Jude Mbabaali and Abed Bwanika were faced with contrasting scenarios after the 2011 presidential and parliamentary elections.
Mr Bwanika, who has always convinced himself that he is the rightful person to occupy State House, had come sixth in the presidential race that had attracted eight candidates.
Standing on the ticket of the People’s Development Party (PDP), a party he founded and led, he garnered a paltry 51,708 votes.
He had also stood for the topmost job in 2006 and the results weren’t very different. He came fourth in a race of five, garnering 65, 874 votes.
On the other hand, Mr Mbabaali, who has continually seen himself as a Member of Parliament, faced a moment that many still say politically haunts him to-date.
He had lost his bid to represent Bukoto Central, Masaka District, in Parliament, to then Speaker of Parliament Edward Kiwanuka Ssekandi, who would later be appointed Vice President.
In a very tight race, Mr Mbabaali, a lifelong member of the Democratic Party (DP), according to the Electoral Commission (EC), polled 9,731 against Mr Ssekandi’s 10, 068.
Mr Mbabaali, a lawyer with a bias in human rights, decided to challenge Mr Ssekandi’s victory on grounds that it was riddled with fraud, among other things. But before the hearing of the case was done with, Mr Mbabaali shocked his expectant supporters when he withdrew the case that was at the High Court in Masaka Town.
Faced with a barrage of questions querying why he had decided to withdraw the election petition, Mr Mbabaali, a staunch Catholic, came up with a fascinating narrative.
He said that Bishop Baptist Kaggwa, then in charge of Masaka Diocese, and Mr John Baptist Walusimbi, then Katikkiro (prime minister) of Buganda Kingdom, had convinced him to do so.
The major reason for withdrawing the petition, Mr Mbabaali said, was that he had been assured that a new constituency called Kabonera was to be immediately carved out of Bukoto Central constituency over which they were rivalling with Mr Ssekandi. And that’s where he would contest, Mr Mbabaali said.
Months down the road, no new constituency had been created and a panicky Mr Mbabaali, who was being accused within Opposition circles of having pocketed a bribe from Mr Ssekandi, decided to challenge Mr Ssekandi’s election through a constitutional petition.
The Constitutional Court for unknown reasons didn’t hear the petition for years, provoking Mr Mbabaali, 47, to turn to theatrics.
In 2014, armed with his beddings, he camped at the court’s premises in Nakasero, Kampala, protesting the delay. He followed it up by camping at the grave of Monsignor Aloysius Ngobya in Masaka. Some Catholics believe that praying at the burial site of the prelate induces miracles.
All that never worked as the court threw out the petition on grounds that it had been filed in a wrong court, exposing Mr Mbabaali to further ridicule. In the 2016 elections, Mr Mbabaali surprisingly changed tact.
He paused his ambition of becoming an MP and instead vied for Masaka District LC5 chairperson. Backed by all DP factions in Masaka, he easily won the race, defeating the then incumbent, Mr Joseph Kalungu (NRM) with 31,653 to 20,035 votes.
Mr Mbabaali’s long term plans at the time weren’t clear: Some say he was going to use his tenure as Masaka District boss to relaunch his bid for the Bukoto Central parliamentary seat in 2021, while another theory was that he was to have two terms as Masaka District boss before lodging a parliamentary effort, perhaps after Mr Ssekandi, now 78, would have retired.
Clash of ambitions
Mr Bwanika, on other hand, came fourth in the 2016 presidential elections, having polled 89,005 votes under his political party, the PDP.
Although Mr Bwanika has always seen himself as a person with presidential credentials – always touting his manifesto as the best – he has since downgraded his ambitions to those of being a lawmaker.
From 2017, several sources interviewed for this story say that while Mr Bwanika was busy telling whoever cared to listen how he was going to face off with Mr Erias Lukwago for Kampala Lord Mayor, he was busy mobilising in Bukoto South (Masaka), which is currently represented by NRM’s Muyanja Mbabaali.
“He was duping the media and other people who don’t know Masaka politics. He has been mobilising in Bukoto South for years now,” a source in the know of Mr Bwanika’s strategy explained on condition of anonymity, citing the need not to jeopardise relations with the concerned parties.
Mr Bwanika is a native of Kimaanya Parish, which was at the time part of Bukoto South. As preparations for the 2021 election gathered pace, Mr Bwanika thawed his PDP and joined what was christened “DP bloc”, in which the veterinary doctor posed as a lead power broker in the search for unity within the Opposition in an effort to end Museveni’s more than 30-year hold on power.
The other members of the “DP bloc” are DP under Mr Norbert Mao and the Social Democratic Party under Mr Michael Mabikke.
Mr Bwanika, whilst calling for unity within Opposition ranks, attacked Opposition leaders Kizza Besigye and Lukwago, accusing them without evidence of contributing to President Museveni’s longevity in power.
The duo’s plans have been tweaked a bit, and now they are headed for a mammoth clash, something they had not envisaged a few years ago.
Early last year, the government had postponed the operationalisation of Masaka as a city until 2023 or even later. It took the intervention of the Kabaka (king of Buganda) for the government to rethink its position.
One of the results of Masaka being elevated to city status is the creation of a constituency called Kabonera-Kimaanya. The constituency has been carved out of three constituencies: Masaka Municipality, represented by DP’s Mathias Mpuuga; Mr Ssekandi’s Bukoto Central, and Muyanja Mbabaali’s Bukoto South.
On the one hand, Mr Mbabaali is a native of Kabonera, a DP stronghold, which according to official records has not voted an NRM candidate since 1996. Mr Bwanika, on the other hand, is in native of Kimaanya Parish, which is a toss-up.
DP vs People Power
The fight over this constituency will see a renewal of hostilities between two warring DP factions, DP and People Power headed by musician-turned politician Robert Kyagulanyi, aka Bobi Wine.
While Mr Mbabaali is fronted by DP’s leadership led by Mr Mao and party vice president Fred Mukasa Mbidde (who is vying for Nyendo-Mukungwe constituency formerly known as Masaka Municipality seat), Mr Bwanika has the backing of a DP faction which has embraced the People Power movement.
It comprises Mr Mpuuga, whose constituency Mr Mbidde is eyeing; Ms Florence Namayanja who represents Bukoto East but is said to be now eyeing the mayorship of the novel Masaka City; and Mr Joseph Gonzaga Ssewungu of Kalungu West. Mr Medard Lubega Sseggona of the farther away Busiro East constituency is another DP member who is deeply rooted in People Power politics.
On his posters, Mr Bwanika, 52, has so far used both DP and People Power symbols, but Mr Mbabaali’s camp has been quick to remind him how he legally doesn’t qualify to stand in a DP primary for a post of MP.
They cite article 64 of the party’s constitution which stipulates that in order for one to be a flag bearer in a parliamentary race, one should have been an active member of the party for at least five years. If this rule in strictly followed, it would effectively bar Mr Bwanika from contesting in the primary since his association with DP can be traced to last year.
“Are you sure Bwanika is a DP member?” Mbabaali sarcastically asked in a phone interview. “I’m hearing that for the first time. But what you should know is that the DP constitution doesn’t allow him [Bwanika] to stand in a primary.”
Asked how the party will resolve the Bwanika–Mbabaali standoff in light of article 64, Mr Samuel Mulindwa Muyizzi, DP’s legal advisor, who too has embraced the People Power movement, was non-committal.
“I have raised that issue of article 4 of our constitution and the NEC is yet to resolve it,” Mr Muyizzi said, referring to the national executive committee, DP’s top decision-making body. “I can’t comment now because I have already given my opinion to the NEC.”
While Mr Bwanika will rely heavily on his charisma and the energy that the People Power movement has injected into Uganda’s politics, Mr Mbabaali, a former DP spokesperson, is going to sale to the voters the achievements he says he has registered during his tenure as Masaka District boss.
If those two divide votes, the beneficiary could be FDC’s Godfrey Kayemba Afaayo, who has declared his intention to stand in the same constituency, having served a couple of terms as Masaka Town mayor.
Fight for city...
Abed Bwanika and Jude Mbabaali’s plans have been tweaked a bit, and now they are headed for a mammoth clash, something they had not envisaged a few years ago. Early last year, the government had postponed the operationalisation of Masaka as a city until 2023 or even later.
It took the intervention of the Kabaka of Buganda for the government to rethink its position.