NRM’s task of taking Buganda back from NUP

Tuesday May 11 2021
sengobapix
By Nicholas Sengoba

Tomorrow President Yoweri Museveni will swear in for another term in office. For a person doing it for the sixth time after being at the helm for an unprecedented 35 years, one may assume that it is nothing to fuss about.

But this may not be business as usual. The just concluded January 14 election, which Museveni officially won, came with its own complications. 

Museveni and NRM in general were battered in the Central and Southern regions of Uganda  going by the results in the past elections. 

Yet as we know, these are some of the most populous areas in the country accounting for about 15 per cent of the population. Besides this region including Kampala and Wakiso is the concentration point of economic activity in the country.

It is where about 70 per cent of what we know as Uganda’s monetized economy is located.

The success by the Opposition National Unity Platform (NUP) candidate, Robert Kyagulanyi, in this region saw many NRM MPs, district chairpersons and councillors being defeated. 

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So bad it was that to this day Museveni and NRM still don’t know what hit them. They have ascribed the failure in the region to a myriad of causes. Tribalism. The Catholic Church. The Mengo based Buganda Kingdom establishment. The biased police allowing NUP supporters to intimidate NRM supporters. Even rigging.

There have been many comical and stage managed public confessions organised by defeated NRM MPs in the Buganda region where the electorate claim  they made a mistake to vote against the NRM.

This says that despite NRM’s contested victory backed by 59 per cent of the electorate with NUP coming in a distant second with 35 per cent, Museveni and NRM are alive to the fact that they need this region on their side, if not for anything, mere bragging rights may do.

So the next five years Museveni and NRM are going to have a special concerted effort to win back Buganda.

They have three options in the bag. They may decide on a scorched earth policy. This is informed by the fact that prior to the election, a lot of resources were spent in the region to support several small scale industries and ventures like carpentry, car washing, welding and other micro-finance support. 

There was an effort to penetrate what the slum areas, a.k.a, the ghetto, where millions of the young urban poor abode. This saw the recruitment of an assortment of characters like Buchaman, Full Figure, Catherine Kusasiira, etc. with the intention of stealing the fire from the brand of Bobi Wine the de facto ghetto president.

The return on this investment was regrettably negligible. So NRM may opt to starve the region as punishment for ingratitude. The cynical argument put forward will be ‘go to the leader you elected and ask them to build you a road.’  This definitely has the potential of making many NUP MPs very unpopular because an MP does not have the capacity to deliver public goods like the government.

But then this means that the region, which is the cash cow for the economy will be adversely affected in for example  in terms of infrastructure like roads etc. It will simply be breaking the hand that feeds the government and thus affect productivity and tax revenue collection. So that is not exactly a judicious option. 

Secondly, they may resort to a massive appeasement policy which will see the dangling of financial resources and jobs to key NUP members to draw them away from the nascent party and cause. Remember, many of these are young people who are going to receive six figure salaries for the first time but also will be required to spend a lot of it in this economy where elected leaders are expected to seal the glaring gaps in the social safety net. School, medical, burial and wedding fees are on their shoulders. 

If they are stretched, the temptation to get money from NRM in exchange for compromise is not far-fetched. It will then cause rifts in NUP like it did with FDC where one side accuses another of being moles for the ruling party. A divided house will not stand giving the NRM a fighting chance in the region come 2026.

But like we said earlier this was a complicated election. Most of the people who voted for NUP are -going by the current demographic in Uganda -young people with nothing to lose. Their vote was not influenced by a clear message of change. They simply ticked the umbrella symbol of the NUP party in a wave as a vote against Museveni. So bad it was that when some NUP MPs drove around to ‘thank the voters,’ the voters who massively voted for them could not recognise them!

So this angry lot of energetic young people will not be bothered by whatever overtures Museveni and NRM makes. Starving the region of resources will push them to the fringes and make them angrier. 

Attempting to appease NUP leaders who for all intents and purposes rose because they were the unintended consequence of voting against NRM and Museveni may not break their hearts or attract their allegiance to NRM. 

So that leaves NRM with the Machiavellian option. Bring in the drones. Crash any embers of Opposition. Prosecute and jail them for long with the help of the Military Court marshal, look on as land is grabbed and fishermen are barred from earning through fishing.

The consequence will be even more opposition towards NRM in Buganda which will make the next five years look and feel tougher than the last 35.

Mr Sengoba is a commentator on political and social issues

Twitter: @nsengoba

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