Mpuuga, NUP and the slippery political power play in Masaka

Left to right: NUP Party Secretary General David Rubongoya, Mr Robert Kyagulanyi, the NUP president, and  Mr Mathias Mpuuga attend prayers for the late NUP supporter Frank Ssenteza in Masaka City early this year. PHOTO | COURTESY OF  MATHIAS MPUUGA’s X handle

What you need to know:

  • Insiders say Mr Mpuuga’s political hold on his stronghold, Masaka, will undergo a stern test due to emerging cracks.

Mr Mathias Mpuuga is a man you cannot ignore; both in Masaka, his home turf, and at the national level.

In the last 13 years, few politicians in Masaka would win their seats without rallying Mr Mpuuga to their cause.

This political weight endeared the former Democratic Party [DP] strongman, currently National Unity Platform (NUP) deputy president for Buganda Region, to many people. But this clout also earned him envy and adversaries in equal measure.

Today,  Mr Mpuuga, a parliamentary commissioner, is not seeing eye-to-eye with some NUP leaders in Masaka. These rivals include city mayor Florence Namayanja, and her associate Alice Nanungi, an ambitious city councillor for Nyendo Ward, who is pushing to join Parliament in 2026.

Their bone of contention with Mr Mpuuga, party insiders say, is their conflicting views on how the party mobilisation drive; commonly known as ‘Kunga Uganda’, should be conducted in the area.

While some politicians say ‘Kunga Uganda’ is planned to drum up support for NUP, others believe the drive is intended to advantage some newcomers jostling to join Parliament in the 2026. Mr Mpuuga’s allies argue that ‘Kunga Uganda’ is envisioned to undermine some veteran politicians, including Mr Mpuuga.

With this emerging political crack in Masaka, insiders say Mr Mpuuga’s political hold on his stronghold will undergo a stern test. They say his foes are quick to front Ms Namayanja as an option for Mr Mpuuga as well as NUP party Vice President for Buganda region.

Already, Mr Mpuuga has been replaced by former NUP party spokesperson and Nakawa West MP Joel Ssenyonyi as the Leader of the Opposition (LOP) in Parliament.

The bickering between the camps has long been brewing. For instance, when NUP party President Robert Kyagulanyi visited the family of Frank Ssenteza, his former bodyguard, who died during the 2021 campaigns, Mr Kyagulanyi tasked Mr Mpuuga to reorganise Buganda and wipe out moles and settle the internal wrangles.

Mr Mpuuga quickly responded with a meeting of all leaders in Masaka City, which discussed a number of issues, including suspending ‘Kunga Uganda’ activities in Masaka to allow for its review, but this left Ms Namayanja’s camp furious.

To shore up Mr Mpuuga’s move, Dr Abed Bwanika, the Kimaanya-Kabonera MP, who featured on a political talk show on Buganda Kingdom-owned CBS radio recently, declared that he and other NUP leaders in Masaka “shall not just look on when seasoned politicians from Buganda region are being mud slung.”

Fallout with NUP

As feared, this power play came to a head last Thursday over the contentious Shs500m “service award” to Mr Mpuuga for serving as the Leader of Opposition in Parliament.

Mr Kyagulanyi called Mr Mpuuga to order, but also sounded a conciliatory tone that the NUP party leadership was ready to reconcile with Mr Mpuuga. He said they would as well offer him the necessary support, including rehabilitating him, only if he apologies and steps down from his post as Parliamentary Commissioner.

But Mr Mpuuga last Friday rejected the party’s advisory to resign, which he described as a “cowardly call” masterminded to character assassinate him politically.

Mr Swaibu Sulambaaya, an opinion leader in Masaka, says, “What he [Mpuuga] has faced in the last couple of months has not left him the same. He lost the slot of the Leader of Opposition in Parliament, and now has corruption allegations levelled against him. These are enough to weaken him politically.”

Mr Muhammad Musa Kigongo, a political analyst in Greater Masaka, asks NUP leaders to swiftly curb the internal bickering, lest the party loses its dominance in the area.

“NUP has to get to the drawing board. In politics, paving the way for another is a normal practice...but it seems some critical decisions [in NUP] are made without due diligence,” he said.

Mr Kigongo said Masaka has been the pivot of all Opposition forces and knocking off its commander should be a delicate move, or else it upsets the entire NUP bandwagon.

“Mpuuga can lose [the elections] in 2026 like other prominent figures, but the party will feel the pinch. To maintain his seat, he has to strategise well for the voters from rural areas that were annexed to the city who could have been influenced by the NUP wave in 2021. But the factors at play could be different in 2026,” he said.

Mr Leo Kabumbuli, a member of the NUP’s council of elders in Masaka, attributed the current infighting to the gaps in the party’s structures, which are not paying attention to nurturing leaders.

“We’re rejuvenating this culture in Masaka and we shall even sell it to the top party leadership, because there should be a mechanism of assembling our fighters. It’s not a matter of the period one has served in a position, but his worth,” he warned.

But Mr Kabumbuli chose to look elsewhere for the woes in NUP. He warned that the ruling NRM, which is aiming to finish off powerful politicians who pose a threat to the NRM nearly four decades of rule, is fueling the wrangles.

“All efforts should be geared towards the liberation of our country, not at positions,” he said.

The Rev Fr Denis Mayanja, a prominent human rights advocate at Bisanje Parish in Masaka Diocese, described the situation in NUP as an emergency, which calls for an urgent redress.

“Leaders of Mpuuga ‘s calibre are very few and fighting him is a miscalculation at this time when this young party needs guidance of people like him,” he said.

Mr Meddie Ddungu, an ardent Opposition mobiliser in Masaka, said the infighting in NUP stems from the top party leadership where some elements are being influenced by some “invisible hands.”

“If Fred Nyanzi [the national party mobiliser] is incapable of running the office he holds, let him be relieved of this duty instead of fighting other leaders” he warned.

On a wider scale, the feud in NUP has now attracted the attention of different institutions, including Buganda Kingdom. During the recent commissioning of the refurbished official house for Buddu County Chief in Masaka, the kingdom premier Charles Peter Mayiga, praised Mr Mpuuga for his exemplary leadership and asked the other leaders to emulate him.

Similarly, the kingdom’s minister for Local Government, Mr Joseph Kawuuki, asked the people of Masaka to support exemplary leaders like Mr Mpuuga.

Mr Peter Ssenkungu, the chairperson of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) in Masaka said, “Even in NRM, such conflicts happen, but we manage them critically, which is not the case with NUP.  Let them learn to listen to each other as a young party.”

On the attacks directed at Mpuuga, Mr Ssenkungu said he is feeling the pain of witnessing such attacks masterminded by some top NUP leaders, whom he did not name.

“Mpuuga is one of the few capable leaders Masaka and Buganda have. Regardless of our political affiliations, we need to protect those we have identified as outstanding leaders...if we don’t wake up, all our able bigwigs will get destroyed,” he warned.

The current bickering within NUP in Masaka comes at a time when the NRM is reorganising to bolster support ahead of 2026 general election.   Currently, promoters of the Patriotic League of Uganda, an NRM-leaning pressure group, headed by Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba, the First Son, are crisscrossing Greater Masaka ahead of their official launch of PLU on March 15.


The internal bickering within NUP in Masaka intensified when party leaders in the city stopped the ‘Kunga Uganda’  mobilisation campaign in the area at a meeting chaired by Mr Mpuuga in January. This sparked off mixed reaction as Mr Mpuuga was accused by Masaka City Mayor Namayanja and other leaders of trying to frustrate party activities aimed at drumming up support ahead of 2026 elections.

NUP, which is less than five years old, considers Masaka its stronghold and currently, the majority of leaders at various levels, including local councils and Parliament, subscribe to NUP.  It remains to be seen whether the current infighting will leave members under one fold.

Meanwhile, Mr  Mpuuga began his leadership journey under Buganda Kingdom where he served as a state minister for Youths Affairs.

In 2011, he contested for the parliamentary seat to represent Masaka Municipality as an independent candidate and ousted DP stalwart and veteran politician John Kawanga.

In 2016, Mr Mpuuga retained the seat on DP ticket. He won the Nyendo - Mukungwe  MP seat in 2021 on NUP ticket.

What some players say...

 “I don’t support  wrongdoing and  it is ok to expose corrupt leaders, but every decision in an Opposition formation has to be handled carefully because any mistake affects the bigger struggle before us,’’ Mr Denis Lukanga Majwala, the spokesperson of the Democratic Party in Masaka City.

‘‘I support Mpuuga’s decision of not stepping down until the party leadership responds to issues being raised...If it is about fighting corruption, then NUP leaders should also reprimand those who sold party tickets in the run up to 2021 elections,’’ Mr Amos Katende, a boda boda rider in Masaka City.

‘‘No wonder NUP’s formation was out of excitement without a clear ideology. Mpuuga deserves what he is facing now because he always loves soft landing. If he thinks NUP leaders play amateur   politics, let him go where he is supposed to be,’’Mr Peter Ssenkungu, the chairperson of the NRM in Masaka District.

‘‘We have key issues like our comrades who are rotting in jail, this calls for concerted efforts by all party bigwigs. Let them forget their individual interests and blow fresh air into the party, otherwise this is laying a soft ground for NRM,’’Ms Hasifah Nakidde, a shop attendant in Nyendo-Mukungwe Municipality.

‘‘Let Mr Kyagulanyi and his team check those who are deliberately tarnishing the image of the party...I want to assure the public  that Masaka will always remain an Opposition stronghold  regardless of the current challenges,’’ Mr Gerald Kizito, a member of the NUP Elderly Council in Masaka City.