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How Nambooze trounced NRM

How Nambooze beat Museveni

MUKONO – Betty Nambooze rode on her close ties with Mengo, a well knit opposition front and the fast fading popularity of the incumbent MP, the ruling NRM’s Peter Bakaluba Mukasa to coast to victory in the Mukono North Parliamentary by-election on Tuesday.

The contest looked close from the start, but Nambooze delivered a convincing victory, polling 16,142 votes to Bakaluba’s 14,302 – winning by more than 1,840 votes. The other six candidates scored dismally.

The announcement of results went on smoothly save for a little hitch when the returning officer announced that Bakaluba had polled 500 votes in Kalagala, to Nambooze’s 50. Nambooze’s supporters who had mobbed the town hall contested the result, arguing that the station couldn’t have such a huge number of voters.

The Mukono returning officer Francis Nkurunziza then argued, as tempers flared, that according to the law, only results received from polling officers in sealed envelopes can be declared and that, in case of any objection, the contesting candidate must put the complaint in writing.

“Since there is no complaint, the results stand,” he declared. In the end, the matter was sorted and EC Chairman, Badru Kiggundu declared Nambooze the winner of the Mukono North by-election shortly after midnight. The celebrations began in earnest. Nambooze’s frenzied supporters belted out ululations, awakening the now sleepy Mukono town council. It was a true testament that her win was the people’s win.

But how did she do it?

At long last, Nambooze has achieved her political dream of straddling the corridors of Parliament not as a visitor, but as a people’s representative. It remains to be seen what impact she will make in a House, dominated by the NRM.

She told us the people of Mukono North should not expect much from her in the six months left to the end of the Eighth Parliament.

“This is going to be a very big journey but the Chinese have a saying that even a journey of 1,000 miles begins with one step; so, let Mukono North be the start of this journey to restore hope and courage,” she told The Observer in an interview.

Throughout her campaigns, Nambooze emphasised that she enjoyed a special relationship with the Mengo establishment that Bakaluba did not have.

Many people know that her arrest along with the two Mengo ministers in 2008 by the central government on charges of promoting sectarianism was motivated by her tireless criticism of the way the government was treating Mengo.

Others got to know her when she toured parts of Buganda in 2007 as the coordinator of Buganda’s Central Civic Education Committee, tasked by the Kabaka to teach people about the importance of land and to oppose the Land Amendment Bill, which was passed into law last year.

So, while Mukono North comprises of many ethnic groups, the question of Buganda is still significant and played a crucial role in this election and whoever propagated it best carried the day.

During the campaigns, quite a number of people expressed dismay that Buganda’s CBS radio remains closed nine months after it was accused by the NRM of inciting violence and hatred towards government during the September 2009 riots.

Nambooze always told her rallies that small as she is, she would exert pressure on government to reopen the station while Bakaluba campaigning in Kabula and Katoogo, last week, told people that it would be opened soon, if they elected him.

They did not believe him and showed him the exit. Other than the Mengo factor, the unity exhibited by the opposition boosted Nambooze’s chances of winning.

If the opposing parties needed evidence that working together is the way to go, the Mukono North by-election provided plenty of that. First and foremost, various members of the IPC raised the Shs 62 million that financed Nambooze’s campaign.

Secondly, opposition bigwigs including FDC President Dr. Kizza Besigye, CP President Ken Lukyamuzi and other leading members of the opposition went to the constituency a number of times to shore up support for Nambooze.

From the IPC, Nambooze built a close-knit unit of mobilisers, who kept her posted on the latest political developments and devised strategies for her. The only blot in this arrangement was the wrangling between the different DP factions that at times derailed her campaigns.

She told us that DP did not make any monetary contribution towards her campaign though Party President Norbert Mao gave her moral support. In spite of all that, on polling day, MPs Patrick Oboi, Charles Ekemu, all from FDC, Joseph Balikuddembe, Erias Lukwago, Ssebuliba Mutumba, Moses Kabusu of DP and other opposition officials like Salaamu Musumba, Sarah Eperu, Ibrahim Ssemujju kept vigil to protect Nambooze’s vote.

That Bakaluba’s popularity was on the wane was as clear as daylight. Elected to Parliament in 2001, the former host of Simba FM political talk show Olutindo (the bridge) failed to put his analytical skills to good use.

In 2006, he defeated Nambooze but the election was marred by rigging, which was confirmed by the Supreme Court ruling that annulled the election. This court case tainted his image which had been closely tied to his religious accomplishments.

And coupled with the fact that some people accused him of abandoning the constituency and spending most of his time in Kampala tending to personal matters, it was only a matter of time before he was ejected.

His ratings had plummeted to the extent that he, a man of God (Reverend), had to form what some people termed as an “unholy alliance with Kakooza Mutale” of the notorious Kalangala Action Plan, a paramilitary group, to beat people into voting for him.

Some unfortunate people got the full brunt of Kakooza Mutale’s brutality on Election Day but that did not affect the outcome. This strategy certainly fell flat on its face and instead some people, including NRM supporters, accused KAP of harassing their children (the youths).

A last minute visit by President Museveni too failed to swing support in Bakaluba’s favour and from then it became a question of not whether he will lose, but by what margin. For now he heads into political oblivion uncertain about what the future holds.

He had also earlier announced plans to relocate to Mukono South where the incumbent Janat Mukwaya has indicated she will not contest, but was snubbed. Mukwaya publicly told off Bakaluba at a rally in Seeta early this year that was addressed by the President that, he (Bakaluba) was not welcome in Mukono South.

Mukono North is predominately Catholic, a religion to which Nambooze subscribes. Bakaluba on the other hand is Anglican. When Archbishop Cyprian Kizito Lwanga urged his followers to throw their weight behind Nambooze during his visit a fortnight ago, it was all but clear that she would carry the day come May 25.

In between, the smaller churches too encouraged their members to turn up in huge numbers and vote for Nambooze, “their daughter”, announcements which were usually accompanied by special prayer sessions for her.

PEACEFUL

The voting was largely peaceful save for a few minor pockets of irregularities. Many residents woke up early to cast their ballots at polling stations manned by policemen and plain clothed security personnel, who at times became active participants and openly took sides.

In Kikooza Zone on the fringes of the town, The Observer witnessed and photographed a policeman directing an elderly man whom to vote.

After realising that he had been captured on camera, he charged towards our photographer demanding that the photo be deleted. We did not. The polling agents of both candidates were very alert, scrutinising every voter to ensure that he/she was registered.

Earlier in the morning, operatives of Kakooza Mutale stormed Zebra Guest House in town and arrested over 10 of Nambooze’s mobilisers. They were later released after the intervention of police. Later, Moses Kasibante, another Nambooze mobiliser was arrested on pretext that he was driving dangerously near a polling station. He too was released without charge.

DIFFERENT MOOD

As the voting went on, there were different moods exhibited at the homes of Bakaluba and Nambooze.

By12.30 pm on Tuesday, Bakaluba appeared to have conceded defeat. When we went to his residence, there was a sense of resignation. His mobilisers wandered silently in the compound and the yellow bus was parked there, for once motionless.

On his part, Bakaluba, we were told, was locked up in his bedroom resting. Our request for interview with him was rejected. “The Observer has been biased,” he told us on phone, sounding low, a veiled order for us to leave him alone.

At Nambooze’s residence, less than a kilometre from Bakaluba’s home, off Mukono-Kayunga Road, the mood was mixed. Some of her mobilisers like Muwanga Kivumbi were exuding confidence and were preparing to party.

Nambooze, herself, did not know what to expect. For most of the morning, she remained stationed at her residence, lying in a sofa set and coordinating most of the election activities by phone. When one of her mobilisers joked that she could lose the election due to rigging, her eyes popped out.

Gundi ojja kunzisa puleesa,” she blurted out jokingly, pointing to the pressure she was under. Later, she went to her daughter’s bedroom to rest but the constant phone calls from her husband, Bakireke, with updates on voting, ensured that she could not keep her mind off the elections.

Later in the evening as the Electoral Commission started tallying results from Mukono Community Hall, the tension rose again. Many cyclists camped in the vast compound of the hall, waited anxiously with bated breath while the Police kept guard to ensure that the situation did not get out of control.

When it appeared that Nambooze was headed for victory, excitement filled the air. Shortly, Nambooze arrived at the town hall where a jubilant crowd received her. She entered and sat at the front as she waited for the official declaration of results.

The results were worth the wait. At Bakaluba’s residence, meanwhile, the huge yellow imposing gate remained firmly shut. A few of his supporters appeared dejected. It was now official. After four years, Betty Nambooze Bakireke, 40, is finally the Member of Parliament for Mukono North.

ekiggundu@observer.ug
hbogere@observer.ug

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