By Our Reporters
Even when it performed impressively well in the Monday lower town council elections compared to opposition groups there, the ruling NRM camp remains nervous about the possibility of losing the much billed Bugiri Municipality MP poll. And a number of factors playing out in the days and weeks preceding the voting account for this nervousness. To begin with Frances Oketcho, the eventual NRM flag bearer, was never the favored choice for SG Kasule Lumumba adherents who consider themselves the main stream NRM fraternity in Bugiri. Ex-LC5 Chairman Siraje Lyavala was the favored person for the Lumumba adherents and was only unable to get the NRM flag bearer slot because the SG was absent in the days and weeks preceding party primaries which hitherto despised Oketcho swept. The Lumumba adherents consider Oketcho as an alien because he an immigrant and a Japadhola in the very cosmopolitan Bugiri Township in which, even when Basoga are the small majority, many other tribes are found. Many of the illustrious leaders there aren’t indigenous Basoga including ex-LoP Wafula Ogutu, MP Gastur Kyawa Mugoya & ex-MP Baka Mugabi. They are all Samias but who have since been accepted as part of this cosmopolitan community. Much of the verbal artillery originating from within his own NRM against Oketcho has been delivered by close confidantes of Woman MP Agnes Taaka Wejuli, a close Lumumba confidante. Oketcho, who started out as a soda agent with the town’s biggest depot, has in the later years made money and grown his influence through his FOCRAVE NGO which serves mostly orphans and other vulnerable groups. He generously spends on party activities including buying off FDC boys. In reference to his money, which he freely spends to promote NRM, Oketcho who is also NRM treasurer, is famous for always asking “kiki ekiganye [what do we need to spend on]?” This threatens some NRM diehards that the flamboyant Oketcho wants to exaggerate his importance and overshadow other party leaders in Bugiri. In what sounds similar to utterances of FDC DSG Harold Kaija who recently told Bugiri voters to primarily elect Eunice Namatende or at least the NRM in case they find her not good enough, Agnes Taaka adherents have quietly been telling voters to elect independent Lyavala at best or Asuman Basalirwa at worst. Reason? Because these two are at least indigenous Basogas as opposed to Oketcho who is a mere immigrant from the Jap land. It’s true that even when he has always operated economic activities there, Oketcho until recently didn’t even have a serious home in Bugiri. His residence is newly built perhaps as he prepared for the Municipality elections. It’s said he was able to overcome Lumumba-backed Lyavala in NRM primaries largely because of the heart-related ailments that kept the SG away for weeks preceding party primaries. The SG can be very ruthless sometimes when promoting her own candidates as LCV Chairman Malijan Azalwa can testify. For winning against Lumumba’s wish in 2011 to become Bugiri LC5 chairman, Azalwa subsequently paid a heavy price. He ended up being jailed and losing his seat paving way for the 2014 by-election in which his supporters revenged by ganging up against eventual by-election winner Lyavala in favor of the FDC candidate. This protest vote during the 2014 by-elections created momentum that got the FDC unprecedented acceptance and penetration in rural Bugiri. And it’s that momentum that (Seeta High teacher) Eunice Namatanda harnessed to nearly win the 2016 women MP race. She lost to NRM’s Agnes Taaka (Lumumba’s anointed successor) by less than 3,000 votes for the entire district. Namatende polled slightly over 40,000 votes and this is how she got the confidence she was an easier political brand to sell to Bugiri voters than Asuman Basalirwa in this campaigns.
But the NRM troubles and contradictions in this Municipality campaigns have greatly been exposed manifesting serious cracks in the party. Stung by endless attacks and acts of hostility by Lumumba/Taaka adherents, Oketcho tried to meet Museveni and pour out his heart. And when he failed, he was advised to reach out to Lands State Minister Parcis Namuganza who easily has the H/E’s ear. She indeed linked him up and throughout this campaign period, Museveni (who fully knows the extent of the NRM intrigue in Bugiri) has regularly been speaking to Oketcho getting campaign updates. Oketcho has been reporting many things to Museveni including being abandoned by NRM national leaders. The person he has complained mostly against is woman MP Taaka because whereas other Bugiri MPs like Solomon Silwany & Gastur Mugoya merely shunned him, Agnes Taaka has actively been bashing him disputing his credentials to make a good MP for Bugiri. During the LC1 mobilization, Taaka, who was facilitated by NRM like all the other MPs, drove to Bugiri but Oketcho felt she didn’t dish out the facilitation in a manner that consolidated his mobilization as a candidate for the MP job. Besides occasionally bringing Namuganza to campaign for him in the hope she can counter Bobi Wine’s appeal among the young people, Oketcho’s camp also invested in demonizing the Lumumba/Taaka alliance. NRM supporters have for instance been told to shun Lumumba’s protégé Taaka on grounds that even when she is SG with unfettered access to State House, there aren’t many Bugiri sons and daughters that Justine has connected to the President or lobbied for jobs. Emboldened by Namuganza, some of the pro-Oketcho campaigners have even drawn parallels with non-conventional NRM cadres like Bukedea’s Anita Among and Kitgum’s Beatrice Anywar who have used their recent closeness to Mzee to lobby and bring tractors for their people yet the same can’t be said of the powerful SG. Through Namuganza, Oketcho has been endeavoring to reach out to many other big people in NRM including Ministers that have always grumbled and been uneasy about the SG’s access to the H/E. Some of these are actors that have always questioned why the SG sits in cabinet which they see as unnecessary since she isn’t a minister in the formal sense of the word. Lumumba has always defended her ex-officio cabinet membership on grounds that it’s important for the party secretariat to participate in decision-making and also be able to popularize and follow up on cabinet resolutions. Some of the Lumumba cabinet rivals are now seeing the Bugiri elections as an opportunity to politically humiliate and demystify her before Mzee-in case the opposition strongman Asuman Basalirwa certainly wins.
The other propaganda the Oketcho camp has been using to demonize woman MP Taaka has been to tell people that she is indifferent about their plight because whenever she gets audience with the President, she spends most of the time praising the SG instead of lobbying for her people. In fact because of this infighting, Oketcho has opted out of rallies in favor of door to door campaigns in order to disguise his thinness on the ground. He resorted to this after all party big wigs, including Eastern region chairman Mike Mukula, shunned him. Mukula only came recently after hearing from Iganga, where he was, that Namuganza and some Museveni-facilitated musicians were in Bugiri with a big crowd. Apparently Mukula has been too cautious to avoid open confrontation with Bobi Wine, the emerging new political sensation from Kyaddondo. Indeed Wafula Ogutu has been very outspoken against Namuganza meddling into Bugiri politics. He has publicly accused her of being the conduit through whom Museveni has been sending lots of money to “confuse” opposition youths in the Municipality many of whom are renowned for being poverty-stricken. The Museveni musicians have been coming in to fill the gap created by the invisibility of other Bugiri leaders like Gastur Kyawa Mugoya and MP Silwany Solomon. Mugoya could naturally not embrace something (read Oketcho bid) in which Namuganza was playing a key role. Early this year, he famously read out the Busoga Parliamentary Group dossier before reporters at Parliament banning Namuganza from travelling to any other part of Busoga apart from her Bukono Constituency. It’s most likely that he stayed away from most of Oketcho’s campaign activities to protest the involvement of Namuganza whose ban (not coming to Bugiri) he couldn’t enforce. It’s also said that the Bobi Wine effect, and the possible political humiliation, scared away some of the NRM big people who feared that flocking with Oketcho would expose them to public ridicule and being scorned by the young people who are increasingly becoming the majority and pace-setters in Bugiri town. Many of these young people are angry having suffered the ruling NRM wrath, manifested by heavy security presence in this campaign, and on many other previous occasions. In Bugiri, like many other urban areas in Uganda, elections have always culminated into war zone-like situations where many have been harassed, detained and some lives lost.
This isn’t the first time NRM is doing it’s all it can to prevail in Justine Kasule Lumumba’s Bugiri backyard. Bugiri is one township where the young people, working mostly in informal sector (garages, carpentry workshops etc) have always paid a heavy price for standing up to NRM. Andrew Buluba, the FDC Chairman Bugiri has lived through this political persecution by the NRM whose SG Lumumba has always been blamed for not doing enough to protect her fellow Bugirians against state brutality. According to Buluba, now a Mayoral candidate, Bugiri Industrial area is one neighborhood where the FDC boys have suffered most for sticking to KB and his opposition agenda. In 2016, they daringly showed open hostility to Museveni when he came to what has now become Bugiri Municipality to campaign. They even tried blocking him from talking in their area. They also defied orders by the area RDC and security bosses to remove KB’s posters that were prominently hanging on their business premises. They had previously been offered money to defect and denounce FDC during the big man’s rally but they rejected the money. Some chewed it and went into hiding on the day they were expected at the rally to denounce opposition. A day after candidate Museveni left, UMEME guys stormed the industrial area (mostly operating maize mills) and slammed them with a Shs50m bill for their maize mills. Of course, they were unable to pay this very prohibitively high bill. Buluba says their power was disconnected and they haven’t had any significant business operations for their maize mills since that time (2016). Many of them became broke and some actually gave in and defected to NRM seriously denouncing Wafula Ogutu and other FDC local area leaders for misleading them. Ironically, it was ex-LC5 Chairman Siraje Lyavala’s house that remained undisconnected in that entire Industrial Area neighborhood. Blame for this interference into the young men’s economic activities went to SG Kasule Lumumba who was accused of coordinating this economic sabotage just to break their political resilience. Buluba says the SG was for long very much disturbed seeing FDC sweep what became the new town council covering her Namayemba village and plotted to do something including buying off FDC leaders in that locality. Those who resisted being bought off were condemned to economic destitution, Buluba eloquently told this news website weeks ago. In fact some of the lower level Town council leaders whose victory results Rogers Mulindwa published Tuesday evening are defectors that previously belonged to opposition. Francis Oketcho (aka kiki ekiganye), the eventual NRM flag bearer, too has for long invested personal money buying off opposition voters and grass root leaders including the guy who was FDC leader for Western Division. In fact his relentlessness has for a while been making SG Lumumba adherents to feel threatened with the possibility of their boss Lumumba being overshadowed in Bugiri NRM politics someday.
This NRM mischief notwithstanding, the local FDC leadership hasn’t been one without its own contradictions. Despite being naturally the biggest FDC figure in Bugiri, Wafula Ogutu who many dismiss as being too much of an idealist and almost utopian, has faced resistance and hostility from his party members including Eunice Namatanda who had to overcome him and his proxies before becoming FDC flag bearer for the Municipality. When the Municipality was created, Wafula became its pioneer FDC chairman but this was short lived. His local adversaries within the FDC structures there petitioned Najjanankumbi the FDC headquarters and Wafula’s election was nullified. He played it cool and life continued and this was recent after POA became party President. In fact Namatende, whose campaigns he now heads, was originally not Wafula’s candidate for the Municipality MP job. These tensions actually explain why some disgruntled FDC members locally in Bugiri shunned Namatende for Asuman Basalirwa-and it reflects badly on Wafula’s leadership as the biggest party elder in the district. Basalirwa has publicly bragged enjoying silent support and funding of some FDC diehards both within and outside Bugiri. For comments, call/text/whatsapp us on 0703164755.