Some top leaders of Uganda’s traditional churches have served notice that they may not be ready to support President Museveni’s re-election bid next year.
They have aired a range of complaints against the ruling NRM and party chairman President Yoweri Museveni. On September 11, Godfrey Kiwanda Ssuubi, the Tourism minister, set out on a one goal political mission: rally religious leaders to support President Museveni’s 2021 re-election bid.
Kiwanda sought to pump immediate energy into President Museveni’s re-election campaign in the central region, three weeks after he was elected the ruling NRM’s vice-chairman for Central region.
To sway religious leaders, Kiwanda carried with him a collection of NRM publications that included the presidential speeches, the party’s constitution, the manifesto implementation score card and a plaque declaring Museveni as the ruling party’s sole candidate in next year’s general election.
“We have come to introduce to you our candidate for the 2021 general election, and ask you to put him and the NRM in your prayers so that we successfully go through the elections,” the minister separately told the different clergymen he met.
He started off with a visit to the Supreme Mufti’s office on Kibuli Hill on the outskirts of Kampala and soon the youthful minister realized that the task ahead was bigger than he had anticipated. At Kibuli, he drew a torrent of criticism for the violence in NRM’s internal elections that led to the death of six people in different parts of the country, plus Museveni’s unfulfilled promises.
“I didn’t know that this is how NRM conducts its affairs; if we can see so much violence in an internal election, what is going to happen in the general elections?” Sheikh Silman Kasule Ndirangwa, the supreme mufti, told Kiwanda last week.
The Kibuli group, speaking mostly through its spokesman, Sheikh Nuhu Muzaata Batte, wondered why President Museveni remembers Muslims during election time and sometimes, during funerals of prominent Muslims.
From Kibuli, Kiwanda headed to Namungoona in Lubaga division, to meet the head of the Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Yona Lwanga, who without mincing words told his NRM guests that he had lost hope in the country’s leadership and elections.
“The last time I voted was in 1980, and when [former vice president] Paulo Muwanga rigged the election in favour of [former president] Apollo Milton Obote. I vowed never to participate in any election until when the country gets back on track… we are not yet there,” Lwanga said.
The Namungoona team had compiled a list of unmet promises President Museveni has made to the church over the years. Top on the list is the Shs 300 million the president pledged to support the construction of the Orthodox cathedral at Lubya Hill in Lubaga division.
This pledge was made in May 2019 during celebrations to mark 100 years of the Orthodox Church’s evangelical mission in Uganda. The president then made an instant cash payment of Shs 30 million, promising to send the balance as soon as possible.
Museveni also promised a further Shs 80 million to capitalize the church members’ savings credit and co-operatives society (Sacco) and another Shs 20 million for the priests’ sacco. At Old Kampala, the Mufti, Sheikh Shaban Ramathan Mubajje too had his complaints, but majorly as chair of the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda (IRCU).
“We approached the president about getting involved in the poverty eradication campaign and presented him with a budget of Shs 5.5 billion, which he agreed to. But when it came to the point of implementation, bureaucracy set in; it is now three years and the bureaucracy at the ministry of Finance is making it impossible for religious institutions to access the funds,” Mubajje said.
In April 2018, Museveni took religious leaders under IRCU on a tour of farms in Ibanda and Kiruhura districts, before hosting them to a luncheon at his country home in Rwakitura where he implored them to embrace poverty alleviation programs.
A month later, he hosted them at State House, Entebbe, where he committed to facilitate them with Shs 5 billion and cars to enable them to promote wealth creation among believers.
“It seems that government thinks that religious leaders are voluntary workers who don’t need to be facilitated. Your people in the ministry of Finance have stifled our efforts,” Mubajje said.
All Kiwanda could do was to promise the clergymen that he would take their concerns to Museveni.
“Being NRM vice-chairman for the Central region put me closer to the president because under the party hierarchy, I am number four below him, Hajji Moses Kigongo [1st national vice-chairman] and Rt Hon Rebecca Kadaga [2nd national vice-chairperson],” Kiwanda said.
He also asked the religious men to scale down on their criticism of the NRM shortcomings.