What you need to know:
- Some circles find it strange that the invitation of NUP president Robert Kyagulanyi that never was has become a talking point, but analysts say it should not come across as the strange, reasoning that the amounts expended on giving NRM maximum visibility and dominance at the function has “politics” written all over it, Isaac Mufumba writes.
Eight days ago, the Kyabazinga of Busoga, William Wilberforce Nadiope Gabula IV, walked down the aisle at Christ’s Cathedral Bugembe for nuptials with Ms Jovia Mutesi, in what is perhaps the biggest social event to have happened in Busoga since 1996.
Yes, there were complaints by Prince Edward Columbus Muloki, the Zibondo, the traditional hereditary Chief of Bulamogi, one of the 11 traditional counties that constitute Busoga Kingdom, that he had not been invited.
Many an ordinary Musoga felt left out because the mass banquets that had been expected in venues such as Kakindu and Bugembe stadiums did not materialise.
It was, however, developments in the run up to and during the function itself that portrayed an unprecedented setting. It was the first time that the region has been galvanised around a single cause in a while. That was best summed up by Ms OIive Birungi Lumonya, the deputy director general of the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).
“A new dawn, a new beginning has unfolded in the Kingdom of Busoga. Unity was at its best for both Basoga and Ugandans as a whole… Let this be the beginning of unity and development for the Busoga region,” Ms Lumonya wrote.
Enter political actors
It was also the first time that so many organisations lined up to support a cause in Busoga. Uganda’s biggest political parties, the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) and the biggest Opposition party, the National Unity Platform (NUP), were among those that contributed to wedding.
The two parties have, however, since turned matters around the wedding as yet another battle ground.
NUP accuses the NRM of having hijacked the Kyabazinga’s wedding. At the tail end of October, NUP president Robert Kyagulanyi, Deputy Opposition Chief Whip Manjeri Kyebakuttika, and the party deputy spokesperson Alex Mufumbiro visited the home of the Katukiro of Busoga, Dr Joseph Muvawala, where they handed in the party’s contribution towards the royal wedding in what Mr Kyagulanyi described as “a demonstration of the party’s commitment to unity and cultural celebrations”.
Mr Kyagulanyi, aka Bobi Wine, later took to social media saying he felt “honoured” to be among the guests that had been invited to a “grand celebration of love”, but the invitation card never got to Magere or Kamwokya.
While addressing attendees at prayers in commemorations of the lives lost during the November 2020 protests, Mr Kyagulanyi claimed that First Son Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba had directed Busoga Kingdom officials to cancel his invitation, an assertion that the MK Movement has since dismissed.
Mr Michael Mawanda, the Igara East MP and chairperson of the ‘Muhoozi Army’, dismissed the party’s claim.
“Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba had nothing to do with Kyagulanyi’s absence at the royal wedding. Muhoozi was neither on the organising committee nor among those issuing invitation cards,” Mr Mawanda said.
Other watchers of developments in Busoga pointed an accusing finger at the ruling NRM, saying it did not want Mr Kyagulanyi and NUP to have visibility at a function of such a magnitude, but Mr Emmanuel Dombo, NRM’s head of communications, defended the party.
“We (NRM) cannot direct the Kyabazinga on who or how to construct his guest list or how to send out invitations. If he invited Bobi Wine and the card did not reach, that is something for the Katukiro of Busoga to respond to,” Mr Dombo told Monitor.
We might never know if there had been an invitation, but Prof Sabiti Makara who teaches Political Science at Kabale University, says it would be unfortunate if it is true that anyone blocked another’s invitation.
“It would be very unfortunate if he (Mr Kyagulanyi) had been invited and his invitation was cancelled. Look at the example of Kenya. When the King Charles III and Queen Camilla recently visited Kenya, who was there to receive him? President [William] Ruto, cabinet ministers and Ruto’s arch political rival, Raila Odinga. That makes a whole of a difference in that country,” Prof Makara argues.
He further argues that this attests to how immature Uganda is as a democracy.
“Why would somebody invite his guest and then his invitation is cancelled because person X or Y is going to be at a function? I think that shows you how far away we are from the real practice of democracy. Democracy is about continued pushing and pulling by the protagonists, not the ejection or blocking of others,” Prof Makara says.
2026 in the frame
Some circles find it strange that the invitation that never was has become a talking point or why so much energy is going into it, but Prof Paul Wangoola says it should not come across as the strange.
The amounts expended on giving the ruling NRM maximum visibility and dominance at the function, he says, has the word “politics” written all over it.
“He (President Museveni) is without any doubt investing in order to regain ground lost during the 2021 elections,” Prof Wangoola concludes.
That would mean that what is being played out now is with an eye on the 2026 elections.
The NRM and Mr Museveni did not perform well in the region during the January 14, 2021, elections. Mr Kyagulanyi beat Mr Museveni to the vote in Busoga region, bagging 437,059 votes against Mr Museveni’s 404,862 votes.
Mr Museveni won in only three out of the region’s 11 districts. He took Buyende, Kaliro and Namutumba districts, but was beaten in Kamuli, Luuka, Iganga, Jinja, Bugweri, Bugiri, Namayingo and Mayuge districts.
Whereas most of the party’s parliamentary flag bearers easily romped to victory, the NRM lost Jinja North West Division seat to FDC.
NRM’s Moses Grace Balyeku lost it to Dr Timothy Batuwa. NRM flag bearers in the races for Butembe County, Jinja North West, the Jinja City Woman seat were also defeated. The Jinja City Woman seat went to NUP.
That prompted the party to commission a study into what could have caused the reversal, the first that it had suffered since 1996 when Mr Museveni first subjected himself to the electoral processes.
The party has never made known the findings of the survey and discussions that were held in November last year.
Mr Dombo will not say whether the show of force at the wedding is one of the many moves that the party has been making in order to regain Busoga.
“The Kyabazinga is a very important person in Busoga. Everybody who associates well with him reaps from that association. I am very sure that is why leaders of various political parties chose to go and demonstrate their love by offering gifts. The NRM definitely cannot be an exception. The NRM being a political animal, like any other animal, are happy to associate with the Kyabazinga and if it can bring political dividends then we can be happy about it,” Mr Dombo says.
He is, however, quick to point out that the NRM has historical links with Kyabazinga William Wilberforce Gabula IV.
“You know that His Royal Highness the Kyabazinga was brought up in the hands of the Rt Hon Rebecca Kadaga who is the national vice chairperson of NRM. So we are also parents to the Kyabazinga through the hands and works of Hon Kadaga. So our relationship with the Kyabazinga is not limited to the political wishes or desires,” he says.
While giving his speech, the Kyabazinga pointed out that it had been President Museveni’s idea that banquets are held in all the 11 counties of Busoga so that the Kyabazinga’s subjects also partake of some of what those that turned up at Igenge Palace were served.
The amount that Mr Museveni expended to that exercise is not known. Dr Muvawala simply said he had given the kingdom “billions” towards the function.
The President also gave the Kyabazinga 20 cows and another gift in an envelope that was handed over by Vice President Jessica Alupo.
It is, however, difficult to see how treating locals to a few pieces of beef, some morsels of food and gifts given to the Kyabazinga will translate into votes and support from a region that seems to be gravitating towards the Opposition.
“Eating food does not amount to addressing the issues in Busoga. He is only using the wedding and banquets manipulatively. Mr Museveni knows what the problem is. The biggest problem is poverty, but he is not doing anything about it,” Prof Wangoola says.
Mr Museveni showed while speaking at the inaugural Bishop Hannington Day in Kyando, that he knows all about the niggling poverty in Busoga.
“I have been peeping through my car window as I travelled here for this function and I have kept wondering to myself ‘how do these people live through this sort of poverty?’ I have screened through all these villages where I have passed, but the houses and all the other things I have seen have left me wondering how it’s possible for our people to survive through these hard economic conditions,” he said.
The problem, though, is that Mr Museveni will either pay lip service or shift the blame to other leaders like MPs. In October he blamed it on failure by local leaders to guide their people into the money economy.
Has government done enough to address itself to the challenges? Mr Dombo seems inclined to believe that legislators from the region have not done enough.
“They (MPs) have the capacity and mandate to pursue any issue that they feel can help their people. Or they can seek and appointment with the President and discuss that matter so that he shares with them his thoughts and they can also share with him their thoughts. The ball is purely in the hands of the MPs from Busoga and they have numbers,” Mr Dombo argues.
However, Prof Makara argues that the poverty question in Busoga is a failure at policy level.
“The national policies on say the sugar industry and the politics of the sugarcane have been working against the ordinary Basoga. People with big money rent land from the poor people who end up working for them as labourers on their own land. They are then caught up a cycle of poverty because they suffer from food poverty,” Prof Makara argues.
“So many families with very small pieces of land do not only suffer from poverty of money, they also suffer from poverty of food. And then because the labour prices are also low, most of the children do not go to school in that part of the country,” he adds.
However, even as poverty has in recent times taken a centre stage in discourses about the state of the region, disgruntlement has also been on the rise on account of many unfulfilled promises.
Some of the unfulfilled promises include failure to tarmac the Jinja-Kamuli via Mbulamuti and the 58km Kamuli-Bukungu roads; failure to provide a ferry to link Busoga to Lango and Teso regions; failure to turn part of Jinja’s industrial area into an Export Processing Zone (EPZ); failure to provide Shs11b to implement the agricultural zoning programme; failure to provide $1.5m for the establishment of a call centre; failure to support the Lake Victoria Information Communication Technology and Bio Technology (LAVIT) Park and; failure to open a fruit processing factory in Kamuli.
Prof Wangoola says government needs to address itself to fulfilling those promises. That, and not spending heavily on royal weddings, is what will help ease questions around youth unemployment and poverty in the region, he says.
If Mr Museveni has ruled Uganda for nearly four decades, it is because he knows a thing or two that others before him and those who are challenging him do not know. Only he would know why the wedding would bring more returns in 2026 than fulfilling those pledges to the region.
The Kyabazinga is a very important person in Busoga. Everybody who associates well with him reaps from that association. I am very sure that is why leaders of various political parties chose to go and demonstrate their love by offering gifts. The NRM definitely cannot be an exception. The NRM being a political animal, like any other animal, are happy to associate with the Kyabazinga,’’ Mr Emmanuel Dombo, NRM’s head of commu-nications
Eating food does not amount to addressing the issues in Busoga. He is only using the wedding and banquets manipu-latively. Mr Museveni knows what the problem is. The biggest problem is poverty, but he is not doing anything about it,’’ Prof Paul Wangoola