Age is not just a number in Masaka

Monday July 05 2010

This week, Michael J. Ssali looks at Masaka Municipality in Masaka District where four people are vying for the parliamentary seat.

Constituency to watch: Masaka Municipality (Masaka District)
Current MP: John B. Kawanga(DP)
Other contestants: Mathias Mpuuga Nsamba (DP), Hussein Walakira Ssalongo (NRM), Maria Juuko Kasiita(NRM), Francis Xavier Kizza (NRM)

If we may go by its past voting record, Masaka Municipality has been an opposition stronghold perhaps since Uganda achieved independence. It has apparently never been happy with any government in power.

Nyendo, one of its most active business centres, could be said to be as busy as Katwe in Kampala -- people working everyday of the week including Christmas, Easter, and all the other days normally reserved for prayer or holidaying.

However, when Dr Kizza Besigye was about to visit Masaka during his presidential campaign shortly before the 2006 elections, nearly everybody in Nyendo put down their tools for close to three days to sweep and decorate the roadside as a sign of welcome for the Forum for Democratic Change leader.

The town is predominantly Democratic Party-allied but for president it overwhelmingly voted Dr Besigye of FDC. Most of the local council seats in its three divisions have for a long time been taken by DP and one of its members, the incumbent MP, John B. Kawanga, has always enjoyed relatively easy victories against rival NRM candidates.
But after the 2006 general elections, the Opposition has tended to be divided and some of its strong candidates have grown old resulting in the NRM gaining ground.


Katwe/Butego Division, for example, got a National Resistance Movement party chairman, Sheikh Ahmad Kayemba, in 2006 mainly because the opposition presented two candidates, DP’s, Mr Misusera Musoke, and a DP-leaning independent, Godfrey Kayemba Afaayo (who later crossed to FDC).

Kimaanya/Kyabakuza Division also went to the NRM, Hajj Ali Matovu, who was elected chairman amidst claims that incumbent Mr Vincent Kiggundu was ageing and had stayed too long. Only one division, Nyendo/Ssenyange, has a DP Chairman, Mr Gonzaga Kisiriinya.
Masaka mayor, Eng. John Matovu Tibyasa (DP), who is in his late ‘70s, had to retire mid-last year on health grounds.

The Opposition is currently fishing around with considerable difficulty for a candidate with the financial status equal to the position of a municipality mayor. Their chances could however improve after the NRM appears undecided, fronting three propertied men: Hajj Badru Namuyimba, Mr Joseph Kalungi, and Mr William Shakespeare Kalumba. Dropping any two of them in the NRM primaries could sway some voters to the Opposition.

The trend of the NRM gaining in the municipality could be set to continue with two strong DP men, Mr Kawanga and Mr Mathias Mpuuga Nsamba, each claiming to have the Kabaka’s blessings, determined to represent the municipality in Parliament.

Mr Kawanga, a prominent advocate apparently in his late ‘60s, first became MP for the municipality in 1980. Today, he is National DP Vice President. His strong connections to Mengo, the seat of Buganda Kingdom, cannot be doubted. He was Mengo Minister of State for Lands and Housing between 1997 and 2000. He was also Secretary of Ebyaffe Board. He consistently articulated Buganda’s interests on the recently amended Land Act. Mr Kawanga does not believe in fielding a single Opposition presidential candidate under the Inter-Party Cooperation.

“My party’s final decision is to co-operate with the other parties only at parliamentary and other leadership levels but to field our own presidential candidate,” he told Daily Monitor. He is viewed by particularly the elderly as an upright politician and a man of his word.

Some, however, think that having served for so long as a faithful Democrat; the time has come for him to hand over to another DP person. “He has lost the energy, enthusiasm, drive, and interest,” said Mr Charles Lubega, a trader. His critics wonder why, for example, he, as a lawyer, never offered legal support when a group of DP youths calling themselves ‘Popular Resistance Against Life Presidency’ were beaten and arrested by police in Masaka and when, later, Kampala City MP Erias Lukwago was arrested and presented in a Masaka court over the Andrew Kayiira murder report.

Others say he is a miser who never socialises in bars with his drinking electorate. There are yet others who accuse him of being away in Kampala much of the time. Some even claim that he does not promote government development programmes like the National Agricultural Advisory Services Programme. (NAADS). A resident, Mr Joseph Kasirye, said: “Kawanga’s continued stay in Parliament now exceeding 30 years, is a negative example for democracy.” “As an MP I am expected to be in Parliament at least three days a week,” is Mr Kawanga’s response.

“I also have to go overseas and to sit on various committees. But I do spend most of my weekends attending wedding parties within my constituency, attending burials and I give a lot of support to all government programmes, especially NAADS. What I can never do is to engage in cash hand-outs to individuals who are expected to work hard to earn a living on their own.” Mr Kawanga said. He added: “Nor is it the job of an MP to keep donating pigs and chickens to communities from his own pocket. An MP can continue serving in the position even throughout life. The electorate can vote him or her out whenever they wish.”

Mr Nsamba, 34, has also presented himself to Masaka Municipality as a DP parliamentary aspirant. He only recently resigned his job of Mengo Minister of State for Youth and Employment, a post he says he has occupied since his graduation from Makerere University at the age of 22.

He says his principal occupation throughout that period has been mobilising the youth and orienting them in their duties and obligations to the Kabaka. He co-owns Datamine Technical Business School in Makerere and Masaka Town College, a private secondary school in the municipality. He claims to be behind the formation of an NGO that is currently donating chickens and dairy goats to promote agriculture.

Asked what he thinks about the current divisions within the DP he said: “I don’t think that DP should run as a factionalised party. I think we should put our house in order.”
He has, however, publicly announced that he supports the IPC idea of fronting a single joint presidential candidate in the 2011 general elections -- a thing absolutely rejected by the Democratic Party.

Asked what he will do if his party chooses to deny him the chance to be its parliamentary flag bearer, he said: “If the grass roots party elections are not held democratically, as indeed I fear they might not, I will stand as an independent candidate.”

Mr Nsamba is said to be popular among the youth and could easily spoil things for Mr Kawanga and the Opposition in the municipality as a divided vote could lead to an NRM win. A scenario similar to the one in Buganda in 1962 could be in the offing.

The pro-Mengo Buganda DP members may vote Mr Mpuuga and an IPC presidential candidate (possibly former Buganda prime minister, Mulwanyammuli Ssemogerere, according to one rumour in IPC circles) while some moderate and mainstream Buganda DP members will go by the party’s official position and vote Mr Kawanga and president Norbert Mao.

The NRM has two men and one woman interested so far. Mr Francis Xavier Kizza who lost to Mr Kawanga in 2006 has made up his mind to stand again. A couple of months ago he had told this writer that he was still consulting.

A former civil servant in the Ministry of Agriculture, Mr Kizza comes across as intelligent, friendly, upright, and everything that should make a good MP. But his problem is that his home is in Nyendo where people laid down their tools for days to clean and decorate the road on which Dr Besigye drove through in 2006. Nyendo/Ssenyange is the most densely populated division and it usually decides the result of most of the municipality polls.

Another NRM aspirant is Ms Maria Juuko Kasiita, a teacher and a director in the Stella Maris conglomeration of schools. She holds a Masters Degree in Education and has been in a number of leadership positions in the district including member of the District Service Commission among others. She says she will fight for Buganda’s interests if she is elected. She and her husband, Jjuuko Kasiita, own a cattle ranch in Lwabenge Sub-county.

The third NRM aspirant is Mr Hussein Walakira Ssalongo, a lecturer of accounting finance at Mutesa I Royal University, Kampala University and formerly a teacher at Kawempe Muslim Secondary School. He is rather new to the municipality politics but he has a lot of hope that the many students that have gone through his hands who are now working and living in Masaka could swing it for him.