NRM facing hard choices as Buganda grip weakens

Former minister without portfolio Abdul Nadduli (2nd right) is comforted by other mourners during the burial of his son Jakana Sulaiman Nadduli in Kaddunda Village, Nakaseke District, on October 24. PHOTO / MICHAEL KAKUMIRIZI  

What you need to know:

  • The 2021 presidential election results ensured that for the first time—since 1996 when direct elections were reintroduced after the Luweero Bush War—the NRM was defeated in Buganda. 

A picture of Abdul Nadduli in a pensive and sombre mood during his son’s burial went viral last week. 
The dyed-in-the-wool NRM party loyalist appeared to be struggling to come to terms with the fact that his son had died weeks after being held incommunicado, and supposedly under torture at the hands of actors alleged to be part of the state security apparatus.

Mr Nadduli spent the 1990s and early 2000s serving as Luweero District chairperson. He also served as minister without portfolio for two and half years, having made the office of the NRM vice chairperson for Buganda region his own.

A Ganda nationalist, Mr Nadduli needed little invitation to turn Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) into a punching bag. He never forgave UPC’s founder Apollo Milton Obote for exiling Kabaka Edward Muteesa II in 1966 and later banning kingdoms in 1967.
Mr Nadduli even warned, in 2005, that he would mobilise people to block Obote’s remains from being transported to Apac district via Luweero.   

Crossing the line
When his son, Jakana Suleiman Nadduli, was kidnapped in September by security agencies, Nadduli senior didn’t mince his words when he said “we didn’t go to the bush to look for titles and jobs.” The veteran of the National Resistance Army (NRA) Bush War in the Luweero jungles added thus: “We went to the bush to look for peace. That’s why they (the ruling elite) have looted the country and they have retarded it to the extent that it can’t grow. Everything that they get their hands on, they just eat.”
He further opined: “That’s why I’m calling on the President (Mr Museveni), Gen [Kahinda] Otafiire, Gen [Jim] Muhwezi [to] use all the authority you have to ensure my son is released … unless you want him to face the same fate as his four siblings who died during the Bush War.”

Nadduli Junior, who controversially lost the 2021 Nakaseke South NRM primaries after Mr Museveni’s brother—Gen Salim Saleh—was accused of intervening to save Syda Bbumba, was eventually charged in a Luweero Magistrate’s Court with sectarianism. He died shortly after being released on bail.   
Nadduli senior accused security agencies of torturing his son severely in detention. This, he reckoned, was a contributory factor to his son’s death. It’s a narrative that National Unity Platform (NUP)—the leading Opposition party that Nadduli junior belonged to after breaking ranks with the NRM—drummed up in the aftermath of the death.

The narrative eventually precipitated a melee at the burial between NUP faithful and their opposite number in NRM. The jostle left one of the NRM supporters—Ivan Kamuntu Majambere—wounded. Mr Majambere had attempted to stop NUP officials from speaking at the burial. NRM officials were quick to call for prosecution of the people who roughed up Mr Majambere.     
“Where did the ever noisy ‘human rights defenders’ in Uganda go? How come they are silent about the beating of Mr Majambere, an innocent mourner at the burial of Jakana Nadduli? Does it mean NRM supporters have no human rights? The goons who beat him up must be brought to book,” Dr Chris Baryomunsi, the Information and Communication Technology minister, said.  
The Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) said while the “reasons” for the fight were “not yet established”, they regardless remained “of concern to us.”

It added: “The Commission has learned that the victim suffered severe body injuries. The Commission is appalled by the violent actions and indecent behaviour exhibited by a section of mourners. The Commission condemns the incident, which not only disrupted the burial ceremony, but also infringed on the rights of the family and others present to mourn their loved one in peace.”
Ms Mariam Wangadya, the UHRC chairperson, also urged “law enforcement agencies to carry out expeditious investigations into the incident with a view to apprehending and charging those who perpetrated the violence.”

Acknowledging the problem
The closest the NRM has come to diagnosing what happened at Nadduli junior’s burial is when Mr Ofwono Opondo, the executive director of the government-owned Uganda Media Centre, addressed himself to the subject. 
“The highest form of concentration of politically motivated planned anger is in Buganda,” Mr Opondo said at a political talk show on a local TV.

Losing Ganda vote  
It’s been two years since NUP led by singer-turned-politician Robert Kyagulanyi, alias Bobi wine, obliterated NRM in its so-called Mecca of Luweero and indeed the entire Buganda. The 2021 presidential election results ensured that for the first time—since 1996 when direct elections were reintroduced after the Luweero Bush War—the NRM was defeated in Buganda. Mr Museveni scored 838,858 votes (35 percent) in Buganda against Mr Kyagulanyi’s 1,453,535 votes (62 percent).

Unlike Busoga Sub-region where wins of parliamentary seats masked a loss of the national vote, Mr Museveni’s NRM suffered defeat in both races in Buganda. Out of 78 directly elected MPs, the NRM managed to win only 23 positions. As for the district Woman MP, out of the 27 districts that make up Buganda, the NRM only came top in nine districts.

NRM eventually only successfully defended 32 seats. NUP had ripped 55 seats from its grasp in Buganda. Elsewhere, the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) and the Democratic Party won three and seven MP seats respectively in the same region.
“In some of the voting, the pattern which we saw, for instance, in Buganda, is very interesting,” Mr Museveni would say after the poll, adding, “You can see some of that [sectarianism] … They were talking of a new Uganda, but, actually, they wanted to bring back the old Uganda that failed.”

Just to be clear, Mr Museveni made clear that the red wave that claimed several key figures in his Cabinet was suffered at the hands of a modern day equivalent of the monarchist party founded in the 1960s with the sole purpose of advancing what some saw as insular interests of Buganda Kingdom—Kabaka Yekka.
Although Mr Museveni claims NUP swept Buganda because Kyagulanyi is a Muganda, Mr Godfrey Kiwanda—who replaced Nadduli senior as NRM’s vice chairperson for Buganda region—thought otherwise.
“There were scenarios of police brutality. Implementation of Covid-19 regulations. All this came to us as a party,” he opined, adding, “… the wrath was really felt by the party members. We had better candidates, but because of those issues, we couldn’t win.”

Anger brewing?
Although Mr Kiwanda claims NRM has done a lot of soul-searching and is in the process of mending fences with Buganda, there seems to be no evidence to support that assertion. Buganda still appears to be hostile to NRM. Mr Kyagulanyi, in September fired off several tweets saying over 15 of his supporters—mainly from Buganda region—had been picked from the various places in the dreaded Drones (Toyota Hiace vans) between September and August, something the government denies. 
“Police do not abduct. They arrest and not according to political parties, but they trace for criminals,” Dr Baryomunsi said, adding, “If their people are missing, they should report to police and allow them to investigate because NUP is using these criminals for their political gain.”
NRM’s apparent human violations have given NUP a chance to entrench itself in Buganda, including forming alliances with people who had earlier not warmed up to this Opposition party. Take Nadduli junior—after losing to NUP’s Allan Mayanja, he dismissed members of the Opposition party as being “high on drugs” and needing “to calm down” so as to “prioritise the country; not their political party.”

Changing goal posts
But when Nadduli junior changed his tune and started firing barbs at NRM, NUP sensed an opportunity to feed off the breakdown in relations. The party’s top brass continued to do so when Nadduli junior passed away.   
“We’ve woken up to the terrible news of the untimely passing of our brother Jakaana Nadduli. The family says he was found dead at his home, a few days after he was released from prison,” Mr David Lewis Rubongoya, NUP’s secretary general, tweeted hours after the death pronouncement, adding, “Whenever a prominent Ugandan dies under suspicious circumstances and people point fingers at the regime, the regime always finds ways to divert the population from the central question. The question is, who killed Jakana Nadduli? Why? When will these atrocities come to an end?”
Nadduli junior--who was a holder of a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work and Social Administration from Kampala University--once told his followers on YouTube that he intended to see “Buganda get federal status with the monarchy in control.”

Historical context
History shows that once a ruling party loses Buganda, it’s very hard to get it back. In an effort to defeat DP, UPC formed an alliance with Kabaka Yekka in 1962. This ensured the marriage of convenience yielded Uganda’s first post-independence government.  
DP rejected Kabaka Yekka’s idea of Buganda having self-determination. Its leader Benedicto Kiwanuka reasoned that it didn’t make sense to have another state within Uganda. UPC agreed to support Buganda’s position, enabling the kingdom to get a semi-federal status.

The fight over the status of the so-called lost counties—Buyaga and Bugangaizi—(found in present-day Kibaale, Kagadi and Kakumiro districts) however, led to the now infamous 1966 crisis. This left Kabaka Muteesa with no choice but to flee to exile in the United Kingdom, where he later died. This made Baganda to hate Obote and by extension UPC. And as Timothy Kalyegira—a socio-political commentator—has noted, “once you lose Buganda’s bloc support, you never regain it, as the UPC discovered after 1966. NRM in 2021 lost Buganda forever.”

NRM might—just like UPC did—attempt to rule without Buganda’s support. Observers, however, say this isn’t sustainable. Mr Godfrey Kiwanda—who replaced Nadduli senior as NRM’s vice chairperson for Buganda region, told this publication that his party is “looking at what went wrong [in Buganda].”
He added: “We are moving in all parts of Buganda with … prime minister [Robinah Nabbanja] to see that people get services, but remember, even if we don’t win Buganda, we can still win other parts of Uganda and we rule.”
As for Nadduli senior, it appears there is not much difference between NRM and the UPC that he fervently hated.
“If they are kidnapping people, then you ask yourself, why did we fight?” Nadduli asked rhetorically.