Aswa County MP Ronald Reagan Okumu, is one of a rare and privileged group of politicians: he is almost making two decades in Parliament. Not everybody is happy about the Opposition’s stranglehold on the constituency and a plot is thickening within the ruling party’s ranks through which they hope to stop him from returning for a fifth consecutive term in 2016.
A member of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party, Mr Okumu entered Parliament as a young man following Uganda’s first general elections conducted under universal adult suffrage in 1996. He was 27-years-old. He has been the scourge of the government down the years making his mark as an unflinching voice of the suffering masses in northern Uganda during the debilitating war years.
The Acholi of Aswa and beyond love him. They refer to him as society’s safety net and one who always had the interest of his people at heart.
Under pressure from President Museveni over a plan by the Madhvani Group of Companies to set up a controversial sugar cane plantation, his role in defending the land rights of the people in neighbouring Amuru District is also well known.
He will also forever be extolled for aocating for scholarship programmes for vulnerable children whose education was interrupted by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) insurgency. His initiative has seen scores of children furthering their education in both lower and higher institutions of learning.
Through his friends in the US, in 2012, he lobbied for funds and procured hospital equipment worth Shs300 million for Gulu Regional Referral Hospital. Each year, he brings specialists from the US to carry out operations on people still suffering from the scars of the war.
Mr Okumu, who is also the chair of Acholi Parliamentary Group, earned the wrath of the government when he refused to give up on efforts to bring peace to his homeland through dialogue. At one time, he was labelled a rebel collaborator, framed for a crime he denies ever committing and thrown behind bars.
His popularity soared, resulting in successive landslide victories. But today, NRM politicians think they can cut short his blooming career.
Months ago, Deputy Speaker of Parliament Jacob Oulanyah, who, ironically, is himself likely to face a stiff battle to hold onto his Omoro County seat in Gulu, jumped into the fray. While promoting the so-called Kyankwanzi resolution of having Mr Museveni as the NRM’s sole candidate come 2016, Mr Oulanyah asked the locals to drop Mr Okumu and return a ruling party candidate in 2016.
Mr Oulanyah claimed that the NRM government has supported the locals in the area over the years, yet they refuse to render overwhelming support to the party. “Why are you not appreciative to this government?” he asked. “The government has done its best, but time and again you vote Mr Okumu come 2016, show him exit.”
As would be expected, Mr Okumu lashed out at Mr Oulanyah’s remarks, noting that the NRM has fought him over the years without success. “Mr Oulanyah has no moral authority to convince anyone in my constituency to vote me out. Instead, he should embark on convincing people in Omoro County, through service delivery, to save himself from being ousted in 2016.”
Confident of victory
Mr Okumu spoke with pride about his tenure in office pointing out the visible projects he has initiated in Aswa that have improved lives. He is especially proud of what he has done through the education and health projects that have benefited numerous individuals.
“I strongly believe the people of Aswa know their leader and come 2016, it won’t be a surprise that they will overwhelmingly vote me back to Parliament,” added Mr Okumu.
Born on July 15, 1969, the father of three had briefly worked as an investigating officer in the Inspectorate of Government before diving into politics. In Parliament, he has chaired committees and served as shadow minister for foreign affairs.
Now, he can expect to face a Mr Simon Peter Wokorach, the vocal Gulu District NRM Youth League chairperson. Mr Wokorach will run his campaign partly on the claim that the incumbent’s tenure has benefited only selected individuals. “The region does not only have one leader to rely on. We have youth with potential to lead Aswa to a much better status,” says Mr Wokorach.
The contest for hearts and minds will be intriguing as the NRM man has plunged into the ‘development agenda’ – claiming to be helping the most vulnerable: women and elderly.
During his last visit to Aswa, Mr Wokorach launched a programme dubbed “Women in the fight against poverty”. He also gave out oxen, an ox-plough and three acres of land to women groups to be used in poverty alleviation. “In my next visit to the area, I will ensure that I embark on a mass education drive, that will benefit the less privileged children and adults,” he told Saturday Monitor.
He said his major vision is to implement the government’s ‘Prosperity for All’ agenda which he observed has passed Aswa by because the parliamentary seat is occupied by an Opposition leader who is not good at lobbying for his people.
But before he gets to grips with Mr Okumu, Mr Wokorach must first contend with getting through the NRM primaries. Mr Johnson Agara Olwa won the last primaries and intends to give it another go.
“I’m optimistic that the NRM primaries will not be a stumbling block. I have already gained popularity among my party members. At the moment, my major focus is to oust Mr Okumu come 2016 general election,” Mr Wokorach said.
In the 2011 general election, the NRM performed dismally against the incumbent who garnered 15,542 votes against Mr Agara’s 5,341 votes. Currently, Mr Agara is away in Europe where he is Uganda’s ambassador to Turkey.
A holder of a diploma in public administration obtained from Nsamizi Institute Mpigi where he studied Juvenile Justice and Development, Mr Wokorach is currently pursuing a degree in public administration at Gulu University.
Between 2007 and 2010, he worked with the NGO, Gulu Support the Children Organisation as a social worker from 2007 to 2010. In 2012, he joined the Resident District Commissioner’s (RDC) office as a youth mobiliser.
The ruling party’s administrator in Gulu, Mr Douglas Peter Okao, told Saturday Monitor that the NRM has already passed a resolution about whom to back. “We still recognise Mr Agara as the flag bearer. At the moment, we are intensifying political mapping in the area so that we can woo support to him come 2016.”
Rumblings of a split in opinion are, however, evident in the long line of NRM-leaning hopefuls who refuse to back down. Mr Opio Atekere, the LC5 councillor for Awach Sub-county, plans to give it a go. Then there is Mr Robert Okello. The 40-year-old soft spoken politician from Unyama Sub-County is a long-serving Internal Security Officer who has worked around the country. He works at State House as Deputy Regional Internal Security Officer for north, east and central region.
He was also acting RDC Kaabong District between 2010 and 2011. The man will be remembered for the trouncing he received at the hands of Democratic Party’s (DP) Norbert Mao in the race to represent Gulu Municipality in 2001.
Unbowed, he says he is meeting youth, women and elders as he prepares to run again in 2016.
The NRM chairperson in Gulu, Mr Martin Kizza Aboga, is well aware that there are many people interested in its ticket for the Aswa seat. “We shall have NRM primaries to have a potential candidate who will be groomed for the 2016 parliamentary contest in Aswa County,” he said.
Mr Aboga said Mr Wokorach appears to be gaining the trust of party members as a promising youth leader. “We are following closely his mobilisation campaigns in the region and we see him as a reliable asset,” Mr Aboga said.
On another front, DP’s Simon Opoka has emerged as the likely flag bearer. The party spokesman here, Mr Sam Kinyera, says DP is engaging the grassroots. “We are currently lobbying for support in all the sub-counties [of Awach, Bungatira, Paicho, Palaro, Patiko and Unyama],” he said.
The population census of 2002 placed Aswa’s total population at 73,907 people, 60,421 of whom the Electoral Commission established were eligible to vote in 2011. They have another opportunity to tell the country what they think of their son, Ronald Reagan Okumu.
NRM-leaning hopefuls in Aswa race
The NRM chairperson in Gulu, Mr Martin Kizza Aboga, is well aware that there are many people interested in its ticket for the Aswa seat. He says they will have NRM primaries to have a potential candidate who will be groomed for the 2016 parliamentary contest in Aswa County.
SOURCE: Daily Monitor