Lwemiyaga MP Theodore Ssekikubo was decorated with a red headband and a scarf as he concluded his weeklong consultations on the proposed amendment to scrap the constitutional age limit for presidential contestants.
This was just one of many extraordinary scenes, which have played out in many parts of the country as a significant proportion of Ugandans reject President Museveni’s bid to extend his rule beyond 2021. Ssekikubo held 23 rallies across the four sub-counties that make up Lwemiyaga in Sembabule district.
Being one of the areas that overwhelmingly vote for NRM, it was unexpected of Ssekikubo to sell a campaign against the interests of President Museveni in the remote constituency. The MP, despite his love-hate relationship with Museveni, has always been cautious in dealing with anti-Museveni rhetoric in his backyard.
Through the villages of Lwemiyaga last week, he told his constituents why the constitution should not be amended to allow Museveni extend a 35-year presidency when this term runs out in 2021.
“I think the yearning for change has reached a tipping point and can’t just be reversed,” the fiery MP said.
Locals overwhelmingly voted against the proposal. At Karushonsomezi, 378 voted against the amendment against eight in support. At Lwemiyaga trading centre, 559 voted against while 22 voted for the Raphael Magyezi bill.
At Kyattuba, only seven supported the bill with 271 against, while at Kyeera 617 said no to 24 in support of scrapping presidential age limits.
The general fear among the constituents is Lwemiyaga’s proximity to Kabamba military barracks in the neighbouring Mubende district where Museveni launched his first attack on the Obote II government in the early 1980s.
Because of that proximity, locals told Ssekikubo they are likely to suffer the consequences of an armed attack should Museveni’s continued hold onto power end in upheaval.
“To maintain the achievements, and to save the country from going back to the days of turmoil, it is better Museveni retires after his current term in order for us to consolidate the achievements we have registered over the past 30 years,” said Mary Kyewalabye in Kyeera village.
Similar sentiments were raised by Kiganda Rwakaibanda at Lwemiyaga where youths gave Ssekikubo red scarves in recognition of him as a “true ambassador” of the Togikwatako (don’t touch it) campaign.
“The Magyezi bill is unpopular [and] what President Museveni can succeed in doing is delaying the passing of the bill. It is up to him to weigh the options at his disposal, he better reads the signs and work towards a transition,” Ssekikubo said.
The Lwemiyaga experience is what Mubende Woman MP, also state minister for Kampala, Benny Bugembe Namugwanya, was treated to at the weekend. She held joint consultative meetings with Kassanda North MP Patrick Nsamba Oshabe, a known critic of the Magyezi bill.
While Namugwanya had already met some local government leaders who passed a resolution in support of the amendment, the voters she met at the weekend urged her to vote against the bill.
Trade and Industry Minister Amelia Kyambadde (a former long-serving principal private secretary to the president), who is also the Mawokota North MP, got the same instructions from her constituents. Kyambadde held a joint consultative meeting with Mpigi Woman MP Sarah Nakawunde Temulanda at Mpigi town council.
This comes weeks after the minister of state for urban development, Isaac Musumba, was told by his Buzaaya county electorate to vote against the amendment.
State minister for ICT Idah Nantaba (Kayunga Woman) was also forced to weigh constituency demands against cabinet’s principle of collective responsibility.
Nantaba drew the ire of her colleagues in cabinet when she announced that she was likely to go by what the majority of her constituents in Kayunga are saying, instead of the resolution by cabinet binding all ministers to support the bill.
A number of ruling party MPs are similarly trapped in between the views of the people and the interests of Museveni, their party chairman.
After a series of consultative meetings, Mbale Woman MP Connie Nakayenze Galiwango had a change of heart and is likely to vote against the bill.
The Mbale scenario formed part of the reason why NRM MPs were during the October 13 caucus meeting advised against calling public meetings. They were reportedly told by Museveni to host a few selected NRM leaders.
While some paid heed to this piece of advice from their leaders, the ensuing backlash from their electorates offered serious lessons for those who were yet to hold the meetings.
The minister of state for higher education, John Muyingo, attracted protests from some of his Bamunanika constituents who asked him to explain whether the handful of NRM leaders he consulted at Kamira sub-county headquarters were all that he needs to win an election.
Such cases forced the likes of Buvuma MP Robert Migadde and his woman counterpart, Jennifer Namuyangu Egunyu, to revert to holding rallies where the overwhelming vote was against the Magyezi bill.
“Museveni can prevail on Magyezi to withdraw the bill if there is any legacy for him to protect,” Ssekikubo told The Observer on Tuesday.
Interviewed by telephone for a comment yesterday, Government Chief Whip Ruth Nankabirwa curtly said: “Did you expect every Ugandan to vote in support of the bill?”
She did not allow any further questions and hung up. In Manjiya county, Bududa district, an elderly man who spoke in support of the bill at MP John Baptist Nambeshe’s rally was pushed off the microphone. That also happened to Petero Rwanyamabirizi of Ntyazo village in Lwemiyaga.
Rwanyamabirizi had argued that Museveni’s departure was likely to push the country back to political turmoil. But one Ephraim Rwamayombo cut him short.
“By Museveni clinging on, he will create problems for those of us that are seen to be his tribesmen,” Rwamayombo said.
To try to undo Ssekikubo’s findings, Sembabule Woman MP Anifa Kawooya, in the company of the resident district commissioner, Henry Baguma, held a meeting of NRM local leaders at Kyeera primary school.
With such continued hostility to the age limit bill, a number of NRM representatives are increasingly leaning towards playing it safe in order to brighten chances of keeping their seats in 2021.
“Even the strategy they proposed is only applicable for those not interested in returning to parliament in 2021… I know chief wants to stay in power but I also want to represent my constituency for another term… I am going to consult everyone in the open just as I will ask for their votes in 2021,” an MP who asked not to be named, said.
Kigulu South MP Andrew Kaluya (NRM-leaning independent) said voters grilled him last weekend to explain why he agreed to a resolution by the Busoga caucus to support amending Article 102(b) without consulting them.
“I don’t know how the [Busoga MPs] came up with a position that we are all for kugikwatako [amending Article 102 (b)]. I will not at any one time bring my views without reaching all the people in all my sub-counties and what they tell me is what I will present to the house; I don’t own a resolution I was never party to,” Kaluya told The Observer.
Despite the presence of police, Lusetshe MP Godfrey Watenga, independent but NRM-leaning, last week carefully selected a few people to consult inside a building but they shouted “no” to the amendment as soon as he mentioned his plans and the meeting came to a swift end.
Usuk MP Peter Ogwang, an active supporter of Magyezi’s bill, was reportedly chased away from a consultative meeting he organised at Ojuwai village in Katakwi district the moment he, along with Violet Akurut (Katakwi woman), began praising President Museveni.
Earlier, state minister for Tourism Godfrey Kiwanda (Mityana North) and Judith Nabakooba (Mityana Woman) fled a hostile stone-throwing crowd in Kiyoganyi town in Mityana.
Government Chief Whip Ruth Nankabirwa (Kiboga Woman), James Kakooza (Kabula), Jacqueline Aol (Nebbi Woman), Moses Walyomu (Kagoma), Doreen Amule (Amolatar Woman), Jacob Oboth-Oboth (West Budama South), Bunyoro affairs minister Ernest Kiiza, Patrick Kasumba (Bujenje) and Sarah Opendi (Tororo Woman), among others, have all been at the receiving end of the people’s hostility to the proposed amendment.
Nankabirwa told The Observer yesterday by telephone that facing hostility during consultations was okay.
“It is okay, this is a world of democracy. Are you not the people who talk about democracy? If during a meeting you get some people who are opposing you, this is okay, you will be able to gauge. Even if you get some people advising you contrary to what you hold, then you can gauge,” she said.
“…And if you are doing sampling, one meeting can have people who support you while in another meeting you find people who are saying ‘you delayed to touch it’,” Nankabirwa said.
Hajji Muhammad Muyanja Mbabaali, the Bukoto South MP, narrowly survived a beating by his electorates for supporting the presidential age-limit.
The MP convened a consultative meeting on the proposed scrapping of Article 102(b) of the constitution on Monday at Kiwangala parish in Kissekka sub-county.
However, the MP was forced to call off the meeting prematurely when the electorate turned rowdy and started pelting him with stones.
Tempers flared shortly after the MP asked his electorate to unconditionally endorse the proposed amendment. The voters started heckling Mbabaali forcing him to cut his speech short.
For more than 30 years, support for President Museveni and NRM in Tooro region has been enormous. Since the 1996 elections, the region has overwhelmingly voted for Museveni and his party by 90 percent.
However, the age limit removal bill has brought a new wave of opposition. The people of Tooro especially those in Kabarole district have unanimously agreed to reject the amendment.
Bishop Reuben Kisembo, of Ruwenzori diocese, Bishop Robert Muhiirwa of Fort Portal diocese, Alex Ruhunda, the Fort Portal Municipality MP and Sylvia Rwabwogo, the Kabarole Woman MP, have openly come out to rebuke the move.