Luweero- At dawn of last Friday, the Electoral Commission declared Ms Brenda Nabukenya, a youthful opposition leader, winner of the Luweero District by-election for Woman MP seat.
Ms Nabukenya garnered 38,582 votes while her rival Ms Rebecca Nalwanga Balwana from the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) managed 22,236 votes. The independent candidates; Ms Ramula Kadala and Ms Faridah Namubiru scored 768 votes and 717 votes, respectively.
While the total number of valid votes cast is fewer compared to the 185,930 registered voters, the emphatic win with a margin difference of 16,346 votes between the winner and the runner up is telling.
This is so because in 2011, Ms Nabukenya won by a difference of just 30 votes, which compelled Ms Nalwanga to demand for a vote recount. When the EC denied her a right legally provided for, she sought redress from court and hence the resultant by-election.
While the victory was probable, given that Ms Nabukenya trounced a familiar opponent in 2011, who had been in Parliament for a whole term (2006-2011), there is more to this victory than the sheer triumph.
There are two key factors about the election: First, Luweero is where President Yoweri Museveni fought a five-year liberation war. In a sense, as he says in his own words, it is the ruling party’s “political mecca” or simply, the cradle.
Unlike most by-elections where he has been to support NRM candidates on the last day, Mr Museveni was in Luweero for three days, together with the minister in Charge of Mobilisation and many other NRM big-wigs who camped in the area.
Secondly, the opposition political parties in an unprecedented move united wholly behind a single candidate.
It comes as a surprise that the Democratic Party, whose leader Mr Norbert Mao is always reluctant to embrace coalitions, benefited from this unity. Mr Mao, and fellow opposition leaders; Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu (FDC), Olara Otunnu (UPC) and the Leader of Opposition Mr Wafula Oguttu all camped in Luweero with a horde of MPs from their respective parties to ensure Ms Nabukenya won.
The stakes were high. This has predominantly been an NRM area. It was believed that no opposition candidate could win even an LCI seat. Ms Nabukenya becomes a pioneer and had done it twice albeit in the same term. This begs a question to delve into the reasons why Ms Nabukenya won:
Luweero District NRM chairman Abdul Nadduli told journalists in the aftermath of the election that the government needed to solve the problem of youth unemployment.
Disappointed residents, cash hand outs
President Museveni while on the campaign trail for Ms Nalwanga again promised to build the district headquarters and a district hospital.
But unlike in the past, residents did not take him seriously since the same promise had been made before.
Therefore, there was a disconnect when weary residents, who cannot get projects due to the ‘lean resource envelope’ saw their leaders literally pour cash on the campaign trail. Rally allowances were given which Luweero NRM district chairman, Mr Abdul Nadduli called “a bottle of water allowed by the Electoral Commission.” Some residents were angered by this and switched allegiance.
“We deliberately decided to vote for the opposition candidate who had properly packaged information touching the rural poor although they had no money to give around. They did not promise what they cannot do,” Ssalongo David Magejjo who claims to be a war veteran said on Friday.
For example, in March this year, Luweero District was hit by a rainstorm which destroyed more than 200 houses, including the district offices. The buildings have been left to waste away because “government has no money to renovate them.” The Opposition used the dilapidated buildings to challenge the voters to prove the meaning of the word “Mecca” which to the Islamic believers is a sacred place in South Arabia where their faith anchors.
NRM and indeed President Museveni had scored an own goal.
The NRM camp reportedly disregarded most urban centres claiming that many were youths who had no votes and were likely to be idlers which angered these particular voters.
Hajji Nadduli the Luweero NRM District Chairman while on one of the radio talk shows reportedly claimed that the Opposition was expired and was moving around with idle youths from Kampala who had no vote. He also described the opposition campaign team as weak without visionary leaders.
Going by the assertion that the best team wins, Mr Nadduli was wrong. The opposition campaign had a host of experienced politicians who have honed their campaign skills over the years and used this masterly to undo the NRM promises. For example, the team’s explanation on the high levels of poverty in which most residents wallow was that “a few people in government had amassed wealth at the expense of the poor.”
Whatever the reason could be, NRM’s political mecca seems no more! Unless the ruling party tackles the pertinent issues of; poverty, unemployment, poor road network, corruption, absence of drugs in health centres, settle long standing promises and pledges, it likely to encounter harder times from hitherto stronghold. Nonetheless, it could be too early for the opposition to celebrate since NRM admits it had a weak candidate and disunity in its camp. Whichever way, the soul searching for all starts today ahead of 2016.
LUWEERO WAKES UP
NRM has been in power for the last 28 years. People in Luweero District and the greater Luweero Triangle, a region where the liberation war was fought, saw the regime as their child and associated with it, emotionally.
The liberation promise had been achieved and they could afford sound sleep without hearing a gun-shot. But they seem to realise that after one wakes up from sound sleep, they need a job to earn money. There’s also a realisation that school fees, health centres with drugs to treat the sick, better schools without the scars of war and tarmac roads, is a right.
Indeed, Mr John Sseguya, executive director of CODI, a civil society organisation, which has for the past two years been conducting civic education and awareness on democratic governance in this sub region, says residents are now aware that services rendered by government are not a favour from a particular politician but a right and service accruing from taxes paid.
“The people of Luweero are now transformed after the civic education. They differentiate their rights from privileges,” he said.
“The NRM camp has for long informed the people of Luweero that better service delivery depends on the fulfillment of the wishes of the politicians. These people have for long waited for the promises by politicians in vein,” Mr Sseguja said.
Wrong choice of candidate
The NRM top leadership could claim responsibility for the loss. If not for the excess baggage that the party carried into the campaign, it could be for the intransigence exhibited by the party’s electoral commission. During the consultative meeting before the campaigns began, NRM leaders at sub-county level told their leaders that they would not support Ms Nalwanga because she was not popular and had “character issues.”
She was accused of being an absentee MP who never treasures allies and friends. The response from Prof Elijah Mushemeza was that Ms Nalwanga still carries the party flag from the primaries conducted in 2010/2011. To that end, the NRM entered the campaign field divided.
President Museveni, the party chairman, too disregarded this warning when he flew to Luweero before the campaign to compel other NRM leaning candidates, who had vowed to stand as independents, to bow out for Nalwanga. And indeed after a subsequent meeting at State House, they stood down.
Decade long promises: For the past two decades the NRM government had been promising several projects to Luweero, one of the few districts without even headquarters to write home about. Atleast, for historical purposes, the sub-region was given a ministry (Ministry for Luweero) to speed up rehabilitation.
However, some few years ago, Parliament was pushing for the scrapping of the ministry saying it was underfunded hence useless to the region. It has had about five different ministers but it could be hard to single out a grand project that the ministry has done for the region.
Party with no agenda: NRM deputy spokesperson, Ofwono Opondo conceded during a talk show progamme over the weekend that the ruling party had no clear message during the campaigns. “For example we should no longer be saying that when you vote an NRM candidate you will get better services.