On the eve of polling day in the November 20 Woman MP by-election in Amuru, a potentially-game-changing opinion poll was circulated in the northern Uganda district and beyond.
The poll, conducted by the little-known Democratic Facility East Africa (DFEA), showed the NRM candidate Jane Francesca Amongin as a favourite. It projected a 70 per cent win for Amongin, with the joint opposition candidate, Lucy Akello (FDC), at 20 per cent.
The poll excited the NRM camp so much that they circulated it to the villages, radio stations and even the national press. But the opinion of the polled is not always binding on the voters.
The election results showed Akello as the winner, with 7,420 votes against Amongin’s 6,701. Independent Pauline Acan got 775 votes, CP’s Susan Adokorach Obwot 300, while Caroline Aber, another Independent candidate, managed 146.
When the DFEA poll first circulated, the opposition camp, led by party chiefs Nobert Mao (DP), Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu (FDC) and Olara Otunnu (UPC) and parliamentary Opposition leader Wafula Oguttu, moved around the villages in Amuru discrediting it as having been fabricated by the NRM camp.
After the election, Oguttu told The Observer in an interview that the results vindicated them.
“They [the NRM] created the opinion poll and the [organisation] which they claim did the opinion poll does not exist,” said the Bukooli Central MP.
DFEA is described as a coalition of democratic institutions in the region.
Because the final results sharply contradicted the opinion poll, some NRM leaders say they were undone by unscrupulous machinations by not just the opposition camp, but also the Electoral Commission (EC).
“Our biggest problem was the [EC], there was a lot of rigging and many dubious things by the FDC chairman in Amuru, Michael Lakony, which the EC ignored,” said Juma Lanek P’Labong, the NRM chairman for Amuru district.
P’Labong claims that the EC ignored their protests after Lakony allegedly chased polling officials from various polling stations and replaced them with his own.
“That is why results from some polling stations like Parwacha in Atiak sub-county, where our candidate polled 178 votes, were changed to indicate that she got 108 votes,” Labong said, Friday.
This is the second by-election that the ruling party has lost in six months – after the Luweero Woman MP by-election in May – and the 10th out of 17 since the 2011 general elections.
Either camp accuses the other of campaigning along tribal lines. While the NRM used Akello’s marriage to a man from Teso against her, telling them she would not find time for issues in Amuru, opposition functionaries pointed out that Amongin is an Atesot married to a son of Amuru they reportedly claimed Amongin did not have Amuru at heart since she is simply associated to it by marriage.
Some NRM leaders now admit ethnicity was the key factor.
“The issue of our [NRM] candidate not belonging to the Lamogi clan of the Acholi worked against us.
She comes from Teso,” said Richard Opolacen, the LC- III chairman for Amuru town council. Opolacen explained that during the NRM primaries, Amongin was so popular that the party leadership was convinced that she would lead the party to retain the seat that fell vacant with the resignation of former MP and Water state minister, Betty Bigombe, who joined the World Bank.
Amuru district NRM chairman P’Labong also laid part of the blame for the loss on Bigombe, saying she failed to anoint a successor after she resigned her position.
“NRM was affected so much by Bigombe’s departure because our people think that she is the only one they should listen to,” P’Labong said. “When she got that job, many expected her to come back and explain to them, and show them her successor but she has not done that, which has left the party [members in Amuru] in confusion.”
NRM deployed ministers Richard Todwong (Political Mobilisation) and Sam Engola (state for Housing also NRM vice chairperson for Northern Uganda) to lead the ruling party’s campaign in the by-election.
Sources say the two ministers went with lots of cash, which eventually led to divisions among the party’s local leadership after some leaders accused local party chiefs of getting money from the party and failing to sufficiently finance the campaign.
It is said that as a result of the disenchantment over finances, some NRM members in Amuru joined the opposition camp to support Akello. P’Labong confirmed the defection of some NRM members during the by-election, but said it was not because of money. He said they were protesting the results of the NRM primaries.
“Our [NRM constitution] clearly does not allow leaders to show sides but members of the party structures showed sides during the primaries. When their candidates lost, they refused to back Amongin,” said P’Labong, adding that it is those leaders who started “spreading propaganda” about money.
“But I did not receive any money in office,” he pleaded. “Even the RDC [James Nabinson Kidega did not]. We would only get fuel in our cars [from the ministers] for the campaigns.
Meanwhile, as the bickering continued in the NRM camp, a united opposition force penetrated the villages, running what Oguttu termed as an issue-based campaign that largely focused on local problems.
Because several parties came together to support the FDC candidate, the opposition was able to send out several legislators to campaign for Akello.
MPs who camped in Amuru district ahead of the by-election include Brenda Nabukenya (Luweero Woman), Florence Ibi Ekwau (Kaberamaido Woman), Odonga Otto (Aruu), Winfred Kiiza (Kasese Woman), Reagan Okumu (Aswa) and Kassiano Wadri (Terego).
Other politicians included the FDC deputy president for western Uganda, Amanya Mushega, and embattled Kampala deputy Lord Mayor Sulaiman Kidandala.
“This was another experiment we were making of having a joint candidate,” Oguttu said.
For the last seven years, Amuru district has been a hotbed of a land battle between investors such as Madhvani group and local leaders. In a region that has not yet shaken off resentment against the government over the two-decade war between UPDF and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), locals believe that the state is using investors to grab their land.
The opposition capitalised on these sentiments, saying that instead of aiding war affected people to settle on their land, the government was forcing them out.
“The people are just settling on their land after decades of war and the government is instead pressuring them to give away their land to Madhvani for sugarcane growing, but we told them that the [land] takeover was because of oil,” Oguttu told The Observer.
On November 18, President Museveni joined Amongin’s campaign trail, with his main aim being to dispel the opposition’s “lies” about the land issue.
Museveni said after northern Uganda regained peace, the government encouraged Kakira sugar works to open a plant in northern Uganda to provide employment opportunities for people in the region. He castigated those who said he wanted to grab land.
“They say Museveni wants to steal your land. Do they know how many cows I have? I don’t need to steal land from anybody but people of Uganda must develop,” he said.
Oguttu said that to the ordinary people, Museveni’s message of giving land to Madhvani, owners of Kakira sugar works, corroborated their argument.
“Our argument was questioning how the ordinary people were going to benefit from the sugarcane because the Basoga near Kakira are not rich and so are the Baganda near Lugazi [Sugar corporation of Uganda Ltd],” Oguttu added.
In addition, like in Luweero, where DP’s Nabukenya defeated NRM’s Rebecca Nalwanga partly because of a long list of promises that the ruling party is yet to fulfil, the same ghosts followed the party to Amuru.
Schools and health facilities are not evenly distributed in the district. School children walk for several kilometres to school and because of the distance, some schools close as early as 3pm to allow their pupils get home before nightfall.
“The government has been making too many empty promises not only to Amuru but the whole of Acholi,’ said Kilak MP Gilbert Olanya. “If the situation continues like this, NRM will be defeated in Acholi even in the coming [general] elections.”
Source : The Observer