Am Done With Western Uganda – Besigye

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Besigye Campaigns in Western Uganda

In four days’ time, Ugandans go to the polls at the start of the process that will see them elect a president, members of parliament, mayors and various local council officials. After all the anticipation that started as soon as the 2006 general election ended, February 18 has come with much less drama than had been anticipated.
Looking back at the election season that started with the party delegates’ conferences that elected presidential and parliamentary candidates, to the nominations on October 25 and 26, 2010, the countrywide campaigns and now the actual voting day, it is safe to say the election campaign has been largely conventional.

The only unconventional features of it were the “Another Rap” rhyme that National Resistance Movement (NRM) candidate and incumbent President Yoweri Museveni came up with around the time of the nominations in October, and Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) President Kizza Besigye’s announcement of a fundraising effort of Shs500 from each well-wisher.
The independent candidate and Democratic Party (DP) member Samuel Lubega did and said nothing that was unconventional. Jaberi Bidandi-Ssali of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) likewise had a tame campaign with no major issues that raised eyebrows.

Olara Otunnu, the former UN diplomat and President of the Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) party was conventional as were Beti Kamya of the Uganda Federal Alliance, Norbert Mao, President of the Democratic Party and Dr Abed Bwanika of the People’s Development Party (PDP)
This conventional, unremarkable presidential campaign might be part of the reason many Ugandans say the 2011 election has not felt like an election, at least in the sense of there not being gripping drama and suspense.

Strife-filled races
However, the real drama, anger, and controversy came in the Kampala mayoral race. The academic qualifications of the NRM’s official candidate Peter Sematimba were questioned by his rival Kampala Central MP Erias Lukwago, only for Lukwago’s own qualifications to later be brought into doubt.
There was a bitter falling-out between another Kampala mayoral candidate Michael Mabikke and the IPC to which he at first belonged when the IPC moved to back Lukwago as its official flag bearer.

Capt. Francis Babu, a member of the NRM’s Central Executive Committee, also had the bitter experience of being shunned as the flag bearer for the mayoral race of Kampala where he would have expected that his seniority in the party gave him first right to the party’s endorsement over Sematimba. Much to the surprise of Ugandans, a most unexpected wave of challenges, bitterness, bickering and AK-47 rifle fights broke out in July and August during the NRM district chairman and then parliamentary nominations elections.
Considering the public face of unity and one voice that the ruling party often projects, Ugandans were taken aback by this NRM vs. NRM violence and accusations of rigging.

Even more surprising was how disgruntled NRM candidates repeatedly defied calls by President Museveni, the NRM Vice Chairman Moses Kigongo and the party Secretary General Amama Mbabazi for them to step down and give way to the official flag bearers. It had once been unheard-of for any public official, let alone one in Museveni’s own party, to openly defy him, a sign of things to come. One of the highlights of the campaign was the candidature of Irish-born Dr Ian Clarke, a medical doctor, proprietor of International Hospital Kampala and a some time columnist for the Sunday Vision newspaper. He is running for the LC3 chairman’s position for Makindye Division in Kampala. It was the first time since independence in 1962 that a European had contested for an elective office in Kampala.

Ugandans’ destitution

UPC’s Otunnu, both from the time of his return from self-imposed 23-year exile in August 2009 and throughout his campaigns across the country and his appearances on various radio stations, has echoed the same theme, lamenting what he termed “the humiliating poverty” that Ugandans find themselves in.
Virtually all the presidential, parliamentary and local council candidates were confronted by this sorry state in which Ugandans live. Campaign T-shirts supplied by the various taskforces were eagerly received. For many among the crowds at rallies, these free T-shirts were their first brand-new clothes since the last election in 2006.

During his campaigns, even Museveni found himself for most of the time not narrating what he had achieved since 2006 but explaining away to the crowds why the agricultural extension programmes had failed, why hospitals had no drugs, why the people before him were dressed in next to rags and why children in the primary seven class in rural areas still could not write their own names.

Opinion polls

The idea of opinion polls as a measure of the public mood was first introduced during the 2006 campaigns but quickly came under fire.
The controversy over opinion polls that started before the 2006 election returned in 2010 and 2011, with a public outcry accusing the polling firm AfroBarometer of having been compromised by the NRM-run state. Both in 2006 and 2010 and 2011, while the NRM party celebrated their findings, the opposition dismissed them as manipulated.

A poll published jointly by the firms AfroBarometer and Wilsken Agencies on December 16, 2010 put Museveni at 66%, Besigye at 12% and Mao at 3%.
Amid the celebration by the NRM and the disgusted condemnation of the poll by the opposition, most readers missed the most important fact of all: one of the final questions in the poll asked respondents whom they believed had commissioned the AfroBarometer/Wilsken field researchers. A telling 63% said they believed the pollsters had been sent by the government.
This alone raised the most fundamental question of how the final results could be taken as representative of the true public mood if this same public expressed its fear of stating its true views.

A poll published by the Sunday Vision on January 2, 2011 put Museveni at 64.5%. It too was dismissed by the opposition and many among the public.
There was a minor scandal when on December 31, 2010, the New Vision, which is a state-owned newspaper, claimed to have obtained the results of a poll commissioned by the opposition FDC and carried out by the research firm Synovate, in which Museveni stood at 67%. Synovate officials called a press conference and dismissing the New Vision story, said they had not conducted such a poll.
Meanwhile, the Daily Monitor had also conducted its own continuously unfolding poll on its website. This online poll started off with Besigye in the lead followed by Mao and then Museveni.

By Friday February 11, the poll had turned into a two-way race between Museveni and Besigye, with Besigye well in the lead with 342 votes, Museveni a distant second with 161 votes, Norbert Mao at 127 votes, Beti Kamya at 46, Olara Otunnu at 43, Samuel Lubega at 13, Abed Bwanika at 12, and Bidandi-Ssali at 11 votes. A notice on the website, however, qualifies that this poll is not scientific.  A live phone-in poll by CBS FM (or Radio Buganda) on December 17, 2010 had Besigye with a huge lead, followed by Mao in second place, Kamya in third and Museveni in fourth. A live phone-in poll on the government-owned UBC Radio (or Radio Uganda) poll on Saturday January 22, 2011 gave Besigye first place followed by Museveni in second and none of the other six candidates got a single vote.

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