Can MP Nsereko retain the Kampala Central seat?

Sunday January 17 2016

By Mercy Nalugo

Kampala- In five weeks’ time, Ugandans will vote in an election which could see hundreds of Independents kick out incumbent party MPs if the intensity of the ongoing campaigns is anything to go by.

The picture is not any different for the Kampala Central constituency race that has attracted five candidates, including the incumbent, Mr Muhammad Nsereko, who has abandoned his party, the ruling NRM, to run as an Independent.

For the first time, there is a female contender for Kampala Central, Ms Minsa Kabanda, formerly the Nakivubo stadium finance committee chairperson.

But the biggest battle is now between the incumbent Independent MP and NRM party.
Mr Nsereko, a vocal and irrepressible MP has, during the course of his term, made life miserable for the NRM, always joining the Opposition to either criticise or oppose establishment policy proposals deemed to be harebrained.

He says he chose to run free deliberately so as to unite the people beyond parties and political affiliations.

“In a constituency where political maturity is high, people do not look at parties but the strength of individual candidates and their ability to represent them. Coming without dividing my people as a representative is the best gift,” he told Sunday Monitor.

He took the constituency by a landslide in 2011, sweeping 25,140 votes against Democratic Party candidate Mr Eddie Yawe’s 15,757. Mr Yawe has since de-camped, trying his luck in the new Kira Municipality seat.

Other candidates are Forum for Democratic Change’s Harold Kaija and little known Democratic Party man, Mr Hamdan Ssemugooma and Independent candidate Moses Kayondo.

FDC has never had a chance to represent Kampala Central in Parliament, and chances are slim that their candidate will make it this time round.

He will, however, enjoy something of a lift during FDC presidential candidate, Col Dr Kizza Besigye’s scheduled five-day campaigns in Kampala.

Dr Besigye remains immensely popular in Kampala. This will in one way or the other affect Nsereko’s re-election bid, especially since he is yet to identify with any of the presidential candidates.

For the NRM, it is almost hopeless case. Analysts point out that the ruling party has fronted a “not-so-aggressive” candidate who simply cannot be expected to to fit in the shoes of previous Kampala Central MPs. But Ms Kabanda vows to press on. “Despite being the only woman, I love my party and I am determined to deliver victory for it,” she told Sunday Monitor on phone over the weekend.

While she defeated former East African Legislative Assembly speaker, Ms Margaret Zziwa, during the NRM party primaries, the elections were marred by violence and all the disgruntled party members have since vowed to side with Nsereko, whom they view as a neutral force and an articulate legislator.

The 2011 race had three candidates whom Nsereko whitewashed; Mr Yawe, the then Inter Party Cooperation flag bearer, former presidential candidate Kibirige Mayanja and People’s Development Party’s Ernest Kivumbi.

Although running as an Independent, Mr Nsereko sits pretty as NRM chairman for Kampala District, having dethroned veteran Francis Babu.
The city had for long been represented by the establishment, from the days of National Resistance Council when Wasswa Ziritwawula was in charge between 1987 and 1989.

Ziritwawula resigned in protest after the NRM took a unilateral decision to extend its stay in power beyond the four years declared by Mr Museveni in 1986 following which elections ought to have been held. Mr Babu was then elected to replace him, and going to serve longest in Kampala.

Kampala Central was then perceived as a predominantly NRM hub with Mr Babu building an empire around it since he was also the chairman of the party in Kampala. Babu’s reign was brought to an end in 2006 by the current Lord Mayor, Erias Lukwago.

Mr Lukwago served one term and contested for Kampala mayorship creating a vacuum for another candidate.

Mr Nsereko is said to have benefitted from an unspoken alliance between the Opposition and a ruling party faction to replace Lukwago.
At parliamentary level, the Opposition controls six of the nine seats in Kampala, including Makindye West, Kawempe South, Kawempe North, Rubaga South, Rubaga North, and the Kampala Woman seat. The NRM sits in Makindye East, Nakawa and Kampala Central.

Upon election in 2011, Nsereko straight away announced his arrival as a voice of dissent inside the NRM, taking nearly every opportunity to publically disagree with his party’s official positions. For that reason (which got him into trouble alongside Theodore Ssekikubo,Wilfred Niwagaba and Barnabas Tinkasiimire) and the fact that he became a pro-people voice on the floor, he remains very popular. The NRM nurses a grudge.

To get around his opponents, the incumbent is tapping into the confusion which marred the NRM party primaries that left its members sharply divided. Those who felt cheated have vowed to support him.

Mr Nsereko has electrified his supporters in Kampala with his populist campaign slogan: essigiri zaake”.

He is also running on a promise to empower small income earners and the unemployed and to evaluate KCCA’s dislodging of the poor from the city streets.

A voter, Mr Rajab Ssenkaayi, told this newspaper that: “It still seems that if an election was conducted today, Mr Nsereko would emerge victorious because he enjoys an astonishing support especially among ordinary Ugandans he has identified with ever since his election.”

But Mr Kaija on the other hand says Nsereko has never delivered to Parliament a single petition in defence of the people on a number of issues that arose during his tenure.

Reaching out to voters
Ms Kabanda also claims the man never held consultation meetings other than using television and radio platforms to reach the people, a charge to which Nsereko responded: “She must be out of touch with reality.

She wants to represent the people of Kampala yet she has not been following events within the city and how I have always come in to intervene.”

As earlier indicated, DP’s Mr Ssemugooma is a little known businessman, a fact which even Mr Mathias Nsubuga, the party secretary general, recognises.

“The FDC will not move with us in Kampala Central because we chose to tow another path by supporting another presidential candidate, (Amama Mbabazi) but if you consider our candidate (Democratic Party), he is weak.”

“Nsereko had not been clear from the beginning on who he stood with and at the moment, we can’t tell people to stand down for him since they have been nominated. We shall however meet soon as The Democratic Alliance summit to communicate who we will support,” he said.