President Museveni has in the recent months paid very close attention to people living in or originating from poor neighbourhoods of Kampala City, popularly known as the ghetto.
Recent developments have projected these densely-populated areas as key political constituencies because the zones attract multitudes of youth, the majority of them unemployed and living in hardship.
Uganda has one of the world’s youngest populations and unemployment levels, especially among young adults, are frighteningly high.
The quick reading of this situation by most political commentators is that President Museveni is aware of this time bomb such unemployed and restless young population presents and will not leave anything to chance as the 2021 elections near.
However, Mr Don Wanyama, the President’s senior press secretary, has a different view.
He says: “The President has always been a man of the ordinary people. The Liberation War [Luweero Bush War of 1981-1986] was anchored on the ordinary man, the wananchi. They were the fulcrum of that struggle. I just think what you have now is media amplifying what has always happened.”
Mr Museveni, the incumbent, has in the past two presidential elections campaigns, for example, given out envelopes and distributed sacks of money to the electorate.
While it appears he will not abandon the trend in the coming polls, he has picked lessons from the past election and is leveraging them to his advantage.
During the campaigns for the 2016 presidential election, Dr Kizza Besigye of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) not only drew huge crowds across the country, but also received cash from adoring fans at campaign rallies and stopovers to support his campaign.
People donated as little as Shs100. This, it now appears, was not lost on President Museveni.
Last week, while meeting the “ghetto youth” at Kibuye roundabout on the outskirts of Kampala, where he also launched the NRM Youth Camp headquarters, President Museveni was gifted with Shs100,000 in two Shs50,000 notes by a supporter and self-styled “commander of the Ghetto army” Elijah Nsubuga.
While public meetings of his key political opponents are restricted and in most cases blocked, President Museveni has, without hindrance, made stopovers and held rallies across the city in places such as Kawempe, Bwaise, Kibuye, Ndeeba and Nateete.
In these tours, Mr Museveni has interacted with the rich and poor, made promises, given out handouts, danced and hugged with market women and the lot, to the visible unease of his security detail.
Kampala and neighbouring Wakiso District are some of the areas President Museveni has focused his energies since 2016, with observers saying he is keen on reducing the margin of his loss in the two populous urban districts.
Of the 522,139 votes cast in Kampala in the 2016 polls, President Museveni garnered only 157,098 or 30.9 per cent while his arch rival Dr Besigye got 334,919 votes, representing 65.9 per cent.
Only about 51 per cent of the total eligible voters cast their ballots in the election. Similarly in Wakiso, of the 900,035 registered voters, only 484,589 were able to vote.
Of these, 280793 or 59.97 per cent voted for Dr Besigye while only 172,129 or 36.76 per cent voted Mr Museveni.
A sample of the areas with the largest ghettos in Kampala shows a dim performance for Mr Museveni, according to the 2016 poll results.
In all, President Museveni collected less than 30 per cent of the vote.
In Katwe II Parish, President Museveni received 28.55 per cent of the vote, while Dr Besigye got 69.06 per cent.
In Kibuye 1 Parish, Mr Museveni got 23.1 per cent, while Dr Besigye got 74.5 per cent. Similar results played out in Kibuye II.
Yet, in 2016, many areas in Kampala and Wakiso districts were unable to vote after the Electoral Commission (EC) failed to deliver electoral materials or delivered them very late.
Based on the voting pattern of those who turned up, it is fair to say Mr Museveni’s winning margin for the country would have been narrowed had the people in the two populous districts given the chance to vote.
After the 2016 elections, Mr Museveni blamed his once blue-eyed girl in the city, former Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) executive director Jennifer Musisi’s harsh methods of enforcing trade order for causing him and the ruling NRM loss in Kampala.
Ms Musisi was subsequently sidelined and unceremoniously resigned her job last year.
President Museveni has yet to appoint a substantive successor.
However, since Ms Musisi’s departure, President Museveni’s handlers in Kampala have back-pedalled on the fights that characterised Ms Musisi’s reign and allowed Opposition politicians at City Hall, particularly Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago, some breathing space.
Insiders say Mr Museveni has adopted soft diplomacy and chosen to build new teams he hopes will deliver a better show than in 2016 polls and also counter a wave of dissent common in the urban areas and their ghettos.
On October 1, President Museveni ordered a reprieve for city dwellers rounded up in security swoops and detained on charges of being ‘idle and disorderly’.
Mr Museveni also directed that all the people arrested by KCCA enforcement personnel and are in prison for failure to pay a fine of Shs1m be released immediately.
However, he warned them not to repeat the offence of selling merchandise on the pavements.
No prizes for guessing where both the groups mostly hail from.
Just a year into his current term, President Museveni had by August 2017, made donations worth more than Shs2b in cash and pledges to different groups in Wakiso and Kampala.
That figure has since more than doubled, given that the President’s offensive charm has only escalated.
Wakiso and Kampala districts have a combined population of at least four million people, with a total of at least 1.9m voters, which is expected to substantially rise when the EC completes the process of compiling a new voters’ register.
With the issue of the age limit amendment long sorted out, President Museveni, now officially 75 years old, the age at which he would have become ineligible to contest in a presidential election had the Constitution not been amended, is fired up.
Tackling ‘Ghetto president’
One of the fast-rising groups in opposition to Mr Museveni is the People Power pressure group led by Kyadondo East Member of Parliament Robert Kyagulanyi, better known by his music stage name, Bobi Wine.
Before his ascent to the House, Mr Kyagulanyi was the self-styled ‘Ghetto President’ with one of Mr Museveni’s latest allies, Mr Mark Bugembe, aka Buchaman, passing as ‘vice president’ of the ghetto.
By appointing Mr Bugembe a presidential advisor for the ghetto and artiste Catherine Kusasira as presidential advisor on Kampala affairs, Mr Museveni aims to score a number of goals.
Ms Kusasira is in-charge of coordinating NRM recruits in the slums, while Mr Bugembe will be the eyes and ears of the President in the ghetto.
President Museveni is already working with artistes such as Moses Ssali, aka Bebe Cool, and Daniel Kazibwe, alias Ragga Dee, who had a failed shot at the Kampala Lord Mayoral seat in 2016.
The appointments of Buchaman and Ms Kusasira offer President Museveni an opportunity to have a base in Mr Kyagulanyi’s core constituency should the latter, who has expressed interest to run for president, turn the excitement he has generated among some youth and the urban electorate into a serious presidential bid.
Some political observers opine the move is a turning point to divide the youth in the ghetto to Mr Museveni’s advantage.
Whatever the outcome, it appears, Mr Museveni is benefitting.
Sources also indicate that Mr Museveni’s team is not sitting back, but has actively been working to lure, by whatever means, individuals and groups critical of his rule.
Critic turned supporter?
Ms Jennifer Nakanguubi, popularly known as Full Figure, came to prominence for her raucous attacks against the regime and individuals who support it. She did not even spare President Museveni.
She was also a vocal supporter of the People Power group, but has recently made a U-turn and has since jumped onto President Museveni’s bandwagon.
In her cohort are other people who until recently used social media, especially Facebook, to attack both President Museveni and Dr Besigye in equal measure.
A commonplace view within the Opposition is that many such critics have been planted to work as fifth columnists for the regime.
What have all these efforts yielded? The answer to these drives, seem to come from Kampala minister Beti Olive Namisango Kamya.
Ms Kamya announced to Mr Museveni that she has already delivered on her promise of turning Kampala into a support base for the National Resistance Movement (NRM) party.
It came timely during one of President Museveni’s pet projects to capture support of the ghetto and youth constituencies — the graduation of 8,480 girls and women with various vocational skills under the Presidential Initiative for Skilling the Girl-Child.
The programme has already graduated thousands with more training sessions underway.