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Museveni courts cult, witch doctors and religious heads

He removes his grey hat, closes his eyes and bows his head, humbling himself before Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi of the Anglican Church of Uganda, who asks God for the President’s protection ahead of tomorrow’s election and its aftermath.

President Yoweri Museveni is deeply immersed in the prayer and if the Holy Spirit came at that point, he would be the first to be thrown off balance. Yet a few hours earlier, Museveni had sat in Mandela National Stadium Namboole where he prayed with traditional healers who predicted a landslide victory for him.

“The spirits have told us you will win by 87%,” Patrick Mudungu, vice president of the Traditional Healers Association, told him.

Sitting in the pavilion surrounded by his security detail, Museveni smiled at the traditional healer who looked like he was about to be possessed by demons. His display of undying love for Museveni was resounded in the stadium as another traditional healer thanked the President for his support to their work.

Two days before that meet, Museveni had sat at Nakivubo Blue in the heart of Kampala, with the faction of the Muslim community headed by Sheikh Zubair Kayongo, seeking their prayers, blessing and support.

Such has been the President’s schedule in the last two weeks, as he winds up his campaigns for a fourth term. He has been meeting religious leaders, firmly aware of the command they have over their flock.

According to the 2002 population census, the majority of Ugandans are Christians, with 41% Catholic and 35% Anglican. Muslims, at the time, accounted for 12% of the population, while the rest practise other beliefs.

Praying with Muslims

On Idd day, while in Arua Municipality – a largely Muslim community – Museveni joined the Muslims for prayers. A photograph was carried on the front page of a daily newspaper of a barefoot Museveni seated on the front row, his legs stretched out. Beside him was Kampala Mayor Nasser Ntege Sebaggala.

This picture painted him at par with the Muslims, whom he promised a mosque.

“Your leader has just told me about the need for a bigger mosque and that there are 34,000 Muslims in Arua municipality. If all these had a source of income, they would build the mosque themselves.”

Gives back land

Museveni is familiar with the icy relations within the Muslim community over their land and other property. The community has, for the last three years, been fighting over ownership of property, accusing the Mufti, Sheikh Ramadhan Mubajje and Dr Edris Kasenene of illegally selling Uganda Muslim Supreme Council property to businessman Hassan Basajjabalaba.

This property includes Plots 102 and 30 on William Street and Plot 12-16 on Port Bell road. Basajjabalaba later sold Plot 30 to Drake Lubega. During the wrangles in 2008 and 2009, Museveni was reported to support the Mubajje faction, leading to the election of Mufti Sheikh Zubair Kayongo by the differing faction.

Now that elections are here, Museveni, who already had the Mubajje group in his grip, is playing ping pong between the two factions. He told the Kayongo faction during the meeting in Nakivubo last Friday that government will pay city businessman Lubega for the Muslim land he acquired on William Street so he hands it back.

“You were going to see blood spilling over this land; for us Muslims we do not joke about our property. We are happy that you have returned the property to us,” one said.

Seeking voodoo luck

Last Sunday, Museveni met traditional healers in their thousands in Namboole as leaders of the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda (IRCU) waited for him at Kololo Airstrip, where they had organised the National Peace Rally and Prayer for the 2011 General Elections.

When the MC at Namboole asked LC chairpersons who are also traditional healers to stand up, half of the crowd sprang up. The healers asked the President for a car for their chairman, an office building and a ministry because they are unaware of which ministry they belong to; Health or Culture.

They also told him that the Constitution should be amended so that they are not referred to as witch doctors, but traditional healers. Museveni promised to look into their grievances after the election because if he granted their wishes then, it would be seen as a bribe.

Museveni’s indirect call to the traditional leaders to show him support if they want their demands fulfilled was loud and clear. They sat him on a chair and handed him a drum, which he beat. He left Namboole a happy man as he headed for the prayer service at Kololo.

Calling on God

At Kololo, the function, scheduled to have started at 12:30 pm, began at 5pm when Museveni arrived. All the other presidential candidates, although represented, were conspicuously absent.

“Reject corrupt leaders whose actions deprive the poor. I urge security agencies to be calm and not overreact. These children too need employment, education and a good environment. Forgive your tormentors, don’t plan revenge, restrain from violence,” said Jonah Lwanga, the Archbishop of the Orthodox Church.

While the IRCU leaders might not have directed their message and prayers to any particular candidate, Museveni expects a more open message supporting his candidature, like the Muslims and traditional healers have done.

Courting cult leader

When he moved through western Uganda much earlier, a sizeable number of barefoot women and men dressed in white were seen heading to his rallies. These were the followers of a cult leader, Desteo Bisaka Owobusobozi, founder of Faith of Unity Church.

At a rally in Mwenge West in Kyenjojo district, Owobusobozi, claiming to be a god, sat on a white plastic chair in the guest tent. While in the past, Museveni had ordered an investigation into Owobusobozi’s work, during the campaigns, he had no trouble associating with the cult leader, given the influence he wields over a sizeable number of people from Kisoro, Kabale, Mbarara, Hoima, Masindi, Kampala and his home district, Kibaale.

With so many prayers and blessing sent his way, Museveni will certainly be smiling his way to the polling station tomorrow.

smwesigye@observer.ug

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