If you were writing a profile of Rukungiri district, the residents would furnish you, with a lot of pride, the lists of the high and mighty that hail from here.
They start with President Yoweri Museveni whose roots are traced back to Buyanja in Rukungiri where his grandfather was born. Then they talk about Brig Jim Muhwezi who owns a plush residence two kilometres from town at Nyakagyeme, Rujumbura, in Rukungiri, that could pass off as a five-star hotel.
In town, anyone will point out Dr Kizza Besigye’s small Petro fuelling station and two-storey office building that houses the FDC offices, Ban Café and an internet shop. It is now covered with his posters. He hails from Rwakabengo village, less than a kilometre away from Rukungiri town.
The list would go on to include Chief of Defence Forces, General Aronda Nyakairima who hails from Kitojo, Buyanja, URA’s Allen Kagina, Prisons boss, Johnson Byabasaija of Nyakishenyi, Henry Tumukunde of Buyanja, and a couple of rich businessmen and judges.
But while the profile is obviously rich, there is little reflected of it in this poor district.
“We have some of the richest people in Uganda but our district is so poor, we lack any serious development,” says Henry Mbaguta, a youth from Rukungiri town. “When they get their money, they invest it in Kampala and Mbarara; they don’t remember their homes.”
One of the biggest businesses here appears to be the transport industry, with bus companies like Savannah, Perfect Coaches, Kasaba, Traveller’s Choice, Muhabura and Gateway all fighting for clientele. However, only Perfect Coaches and Kasaba Investments are owned by people of Rukungiri origin.
The narrow main street doesn’t boast of any serious business; rather, there are a few electronics shops here and there, grocery shops, restaurants and general merchandise.
Nevertheless, on any given weekend, it is nearly impossible to find a place to sleep because even the dingy hotels are usually fully booked.
When President Museveni opened Kacho Inn, the biggest hotel in Rukungiri owned by one Frank Kamani, it became a running joke in town that he was duped into opening a lodge which lacks basics such as conference facilities.
The other big hotels are Heritage Hotel owned by Mathew Rukikaire and Rukungiri Inn owned by Muhwezi. Anxious Akampurira, 40, says that even those who sell in the central market don’t get much in returns because of the too many fees they have to pay.
Yet every time candidates flock to Rukungiri to ask for votes, they promise big things, including roads, water and electricity.
When President Museveni stopped in Rukungiri in 2006, he promised to fix the water and electricity. When he stopped in Rukungiri and Kanungu last week, he promised to fix the same things, as had Besigye.
“In the past campaign, the President talked about water and electricity, up to now they haven’t come. That is why the municipality is dominated by FDC supporters because the things that were promised are not forthcoming,” says Mbaguta.
“That is a disappointment FDC uses to undermine Museveni and NRM.” In Rukungiri, voter support is divided between President and homeboy Dr Kizza Besigye. In the last election, Museveni won in the bigger part of the district, but Besigye prevailed in the municipality.
At a rally held at Boma grounds in Rukungiri municipality, Museveni told a largely ferried crowd that Besigye abandoned the bush struggle and did not contribute to the stability of northern Uganda.
“He is a coward. He is saying we feed children but we have other things to finish first, like the roads and NAADs,” Museveni said.
But people like Akampurira prefer tangible services to the politicians’ bickering. He says not even education is up to standard here, and yet most people cannot afford the good private schools that promise a better future for their children.
A parent of three, Akampurira puts up his family of six in a one-room house which lacks electricity so he can save enough money to send his children to a private school.
“Private schools are the best. Children do not develop a competitive spirit in government schools,” Akampurira says.
For James Kabunsa, 60, of Kyatoko village, there’s need for more secondary schools because their children are tired of walking long journeys to school. This is partly responsible for the high school dropout rates in the district.
Many of the youth lounge in the towns, riding bicycles and gambling. Others help their parents herd cattle, while the girls are married off early.