I congratulate Mr Yoweri Museveni on being re-elected President of the Republic of Uganda. I also thank the people of northern Uganda for their overwhelming vote for President Museveni.
The 2021 presidential elections proved that there is no permanent friendship or permanent enmity in politics. The Buganda region, which was a close ally of NRM, parted ways and the north, which was not supporting NRM, became allies.
The road to reconciling the people of northern Uganda with the National Resistance Movement (NRM) government under President Museveni has been long, frustrating and difficult.
Those who do not know the people of northern Uganda thought they were being stubborn and stupid. But those of us who were at the frontline campaigning for Mr Museveni in previous presidential campaigns knew the difficulties our people were facing in deciding to support, or not support, President Museveni.
There were three major problems for not supporting President Museveni in northern Uganda at that time. 1) The northerners for many years fought and killed one another for the presidency. When Museveni took over the presidency in 1986, the northerners realised that they had lost the national leadership.
They spontaneously united politically to reject Museveni and NRM. 2) People of Acholi, Lango and Teso lost their livestock in the hands of NRM. The effects of this loss are still being felt with the high level of poverty in the rural communities. 3) There was insecurity due to rebel activities in the region.
People were abducted and killed, vehicles ambushed, properties looted and people were living in crowded camps without water and enough food supplies. The factors above were big obstacles for campaigning for President Museveni at that time.
As the first chairperson of the Museveni campaign team in Acholi sub-region in 1996, I knew the bitterness of our people. This was the time when it was very difficult to shout the slogan Museveni Oyeee and NRM oyeee in northern Uganda.
I avoided the Museveni Oyeee type of campaign slogan. My strategy at that time was more of a reconciliatory campaign message rather than the usual Museveni Oyeee approach. I politely appealed to the people to vote President Museveni so that we work with his government to stop the war and bring peace to the region. But the majority opinion was that Museveni has come to crush the northerners in general. Indeed, there were several negative actions by government at that time to support their views.
In 1996 when Museveni came to campaign in Acholi sub-region, I noticed he found difficulties in talking to the people to vote him. He talked more about his plan to crush the rebels and bring peace in the region. Crushing the rebels was the last thing Acholi wanted to hear from Museveni, because many people believed Kony was fighting to overthrow Museveni. There was great support for the rebels in the region.
We formed the campaign team right down to the parish and village levels, headed by the sub-county chairpersons. Due to insecurity, we were not able to visit the sub-county campaign agents regularly. We also appointed agents to all the polling stations. Additionally, we engaged some scouts to help direct voters to vote for President Museveni. All these agents and scouts were paid some token of appreciation for their work.
On election day, I visited some sub-counties to see how voting was progressing. I was surprised to find that some of my sub-county campaign chairpersons were polling agents of DP’s Paul Ssemogerere. When election results came out, I was even more surprised to find that in many polling stations President Museveni got no vote although we had agents. This was the level of political betrayal Museveni faced at that time. Museveni got about 12 per cent votes in Acholi sub-region in 1996 elections.
The 12 per cent was important to us NRM mobilisers and I believe it was equally important to the President. In his first term, 1996 to 2001, government initiated the process of starting a university in northern Uganda. In his second term of election, government established a public university in Gulu.
Many people from this region who could afford private education in Makerere took advantage of the new university and completed their education. Naturally, the majority of students, lecturers and students were from the region.
The road construction to Arua was complete and the population started seeing and feeling the presence of NRM in the region. The NRM government continued fighting and engaging LRA rebels in peace talks. By 2006, the LRA rebels were defeated and peace was firmly restored in the whole of northern and eastern Uganda.
Despite the attainment of peace and some visible developments in the region, it was still difficult to convince people in northern Uganda to vote for NRM in 2006. But it can be mentioned here that in the 2011 and 2016 elections, President Museveni had started getting sizable votes from some parts of northern Uganda.
The Opposition politicians changed their campaign tactics from insecurity to land grabbing. The Opposition campaigns in 2011 and 2016 were about protecting Acholi land. Major development projects were rejected by the people through the incitement by elected leaders. Gulu University up to now has no land due to negative politics. There were rallies and radio talk shows that modern universities do not require much land.
The politics of protecting Acholi land went too far when women were paid to undress before government officials who went to talk about land for Amuru Sugar plantation. I remember when President Museveni used to talk about backward leaders; I used to think he was rude. But I came to believe him when I saw politicians mobilising the people to reject giving land to major development projects, including for a university.
The President did not give up on the north. Government opened new universities in Arua, Lira, Soroti and a constituent college in Karamoja. Government constructed tarmac roads, built schools, health centres, clean water and rural electricity supplies and many other developments.
In the 2011, 2016 and 2021 elections, it was possible to campaign shouting NRM oyee and Museveni oyeee openly without fear. There was enough evidence on the ground to justify this campaign slogan. People in northern Uganda started wearing NRM and Museveni T-shirts and caps. This was the time politics started getting difficult for Opposition politicians.
The elevation of Arua, Gulu, Lira and Soroti to city status in July 2020 was a major blow to the Opposition. Those who were wise enough read the political mood in the region and crossed to NRM. The rest who hanged on to the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) were swept away by the new political waves in the 2021 elections.
The Robert Kyagulanyi factor in central region is not only in Buganda politics. Tribes are made of family units. If you are going to seek an election without support from your family, then you have no business going for elections. Kyagulanyi is not the only one who has benefited from the doctrine of “charity begins from home”. Sectarian or racial politics are exploited throughout the world.
Former US president Barack Obama exploited it when he based his campaigns on the “Yes We Can” slogan. This slogan was properly packaged to convey the message that even a Black man can lead the US. President Trump tactfully used the word “Making America Great Again.” He was tactfully appealing to White voters to make “America White Again,” especially after a Black president. In deed racial discrimination was very rampant during his presidency.
After losing support in central region, President Museveni may now want to consolidate his support in northern and eastern parts of Uganda with visible political impacts. Perennial cash crops such as palm oil, vanilla, cocoa and coffee should be rapidly promoted to cushion the people from over dependence on annual crops.
People in this region have plenty of land to support commercial production of these perennial crops. Climate change will grossly affect rural farming communities that depend on annual crops because these crops cannot withstand long period of drought or floods. Perennial crops can withstand some prolonged degree of flooding and drought. Long live President Museveni.
Prof Nyeko Pen-Mogi is former Kilak County MP and and Gulu University Vice Chancellor