The good, the bad and the ugly of Ugandan politics

Sunday March 28 2021
life05pix

Denis Bbosa during the interview. Inset is his campaign poster.

It is assured that when the electioneering period dust settles, society seems to normalise. The reality however, is that in its wake, it arouses bickering, hatred, poverty, regret and an angry society. 

As first time contestant, Denis Bbosa entered the political fray contesting against eight other seasoned politicians for the LC 5 (Lord Councillor) seat for Ggaba and Kansanga. 

The exercise was even more difficult because apart from vying against seasoned politicians, one of the contestants was his colleague at a radio station. 

Bbosa says he chose to contest because he knew what his home and his people needed and knew he would deliver it.

 He is also likable but as he found out the electorate had closed its mind to any other option but one. It did not matter how brilliant your ideas were as long as you did not belong to a certain group, you had no chance. The election took emotional and a financial toll that will take him a while to recover from as he shares. 
Worst timing ever
“When I chose to contest for the Lord Councillor seat, I had no idea how drastic our world would change.

 My team and I were ready to hit the campaign trail, but as the pandemic worsened and led to a nationwide lockdown, things started looking bleak.  By April 2020, as the virus wreaked havoc around the world, my team and I believed there would be no possibility of holding an election. 

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Our beliefs were echoed by the president when he said he would not expose the nation to mass spreader election campaigns.  As the law abiding ones relaxed, the cunning ones plotted how to bend the rules to work for them. 

 Such a determined group included Robert Kyagulanyi’s nascent People Power group that was gradually morphing into National Unity Platform (NUP). Clandestinely, other politicians from the various parties were also bustling in preparations but uncertain of what lay ahead.

In May, the election fever gained momentum with planned scientific primaries a new world that quickly became normal.
In July, I had finalised plans to vie for the newly constituted Makindye East III (Ggaba and Kansanga parishes) Lord Councillor seat. 

Nothing could stop my determination apart from one pertinent issue that would come to haunt me – a party card. Being an analytical journalist, I held a belief that no party in Uganda was perfect for me to be called home.

 I have keenly followed Kampala and Makindye politics for the last 20 years to know that it is ill-advised to stand on an NRM ticket and that is how I ended up at FDC headquarters.

 Its founding president Kizza Besigye is one of the political figures in the country I have always treasured and respected.
  Although his withdrawal from the presidential race two months later could not be foreseen, the general feel at Najjanankumbi offices portrayed a party with most of its past energies depleted. 

Not even the arrival of Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago could reawaken the party heydays. 

When the Makindye Division FDC election official in charge of issuing party flags short-changed me for a well-off Sweden based candidate, it was easy for me to move on.

My attempt to get a NUP flag was met with party uncertainty (party was in court over Kibalama saga), questionable process and the demand for me to offer ‘any sacrifice’ to the People Power movement.

It was a race against time for me and in October, with advice from political and religious leaders; I was advised to register at the Ntinda Electoral Commission offices as an independent with the ball as my symbol. I duly obliged.

Smooth start
The methodology of scientific campaigns out rightly  favoured media personalities like me who were working with three outlets; Galaxy FM, NTV and Daily Monitor.

 Other media stations almost by default amplified my election bid and I was given a platform to expound my manifesto. As such, my duty when faced with the voters in the 29 villages softened as many were either my fans or had heard about me via other media platforms.

Social media platforms also played their part in the initial stages of the campaigns before the ‘umbrella craze’ set in.

By November, candidates countrywide started decrying the expensive nature of the campaigns even when they were devoid of the usual mega rallies.

To overcome much expenditure, I turned to frequenting all places of worship and sports galas and acquainted with the electorate. The more I interacted with them, the more they understood my message and well packaged manifesto. Or so I thought.

In a race of nine candidates, I was one of the two contestants born and bred in Ggaba; the biggest voting block with about 21,000 voters.

Kansanga has about 11,000 voters but as it turned out, about 2,000 chose to vote. Simply put, galvanising your base in Kansanga was suicidal.  

All had seemed well until the festive season approached and most residents came out of their shells to reveal their burning issue - money. 

The vicious cycle of poverty ravaging Uganda, worsened by the Covid-19 lockdown effects, had created a bigger community, readily available for the highest bidder. Sad, cry beloved Uganda.

No money, no vote
At the time of venturing into politics, I was midway my Master’s Degree in Journalism and Communication at Makerere University. I had done simple research to know that it would require at least Shs15m for one intending to campaign for a KCCA Lord Councillor slot. I was wrong. 

That was just pocket change, able to buy a few jerseys and balls for the countless football and netball teams, organise a mini-tourney and maybe offered in donation to the mushrooming women and youth ‘developmental’ groups.

 This is an ‘unwritten rule’ to all candidates seeking their names to be frequently pronounced. Shockingly, one of the contestants had returned from a well-paying UN job with a whopping Shs300m just for campaigns and it is inexplicable to report that he came fourth with that arsenal. 

Candidates from all walks of life
Ours was a congested nine-man contest. It had me, an all-round journalist with ancestry in Ggaba, Dr Fred Ntulume (NRM) a well to do doctor from Butabika Hospital and NUP’s Mosh Sendi, among others. 

Riding on the red wave in Kampala, Sendi, an artiste who had also made a name as an MC on radio and TV, took the day. One would be spot on to conclude that this was an election devoid of serious manifestos and political pledges.

Days after January 20, Lord Councillor and Lord Mayor elections, some youths in Ggaba confessed that ‘they were possessed by the umbrella demon’ on polling day.

 I could not independently verify their claims but it was apparent that few took a second guess or considered the various options available. 

These are no longer the times when lauded politicians such as Cuthbert Obwongor, Norbert Mao, Miria Matembe, Winnie Byanyima or Cecilia Ogwal always got the nod for their sheer brilliance. 

The monetisation of the process aside, the violence, uncertainty, unending gerry-mandering of constituencies and the NRM-state fusion points to a more ridiculous and abandoned venture come 2026.
 Bleak future
I witnessed and read with sheer astonishment of genuine victory of candidates in various areas being short-changed for the highest bidder.

Gone are the days when some elective positions commanded respect to stand for them. With the age cap for all positions now officially scrapped, ‘toddlers’ as young as 18 years battled those on the fourth floor upwards for top offices; their financial, integrity or mental status notwithstanding.
Lessons
For every risky venture, there is a big reward, the saying goes. The sleepless nights, midnight oil I burnt as I moved door to door in 29 villages, I may have some gains to share. First, I got to test my other media gift of impromptu public speech; away from the writing and broadcasting.

I made friends with religious leaders and I am particularly grateful to my mother church - St Karoli Lwanga-Ggaba.
 
The priests, Fr Charles Lwanga Ssengendo and Fr Raymond Ssebina, gave me a platform and blessings. The gruelling campaign period punctuated by personal work, meetings and fundraising subjected to the reality of the populace I wanted to lead. Majority of the people in Kansanga and Ggaba are downtrodden and live on less than a dollar a day.” 


 Lessons, opportunities aplenty
 It may take a Saint or change of government to say the least to change the populace livelihood for good.

My status among people, especially those that despised me, gradually changed after I gallantly undertook the life changing venture. 

My family’s respect in Ggaba gained another layer of trust and there are higher hopes that if I made a grand return in 2026, I would easily sweep to victory even if  it were for the MP seat. Until then, there is a lot of soul searching and research to be done to take another shot at Uganda’s murky politics.
 

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