Why violence is the main issue in this election

Tuesday January 12 2021
By Nicholas Sengoba

Many times beginnings say something about journeys and endings. Presidential nominations, the curtain raiser to the 2021 General Election, opened with the violent handling of NUP flag bearer Robert Kyagulanyi, aka Bobi Wine, and FDC’s Patrick Oboi Amuriat.

From then on, it has been one incident of violence after another visited on the Opposition by security agencies. November 18 and 19 turned bloody with several people shot dead and scores injured when some supporters protested the arrest and detention of Bobi Wine.

As is the wont, another Ugandan, Francis Senteza Kalibala, aka Frank, was allegedly killed and a journalist Ashraf Kasirye, seriously injured by security agencies  during a campaign.

Many journalists and people have been injured on the campaign trail as the security agencies disperse mainly Opposition rallies and meetings ostensibly in an overzealous attempt to ensure that Covid-19 does not spread due to overcrowding.
The army and the police have acted in a way that leaves many concluding that they are intentionally part of the problem. They have found or created every reason to act with extreme force and create an environment of chaos.

Violence breeds violence and as such, some supporters have not restrained themselves either when faced with the mighty arm of the force.

What is going on at the moment is that is coming face-to-face with reality of marketing the party brand NRM. In marketing, there is what we call the marketing mix. It typically includes the price, product, promotion and place. 


The most difficult products to market are the ones that do not change significantly overtime in terms of quality. 

Take Coca Cola, for instance, it has had the same recipe for ages, but remains one of the leading brands globally because of the way it is promoted and placed on the market. One day it is the drink of champions, another it is the choice of winners, of lovers of the brave of the achievers, etc. 

But above all, it remains a good and relevant product because of the billions of dollars invested in quality assurance as well as promotion. 

Brand NRM has been around for three and a half decades. It has managed to stay afloat by reinventing itself at every election. 

The trouble is that it is has not invested much in improving the product and the way it is promoted yet questions have been piling. They have used words and hollow statistics to convince everyone that it is doing well.

We are now at a stage where having taken a pain killer for so long, to manage the pain without attending to the ailment causing the pain, the situation has become terminal. 
NRM either buys off its opponent or uses violence on them to keep them at bay.

NRM has become a monopolist. But unlike Coca Cola, which is in a competitive environment and has no option, but to improve, NRM as a monopoly, has no motivation to pressure itself from within to reform in order to keep up with the dynamic demands of the citizens. 

Thus its quality has degenerated. The corruption, nepotism, impunity, bad governance and a propensity to flout the law are making it very difficult to convince people that NRM still has much to offer.  

Thirty years ago, if you sold NRM as the party that would ensure peace, you were taken seriously because the country was fresh out of decades of war and uncertainty. The people then, wanted peace and other things would wait, for their lives and existential needs had been under threat. Now many people are being offered the NRM brand have changed. Most were born long after the guns of those wars had gone silent. 

They want jobs and incomes to keep their skins together. They are asking for a social safety net that makes life affordable. One which ensures that whatever little they earn does not go into paying medical bills, school fees and other things that the State may provide with prudent use of tax revenue and donor funding.

Such people will laugh at you when you tell them stories of heroic victories from wars fought before they were born. They are not living in the past like the story tellers. They are living in the present and want their future protected.
Politics is always dominated by narratives and agendas.

 The smartest politicians create agendas and dictate the narratives. NRM cannot offer jobs to young people right now. It is presiding over a broken healthcare system. UPE and USE are so poorly funded that they hardly pass for a proper education system. Hospitals have become hospices.

The easiest panacea to these challenges now is to turn the electoral news agenda and narrative into one about war and violence. No effort is being spared to get there. In that territory, the NRM using the machinery of the State, is unrivalled at the moment. 

The outcome will be fear and lethargy. This will bastardise the whole process and eclipse the real issues.

Right now the Opposition is ever being diverted from the campaign trail to hospitals, burials and fighting running battles with the police and army. 

They have been forcefully refused to articulate the ideas at rallies and on radio plus television. Bullets, guns, teargas and bloodshed are now the campaign issues. Many voters are praying that the it all ends as soon as possible.

So there is no more time and space to scrutinise brand NRM, its record and the price Uganda has to pay for five more years of NRM. It is now about survival and keeping alive.
This violence is offering a lifeline. That is how the process begun, so shall it end.

Twitter: @nsengoba