President Museveni’s five-day tour of Kigezi sub-region last week had all the hallmarks of an early political campaign, with the 2016 elections only a year away.
While officially this was dubbed as a “wealth-creation campaign,” some of the president’s pronouncements suggest he is already trying to reach out to voters. Even as he gave tips about improving household incomes, between lines he said he was not ready to loosen his grip on the presidency soon.
Addressing people at Kabale municipal stadium on January 15, Museveni said he would not allow emishega (wolves) to rule Uganda; he warned that those trying to cause change of government from within the party were wasting their time because Ugandans would not allow them.
On the political front, Museveni’s tour of Kigezi was important for two reasons: Kigezi is one area where the NRM still enjoys massive support, going by the voting patterns in the last three elections (2001, 2006 and 2011). Yet more crucially, it is also the home area of John Patrick Amama Mbabazi, the former prime minister and former NRM secretary general, who has since fallen from grace.
There remain voices of discontent in Kigezi regarding the way Mbabazi was treated. And Mbabazi’s reluctance to confirm or deny whether he will run for president in 2016 has added to the suspense.
The Kinkiizi West MP was conspicuously absent from the presidential tour. In fact, as Museveni started his tour of Kisoro district last Friday, Mbabazi was celebrating his 66th birthday at his Kololo home. He posted pictures on his Facebook page cutting a cake, with his grandchildren. In the background was his wife, Jacqueline, cheering.
“It [the tour] was [about] politics,” said Aaron Mukwaya, a senior lecturer in the department of political science and public administration at Makerere University.
“Having sacked Mbabazi [as prime minister], I think the president is trying to assure the people of Kigezi that they should stick with NRM.”
Museveni started his tour of Kigezi sub-region in Kabale on January 14. At Muhanga town, he was received by, among others, Jack Sabiiti, the MP for Rukiga, a member of the opposition Forum for Democratic Change. Sabiiti thanked the president for steering development in his constituency, highlighting improvements in roads and water projects.
In turn, Museveni described Sabiiti as a “developmental-minded person” who has managed to take advantage of the many government programmes to transform his area. He advised him to return to the ruling NRM if his area is to get more projects. The president did not visit Ndorwa East where the MP, Wilfred Niwagaba, is regarded as an NRM rebel.
In Kabale town, Museveni labeled Niwagaba a traitor and asked the voters in his constituency not to vote for him in 2016.
“When you see the rate of unemployment rising, blame it on the leaders who have opposed government programmes like Niwagaba,” he said.
Overall, the key highlights of Museveni’s Kabale visit were the launch of the power supply for Hamurwa town council, commissioning a safe water project in Ndorwa West and touring Kigezi Highland Beverages in Kabale town.
In Kisoro, Museveni’s message to the people was less political. He said land fragmentation in the sub-region had made it commercially unviable for people to engage in meaningful agriculture yet it is the only way to increase family incomes. He commissioned Kisoro potato processing industries and toured Mutolere Catholic parish tea estate.
It was in Mbabazi’s Kanungu that his visit on January 17 was most anticipated. Before addressing the crowds, the president introduced Dr Ruhakana Rugunda as the new prime minister. Clasping Rugunda’s hand tightly, Museveni said he had known the premier for a long time starting with the former’s days at Busoga College Mwiri.
“I even used to sleep in his room in Nkurumah Hall at Makerere University when I was a rebel fighting the dictatorship,” Museveni said.
In Kihiihi town council, where Museveni held his first rally, there was a sense of uneasiness because youths donning yellow T-shirts had been deployed at the venue. When Museveni arrived, many people were standing on the edge of the venue. Museveni told them to come closer to the pickup, from where he delivered his speech.
In his speech and judging by the mood, Museveni was careful not to attack Mbabazi or even mention his name. He told the people to be patient as government works on the infrastructure to enable rapid industrialization that will create jobs and reduce on unemployment.
The president said that his decision to deploy the army in Naads was deliberate because the civil servants who were managing it had become so corrupt. After the rally, Ally Rugomwa, a prominent Mbabazi supporter, was stopped and pushed by the security officials as he tried to reach out to shake President Museveni’s hands.
But the anti-Mbabazi group led by Karabu Benson Karabareme, a businessman, had a field day. They handed Museveni a chair as sign that they still want him to be president.
Earlier, Mr Museveni commissioned Rugyeyo community hospital, which was upgraded from a health center IV and launched the polio mass immunization campaign by personally giving immunization drops to a child. Museveni also launched Kanungu-Gorilla Summit coffee.
Other groups that handed Museveni gifts included the Kanungu Muslim community, who gave him a shield to thank him for giving the district khadi a vehicle recently, and Nyamirama sub-county leaders, who gave him a bag of rice. They thanked him for supporting their effort to increase household incomes through Naads.
Musevenispent the last day of the Kigezi tour in Rukungiri, Besigye’s home area, on January 18, where he told the people to cultivate at least an care of coffee from which they are assured of earning not less than Shs 1 million per year.