NUP infighting threatens its dominance in Masaka

Left to right: National Unity Platform Secretary General David Rubongoya, party president Robert Kyagulanyi, alias Bobi Wine, and Nyendo-Mukungwe MP and Commissioner of Parliament Mathias Mpuuga attend prayers for the late Frank Ssenteza, a NUP supporter, in Masaka City early this year. Photo/courtesy of MR MPUUGA’S X HANDLE

What you need to know:

  • NRM supporters say the current infighting among Opposition politicians, particularly within the NUP, should prompt voters to reconsider and support the NRM. 
  • On NUP’s dominance in the area, Mr Ssenkungu says the youngest Opposition political party lacks a clear message to give the electorates.

The Greater Masaka Sub-region has historically been an Opposition stronghold, a fact that has been reflected in the area’s voting patterns over the last two decades.
Currently, the majority of the leadership positions, right from the local councils to the parliamentary level, are occupied by Opposition politicians mostly from the National Unity Platform (NUP) party.

In the 2021 General Election, the Opposition also made inroads into other districts in central Uganda such as Sembabule where the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) has enjoyed considerable support in the past three decades.
During the elections, some long-standing NRM politicians in the region, who were once perceived as politically irreplaceable due to their close ties with state machinery, were rejected by voters in favour of newcomers from the Opposition.

The voters accused the NRM cadres of failing to address their needs.
However, the escalating infighting within the NUP’s top leadership threatens the party’s dominance in the region. A splinter group, led by Kimaanya-Kabonera Constituency MP Dr Abed Bwanika has declared suspended NUP Vice President for Buganda Region and the immediate former Leader of the Opposition in Parliament Mathias Mpuuga as its leader, opposing party president Robert Kyagulanyi, alias Bobi Wine.

The conflict between Mr Mpuuga and NUP top party officials stemmed from the Shs500 million “service award” he received as Parliament Commissioner, which the party described as corruption and abuse of office. The party has also called on Mr Mpuuga to resign from the position of parliamentary commissioner, which he has refused to do.

Some NRM leaders in Greater Masaka believe this is the time to reclaim the sub-region, which plays a pivotal role in the politics of Uganda.
Mr Joseph Kalungi, the former Masaka District chairperson, believes the current infighting among Opposition politicians, particularly within the NUP, should prompt voters to reconsider and support the NRM. 
“Good leadership cannot be achieved while fighting. This has been the case for years and nothing serious has been achieved in Masaka. All the remarkable projects in Masaka were lobbied for during our period as leaders together with some friendly Opposition political actors,” he says.
“What we need to do as a party is to correct some known mistakes and put more effort into showcasing what NRM has done. I believe all demands of the people of Masaka have been responded to in terms of roads, markets and socio-economic transformation programmes,” Mr Kalungi adds. 

However, he warns the NRM top leadership against sidelining historical cadres who diligently served the party.
Mr Godfrey Kiwanda, the NRM Vice Chairperson for Buganda Region, says after their loss in Masaka during the 2021 General Election, they withdrew to address and find solutions to their weaknesses. 
“There are five issues we are working on; our relationship with Buganda Kingdom and the Catholic Church, poverty is being worked on through programmes like Parish Development Model (PDM), Emyooga and coffee revival campaigns among others, land evictions are also being handled,” he says.

Mr Kiwanda adds that the NRM will take advantage of the current fragmentation in the wider Opposition to win back the sub-region.
“Our target is the entire Buganda region, not only Masaka. The internal weakness and contradictions within the Opposition parties are going to work in our favour,” he says, adding, “They [Opposition] have been riding on the poor youth to make their politics but we are mobilising them to become more productive and avoid being used in politics.” 

Mr Kiwanda says although the Opposition won several parliamentary seats in central Uganda in the last election, it did not mean that the NRM support is shrinking in the region.
“We still command leadership at districts. Many chairpersons are our supporters and we also enjoy good representation in district councils,” he says.

Under their new strategy, Kisoboka Emwanyi Maanyi (it is possible, coffee is strength), a campaign used to encourage the public to fight poverty through coffee farming in the Central Region, Mr Kiwanda says they are mainly targeting the youth who have received PDM cash, encouraging them to invest it in commercial coffee farming.

Ms Hadijah Namyalo, the head of the office of NRM chairperson, has also been traversing various districts in Buganda donating items to organised youth groups including hairdressing and saloon equipment, car washing machines, sewing machines, hand hoes, agriculture and food processing equipment, among others.
Mr Peter Ssenkungu, the NRM national chairperson for Masaka, says what has been derailing NRM in the area is the persistent fight for supremacy among some party leaders.

“The current divisions in the Opposition would have helped us, but we are being undermined by some ministers from this region. Can you imagine we do not have any clear plan as we head to the 2026 elections? The party secretariat is almost closed, nothing is being done, no guidance and resources being allocated to mobilise the electorates,” he says.
Ms Ssenkungu adds that the major issues that led to NRM’s loss in Buganda include unemployment and poverty among youth, tribalism and the high-handedness of soldiers enforcing proper fishing standards on Lake Victoria. 

“Tell me any meaningful project we have set up in Buganda since the 2021 General Election which is responding to the above challenges. How are you expecting people to love NRM when those issues are not addressed? For example, around Lake Victoria, our people have deserted the lake because of harassment [by soldiers] and the operations that were intended to streamline fishing activities turned political and some of the law enforcers are the very people engaging in illegal fishing,” he says.
On NUP’s dominance in the area, Mr Ssenkungu says the youngest Opposition political party lacks a clear message to give the electorates.

“NUP wouldn’t have been a threat if we were organised, but they are now because our camp is also incoherent,” he says. 
Mr Denis Lukanga Majwala, an opinion leader and member of the Democratic Party (DP), says the Opposition could have been stronger than ever before if some of their leaders were not engaging in “politics of showbiz”.  
“If we continue with this confusion, the NRM will take all the seats at all levels, not because it is growing stronger, but because of our internal divisions,” he says.

He cites a scenario where warring Opposition groups sometimes field different candidates for the same posts during elections because of infighting.
Mr Majwala says if this happens again in the 2026 General Election, it will give an advantage to the NRM candidates.
“This same mistake cost us seriously in Masaka during the 2016 General Election when the Suubi group split from DP. It resulted in internal fights among candidates and eventually we lost some positions to NRM and this is likely to happen again,” he says. 
“We must avoid such mistakes that have kept us lamenting and extending the NRM’s dictatorial regime,” he adds.
 Mr Vianney Ndugga, the chairperson of NUP in Nyendo-Mukungwe Municipality, accuses the top party leadership of putting their egos ahead of the party’s interests. 

“We would be building party structures, but resources are now being spent on destroying party members. This is disastrous and we shall pay a heavy price,” he notes.
Mr Ndugga predicts that if the infighting persists in NUP, some members will leave the party and create new political formations while others will reconnect with their previous parties or join NRM.

Mr Siraje Nsanja, a political scientist and lecturer at Kampala University, says NRM cannot uproot NUP from Buganda.
“The anger of Ugandans is not on the weakness of the Opposition, but on NRM’s failure to address their critical concerns. There is a growing feeling that NRM has betrayed people for the long time they have supported it. Issues of public health facilities which are not stocked with drugs, the poor state of schools and roads are causing anger,” he says.
 Mr Nsanja adds that land evictions in Buganda are another critical issue for which NRM appears stuck without any practical remedy. 

“The spoils NRM can pick from the bickering among NUP leaders is the Opposition’s failure to craft a clear message as time is being wasted on attacking each other. Another is failure to identify candidates to prevent NRM from getting unopposed candidates in constituencies and for special interest groups,” he explains. 
When asked whether the differences among the NUP top leadership are reconcilable, Mr Nsanja says this may not be possible since “some individuals in NUP believe that they are more important than others”.

“Their [Kyagulanyi and Mpuuga] disagreement is sentimental, not ideological which could make it easy to reconcile. But their failure to reach out to the other for the last six months, speaks volumes,” he says. 
But NUP deputy spokesperson Alex Waiswa Mufumbiro says: “We do not have divisions in NUP. We are very strong as a party and actively carry out political activities even beyond Buganda because our focus is national.”

He adds: “We are confident that Buganda region is ours because the liberated people decide once and never turn back.”
Mr Mpuuga has organised a thanksgiving ceremony in Masaka set for today to thank God for all that he has achieved as a politician.  
However, the NUP Leadership says they have not been invited to the event.

In the 2021 presidential polls, Robert Kyagulanyi, who was the NUP presidential candidate, garnered more votes in Buganda region compared to President Museveni.
For example in Gomba District, which has in the last three decades been voting NRM, Kyagulanyi defeated Museveni with 29,017 votes (53.66 percent) while the latter got 24,568 votes (45.43 percent).

During the 2016 presidential elections, the Opposition also defeated NRM in central districts like Masaka where the then Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) presidential candidate, Dr Kizza Besigye, garnered 47,549 votes against Mr Museveni’s 41,988 votes.