Opposition to have crack at Mujungu in Busongora

L-R:Gideon Thembo Mujungu (NRM), Mbaju Jackson Kathika (NUP) and Aloysius Baguma Kighema (FDC)

What you need to know:

  • Conventional wisdom suggests that the developments in Busongora South will work to the advantage of the NRM candidate if—as widely expected—the Opposition splits the vote. 

The race for Busongora South County parliamentary seat in Kasese District is heating up, with five aspirants tossing their hats in the ring.

The seat fell vacant on June 21 after the Court of Appeal ruled that Mr Gideon Thembo Mujungu (NRM) was irregularly elected following a petition by his rival Mr Jackson Kathika Mbaju.

Last year, Mr Mbaju unsuccessfully petitioned the High Court in Fort Portal after Mr Mujungu beat him to the MP seat by a margin of 79 votes. Mr Mbaju persisted in his complaints, and duly secured a breakthrough in the Court of Appeal last month.

It now sets the stage for what many observers believe will be an explosive by-election. The Electoral Commission (EC) has set August 22 as the date when the people of Busongora South will elect their representative to the August House.

The major political parties have opted against conducting primaries, and instead decided to maintain the candidates who carried their flag during the 2021 poll. Back then, when the dust settled, Mr Mujungu topped the bill with 7,609 votes. Mr Mbaju, an aggrieved Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party-leaning Independent, polled 7,522 votes to place second.

Mr Aloysius Baguma Kighema, the FDC flag bearer, garnered 6,956 votes to come in third. Ms Bernadette Businge (DP) finished sixth with 1,318 votes, and Mr Juma Muzenero (Alliance for National Transformation - ANT) brought up the rear with 484 votes.

Since then, Mr Mbaju has switched allegiance. On November 30, 2021, he joined the National Unity Platform (NUP). Last December, Mr Nathan Nandala Mafabi, the FDC secretary general, said Mr Mbaju ceased being a member of the party once he opted to contest as an Independent candidate. The decision to stand as an Independent came in the wake of Mr Mbaju’s loss at the hands of Mr Baguma in the FDC party primaries.

Splitting the vote?

The decision by FDC and NUP to field candidates is the polar opposite of the status quo in another by-election.

In Soroti East, the leading Opposition parties have decided to unite behind one candidate—FDC’s Moses Attan.

Conventional wisdom suggests that the developments in Busongora South will work to the advantage of the NRM candidate if—as widely expected—the Opposition splits the vote.

Mr Mbaju told Saturday Monitor that he is cautiously optimistic heading into the August 22 poll.

“I have already submitted my complaint to the EC, where people who are non-residents of Busongora have been registered to vote,” he said, adding, “…we are more than ready to win this election, we shall not allow any person to vote if he or she is not from Busongora South.”

Mr Mbaju’s petition in the Court of Appeal was premised on accusations of dead people whose names were not only on the register but actually cast their ballots. The court heard that records at different polling stations, including Katungulu Primary School, didn’t stack up. At the aforesaid school, all 786 registered voters showed up yet three of them were in fact dead.

At Busunga Primary School Polling Station, the votes counted exceeded the registered voters by 100.

Traditionally, Busongora South has been an FDC stronghold.

In 2016, when FDC basked in the glory of a clean sweep of Kasese District, Mr Mbaju beat Mr Boaz Kafuda, the NRM flag bearer in Busongora South then. While Mr Mbaju believes he can deliver NUP only its third MP seat outside Buganda Sub-region, FDC is equally confident about its chances.

The confidence owes to the fact that the party mended fences with Mr Robert Centenary at the start of this year. Mr Centenary’s return has energised the party in Kasese in ways not thought possible.

Mr Baguma told Saturday Monitor that he will start lobbying for the elderly to get affirmative action.

Juma Muzenero (ANT)

Mr Mujungu says he will continue to promote unity and peace in the constituency if he is given the mandate on August 22.

“I want to ensure all the tribes are united for development,” he said in an interview.

Mr Mbaju, however, claims Mr Mujungu failed to build on the good hand he was dealt.

“I lobbied for extension of power, tarmacking of 14.7 kilometres, water projects, State House scholarships for doctors,” Mr Mbaju said, adding, “For the one year I have not been in Parliament, nothing has been added on. I want to start from where I stopped.”

Hot button issue

Ms Businge has promised to advocate for improved agriculture through sensitising the community about good methods of farming, as well as empowering the youth and women. While such a message should strike a chord as Uganda grapples with episodes of food insecurity amid delayed rainfalls that have birthed poor crop harvests across the country, a section of voters Saturday Monitor talked to continue to demand the return of the Omusinga of Rwenzururu.

Charles Mumbere, the monarch of Rwenzururu Kingdom, was arrested in November of 2016, with hundreds of his subjects after a military assault on his palace left a trail of deaths of destruction.

While the Rwenzururu king was bailed out of jail in December 2020, a number of his palace cooks, domestic workers and royal guards remain incarcerated. The Rwenzururu king is still barred from visiting Kasese District.

“We would wish that our leaders work together to ensure our king is allowed to come to Kasese because it’s now six years,” Mr James Baluku, who hails from Katunguru, told Saturday Monitor.

This is a call that was echoed by Mr Atkins Katusabe (Bukonjo County West) in the House this past week.

“Release our people unconditionally. If they had a case to answer…you don’t have to wait for six years for your case to be heard…to be determined,” the FDC lawmaker demanded.

It’s clear that this will be a hot button issue on the campaign trail. What is unclear is whether it will play into the advantage of the Opposition candidates.

“The issue of Omusinga to the people of Kasese—especially during an election process—is a big issue and it is affecting the NRM candidate in his campaign negatively,” Mr Johncation Muhindo, a political analyst from Kasese District, says, adding, “The Opposition candidates use it as a tool for mobilisation. They keep telling voters, ‘see your government is still holding our king and royal guards still in prison.’”

Mr Muhindo, however, believes the Opposition’s failure to field a joint candidate could prove to be costly.

“I agree all candidates are strong because the current NUP aspirant in the last election was the second with a small losing margin of 79 votes. FDC was the third, but if the Opposition had fronted one candidate, the NRM was going to find it hard,” he opines.

The tension between the Basongora and Bakonzo people over the 2016 raid has persisted in the district and has often resulted in clashes, leading to loss of lives and destruction of property. Recently, while at Katunguru Fishing Village, Mr Mujungu was told not to put the issue of their land on the back-burner.

Profiles of aspirants

Mr Gideon Thembo Mujungu  holds a master’s degree in Business Administration from Mountain of the Moon University in Fort Portal. He completed his secondary education level at Saad Memorial Secondary School. He also studied Accounting and Asset Management at Uganda Martyrs University.

He worked as chief executive officer of Kilembe Investment Limited, a local power distributor in Kasese and surrounding areas, including Rubirizi and Kamwenge. He has also previously worked as a bursar for Mbarara University of Science and Technology in Mbarara City.

Mr Jackson Kathika Mbaju holds a Bachelor of Laws from Makerere University. The former FDC secretary general for Kasese District previously worked with Tayebwa Company Advocates in Kasese Town.

Mr Aloysius Baguma Kighema holds a Master of Arts in Public Administration from St Lawrence University, which he obtained after being conferred an undergraduate degree in Education from Kampala International University.

He also holds a diploma in Education and a post graduate diploma in Curriculum Studies from Kabale University. He attended Katiri Primary School before joining Saad Memorial.

Ms Bernadette Businge holds a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and Management majoring in logistics and supplies Management from Bugema University.

She attended Nyakabingo Primary School, before joining Bright Academy Secondary School, where she wrote her O-Level final papers.

She later joined Kasese Secondary School for advanced level.

EC roadmap

The EC chairperson, Justice Simon Byabakama, while meeting Kasese District stakeholders on July 1, released a roadmap. It indicates that updating the national voter’s register for the constituency ended on July 5. The display of the register will run from July 20-29. Nomination of candidates will be conducted on August 8 and 9. Scrutinising of candidates’ nomination papers and lodging of official complaints, if any, will run from August 10 to 15. The campaign period for the nominated candidates will run from August 10 to 16 while the polling date has been set for August 22. 

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