Amama Mbabazi’s record in Kanungu gives away little about what he might achieve if he became president of Uganda, writes Benon Herbert Oluka.
Kanungu– In 2010, when embattled former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi began campaigns to retain the Kinkiizi West MP seat, Benson Karabareme, a local businessman in Kihihi town, says he signed up as one of the incumbent legislator’s campaign agents.
“I liked Mbabazi because he had been in line with President Museveni, because he had been a strong supporter of NRM as a good party,” says Karabareme.
That was then. Museveni had just propped up Mbabazi to a resounding victory as NRM secretary general. Four years down the road, however, tables have turned dramatically. At the national level, Mbabazi and Museveni do not see eye-to-eye over the former’s perceived interest in contesting for president.
In Kanungu, Karabareme has become the leading campaign agent for Museveni’s sole candidacy bid – a hard sell in Mbabazi’s political stronghold. On July 2, Karabareme courted controversy when he led a group of local business people to hand Museveni a map of Uganda (with the writings, ‘Our sole candidate 2016’), a plaque, and a chair painted in the NRM’s yellow colour.
Karabareme, 34, known to his friends as Karabs, argues that Mbabazi’s inability to address Kanungu’s development challenges while he was in cabinet shows that he is incapable of performing the weightier role of president.
“We have not achieved much from him as a member of Parliament for Kinkiizi West, as a minister – because he has tasted all the powerful ministries – and as a prime minister until recently,” he said. “When you relate to other parts of Uganda, Kinkiizi West, we are still backward.”
Karabareme notes that his MP of nearly 20 years has hitherto failed to lobby for a tarmac road passing through a constituency that contributes much of Uganda’s tourism revenue through the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest national park. He adds that it took nearly two years for government, whose business in Parliament was led by Mbabazi, to fix a broken bridge connecting Kanungu and Rukungiri – the former fastest link to most of Uganda.
“It was not until a section of councillors rose up and started talking… [so] I would not say it was through his efforts that a temporary bridge was put there,” Karabareme said.
However, Kanungu LC-V Chairperson Josephine Kasya points out that Mbabazi was involved in behind-the-scenes negotiations to have the bridge fixed.
“It is not that there was nothing happening. There was something happening, pushing here and there. You know something that was not in the budget – it broke in the middle of the financial year – it had to be budgeted for. He could come and explain the process,” she says.
Mbabazi’s aide, Kwesiga Barigye, rejects accusations of non-performance against the former premier, saying his boss was merely a spoke in a much bigger leadership wheel.
“Mbabazi has not been a government. He has been a leader elected by the people in a government of NRM,” said Barigye, also the NRM administrative secretary in Kanungu district.
Although the roads and bridges remain sticking points, Barigye says Kinkiizi West – and Kanungu generally – has registered several achievements during Mbabazi’s tenure. LC-V boss Kasya says nearly all the developments in Kanungu have Mbabazi’s imprint due to his tireless efforts to support his people.
“Mbabazi has done a lot, especially in areas of education. He has really pushed for infrastructure to uplift the standard of education and household income and infrastructure,” said Kasya, who is the NRM chairperson for Kanungu district.
Barigye also mentions building schools and health centres, improving agricultural productivity, and extending grid electricity, among areas where Mbabazi has excelled.
“As an individual, there is no secondary school, no primary school, no church or mosque in Kinkiizi West which he has not contributed to, either by giving them iron sheets, cement, or money. Two, he has worked hard to ensure that people in his area can get out of poverty,” Barigye argued.
Even Mbabazi’s staunchest critics, such as Alex Arineitwe Mulinda, the general secretary of Kanungu Good Governance Team, concede that the former premier has helped to develop his constituency. Yet, Mulinda says, Mbabazi cannot claim personal credit for the developments.
“I cannot say he has done nothing,” says Mulinda. “During his tenure as MP of Kinkiizi West, of course some developments have been done. For the first time we have electricity. But for me I don’t [associate] development with personalities.”
The main vehicle of Mbabazi’s efforts has largely been the Kinkiizi Agency for Development (KAD), a non-governmental organisation he formed.
“This agency did a lot of mobilisation, encouraging people and individuals to form groups so that they can educate themselves on how to come out of poverty, and how to save the little that they are earning. It is this NGO [that] was giving solar panels to individuals. More than 50 people benefitted,” said Barigye.
According to Barigye, KAD was also the first institution to start a savings and credit cooperative (Sacco) in Kanungu, before others picked a leaf.
“Mbabazi’s achievements are attributed to the NRM government, and the NRM government’s achievements are attributed to him because he has been part and parcel of the government,” says Barigye.
“He is a good representative of the people who makes sure that we get what we get from the government. If he was a poor representative, we would not be getting these things from the government.”
Not good enough?
Yet for all the developments that Mbabazi has helped his constituency to achieve, his performance often pales when placed side-by-side with that of his long-term political rival, James Garuga Musinguzi, a former Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) stalwart. When this writer first visited Kanungu district in early 2006, it was a haunted place still recovering from the massacre, in 2000, of nearly 1,000 people by a cult movement.
Kanungu had never seen electricity from the national grid. In its place, Garuga had purchased two generators for Kanungu and Kinkiizi towns. He had also installed solar street lights in the two town councils, which barely illuminated the stumps of the poles on which they stood.
With Garuga orchestrating Kanungu’s developments, the tide almost turned against Mbabazi. It was left to President Museveni to travel to Kanungu and beg the people to “forgive” his loyal cadre, who he said had been too busy executing his assignments to have time for his constituency.
Mbabazi was later to stand accused of foul tactics, which later forced Garuga to quit politics and concentrate on his businesses. Since then, Garuga has engineered the launch of two tea factories (Bwindi and Rugyeyo), a maize mill, an FM radio station, a three-star hotel (Savannah Resort), an airfield and other developments that provide employment to several Kanungu locals.
On the other hand, other than a struggling FM radio station, locals could not identify any other major investment that Mbabazi has sustained in Kinkiizi West to help boost income-generating activities of his constituents.
Barigye, Mbabazi’s aide, concedes that as an individual, Garuga has done a lot for Kanungu – though he objected when this writer pointed out that his contribution eclipses that of the former premier. According to Barigye, area locals decided to deploy Mbabazi and Garuga where their respective talents would provide maximum benefit to the community.
“We appreciate – even me personally I appreciate – what Mr Garuga Musinguzi has done. He has done a lot of good things for this area,” he says.
“But people recommended that Garuga can do better in the private sector than going into politics. That is his field where people saw he could manage, and we thank him for his contribution. And Mbabazi, what he has done is to make the situation around here favourable for everybody to do his business whether as a private individual or as a group.”
Barigye says Mbabazi does not have a manifesto for Kanungu. He explained that like all MP candidates, Mbabazi was bound by the NRM’s collective manifesto. Without his own manifesto for Kanungu, there is little to provide specific pointers to the policy direction that Mbabazi has had for his constituency or, indeed, will have for Uganda if he were to become president.
In May, former FDC President Kizza Besigye said: “Even if Mbabazi took over power with this NRM arrangement, he will not be different from Museveni.”
Barigye, Mbabazi’s aide, basically confirmed Besigye’s assertion when he said, “Mbabazi is not working as a person. He is a revolutionary cadre. He subscribes to the NRM revolution; so, his interests are based on the NRM revolution.”