a member owing to his Pressure for National Unity (PNU), was poisoned and that “the people who are there are very greedy.” He told supporters at his Kakiri home that he had decided out of conviction and not been bribed.
However, Mr Mathias Mpuuga (Masaka Municipality) insisted Prof Bukenya had showed he was devoid of principles and driven by food. “It takes many years of God’s mercy for one to live and see a person like Bukenya, educated and exposed, lived enough but yet to learn, very rare species!”.
Mr Wilfred Niwagaba, Ndorwa West MP said if it’s true that Mr Museveni lured Bukenya back to NRM, it can only be for sectarian reasons; tribal (Buganda) and religious (Catholic). “But if it was Bukenya’s move on his own, then, it’s personal and largely to do with economics of survival than politics given that he has no principles.” While Mr Richard Todwong, the deputy Secretary General of the NRM, and others claim it was Prof Bukenya who wanted President Museveni’s attention so as to elude what Mr Frank Tumwebaze, the minister for Presidency called, “the sinking TDA ship,” other party members and analysts Daily Monitor talked to disagreed.
Prof Bukenya said for four times, he has met with some NRM politicians, asking him to go back to the ruling party and that on the third and fourth time, he got convinced. But why would President Museveni want the support of a man some party members had politically written off and disparaged as in political limbo?
Some analysts say Prof Bukenya’s TDA membership and the ruling party’s failure to attract “high-level” defectors in the face of “the Go Forward” Opposition led by former prime minister John Patrick Amama Mbabazi, has been a continuing source of consternation for Mr Museveni. The analysts say this pointed at an enduring sign of the party’s slackness in Buganda region, despite massive support it enjoyed in the past.
“I think he [Museveni] believes Bukenya can pull some votes for him in Buganda, where he does not have a solid and reliable politician at the moment. He also wants to use him as a campaign weapon against TDA’s forces of change,” Mr Livingstone Okello-Okello, a leader of TDA said.
The prodigal son
State minister for Works Asuman Kiyingi and Mr Emmanuel Dombo, a senior NRM legislator who described Prof Bukenya as “a prodigal son,” believe that Busiro North MP “is a very good mobiliser with a significant following especially in central Uganda. They argue that this is the reason why TDA wanted him badly but their strategy failed because of President Museveni’s vision and strategy.
Sources told Daily Monitor that Mr Museveni had hoped to rely on Vice President Edward Ssekandi to consolidate Buganda votes but later he changed his mind after realising that he had politically become a “nonstarter.” Other sources say Education State minister Chrysostom Muyinga had been seen as a possible replacement but he entered the political arena as an Independent and widely perceived as a political novice despite his wide acceptability in Buganda.
Since Museveni is someone who does not take chances and he would do anything to minimise political damage, sources say, he became desperate for a “senior” Muganda minister who would work with the NRM treasurer, Ms Rose Namayanja to mop up support for NRM in Buganda and among the influential power bloc of Catholics.
Strategies were drawn to bring Prof Bukenya back. Sources say the two met in London recently but did not conclude the deal. A laid back but largely effective chief spy with whom he and Bukenya fell out with former premier Mbabazi was assigned to work out the nitty-gritty. He delivered the bounty.
In 1996 general elections, Mr Museveni used his advisor on media, Mr John Nagenda to draw adverts of the late Milton Obote and Luweero war skeletons to instill fear on a possible return to chaos should he not be voted.
In the 2001 election, it was long serving Local Government minister Jaberi Bidandi Ssali, who delivered the votes, using an audio recording that played repeatedly on radio stations that it was only Museveni who could guarantee peace while in 2006 and 2011, it was Bukenya who led the assault for votes.
“Museveni, as a permanent military man, likes keeping his enemies close - he will do anything to poach from the other side, so long as it serves his purposes,” Mr Joseph Ochieno (UPC), a former aide of former president Milton Obote, says.
Mr Krispy Kaheru from the Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CEDU), says Prof Bukenya’s move to the Opposition was not guided by genuine conviction.
While the likes of Ms Hope Mwesigye, the former Agriculture minister, who supports Mr Mbabazi’s bid for presidency and other Opposition leaders like the Leader of the Opposition Mr Wafula Oguttu suspect Prof Bukenya could have pocketed cash to eat humble pie, however, Mr Tumwebaze called this allegation “cheap talk.” “Did Mbabazi also buy Democratic Party president Norbert Mao? Or were they being paid by Museveni for all the time they supported him? All that is cheap talk aimed at covering their collapsing TDA. This is just the beginning, more are yet to jump out of their sinking TDA ship,” Mr Tumwebaze said.
On whether Prof Bukenya is wanted to deliver the Buganda vote, Mr Tumwebaze said President Museveni is tolerant and works for everyone.
“He respects the contribution of every person. Buganda’s support for NRM has never been in question.”