How Mpuuga-NUP fallout risks setting party back in Buganda

Former Leader of Opposition in Parliament Mathias Mpuuga (right) takes his party president Robert Kyagulanyi (left) on a tour of Masaka City in May 2023. PHOTOS/ Courtesy of @MathiasMpuuga on X

What you need to know:

  • When Uganda’s biggest Opposition party, National Unity Platform, launched a mobilisation drive that they christened Kunga Uganda last year, the declared motive was to galvanise the party’s structures. But as Derrick Kiyonga writes, the drive has instead divided the party in its Buganda bastion, with the ruling National Resistance Movement party ready to take advantage as the 2026 General Election beckons.

Kunga is a Luganda word that means mobilisation of the population, but it seems that the National Unity Platform (NUP), Uganda’s biggest Opposition political party, has sowed more seeds of discord than brought about the much-needed harmony.

Kunga, which is the brainchild of Mr Fred Nyanzi, the party’s mobilisation chief, was launched last year amid ululation to reboot the party’s structures across the country.

“When we were launching, it the media, including Daily Monitor, was sceptical saying it will not work,” Nyanzi, who is also the brother of Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, alias Bobi Wine, NUP’s founding president, says.

“We launched Kunga because our people were demoralised after what happened before and after the 2021 elections. You know how our people were kidnapped and others have never reappeared since,” he adds.

NUP supporters in Masaka City welcome party leader Kyagulanyi and LoP Mpuuga in 2023.

Kunga immediately bore fruits when it rationalised Kyagulanyi’s countrywide tour last year that saw him hold rallies in the sub-regions of Ankole, West Nile, and Buganda before police stopped the tour on grounds of alleged sectarian remarks and breach of police guidelines.

“While we completely support the right of individuals, groups, and other citizens to peacefully gather or assemble, and make their views on matters of public policy, we have noticed that in all areas where the NUP mobilisation activities have been carried out, there have been total breaches to the guidelines, thus causing public disorder, unnecessary traffic jam, loss of business, malicious property damage, for instance in Mbarara City, their rowdy supporters vandalised a Toyota Hiace under reg. no. UBD 251J and traffic accidents, including a fatal one in Hoima City on September 11, 2023, where one Norman Mugisa died and 10 others got serious injuries during the NUP convoy,” police said.

Yet even during the launch of Kunga, cracks emerged within the party and Kyagulanyi used the launch to warn against such.

“We are not a party in crisis,” he said. “We are National Unity Platform. And unity is our middle name.  The dictator survives when we spend more time attacking each other instead of attacking him. If you don’t spend time exposing the criminal regime, them you must pose and ask yourself, ‘whom am I working for?’” Kyagulanyi said.

It is coming to a year since Kyagulanyi warned about the divisions and they have emerged in the Masaka area where allies of Mathias Mpuuga, the former Leader of Opposition in Parliament (LoP), who is also NUP’s vice president for Buganda region, are accusing Nyanzi of using Kunga Uganda to undermine him. 

Mpuuga is the MP for Mukungwe-Nyendo and his allies claim that he played a critical role in NUP’s landslide victory in Buganda in the 2021 General Election, but the feeling is that Kyagulanyi, through his brother, is trying to clip Mpuuga’s wings.

“Our leader in Buganda and Masaka is Mpuuga, not anybody from NUP headquarters,” Mr Abed Bwanika, the Kimanya-Kabonera MP, says. “We don’t take orders from Kampala.”

The subject of ire is that under the umbrella of Kunga Uganda, Nyanzi has put in place parallel structures that undercut the recognised party structures.

NUP leader Robert Kyagulanyi (right) joins mourners in Masaka at the burial of party supporter Bonny Steven Kasujja in May 2023.

In Masaka specifically, the Kunga Uganda structures are led by its coordinator Alice Nanungi who is supported by NUP’s chairperson in Masaka Florence Namayanja.

Sources that are close to Mpuuga say NUP honchos in Kampala have already fronted Nanungi as his replacement in the Mukungwe-Nyendo constituency.

“She [Nanungi] had already declared her intentions to stand against Mpuuga in the NUP primaries for the constituency and she is now using the Kunga Uganda platform to mobilise,” a source close to Mpuuga says on condition of anonymity since he is not allowed to speak to the media.

Mpuuga’s position as vice president of Buganda is under threat with NUP honchos in Kampala fronting Namayanja, who is the Masaka City mayor, as his replacement.

But Nyanzi denies claims that Kunga Uganda is targeting Mpuuga, saying the mobilisation drive is all over Uganda, not just Masaka.

“I have good relations with Hon Mpuuga and he has been involved in Kunga activities. I don’t think we have any significant differences like the media wants to show,” Nyanzi, who will once again contest for the Kampala Central MP seat in 2026, says.

Mr Fred Nyanzi

Nyanzi’s feelings aren’t shared by Mpuuga’s camp who insist that mobilisers under Kunga Uganda have been taking to social media platforms to malign Mpuuga while campaigning for his opponents.

The fallout comes after Kyagulanyi booted Mpuuga as LoP and appointed his close ally, Nakawa West MP Joel Ssenyonyi, as his replacement.

NUP tried to present the Mpuuga-Ssenyonyi transition as a peaceful transfer of power with Mpuuga, who was appointed Parliamentary Commissioner by Kyagulanyi, describing Ssenyonyi as a “young” and “reasonable” person who deserves support to continue the efforts he has started.

“I am bringing this out to appeal to all of us to understand that we occupy this public space for a purpose and that purpose must not be for the sake of it, but to change the trajectory of this one country we call home. And when we are members of Parliament, then that space is more distinct because the call for duty is beyond the ordinary. And we must be here and look at each other from both sides of the aisle as servants of the people. And at all times, we must invite common good to prevail,” Mpuuga, who has been in Parliament since 2011, said. 

Ssenyonyi returned the favour by crediting Mpuuga for laying “a good foundation” which he will use to get the work done.

“To my colleagues, the people of Uganda have a lot of hope in us. I see that in the way they pay attention to the work that we do, and in the way, they critique us because they don’t expect us to give up. That should be encouraged because that means that people have a lot of hope in us. They expect better from us. Let’s be their voice,” Ssenyonyi, who is a debutant in Parliament, said adding that he hoped they would not let Ugandans down.

However, the aftermath of the reshuffle shows that not all is well with Mpuuga who is moving to assert himself in Buganda and Masaka.

Mpuuga’s camp contends that Masaka is already an NUP stronghold, thus the party should emphasise other places where NUP performed dismally.

“They are going to several places throughout the city without even involving the area leaders, yet some of these places are under the leadership, and we expect them to put much of their efforts in other places that didn’t vote for NUP,” Mr Joseph Kasirye, the NUP secretary general Masaka branch, a Mpuuga ally, said referring to the fact that while NUP got 50 MPs from Buganda, it got only two from other regions.

Mpuuga wasn’t done; he moved to suspend all Kunga Uganda activities in the Masaka area.

“When I handed over the Office of the Leader of Opposition, I pledged to the party president that I will now get enough time to mobilise Buganda. That’s the job I was given. Even the person who gave me that job knows that I know what to do. He also knows that I have the ability and experience,” Mpuuga said.

While Mpuuga is reasserting himself in Masaka, the fear is that NRM could take advantage of the rumblings to make inroads in the region that it lost by more than 60 percent in the 2021 General Election.   

Since the 1996 elections, the first presidential elections under the NRM, the ruling party had never lost Buganda, and Museveni, who comes from the western part of the country, blamed the 2021 electoral loss that saw his then vice president Edward Kiwanuka Ssekandi and a litany of ministers tossed out of Parliament, on sectarianism.

However, with NUP having internal challenges, there is a feeling that NRM could have a chance to come back in the 2026 elections.

“We are working on the problems we had in Buganda. We had many internal conflicts which we have been trying to resolve and I think we shall be better placed to challenge the Opposition in 2026,” Mr Godfrey Ssuubi Kiwanda, NRM’s vice chairperson for Buganda, says.

Nyanzi admits that their internal differences could play into the hands of NRM with grave ramifications. 

“We know NRM is still targeting Buganda and if we don’t resolve our internal conflicts they are ready to pounce. But we want to assure them that Buganda is ours and we shall do everything to maintain our support,” he says.

When he was launching Kunga Uganda, Kyagulanyi warned that the NRM was out to sow seeds of mistrust among NUP party members as it has successfully done to other Opposition political parties. 

“That’s what he [President Museveni] did to UPC [Uganda Peoples Congress], that’s what he did to DP [Democratic Party], That’s what he did to FDC [Forum for Democratic Change],” Kyagulanyi said. “And that’s what he wants to do to us and at the sometime we must lookout for any fallouts because they are among us.”

For now, the fate of Kunga Uganda isn’t known, with Mpuuga’s allies saying its structures aren’t provided for the party’s constitution. But Nyanzi says they are provided for.  

“The new constitution provides for the Kunga committees, so it’s not factually correct to say they not provided for,” Nyanzi says of a constitution that NUP is yet to make public.