Why NRM lost Arua Municipality to Wadri

NRM candidate Nusura Tiperu casts her ballot at Kebir Cell Polling Station in Oli Division last month. PHOTO BY ALEX ESAGALA

What you need to know:

Condemned. Party blames loss on NRM-leaning candidates who contested after losing the primaries.

The dust raised by the hot contest in the Arua Municipality by-election is settling after a winner was announced last night by the Electoral Commission (EC).
The EC declared that Independent candidate Kasiano Wadri had beaten his 11 rivals to the seat, easing some tension in the town
The dust had been kicked up on Monday by political big wigs, including President Museveni of the ruling NRM party, Col Dr Kizza Besigye of FDC party, and Kyadondo East MP Robert Kyagulanyi, aka Bobi Wine, an Independent legislator, all camping in Arua Town to back rival candidates.

Soon, the campaigns that had been peaceful turned violent on the final day of rallies.
Gunshots then rocked the town, leaving six residents shot and Mr Kagulanyi’s driver, Yasin Kawuma, shot dead at an hotel compound in the town.

The clashes erupted after the final campaign rally and by Tuesday many people who had been in Tiperu camp, were openly accusing the NRM party of arrogance.

They also said after the death of Abiriga, they expected the NRM to work with the locals instead of confronting them with gunshots. But NRM party secretary general Justine Kasule Lumumba yesterday accused the Opposition of starting violence in Arua.
“NRM has never started violence; in fact, whenever there is violence, it’s us who suffer,” she said.
But what exactly proved decisive in the hotly contested poll called to pick a successor of slain former Arua Municipality MP Col (rtd) Ibrahim Abiriga of NRM party?

Without a doubt, the death of Abiriga had stoked ill tempers in the town and pitted security personnel against the town residents.

And by the time the elections were called, it was hard to tell whether the NRM party that had carried the votes in the February 2016 polls still retained its popularity in the municipality.
Perhaps, the final nail in the coffin of NRM was its failure to woo back its base were the violent clashes erupted between the Special Forces Command soldiers and the residents, leading to the killing of Mr Kagulanyi’s driver and six other residents being shot.

When asked about what exactly went wrong with the NRM party in Arua, Ms Lumumba was dismissive.
“Really, what do you want me to say? I don’t have time because I’m going to the secretariat [in Kampala] to work on my statement, which I will issue later,” she said.

But Mr Wadri clearly rode on the back of his fearless as well as abrasive personality, previous good performance as a legislator and, therefore, had better name recognition.He also had solidly behind him a united force of some Opposition members rallied by MPs Kyagulanyi, Gerald Karuhanga (Ntungamo Municipality), Paul Mwiru (Jinja East), and Michael Mabikke (former Makindye West MP).

Even before Abiriga was killed, Mr Wadri had already started laying his foundation by offering assistance to families whose houses were burnt in River Oli Division in Arua Municipality. Also his eloquence and firm handling of issues as chair of Public Accounts Committee (PAC) played a key role.

Back home, Mr Wadri marshalled local support to win the election, as he testifies: “The united force of former Arua Woman MP Christine Abia, Ms Amina Atako, Ms Martha Tiko, a historical FDC supporter from Reform Agenda time, Mr Antes Oyemy, Mr Kassiano Acidri (NRM) supporter and former contestant in Obongi County in Moyo District, Gen Mugisha Muntu, the Arua Hill Division chairperson, Ms Nesma Ocokoru, and Mr Candiga, the FDCs district Secretary, all had a great impact on winning the election.”

This group pooled resources and mobilisation skills to comb the municipality wards in the two divisions of Arua Town.They were also well-versed with the town’s political dynamics.

Even when there were fears of people exploiting politics of religion and ethnicity to deny Mr Wadri some votes, this group worked hard to undo these notions. Little wonder that the group delivered victory to Mr Wadri on a polished silver platter, even when he was jailed in Gulu, some 250kms away from his polling station.

NRM wrangles
But Ms Lumumba yesterday finally found the official time to blame the NRM loss on internal divisions within the party.
She said during a press conference at the NRM party headquarters in Kampala that some NRM-leaning candidates contested after losing the party primaries and spoiled it for Ms Nusura Tiperu, the official NRM party flag bearer.

Ms Kasule Lumumba said the party didn’t have enough time to reconcile the candidates who lost the NRM primaries. “After the primaries, we didn’t have enough time to meet and reconcile the candidates,” she said.

Indeed, the division within the NRM party also favoured Mr Wadri as some executives did not support Ms Tiperu’s candidature. Trouble for Ms Tiperu piled up when she also kicked off her campaigns one week late after the nominations.

Ms Tiperu travelled to Kampala after nominations to finalise with administrative issues and skipped the candidate’s meetings where campaign programmes were drawn and harmonised. So she had to run her campaigns outside the official EC campaign programmes.

Also before joining the Arua municipality fray, she had twice lost in Yume District and Koboko North, prompting one voter to cheekily say: “[Ms] Tiperu is on her way out of West Nile. From Yumbe, to Koboko and now Arua; she is exiting the region through Pakwach.”
But Ms Lumumba took consolation reeling off her NRM party’s previous wins to soothe the loss in Arua Municipality.
She said of 32 parliamentary by-elections so far held since 2016 general election, NRM has won 21, representing 66 per cent.

Brian White money

Two weeks to the elections, shadowy Kampala city socialite Brian While pitched camp in Arua Town under the guise of helping youths and women out of poverty.

He promised huge sacks of money to the residents of the municipality, but Mr Julius Agondua, who attended many of the activities, said it was a disguised political platform for the NRM to canvass votes.

“We were told to vote for the NRM candidate, saying the Opposition MPs are very poor and do not give money. Brian told us to love the President and said he would make sure we met the President when he visits Arua.”

Many, however, said that was taxpayers money aimed at wooing them to vote for Ms Tiperu.

However, the heat and dust of the elections are yet to finally settle.

Even when other candidates who contested and lost in the by-elections have said they respect the will of the people, there are court cases for both Mr Wadri and his star backer MP Kyagulanyi. The army is set to try Mr Kyagulanyi over alleged treason and illegal possession of firearms, while Mr Wadri, other MPs, and supporters have been charged and remanded over the chaos in Arua.