How the Jinja rigging machinery was exposed

Kanusu, being whisked away from Jinja Central Police Station to Nalufenya regional police cell mid last year.

The recent general elections were marred by various electoral offences like ballot stuffing and violence, as Pauline Kairu reports, one of the candidates for the LC5 seat in Jinja took matters into his hands. After getting to a polling station and sensing vote rigging, he destroyed election material. He broke Theodore Sekikubo's record, the Lwemiyaga MP who introduced kicking ballot boxes during the NRM primaries. But to what extent can one go to stop and expose a vote rigging machinery?

Robert Kanusu has showed cause. The Uganda Peoples Congress LC5 candidate for Jinja District in the just concluded general elections, grabbed headlines when he went to a polling station, sent ballot papers flying in the air before assaulting a polling official.

Mr Kanusu, a little known politician, turned a hero of Jinja residents when he was broadcasted on national TVs throwing about ballot boxes at Kayunga A polling station at Mafubira Sub-county headquarters in protest of what he described as a well orchestrated machinery to rig him out of a hard earned victory.

The story of rigging votes is not new in Uganda. But very few candidates in Uganda’s recent elections, have taken this course, save for Mr Sekikubo, and recently in the Mukono Municipality race where an NRM candidate, George Sentongo, repeated Sekikubo's antics at Ham Mukasa polling station in Mukono Town Council.

So when Mr Kanusu raged after he got to the polling station and reportedly found leaflets of ballot papers on the presiding officers desk even though there were no voters waiting in line, there are several people to identify with.

Mr Kanusu, a stark contrast of his usual self, accused polling officials of engaging in electoral malpractices in favour of the National Resistance Movement candidates. He rushed to the polling station after he was tipped by a whistleblower that the presiding officer, Ms Rachael Wakaisuka, was conniving with agents of one of the candidates to pre-tick ballot papers.

On arrival, Kanusu went wild after he found a voter with a blank LC5 ballot paper minutes after she had cast her ballot. Mr Kanusu had to be hauled out of the polling station by a supporter after things got out of hand with police threatening to shoot him.

Humble man turned symbol of outbursts
“The rigging was planned two days prior to the polling day and all the polling officials and the police were accomplices to the syndicate...just a mere polling agent sitting at the polling station could not easily detect the nature of rigging going on.”

Mr Kanusu, who jumped into the fray of politics five years ago when he contested for the same seat and lost to Mr Hannington Basakana, does not even remember the nitty-gritty of what was going through his mind when he threw the tantrums. “I was provoked,” he says, adding, “You know the problem is the institutional breakdown, and even though you reported to the police that someone is buying votes they will do fact they are right there witnessing the irregularities taking in such circumstances what do you do?”

The press secretary to UPC president Olara Otunnu, also a loser in the recent presidential elections, says similar electoral malpractices had been reported in various places but believes the police were an accomplice. It was probably this feeling of helplessness that led him to take the law into his own hands.

Later in the day after escaping arrest, Kanusu did not pick calls as he went into hiding. This is probably what his opponents wanted - by the time he came out the next day, he had nothing to save. However, another dramatic day was in waiting.

Second day of rage
If there was a dress rehearsal at the polling station, the real show was on February 24. As it so happened, the district returning officer, Ms Flavia Mujulizi, was to suffer more of Kanusu’s meltdown for what he believed to be deliberate delay of announcement of results. The otherwise soft-spoken opposition politician could take it no more after the tallying of votes entered day two.

Mr Kanusu burst into another thunderbolt as he unplugged equipment, including computers which were being used to convey results to the Electoral Commission headquarters in Kampala.

This was after Ms Mujulizi rejected his attempts to present a petition protesting the way the process was being handled. “What explanation can be there for Jinja EC office to bring back returns from sub counties at 4:30am when activity there ended as early as 6pm,” he questioned, suggesting that it was just a ploy for them to rig. “And when I put her to task to explain why she kept moving out of the tallying hall to talk to NRM officials and why she had been driven away by Balyeku (Moses- the MP elect Jinja West and NRM’s District chairperson), she told me she did not owe me any explanation.”

Mr Kanusu, who contends that the LC5 chairman elect, Mr Fredrick Gume Ngobi, was not even second according to his agents’ returns, says Ms Mujulizi was not following what was coming from the field but other orders. However, Mr Balyeku denies claims that he picked Ms Mujulizi on the night of the tallying of the results as alleged by critics. “Where those working hours?” Mr Balyeku asked in a telephone interview, “The only time I talked to her (Ms Mujulizi) was in her office and I was there on official business.”

Ms Mujulizi, however, said: “People must be crazy! I think they have problems of their own,” she said, adding, “I did not get out of the tally centre. If they are crazy, let them take away their craziness.” Mr Kanusu, who was later arrested that day and the winner Gume announced while he was in police cells, caused a storm in town after protesters demanding his release engaged police in running battles.

Calls off demonstration
Born on February 14, 1974, Mr Kanusu is a father of twins and a former journalist with the New Vision who resigned his job in 2005 ahead of the 2006 general elections. He describes himself as a man who is always very sober; the reason he had to call off demonstrations scheduled for February 28 after he reckoned the protests were going to turn out violent and people were going to lose their lives and property.

“The government had shipped all that military hardware for us. I had to protect my supporters,” he says. He might have lost in the elections after his NRM rival took the day but he surely left a mark on the way polls are manned. A section of voters in the area are still praising him for his display of bravery on the two days.

Mr Alton Magumba, a boda boda cyclist in Jinja Town, believes Mr Kanusu is a hero who defied all odds to fight for a just cause. “They think he is ill-tempered but to us he emerged winner for fighting for justice and democracy and expose the malpractices and corrupt system that the rest of us could not see,” Mr Magumba says. “He might have lost but we regard him as our chairman.” Though Mr Kanusu still believes that he was cheated of victory, he says it was actually the voters that were cheated and they should be the ones to seek justice, if any.

The resident of Budondo Kivubuka village, Kanusu says those pretending to be Busoga’s leaders were actually sycophants. “When I was still a journalist I would move around Busoga with Museveni and I felt pity on the Basoga listening to the people who regard themselves as the leaders representing them telling Museveni that everything was alright in Busoga and that Busoga was behind NRM instead of telling him the problems in the region,” he says.

Who is Kanusu?
Mr Robert Kanusu was born on February 14, 1974 at Jinja Hospital to Mr Ezekiel Kanusu, a transporter of cotton, coffee and other cash crops produced in Busoga and Ms Tapenensi Namulungu Kanusu of Kivubuka village in Budondo Sub-county.

His father was among the local pioneers of the cooperative movements which was to later become the Uganda National Farmers Union that later bore the Uganda Peoples Congress. He is the last born of 28 children born of different women. He went to Kivubuka Primary School and later St. Stephen Secondary School in Budondo. He, however, had to sponsor part of his secondary education after his father passed on in 1985; this he did by cultivating matooke and coffee at his father’s farm. A thing he accomplished so well that it earned him an accolade as the first youngest farmer in Uganda by the Uganda National Farmers Association and a passport to Nairobi for an agricultural tour.

In 1996, he joined Kiira College Butiki for his A’ level after which he entered Makerere University in 1997 to undertake a course in Bachelor of Arts in Arts (History, Literature and Divinity). He, however, could not complete his programme due to financial constraints following the introduction of the private scheme. It was at this point that he joined the media world, first working at the Daily Monitor as a free lance writer under the mentorship of Mr David Ouma Balikowa. Two years later, he moved to the New Vision as a Senior Features writer in Kampala and later transferred to the Eastern Region Bureau-Jinja.

Then, he jointly did a stint with Busoga University in Iganga as a PRO/marketing manager until 2005 when he quit both jobs to run for the LC5 chairperson’s seat in Jinja District. He lost. After the loss, heworked as an Information Architect with Uganda Home Pages Ltd, a website and internet firm.

On the lighter side, the father of twins is also the promoting officer and administrator of International Dragon Boat Federation based in Accra Ghana. The politician has also been the UPC president, Mr Olara Otunu’s, press secretary since his return into the country a portfolio he says he undertook naturally following sustained communications with the party president after he had decided to return from exile.