As the country gears for the 2021 polls, it is becoming clear that a political wave from Rukungiri-Kanungu area will yet again heavily influence and impact the presidency politics, perhaps more than forces from other regions.
Lt Gen (Rtd) Henry Tumukunde, the former spymaster and minister of Security hailing from Buyanja Sub-county in Rukungiri District, has thrown his hat in the political ring to challenge President Museveni’s hold onto power, sending the NRM establishment into panic.
Gen Tumukunde follows in the footsteps of Col (Rtd) Dr Kizza Besigye who hails Rwakabengo, Southern Division, Rukungiri Municipality, and Mr Amama Mbabazi, who comes from the neighbouring Kanungu District, which was part of Rukungiri until June 2001.
Dr Besigye has since 2001 made four attempts to wrestle power from his NRA Bush War comrade without success. Mr Mbabazi broke ranks with Mr Museveni, his closest ally and confidant for more than 40 years, in 2014 and contested for presidency on Go Forward ticket in 2106, scoring 1.4 per cent.
The former prime minister, super minister and secretary general of NRM has since been living a quiet life and is apparently disengaged from active politics. Dr Besigye, who was a personal doctor to Mr Museveni during the NRA Bush War, and served as National Political Commissar and State minister for Internal Affairs in NRM government, scored 35.5 per cent in 2016 presidential election.
He remained very active on the political scene declaring that he will “carry on with the struggle until Uganda is liberated and power given back to the people (civilians).”
Though the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party, which he was the founder president, has not chosen the flag bearer, the writing on the wall is that he is going to be the party flag bearer again. The government’s reaction towards Gen Tumukunde’s move is akin to the treatment Dr Besigye got when he announced plans to challenge Mr Museveni in October 2000.
On Thursday evening, 10 days after he made his intentions public, Gen Tumukunde was arrested by a joint security team led by the Directorate of Criminal Investigations for alleged treason.
Asked about why he wants to challenge President Museveni yet he has worked with him since 1982, in an interview published in Daily Monitor on March 6, Gen Tumukunde said, “We were not in government. We spent those years fighting. Have you heard my comments with NBS on ideas not having space in the NRM establishment? What if you give ideas and no one follows them?”
When he was asked about when he started getting concerned that things were getting wrong, Gen Tumukunde replied: “At least there was when I was on the record. I opposed the removal of presidential term limits. I imagine a whole Director General of Internal Security Organisation and you go and tell the President that he is abusing our Constitution and you call that light?”
That was in 2005. Three other people from Rukungiri-Kanungu area have written to Electoral Commission about their plans to contest for presidency and seeking to be cleared to consult electorate.
They are Mr Moses Byamugisha (Rukungiri), a lawyer, Mr Ambrose Kyomukama (Kanugnu), a trader, and Ms Darlene Kamusiime (born in Rukungiri).
Mr Museveni, a young and vibrant politician who had migrated from Ntungamo to Kiruhura, in 1970s and 1980s teeming with revolutionary ideas, inspired many youth and elders from Rukungiri and the rest of the country to join and support his military and political organisations of Fronasa, UPM, NRA and NRM.
When he lost the 1980 election on UPM ticket, Mr Museveni allied with some of the people from Rukungiri like Mr Mathew Rukikaire to wage a guerrilla war against the UPC government, accusing it of rigging the poll.
John Nsheka, John Kyamatuuku, Salongo Nkumanya, Stephen Tukahirwa, Obadia Muheru, Stephen Banyenzaki, Charles Banya were other backers of Mr Museveni from Rukungiri who mobilised fighters and logistics for the NRA Bush War.
Mr Mbabazi, Gen Tumukunde, Col Besigye, Maj Gen Jim Muhwezi, Gen Aronda Nyakairima (deceased) are some of the young people from Rukungiri that joined the Bush War from early 1980s. The victory came five years later when they toppled the Tito Okello military junta on January 26, 1986.
Mr Rukikaire, Dr Besigye, Mr Mbabazi and Gen Tumukunde have since fallen out with Mr Museveni accusing him of reneging on the values which they fought for. Dr Besigye in 1999 authored a document critical of what was happening inside NRM. He was nearly court-martialled before he secured a discharge letter from army and announced plan for presidential bid.
Gen Tumukunde was court-martialled over making political statements in which he opposed lifting of presidential term limits in 2005. Mr Rukikaire too opposed lifting of term limits. Gen Aronda was one of the people said to have been opposed to alleged plans of Lt Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba to succeed his father as president. Gen Aronda, who passed on September 2015, is said to have been harbouring presidential ambitions too.
Gen Muhwezi, who is the NRM chairman Rukungiri, former State minister for Primary Education, and Health minister apparently lost Mr Museveni’s favour.
FDC has gained a stronghold in Rukungiri. The party candidates beat those of NRM to Rujumbura, Rukungiri Municipality and the District Woman MP seats. Only Rubabo constituency is represented by NRM. The mayor (Charles Makuru) and municipal councils are all FDC members.
However, the LC5 chairman and the majority district councillors are NRM members.
Prof Mondo Kagonyera, a former minister and ex-Rubabo County MP, in an interview with Sunday Monitor on Friday said the ambitions of these people should not be taken as an effort of Rukungiri as a whole.
“These are individuals having ambitions and personal interests, there is no one among those coming up that has consulted the people of Rukungiri. They (people of Rukungiri) are not ambitious in that manner. For example, you may be aware that the district has no one in the Cabinet, I don’t believe we have a permanent secretary and if we are to go with the role we play it would be unfair,” he said.
Prof Kagonyera adds that Rukungiri played a leading role in the formation of UPM and even before these individuals emerged on the scene.
“It’s not that they are looking for offices, but wishing the country well. I think this is the drive,” concluded.
Mr George Rwaburingwa, the Uganda Peoples Congress party chairperson Rukungiri District, told this newspaper, “Even during colonial times and independence, English colonialists believed that Rujumbura was a complete country (well organised community); the consciousness has endured.
“That history drives Rujumbura/ Rukungiri to participate in the national politics. In all governments, our people have always been awake. It’s us (Rukungiri) who named Amin life president, a motion moved by one Banyenzaki of Nyakagyeme Sub-county. In times of darkness we see the sun before others see it and in times of sun we are able see darkness coming before others.”
Mr Athanasius Rutaro, a former Constituent Assembly delegate and LC5 chairman, says: “I think this is just about people being politically aware. Naturally, all human beings are ambitious. Back in history, even before independence, the way of governance here (in Rukungiri) we were republicans, free thinkers. Most of the population here were awake.
“You also understand that this government to come to power was helped by a very big proportion of people from Rukungiri, recruiting fighters and we had the biggest number of votes for UPM, showing that we were already breaking the tradition of UPC/DP politics by 1980.
“Definitely, much has changed but the people here believed that this was their government. Our being a factor in the politics of this country is traditional and historical and I think the natural ambitions of people here never gets stepped on, a reason they will always come up in any political environment.”
Maj Gen Muhwezi in an interview with Daily Monitor in 2017 said: “Rukungiri people are very political, that’s why it was a strong support base for UPM. It was opposed to divisive politics, when UPM group came we said we are tired of DP and UPC, which were dividing people. Even in the liberation struggle, we were very many (from Rukungiri).”