Nsereko, Cedric Babu battle for heart of Kampala City

Saturday August 08 2020
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Kampala Central MP Muhammad Nsereko (left) and Kampala Central MP hopeful Cedric Babu. PHOTOS | FILE

By 2006, NRM’s Edward Francis Babu had been representing Kampala Central constituency in Parliament for more than 16 years.

Babu, then a councillor at City Hall, took advantage of Wasswa Ziritwawula’s 1989 move to resign from the National Resistance Council (NRC), then equivalent to Parliament, to have a firm grip on the constituency.

The NRC, controlled by President Museveni, had decided to extend his term without elections and to Ziritwawula this was flawed. Babu’s reign was brought to an end in 2006 by Erias Lukwago, a novice, then a member of the Democratic Party (DP).

As Babu, who subscribes to the NRM, was losing this seat that he had fought tooth and nail to retain, his son Cedric Babu had sought green pastures far away in Northern Ireland, and to say that politics was the last thing on his mind, wouldn’t be far away from the truth.

In the intervening years, Cedric returned to Uganda and he has forged out a career in sports management – he is the president of the Uganda Tennis Federation, he formed Kinetic Management, an entity that manages and organises events, sportsmen and artists.

Sporting dreadlocks, Cedric, just on the account of his father being a politician, was asked severally if politics was something that would interest him and his response was always explicit: “I am not inclined to politics.”

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The year 2006, of course, seems to be a memory now. Blessed with debonair looks, Cedric has dumped his dreadlocks and adopted a more socially, if not politically suitable haircut. That’s not the only change that has happened to the former amateur tennis player, he has decided to throw his hat into the ring by seeking to reclaim his father’s political seat.

If Cedric gets past the tricky NRM primary where he faces one Baker Kyambadde, his bound to face off with Muhammad Nsereko who has been representing the constituency ever since Lukwago decided to go for the position of Lord Mayor in 2011.

In winning the seat, Nsereko cruised to victory on the NRM ticket having got the better of DP’s Eddy Yawe, brother of Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, popularly known as Bobi Wine, who is now eyeing the presidency.

In 2016, having allegedly fallen out with the NRM during his first tenure in Parliament, Nsereko, who earned the moniker of being one of the so-called “NRM rebel MPs,” easily retained his seat as an Independent and he did not seek the NRM’s blessings again.

Both Nsereko and Cedric are youthful and have NRM backgrounds and that’s where the similitudes between the two start and end.

This means the probable showdown between Nsereko and Cedric is going to offer contrasting styles. While Nsereko is streetwise if not a crafty politician, who knows pretty well all the corners in slums that are dotted all around Kampala Central, Cedric on the hand, is familiar with the affluent precincts of the constituency such as Kololo and Nakasero. But he doesn’t want that to be used against him.

“My father grew up in Kisenyi, but should he have stayed there?” he asked in a recent interview with Sunday Monitor.

“The whole purpose of life is improving ourselves. You are a journalist [this writer] you may want to become an editor tomorrow. I’m a politician and I want tomorrow to be a better politician.”

Whereas Cedric has fully embraced the NRM, Nsereko remains tactical, playing the NRM and the Opposition as and when it suits him. Though he has voted with the Opposition in Parliament on the touchiest issues including rejecting removal of the presidential age limit caps – something which appeased his constituents – Nsereko has never fully embraced the Opposition.

For instance, neither has he been seen campaigning for an Opposition candidate in by-elections, nor has he campaigned for any Opposition presidential candidates against NRM’s Museveni.

What Nsereko has been doing is to play his cards well. He never de-campaigns key Opposition figures such as Lukwago who has a big influence on the politics of the capital city as a whole and in the end, they also reciprocate by not interfering with the MP’s politics.

Even as he continues to strongly oppose some of the moves by Museveni’s government, Nsereko, 39, is a son of Abdul Nsereko, a former television presenter, who is a steadfast NRM supporter.

Cedric, on the other hand, has been widely backed up by the NRM brigade led by Museveni’s son, Lt Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba, and minister for Gender and Labour Frank Tumwebaze.

Kainerugaba and Cedric have a history: They were at St Mary’s College Kisubi at the same time and it never took many by surprise when Muhoozi took to Twitter, where he has 242,000 followers, and certified Cedric’s parliamentary bid.

“Me and my brother (Cedric Babu), all those who believe in a Uganda that is greater than tribe and political orientation will support him for MP Kampala Central. The future of Uganda is in a new generation that knows no tribe or language,” tweeted Muhoozi, who is also Museveni’s advisor on special operations.

In a move that could have been choreographed, Tumwebaze, one of the youthful NRM Turks, who represents the far-flung Kibale East constituency, minutes later backed up Muhoozi’s tweet.

‘Great guy Cedric. He has my prayers and support too. Thank you Muhoozi Kainerugaba for bolstering the will and ambitions of generational comrades,” Tumwebaze, a former minister for Kampala where he had run-ins with Lukwago, tweeted.
The apparent backing by Muhoozi provoked Nsereko’s supporters to assert that Cedric is part of the alleged “Muhoozi Project.”

The “Muhoozi Project” is an alleged scheme that will see Muhoozi replace Museveni as and when he decides to retire, and many have concluded that Cedric and many other young NRM politicians are the forerunners of this ploy that was first openly talked about by Gen David Sejusa, the former coordinator of intelligence services, in April.

“Gen Muhoozi is my brother and to me, he is the greatest soldier I have ever known,” Cedric, who until recently was head of content at State-owned UBC, explains.
“I have never been part of any meeting of the Muhoozi project, but if one day he says he wants to stand for president I will support him. As long as he follows the rules, he is a Ugandan like any other person. Why can’t he stand?”

The idea that he has been backed openly by some NRM members, many have argued, would backfire since Kampala is generally seen as an Opposition bastion which has for decades continued to defy Museveni and his party. Nevertheless, Cedric who is counting on NRM’s ground game begs to differ.

“NRM dominates all the local councils in Kampala Central. NRM has the most councillors in Kampala Central but people still insist that NRM is unpopular in Kampala,” he says adding, “We need to differentiate between fact and fiction.”

Race could be another piercing issue in this contest. Though Nsereko is a Muganda who is comfortable in Luganda, a language that’s widely used by the common man in Kampala, Cedric is of mixed race and his Luganda isn’t the best, something that will without a doubt be used against him by his opponents.

When he was announcing his parliamentary bid earlier this year, Cedric marketed himself as a person who could heal the racial and ethnic divide in Kampala while at the same time ensuring that livelihoods of the people are uplifted from chronic poverty.

“With the 2021 general election looming in Uganda, no other seat is set to be as hotly contested as that of Kampala Central, with a number of candidates officially declaring their interest. Kampala is the capital and largest city of Uganda. With the city being home to an estimated 1,680,800 people, 31 per cent of Uganda’s urban population, any candidate is set to face an uphill task to campaign in one of the country’s most ethnically and socially diverse regions. None more so than myself, Cedric Babu Ndilima,” he said on Twitter where he is being backed up by a legion of what’s now known as social media influencers.

During the interview, Cedric was more rhetorical when prodded about how the issue of his ethnicity will play out during the campaigns which are typically murky.

“Hunger doesn’t know tribe,” Cedric, who has a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Bethune-Cookman University and a Master’s degree in Computing and Information Systems from the University of Ulster in Belfast, Northern Ireland, says.
“Poverty doesn’t know tribe. My campaign will be about what I’m going to do for the people, not about my opponents.”

Voters in Kampala are notoriously known to elect people who pushback against government policies that they deem not to suit them and particularly this is Nsereko’s major strength. He recently demonstrated this when he opposed the creation of 46 new constituencies that raise the number of MPs to about 497.

Nsereko, a lawyer trained from Makerere University, now speaking as a fully-fledged Opposition politician accused the NRM of creating a multitude of constituencies in its bastions such as Sebei sub-region which the low population density yet they ignore Kampala and Wakiso which are renown Opposition throttleholds with huge populations.

“We want equity,” Nsereko, who was chairman of Kampala Central Land Committee before he veered into politics, shouted on the floor of Parliament. “We are tired of being insulted.”

Now the million-dollar question facing Cedric, who is being propped up by NRM insiders, is how he will convince voters who total up to 9,6000 voters, including those at Kisekka Market – which is well-known for being a fortress of resistance against the NRM – that he will oppose the regime.

“For me, it’s all about being convinced,” Cedric, 44, explained on how he will take on the government. “We must be able to talk and you explain to me to the merits and demerits of the policies you are bringing. I also want to give alternatives.”

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