2021: You cannot just wish away westerners

Tuesday March 10 2020


Once again another of the Bush War veterans who landed in Kampala on January 26, 1986 promising a fundamental change, Lt Gen Henry Tumukunde, has thrown his hat in the ring.

He follows in the footsteps of Col Dr Kizza Besigye and Maj Gen Benon Biraaro. We can also add Amama Mbabazi, who was part of the external wing of the NRM between 1981 and 86, as the NRA battled in Luweero. Being in the bush is not the only common thread that runs through all these people. They all come from western Uganda.

Many people, including Mike Mukula, the ruling party’s vice chairman for eastern Uganda, and even ironically Tumukunde himself, have said the person who replaces President Museveni after his 30 years plus rule “should preferably not come from western Uganda.” This they say is for the sake of balanced development.

In Ugandan speak, ‘development’ crudely means having someone influential to channel national resources to an area. We vote for the President or MP who will ensure that the system gets our village good roads, schools, hospitals and jobs for our children. It is not just an NRM thing.
Now this is where the dilemma starts for those who wish to exclude westerners from those who should replace Museveni.

African politics as practised in Uganda has an enduring ethnic element to it. When plotting or conspiring to remove a government by legal or extra-legal means, the subterfuge is whispered quietly to a few trusted relatives, then friends and in-laws.

You may have to use a language that is not so common to avoid leaking your plans. Here the home-girl and boy, is your best bet. That forms the solid foundation on which most political organisations are built.


In 1981, for instance, when Museveni, who was the leader of UPM went to the bush, many of his colleagues in the party, including the secretary general Jaberi Bidandi Ssali, did not know about it.

This was despite the fact that Museveni had all along said during the 1980 election campaigns that should there be rigging, he would take up arms.

The nitty-gritty was kept for a few. Many from western Uganda like Eriya Kateggaya (RIP), Mathew Rukikaire, Elly Tumuwine, etc, knew a lot and were on site during the attack on Kabamba.
It followed naturally that the people from the west became very senior and prominent in that war as there was a need for loyalty and secrecy with war plans for success in the area of command and control. This was despite the fact that they co-opted very many people who did much of the fighting from all over Uganda, as foot soldiers in Luweero, which is not in western Uganda.

When NRM captured power, two things happened. The State and most institutions became fused with the ruling NRM organisation. Whatever you get from the State is credited to the party and may be denied in case you go against the party.

Then rule of risk and reward understandably played out. Some of those who sacrificed and found themselves in positions of power would do favours, first and foremost for their own kin and kilt, using the resources of the State as their own.

This again in African politics, is the norm and not an exception. It follows sayings like omugabi te ye seera.’

This implies that the one who hunts for prey is justified if they serve themselves the choicest and larger portions. It is common all over the continent to think about a ‘brother’ or ‘sister’ first in case of a job, contract, allocation, scholarship, tender, etc.

This has a ripple effect if prudently utilised. The one who gets a job will see his sibling and some needy people in the village through school and get them employment opportunities for further study.

When they get jobs they will whisper to their own about all sorts of opportunities and risks to take and to avoid. What happens in the long-run is that a network and base of financially secure interrelated people is created.

They will work to boost agriculture, health, education and housing in their area back home.
Those who have received opportunities fairly or unfairly will not want to rock the boat in order to continue enjoying their prosperity. In fact, they will isolate any of their own who steps out of this line of thinking. The patronage here is for the benefit of the government in power.

So they look at the perpetuation of whoever is in power as their interest first. They take politics very seriously because they are a living testimony of its generous hand. They and their agents will take any of the avenues available to sustain the status quo and forestall any move aimed at bringing about change.

If they are in security, they will provide force. If they are lucky to work in the election system, a favour here and there may be done even when it is not official party or government policy.

At the end of the day, they are all over and well entrenched even in places very far away from politics. In the public service, financial sector, judicial system their influence is everywhere.

They are the king-makers just as the king made them. They are his rock on which the house is firmly built. Now to break up that system, you don’t merely appeal to emotions and preach the homilies of egalitarianism.

You have to build strong bases that are financially viable and can withstand the shocks that come from the State and the government in power. If, for instance, you want a Muganda candidate to be taken seriously, they should not just articulate issues, but also act as the State by providing jobs, roads, schools, hospitals, etc, to the people who will create and sustain a base for them.

Mr Sengoba is a commentator on political and social issues.