Inside Museveni, Besigye battle for Rwenzori sub-region

Dr Kizza Besigye campaigns in Bundibugyo District last year. COURTESY PHOTO

The presidential contest in the two previous campaigns in the Rwenzori sub-region has been a two-horse race between Forum for Democratic Change’s (FDC) Kizza Besigye and National Resistance Movement’s (NRM) Yoweri Museveni.

Dr Besigye’s support in the Rwenzori sub-region has majorly been the Bakonzo, who accuse President Museveni of failing to address their problems. They, therefore, argue that it’s this imbalance of services that they base on to “punish” Museveni.

Fight for Kasese
Kasese was the only district in western Uganda to return FDC MPs in the 2006 general election. It was also the only district in western Uganda where Dr Kizza Besigye beat President Museveni.
When Museveni lost to Besigye in Kasese District during the 2006 presidential elections, he rushed to recognise the Obusinga Bwa Rwenzururu to please the Bakonzo, who had longed for their cultural independence.

The recognition of this kingdom in 2009 was good news to the Bakonzo. However, Museveni was still surprised in 2011 when Kasese again voted Besigye, although Museveni emerged winner.

It went beyond the issue of the recognition of the kingdom of the Bakonzo since Mr Museveni’s hopes of trouncing Besigye in the area were shattered.

Following the current political dynamics in the Rwenzori sub-region, Dr Besigye’s strongholds, especially in Kasese, seem to have thought otherwise. Most of them claim that he has failed to get power from Mr Museveni despite contesting thrice.

When Dr Besigye won the contest for FDC presidential flag bearer, beating Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu to contest for the fourth time in the 2016 presidential elections, majority of Dr Besigye’s supporters in Kasese criticised him for being greedy.

Mr Joseph Musema, the FDC chairperson for Kisinga Sub-county in Kasese District, withdrew his support for Dr Besigye, saying he must have given time for another party official to take on Museveni. Musema, along with other supporters, then defected to the ruling NRM party.

FDC was also hit a heavy blow when one of its vocal members and former MP for Busongora South, Mr Christopher Kibanzanga, crossed to the NRM in October.

After the meeting between the President and the delegation of the Bakonzo and Bamba/Babwisi elders to find ways of restoring peace in the Rwenzori sub-region, following the July 5, 2014, attacks, many political commentators predicted a decline in Dr Besigye’s support.

Mr Augustine Mbalibulha, one of the opinion leaders in Kasese, says people in the area could have made up their minds to support the incumbent in order to get services.

He adds that Dr Besigye’s chances of winning an election are now minimal because most of the Bakonzo voted for him when the President had delayed to recognise the Obusinga Bwa Rwenzururu, of which he has since done.

“People here have been supporting Dr Besigye in the previous elections because Museveni had not attended to their demands. However, it could be hard for him to win an election because Museveni has tried to ground himself in the area by having structures there. Dr Besigye’s failure to maintain his structures at the grass root might see him lose in Kasese,” says Mr Mbalibulha.

The Kasese Municipality Mayor, Mr Godfrey Kabyanga, like Mr Mbalibulha, also says Dr Besigye’s popularity in Rwenzori was because the President hadn’t recognised the Kingdom of Rwenzururu.

“People voted for Besigye in the 2006 presidential elections out of emotions because he had promised them that he would recognise the Rwenzururu Kingdom. In the Rwenzori sub-region, roads have been constructed even in the mountains, the airfield is in place and the railway is about to resume,” Mr Kabyanga says.

Mr Kabyanga, however, stresses that he cannot under estimate Dr Besigye’s support, saying he is already grounded in the Rwenzori sub-region and that although his support has declined, it doesn’t mean that NRM should take him for granted.

He says people in Kasese vote basing on one’s competence and that if Opposition candidates exhibit this, they will definitely win.
However, the Woman MP for Kasese District (FDC), Ms Winfred Kiiza, says although Mr Museveni has penetrated the area, Dr Besigye still remains strong there, arguing that the former has failed to resolve some of the key issues that the Bakonzo need to be addressed.

She says Museveni’s failure to settle wrangles between the Bakonzo and the Basongora will see him drastically lose in Kasese this time round.
“Thousands of people were evicted from their land by the government which claimed that they were encroaching on the national park.

Our hospitals are not catered for and yet people need treatment. So now how do you say Museveni will win an election in Kasese?” Ms Kiiza wonders.

She adds that the Obusinga was just one of the issues and that recognising it does not guarantee Museveni’s victory over Besigye in the District.

In Kasese District, both NRM and FDC have three Members of Parliament. However, the mayor and the LC5 chairperson are NRM who could influence politics in this region.

Also Dr Crispus Kiyonga, the Minister of Defence, who also represents the people of Bukonzo West in Parliament, has always had influence in the region, basing on his strong ties with Mr Museveni.

Fort Portal
Whereas there is Opposition presence in Fort Portal Municipality (Kabarole District), it is not as stiff as that in Kasese District.
Museveni has always enjoyed support in Kabarole and this is evident with all MPs and majority of division mayors who are all for the ruling party.

Mr Tom Bagasaki, one of the opinion leaders in the area, says President Museveni continues to win in Fort Portal with more than 80 per cent because of the good service delivery in the area.

He notes that social services like hospitals, roads, schools and electricity in the area makes people support the ruling party and that it will be hard for the Opposition to have a strong base in Kabarole.

Bundibugyo District
In Bundibugyo District, tribal influence could change the political discourse there. This area, being occupied by the Bamba/Babwisi and the Bakonzo, has always had cultural differences. The Bakonzo living in Bundibugyo District have always decried being marginalised by the Babwisi, a claim the latter have since dismissed as false.

For instance, the Bakonzo say most of the jobs at the district are occupied by the Bamba/Babwisi.

They also decry the imbalance of social services like roads, schools and hospitals. Some opinion leaders have predicted that the Bakonzo in Bundibugyo could vote the Opposition if the President doesn’t urgently address their issues.

One of the Bakonzo elders, who asked not to be named, told this reporter that the reason why some Bakonzo youth attacked the Kanyamwirima Army Barracks on July 5, 2014, was because the President turned a deaf ear on their demand for a district, which would see them secede from the Bamba/Babwisi.

The attack left more than 90 people in Rwenzori sub-region dead. The Bakonzo, who thought that Mr Museveni would become sympathetic and give them a district, were surprised when he rather blamed them for inciting violence. This has left some Bakonzo unhappy because they say Museveni is inconsiderate.

Whereas the Bamba/Babwisi community castigated the Bakonzo for plotting an attack against their newly installed king, the Obhudingiya Bwa Bwamba, the Bakonzo dismissed this claim, stressing that their attack was intended to show President Museveni that they wanted independence.

The other pressing issue is the destruction of Prince Christopher Kibanzanga’s cottages located on Nyahuka Road at Kirindi in Busaru Sub-county on December 18, 2015. Before it was demolished, the Bamba/Babwisi had questioned the style in which it was built. They looked at it as a shrine being built in their kingdom.

However, Prince Kibanzanga insists the cottages are meant for business, arguing that there is no way he could build a shrine in a different kingdom. He argues that the land is his grandfather’s property and that he has ancestral rights over it.

Although there are allegations that the Bamba/Babwisi could have demolished the cottages, the spokesperson of the Obudingiya Bwa Bwamba, Rev Geoffrey Kyomuhendo, however, dismisses the allegations as lies.

To justify their dissatisfaction, the Bakonzo unanimously voted for new political aspirants during NRM primaries.

The Bundibugyo LC5 chairperson, Mr Jolly Tibemanya, and the Woman MP, Ms Harriet Ntabazi, lost the primaries. Political analysts in the area say the Bakonzo could have given a bloc vote to the new candidates to oust the old ones.

The Bakonzo argue that by voting out the incumbent LC5 and Woman MP, it was a protest vote since the duo has allegedly failed to harmonise the two tribes.

For instance, during the Rwenzori attacks, the Bakonzo faulted the LC5 and Woman MP for failing to intervene to restore peace for both tribes.
However, Ms Ntabazi says as a leader, she is mandated to promoting peace, justice and unity. She says both the Bakonzo and Bamba have lived together for many years and that peace must prevail.

There is a prediction among some of the Bamba/Babwisi opinion leaders that in five years Bundibugyo District could have a Woman MP and the LC5 who are Bakonzo, arguing that the Bakonzo have a strong base on the Rwenzori sub-region.

They fear that most of the Bakonzo could come from the DR Congo and Kasese to come and register as voters in Bundibugyo such that they could take charge of the district.

They also argue that by voting out the incumbent LC5 and the Woman MP, the Bakonzo could also vote Dr Besigye since they think he could be able to solve their problems. Majority of the Bakonzo in the area have indeed vowed not to vote Museveni because they accuse him of being inconsiderate to their demand for a district.

On December 12, 2015, leaders of the six clans of the Obhudingiya Bwa Bwamba petitioned the prime minister of the institution, Mr Wilson Mubulya, to explain why Mr Fulgensio Bamwitirebye, the head of the clan leaders and the deputy prime minister, Rev Tomasi Kamuhanda, were allegedly openly telling people not to vote for the flag bearers but rather vote for Ms Ntabazi and Mr Tibemanya for Woman MP and LC5 respectively.

The duo lost during primaries and has vowed to contest on Independent tickets.

The petitioners reveal that this could make Museveni lose votes in the areas. They also demanded to know from the prime minister why the kingdom has not come up with a report regarding the curving of Bughendere district from Bundibugyo as ordered by President Museveni.

But the spokesperson of the kingdom, Rev Kyomuhendo, says the task was given to Mr Fulgensio and that he is still making consultations among the Bamba/Babwisi. He, however, noted that some people are mistaking him for campaigning for the incumbent LC5 and Woman MP.

Besigye’s campaign in Bundibugyo
During Dr Besigye’s campaign in Bundibugyo District on December 16, 2015, people were surprised to see the crowds that welcomed him.

They thought that because the area is purely NRM, Dr Besigye would get a lukewarm reception.

Dr Besigye attacked the government for creating division among tribes in order to stay longer in power, arguing that the 2014 Rwenzori attacks would be avoided if at all government had reconciled the Bamba/Babwisi and the Bakonzo.

The crowds that welcomed Dr Besigye left many accusing Mr Kibanzanga of mobilising for his former master, an allegation the latter has denied.

They say although he crossed to the ruling NRM party, he left behind the people he had trained in FDC.

This has made the Bamba/Babwisi to look at Mr Kibanzanga as a game changer who might change the political situation in the area, owing to his seniority in politics. It was a signal that the Bakonzo could vote Besigye.

Mr Emmanuel Businge, one of the opinion leaders in the district and also an official in the Obudingiya Bwa Bwamba told Sunday Monitor that Mr Kibanzanga’s defection to NRM was just to appease the President, arguing that his team remained loyal to FDC.

According to Mr Businge, FDC has gained ground in Bundibugyo and this is likely to influence the way residents vote.

Mr Kibanzanga, however, dismisses the claims. “I need people in Bundibugyo to understand that I’m no longer in FDC and those who are still thinking so are dreaming. My aim is to work for the people of Bundibugyo and not creating conflicts as some people are thinking,” Mr Kibanzanga reveals.

He, however, says NRM should not take FDC for granted, stressing that they need to show their presence by campaigning in the region.

Mr Baluku Mbakania, one of the Bakonzo elders, says Museveni could indeed lose in Bundibugyo if he does not consider the plight of the Bakonzo in the area. Mr Baluku adds that by giving them their district, it would mean independence from the Bamba/Babwisi.

“President Museveni ought to be considerate and give us our own district and I think this is what could reduce the tribal differences in Bundibugyo. He has promised us several times but we don’t see anything happening. This will force us vote for the Opposition come 2016,” he remarks.

However, during his visit to Bundibugyo District on January 20, President Museveni was reported to have okayed the creation of Bughendera District for the Bakonzo.

“You have been disturbing me with this thing called a district. I have no problem giving it to you. You will have it after the elections,” President Museveni was quoted to have said.