Akena to ‘be his own man’ in Lira

Jimmy Akena (UPC)

What you need to know:

Constituency to watch: Lira Municipality
Current MP: Jimmy Akena (UPC)
New contestant (s):
Anyii Moses (UPC), Okello Orech (NRM), Joe Arwata (NRM)

This week, Denis Ongeng & Paul Amoru look at Lira Municipality where incumbent, Jimmy Akena - son to former president Dr Apollo Milton Obote, will face three contestants in the race for the parliamentary seat.

As you drive along Obote Road in Lira Municipality, you will see a collection of flowers opposite the former head of state Idi Amin’s incomplete ‘State House’.
The flowers, planted decades ago as part of a beautification programme of Lira town, are in Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) colours of red, blue and black.
The flowers give the impression that the UPC remains the dominant political party here. The reality is not so different. During the 2006 elections, Lira District was still one large block.

In the entire Lango region, the opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) leader Dr Kizza Besigye topped in Lira with 85 per cent of the votes cast. President Museveni only managed to get seven per cent. Dr Besigye ran away with 121,568 votes compared to Mr Museveni’s 11,986 votes.

Opposition win
This was, however, a drop from the 153,198 votes that Dr Besigye got in the 2001 elections and the 40,767 votes that Museveni got the same year. At the time, the district comprised six counties: Erute, Dokolo, Kyoga, Moroto and Lira Municipality.
As usual, Lira Municipality was the epicentre of politics in Lango sub-region. The renowned UPC ‘Iron Lady’ Cecilia Ogwal had represented the constituency since Constituent Assembly days in 1994.

She, however, lost her seat to Jimmy Akena, son to former president Dr Apollo Milton Obote in 2006. Shortly after that, Dokolo District was carved out of Lira, giving Ms Ogwal a lifeline. She is now Dokolo Woman MP. The election of Mr Akena was, however, a product of intrigue which has since resulted in a major rift within UPC in Lango.
Shortly before the death of his father in October 2005, Mr Akena had returned to Uganda. The then dread-locked Akena was advised to cut off his dreads to challenge Ms Ogwal who had fallen out with some members of the party.
He received overwhelming support in the municipality where people referred to him as an orphan.

To-date, there is a common saying among leaders in Lango that the direction and the political agenda in Lango is set by leaders in Lira municipality.
In other words, the kind of leaders elected must be able to send a signal to the wider voters of the calibre of leaders viewed as acceptable.
Indeed, this was the case during the 2006 election in which MP Akena scored a massive victory.

His election in the municipality meant that several other people were elected after he campaigned for them elsewhere in the region.
Younger but confident at the time, Mr Akena was impressed. He became an instant house-hold name.

Mr Akena’s resounding victory nonetheless was greeted with scepticism in some circles. There are those who interpreted the win as a “thank you” message to the late Dr Obote, founding father of Uganda and UPC icon, who had died months before the election on October 11, 2005.

Mr Akena however dismisses this claim. “My election was not because of a sympathy vote. It was an example of the will of the people on who should lead them,” he said last week in an interview.

Analysts however say it was inconceivable for Mr Akena to lose the elections so soon after the death of his iconic father, whose countrywide fame for a time achieved something of demigod status in parts of Lango.

But another win for him in 2011 would silence his critics and demonstrate the fact that he was not riding on his father’s popularity and political mileage. During his campaign, peace and resettlement of Internally Displaced Persons was the core of his manifesto and political mantra in the wake of the LRA insurgency in the region.
But one of the biggest stories in 2006 was the news that Ms Ogwal, a politician who had repeatedly humbled the National Resistance Movement’s (NRM) Sam Engola at subsequent polls, was rigged out of the UPC party primaries to give way to Mr Akena.
The UPC leadership in Lango has since made a statement admitting there was foul play in the electoral process.

That notwithstanding, the in-fighting in the party looms large. “We are taking notice of the primaries and personally I am not afraid of the primaries,” said Mr Anyii Moses, one of the contestants on the UPC ticket. His submission echoed the need for cohesion in the party. He says politics of intrigue does not have a place in the party and should be rejected.

At the UPC primaries, Mr Akena will face off with Mr Anyii, a career banker in Lira.
Lira municipality is ranked among the fastest growing municipalities in Uganda and is currently pushing for a city status.

“Lira municipality has a set of very unique problems as compared to the rural areas. The people need direction on what to do with their investments, their money and their lives,” Mr Anyii said.

The general perception is that this municipality needs a Member of Parliament who is in touch with his people and has a physical presence in the constituency.
Anyii says currently there are gaps between leaders and the electorate which presents challenges for service delivery. Another new entrant in the municipality race is Mr Okello Orech on NRM ticket.

Inclusive decisions
“I intend to involve everybody in decision making rather than turning voters into observers,” Mr Orech said. He says he wants to push for a favourable investment policy that would improve employment especially among young people who are facing record unemployment in the country.

“Quack investors are a disservice to the nation since they do not provide meaningful employment to the people,” he adds. Mr Orech can expect to face seasoned politician Joe Arwata, the RDC of Katakwi District. Mr Arwata has already tendered in his resignation and is waiting for clearance. He told Daily Monitor that he is ready to hit the campaign trail as the NRM front man the moment his resignation letter is accepted.

Mr Arwata was appointed RDC of Katakwi in October 2007 following several other appointments. He also served as the RDC of Lira before being transferred to Mbarara and Kapchorwa districts, respectively. Lira Municipality is historically known as the bedrock of opposition politics. Since the days of the Constituent Assembly, Lira Municipality has been electing pro-opposition supporters. An NRM candidate has never won in the municipality since 1994.

Once again, the battle lines are being drawn between the ruling NRM government and the UPC. But it is also an opportunity for the ruling party to prove their relevance to the urban dwellers.

Impatient voters
Unfortunately for the contestants, the voters have run out of patience because of a number of issues that remain unattended to by their leaders. One of those issues is the poor state of roads within the municipality. Although not a duty of a parliamentarian, any one assuming leadership roles will be tasked to explain how he can help make the roads better.

Such unorthodox duties have been rejected by the incumbent MP Akena who believes such duty contradicts the work of an MP. “The role of a Member of Parliament is not to build roads or construct schools. Fundamentally, we are legislators and that is our primary role,” he said.

Mr Anyii on the other hand says: “Our role is to represent our constituency so that policy issues can be addressed. But any legislator who isolates the voters is in danger of failing the test of leadership.” And so it is that development issues will for the first time be very closely linked with what promises to be a lively campaign.