No synopsis of the reasons explaining President Museveni’s longevity, both as a freedom fighter in his youth, and as Uganda’s chief executive, would be complete without mention of his disdain for failure. It is why he takes time off his busy Presidential schedule to campaign for each and every National Resistance Movement candidate in the country’s by-elections.
Given NRM’s near total domination of elective politics – they had won 25 out of 26 by elections going into the Rukungiri Woman MP contest, there is a school of thought among Movement apparatchiks that felt the party needn’t have spent as much resources on a mere by election.
This branch of the Movement doesn’t understand Mr Museveni’s dynamics of power retention. Keenly aware that he was able to capture State power just five years after his Uganda Patriotic Movement won a solitary seat in the 1980 general elections, the veteran leader is a political annihilist, if you will excuse the coinage. He believes in annihilating the opposition with total victory.
Foremost among top factors making Rukungiri a battleground district that warranted a Shs5bn resource envelope and strong military presence, was NRM candidate Igeme Nabeta’s loss to Forum for Democratic Change’s Paul Mwiru in the Jinja East by-election. NRM needed to reassert itself, lest losses are viewed as a trend, and therefore a pointer to their 2021 fortunes.
In the end, it was a close election, with FDC’s Betty Muzanira topping NRM’s Winnie Kiiza by a margin of about 4-5,000 votes. Although this outcome generally mirrored the 2016 presidential elections outcome, the disappointment for NRM should be that in the 2016 presidential elections Kiiza Besigye only beat President Museveni’s tally in Rukungiri by a mere 2458 votes. In brief, the margin has slightly increased.
Rukungiri also mattered because it is the home district of long term opposition leader Dr Warren Kifefe Kiiza Besigye. Inflicting defeat on him in his own backyard would have a demoralising effect on the FDC stalwart and four-time presidential candidate. World over, no one makes the presidency unless he can bag his home district.
Also of notable concern to the ruling party is the fact that Rukungiri is in NRM’s rural western Uganda heartland. Since multiparty politics was reintroduced into this country, south western Uganda (Kasese district is the exception) has voted as a block for President Museveni. But FDC has been making inroads in Rukungiri.
Besides, many NRM heavyweights including former ministers Lt General (retd) Henry Tumukunde, Major General (retd) Jim Muhwezi and former Chief of Defence Forces, the late General Aronda Nyakairima hail from Rukungiri. So what better way to reverse a trend and strike a telling blow to opposition hopes, than by having NRM’s Winnie Matsiko stop FDC’s Betty Muzanira?
To round up, the voter turnout for the Rukungiri Woman MP by election only provided citizens a temporary diversion from their daily struggles, while re-emphasising the power of Uganda’s imperial presidency. For all the hype and media attention the plebiscite attracted, just 102,000 registered voters turned up on election day – at least 13,000 less than the 115,308 who cast their ballots in the 2016 presidential elections.