Kampala. Gen Caleb Akandwanaho, aka Salim Saleh, has camped in the Rwenzori sub-region for months now. He started out in Tooro and is now based in Kasese, hewing away at the seeds of stubbornness on which the Rwenzururu Kingdom is built.
Rwenzururu, under King Charles Wesley Mumbere, has proved to be a headache to the ruling party. In 2001, before the cultural institution was officially recognised, its loyalists mobilised the population to vote for Dr Kizza Besigye, who had promised them recognition, ending up as the only district in western Uganda to reject President Museveni in that election.
Even when the government caved in and recognised the kingdom in 2005, the people of Rwenzururu still largely kept with the then newly formed Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), mainly voting Dr Besigye during presidential elections and majority of MPs and local leaders in Kasese are FDC members.
The ruling party habitually accused the Rwenzururu cultural leadership of supporting FDC, which fallout eventually culminated in the attack on King Mumbere’s palace in November 2016 by the army and police, which left more than 100 people dead.
Hundreds more were arrested and jointly charged with Mr Mumbere with treason and other serious offenses. Mr Mumbere was released on bail in February 2017, but has since then not set foot in his kingdom as one of his bail conditions.
Tooro, on the other hand, has for a long time been a stronghold of the ruling party and President Museveni, although it has recently showed signs of breaking away.
During the debate on lifting age limits for presidential candidates, some of the most hostile voices against the position of the ruling party and President Museveni came from Tooro, with Kabarole District Woman MP Sylvia Rwabwogo and Fort Portal Municipality MP Alex Ruhunda eventually voting to reject the removal of the 75-year age limit for presidential candidates.
The ‘master plan’
After pitching camp in the Rwenzori sub-region for at least four months, the chief coordinator of Operation Wealth Creation (OWC), Gen Saleh, this week announced what he called a Shs600b economic development master plan for the area.
The development ‘master plan’, according to those who have met with Gen Saleh, has been designed individually by the eight districts that make up Rwenzori after Gen Saleh visited them and held several coordination meetings.
The district development master plans were then merged to form a regional development compact that will look to socio-economic transformation through agro-processing, tourism and infrastructural development.
This will be a pilot of the implementation of the Local Economic Development Policy that looks at agro-led industrialisation in the country.
Maj Kiconco Tabaro, the OWC spokesperson, told Saturday Monitor that the development plans are based on what the local people demanded, aiming to use the region’s agriculture and tourism potential to spur development.
He said the development plan will see the establishment of industrial parks for agro-processing factories as the main focus to be funded by the ministry of Finance. He said other ministries that have been brought on board for the implementation of the regional development plan include that of Tourism, Trade, Local Government, Health, and Agriculture.
Gen Saleh is acclaimed for fixing complex situations, and often works under the radar. When in the past President Museveni had fallen out with former colleagues, be they Dr Kizza Besigye, Mr Amama Mbabazi or Rwandan president Paul Kagame, Gen Saleh has been reported to have played a role in trying to mend fences.
In northern Uganda, the Gen Saleh went to work shortly after Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebellion ended, trying to mobilise the people for development work. This is work which he actually started long before the war ended, under an organisation he called Divinity International. He was rejected several times but he kept working hard on it, and he is now credited for having played a big role in brokering the deal that led to the establishment of Amuru Sugar factory in Acholi.
Gen Saleh returns to Rwenzururu, an area that has had a bitter share of conflicts, some of an ethnic nature. Rwenzururu is part of the Luweero-Rwenzori Triangle area which OWC was originally supposed to serve before it would be rolled out to the rest of the country, but Gen Saleh first concentrated on the Luweero area, establishing an industrial park in Nakaseke area.
When he turned his attention to Rwenzori, he set up two camps, one in Fort Portal and another in Kasese. He has held meetings with delegations from the cultural institutions of Tooro, Obudhingya Bwa Bwamba and Rwenzururu; religious leaders; the development partners and civil society; elected local government leaders; and leaders of different political parties. He says he is seeking their collective views on how to develop the region.
His approach to some people has been looked at as a way of wooing them to join NRM.
During the meetings in Kasese, those who have attended have told Saturday Monitor, Gen Saleh has promised that King Mumbere will ‘soon’ be allowed to return to Kasese. This, however, will require the High Court to review his bail conditions.
FDC fights back
Gen Saleh’s approach of involving leaders of Opposition political parties in his coordination meetings has been resisted by some actors, particularly top leaders of FDC in some areas. A case in point is Kasese where the district FDC chairman, Mr Saulo Maate, last week suspended his deputy, Ms Catherine Muhindo, for attending a meeting with Gen Saleh without being authorised by the party.
Ms Muhindo, who is also the deputy speaker of Kasese District Council and a woman councillor representing opposition stronghold Karambi Sub-county, says she attended the meeting as a leader from FDC. The meeting endorsed the Shs119b ‘development compact’ for Kasese. She posed for a photograph with Gen Saleh and Mr Fred Police Businge, the NRM chairman in the district.
In Kasese, only one MP, Mr Robert Centenary, has participated in these meetings, whereas the idea has been embraced by MPs from the other districts of Kamwenge, Kabarole, Bunyangabu, Kyenjojo, Kyegegwa, Bundibugyo and Ntoroko.
Maj Tabaro warned that involving political sentiments in this development process can only push back poverty alleviation measures for a region that has a great development potential that has not been tapped into, especially in the areas of agriculture and tourism.
“It will only be wrong for people to link this programme to politics. OWC is not for political mobilisation. We are on a mission to eradicate poverty and we cannot fight poverty with a mind of political boundaries. That is why we are involving all stakeholders so that the development plan is owned by the region but not the parties,” Maj Tabaro said.
Local leaders speak out
Kabarole District chairman Richard Rwabuhinga said they came up with a Shs53b development compact looking at establishing an industrial park in the area, where 500 acres of land have been earmarked for the project. He said the district will partner with Mountains of the Moon University and the National Agricultural Research Organisation (Naro) to realise the dream through value addition to agricultural products such as tea, coffee, banana, maize and dairy.
“An industrial park is our main focus now and we have partnerships that will help us succeed. We will do value addition and work on job creation to solve the big problem of unemployment. We want to see a new face of development in the region with farmers getting value for their products,” Mr Rwabuhinga said.
Kasese. For Kasese, the district chairperson, Mr Geoffrey Sibendire Bigogo, said they planned for Shs119b to bring development through agro-processing for value addition of cotton, maize, coffee and rice. The district boosting of Mubuku Irrigation Scheme and Muhokya mini irrigation scheme is also targeting water for production so that farmers can make use of the more than 10 flowing rivers and the lakes to produce crops across the year.
Mr Bigogo’s main fear now is the decision by the Local Government Financing Commission to cut the district budget from Shs119b to Shs59b, saying this would not help them to achieve anything in their plan.
“We quoted Shs119b but in the regional plan, they have given us Shs59b. If we get Shs59b, I don’t know what we will use it for because you know how big our population is and we had also included Kasese Municipality,” Mr Bigogo said.
Mr Ruhunda, the Fort Portal Municipality MP, went on his social media account to welcome the regional development plan, which he said would transform the Rwenzori sub-region into an agro-industrial hub.
“Rwenzori/Tooro region to take off! We finished a mega two-day meeting that has mapped out the marshall plan to transform this beautiful region into an agro- industrial hub given the huge agriculture potential. Thanks to Gen Saleh for all the efforts so far made. [The] Minister of Finance has issued a certificate of Financial Implication for the Shs600b presidential initiative” Mr Ruhunda said.