LUUKA – Luuka will be a battleground as Minister for the Presidency Esther Mbayo fights to retain her Woman MP seat against 24-year-old lawyer Oliver Namwase and former legislator Evyline Naome Kabule. All the three are fighting for the NRM party ticket and they have been joined in the race by Gladys Aliyinza who is standing as an independent.
Carved out of Iganga district in 2010, Luuka district boasts a population of about 241,000 and about 82,000 voters spread out in eight sub-counties with sugarcane growing as the main source of livelihood. The district was recently in the press over teenage pregnancy with reports indicating that over 40 students conceived during this local down period that started in March.
Many people attribute Luuka’s woes to poor leadership and unfulfilled promises and as the district gears up for next year’s polls, politicians across the political divide are navigating the murky Waters of one of the country’s poorest districts with grandiose promises and casting hopes of a better future to an impoverished and desperate population.
Battle of the ages
One would think that Ms Mbayo would have a smooth ride on account of her being the first and only minister from Luuka district since its inception but in the youthful Namwase, the minister has a hard nut to crack. Ms Namwase is a fresh law graduate from Kampala International University whose wit, charm and discipline have endeared her to the great majority of the masses who have even christened her ‘Mama Luuka’, a moniker that can be directly translated to mean mother of the district.
“Luuka residents call me Mama Luuka because of the hope they have in me. They have always trusted other politicians only to be betrayed but in me they see a mother figure who cannot betray them. No mother betrays her child no matter what,” Ms Namwase says.
She says people are interested in deeds and not titles, a veiled attack on the Minister for the Presidency who she accuses of betraying the voters after scaling the ladders to the lucrative position of cabinet minister.
“She only prides in donating food relief to a section of people in Luuka but remember she never used her personal money. It was tax payer’s money,” she said.
Sande Kabali, a resident of Nabikuyi village in Nawampiti sub-county says Mama Luuka’s message resonates well with the desires of the Luuka electorate many of whom are wallowing in abject poverty following the diminishing of the market for the only crop they depended on.
“I think she is the only one with a clear message and seems to understand the struggles of the common person in Luuka. We voted for minister Mbayo in the previous election but she seems to have forgotten us,” he asked.
Just like Kabali, Thomas Mudhungu, a resident of Kalyowa village, Irongo sub-county is also full of praise for the youthful Namwase.
“She is a down to earth woman who wears her heart on her sleeve. She may not have a lot of money to dish out but I will vote for her on account of her simplicity,” Mr Mudhungu says.
Mama Luuka boasts significant support in Bukoma as well as Irongo and Nawampiti sub-counties. However, wrestling the seat from the incumbent minister will not be a walk in the park because of her financial muscle and strong connections.
“Minister Mbayo has done her best but some people do not want to appreciate. She brought 2016 national independence celebrations to Luuka district and has always donated seedlings to farmers,” says Moses Birinde, a former chairperson for Nawampiti sub-county.
He says voting out Mbayo will lead to losing of a ministerial position that is so important to the nascent district.
Mbayo still enjoys significant support in Bukanga and Ikumbya sub-counties.
Kabule back in the mix
Evyline Naome Kabule was the first Woman MP for the sugarcane growing district and reigned between 2011 to 2016. She lost to minister Mbayo in the previous election but has not buckled to defeat.
“My loss in the previous election was just a temporary setback, a loss of battle and not the war. I just went back to re-organise my arsenal and I am back to serve the people of Luuka,” Ms Kabule said.
Kabule enjoys significant support in Kiyunga town council as well as Waibuga sub-county.
Esther Babirye, a resident of Kamwirungu in Bulong sub-county, says she remembers Kabule’s reign as MP with nostalgia.
“Kabule stood with us during times of joy as well as sorrow. She invested in women Saccos unlike today’s leaders who mind only about themselves,” Ms Babirye said.
“We have not benefitted from her position. She has lost touch with the electorate and we only see her surrounded with bodyguards. We intend to teach her a lesson,” she added.
“Kabule has genuine voters on ground but it would have been better for her to come as an independent,” one voter said, adding that the former legislator resonates well with voters both in NRM and the Opposition.
Mbayo won the Luuka Woman MP seat in 2016 with 32,108 votes against Kabule’s 26,014 votes. After losing the 2016 poll to Ms Mbayo, Kabule remained on ground and has reportedly continued to support women Saccos as well as donated generously to churches and Mosques in the district.
Ms Mbayo is also accused of not using her position to save Resident District Commissioners (RDCs) from Busoga many of whom were dropped in the last reshuffle.
“She failed to use her clot to save the jobs of Basoga RDCs many of whom failed to make it to the list in the latest reshuffle,” says Bwana, a resident of Nabubya in Bukanga sub-county.
She is also accused of feeding the people of Luuka on empty promises bordering on lies. It is reported that while appearing on one of the local radio stations in Busoga sub-region, Mbayo assured the residents that the three trading centres of Busalamu, Bulanga and Kyanvuma had been elevated to town councils, something that did not come to pass when they missed on the list of town councils starting this year.
About the contestants
Mbayo was born on April 27, 1971. She holds a Bachelor of Commerce with specialisation in accounting. She also holds a certificate awarded by the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators. The 49-year- old defeated Ms Kabule in 2016 and was consequently appointed Minister for the Presidency replacing Frank Tumwebaze. She is married to George Mbayo and together they have three children. Mbayo also serves as the secretary of the Busoga Women Leaders Association.
Born in July 1966 in Kirimwa, Bukoma sub-county, Kabule holds a Bachelor of Arts in Social Sciences from Makerere University and a Masters in Human Resource Management from the Uganda Management Institute. She became the first Woman MP for Luuka and served on various committees during her tenure in Parliament, including the Presidential Affairs Committee and the Public Affairs Committee.
Ms Namwase, 24, is a fresh graduate of law from Kampala International University and a born of Naigobya in Bukoma sub-county, Luuka district. She attended Kigulu Girls’ School, Iganga Parents and Kampala International University where she graduated with a Bachelors degree in Law in 2019. She says that when elected, her priority will be to uplift the level of education which she says is low in Luuka and has turned the district into a laughing stock.