As the 2016 presidential elections draw nearer, New Vision has started running regional election analysis, examining the likely voting patterns and who is likely to win in the regions. Today, Joshua Kato analyses the battle for Ankole region
The late president Milton Obote and the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) legacy in western Uganda is not entirely erased.
In Ishaka Municipality, the famous dais on which Obote addressed a major rally on May 27, 1980, upon his return from exile in Tanzania, still stands.
Many people who visit Ishaka go to see the stand and even taking photographs. Just opposite the magnificent Kampala International University (KIU), western campus was the area where UPC supporters used to converge to slaughter cows.
Half of this area has since been occupied by tycoon Hassan Basajjabalaba’s hides and skins store, while the rest remains a playground for the township population.
At Kabwohe, there was a similar stand. Again, like the one in Ishaka, it is occupied by idlers. The desolate state of the UPC symbols tells the story of UPC and its demise in Ankole region.
UPC was the dominant party in the early 1980s and most of the top leaders in Bushenyi and generally Ankole were UPC.
When NRM came to power in 1986 and won the hearts and minds of the Ankole people, it became a different ball game.
Status of Ankole region
The area borders Tanzania in the south, Kasese and Kamwenge in the west, Ssembabule in the north and Lyantonde in the east. According to the 2014 population census, the region has 2.5 million people.
The entire region has 10 districts, which include Mbarara, Bushenyi, Ntungamo, Isingiro, Kiruhura, Ibanda, Buhweju, Mitooma, Rubirizi, Ntungamo and Sheema.
This area is comparatively rich.It has the highest milk production in the country, in addition to the highest banana production and poverty levels are much lower compared to other parts of the country.
Ankole region is also a unique region because it is the only part of the country that has retained influential personalities after a regime change. For example, when Amin was over thrown in 1979, his West Nile region, which had most of the key personalities, went with him.
When Obote was overthrown in 1985, his home region of Lango lost national political infuence. The overthrow of Tito Okello in 1986, too, meant that Acholi region lost even the military initiative that they had held for many years.
But that has not been the case for Ankole and Bushenyi in particular. In the 1980s, under UPC II, Bushenyi was almost more important to Obote than his Lango home area.
The area had several key personalities in the government too. They included Ephraim Kamuntu, Edward Rurangaranga, Yona Kanyomozi, Richard Kaijuka and Chris Rwakasisi, who have remained influential.
This is President Yoweri Museveni’s home area and naturally the population is firmly behind him. In the 2006 elections Museveni took 85% of the votes in Ankole region and about the same percentage in 2011.
But the results of the last two elections showed a slight drop from the 91% of the votes in 2001. Of the 29 MPs in the region, there is just one opposition MP, Odo Tayebwa of Bushenyi and 1 independent the rest are NRM. NRM also controls all local governments in the region.
At the national level, Ankole holds a sizeable chunk of top leaders including both the President and his wife Janet, ministers for Works, Transport and Housing, justice and constitutional affairs, health, security and gender, among others.
It is such NRM dominance that makes the opposition’s journey hard but of course, while campaigning in Ntungamo in November last year, Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) flag-bearer Col. Dr. Kizza Besigye said the number of ministers was useless because they have not delivered.
“Leaders who are sent to serve you are only serving themselves. They have grown big stomachs,” he said in reference to the many ministers from Ankole.
It had been hoped that the mess in the NRM primaries held in October would affect the status quo. Among the most prominent NRM personalities who lost were Maj. Gen. Kahinda Otafiire from Ruhinda in Mitooma and a couple of other MPs.
However, a survey by this writer in the region indicates that while there are some divisions within the lower levels all the candidates are campaigning for their party candidate, President Museveni.
Farming: By Ugandan standards the population in Ankole is rich. A drive through a district like Kiruhura shows thousands of cattle most of them individually owned, Milk coolers which were not there years ago are in plenty.
In Rushere Kiruhura district, there are over 100 coolers; Rushere is near the President’s rural home at Nyabushozi.
According to a farmer Fred Rukundo the population was only potentially rich in the 1980s. “We were mobilised to turn the resources that we had at the time into money,” he says.
This population had thousands of cattle not for commercial purposes but for pride with 99% of the cattle being indigenous breeds that produced very low milk.
“The population was however mobilised to reduce on keeping these local breeds to adopting hybrids,” Rukundo says.
The results were tremendous. Average milk production per cattle-keeping family jumped from 20 litres per day to over 100.
At around sh1,000 per litre every family earns at least sh100,000 per day or sh3m per month, which is above the national average of sh5,000 per day or sh150,000 per month.
But of course there are those who do not keep cattle or grow crops and these may be left out of the success but generally the largest percentage of homesteads in Mbarara and Kiruhura are benefitting in many ways.
Bushenyi too has opportunities even the so called isolated areas of Buhweju and Bunyaruguru show a lot of agriculture productivity.
On top of the foods and animals, tea, cotton and gold can be picked from the valleys and hills of Bushenyi. “It is only the low prices that are letting us down,” says Alozio Bakonko, a farmer in Rubirizi.
But even with the low prices the fact that most of Ankole can produce bananas and milk all year round means they have something in their pockets all the time.
And the fact that they link this success and prosperity to the NRM government means that they will certainly vote for Museveni.
While Mbarara boasts of a university Bushenyi too has got one this is the magnificent KIU western campus in Ishaka Municipality several high rise buildings and hotels have been built in the town.
According to a New Vision poll done in June last year, poverty, education, health and infrastructure were mentioned as issues affecting voters in Ankole.
But overall there is development all over the region Mbarara municipality is the second largest urban area after Kampala. “We have got anything that you need in Kampala here,” says Morris Kamukama, who operates a restaurant on Main Street.
On top of having the largest military establishment that houses the 2nd Division the town has got a university, Bank of Uganda regional centre and many hotels.
There is a major referral hospital and several private hospitals, plus at least five health centre IVs and IIIs at every sub-county. “Yes, the structures are there, but we need more personnel in the hospitals,” says Hope Bashasha, a businesswoman in Mbarara town.
While campaigning in Mbarara on January 12, President Museveni confirmed that the town will soon be elevated to a city status. “You asked for a city status and we accepted. When you look at Mbarara, you really appreciate that Uganda has developed,” the President said.
This same statement was also made by presidential candidate Amama Mbabazi when he visited the town in November last year.
Roads: Most of the roads in the area are motorable the main highways from Masaka-Mbarara-Ntungamo are good, Lyantonde-Kazo is also tarmacked, Mbarara-Bushenyi is good, among others.
However, residents think that small roads that link villages to the towns should also be tarmacked with visible development of both people and the infrastructure, anybody campaigning against Museveni in Ankole must have a well - wrapped message.
“Telling people that Museveni has not done anything for them is not a vote winner here. People should be told that although Museveni has done a lot here, he should leave peacefully so that the achievements are sustained,” says Lt. Clement Mugisha, a retired soldier of the Uganda People’s Defence Forces.
Good, but weak opposition
It is significant to note that in the last 15 years opposition has emerged from Ankole from within NRM. However, this opposition seems to be still among top leaders of the party but has not trickled down to the grass roots.
In 2001 Besigye’s influential wife Winnie Byanyima broke ranks with NRM. Her influence, however waned after she left the country for an international job.Winnie was followed by the vocal Miria Matembe both from Mbarara in 2003.
Now with the Go Forward team Matembe has remained on and off-with most of her hard-hitting attacks against the NRM regime made while in Kampala and not her homeland.
Ibanda MP Guma Gumisiriza tried to break away but saw the consequences of his actions and remained in the party.
The late Eriya Kategaya also tried to break away from the NRM but like Guma read the signs and returned.
In Mbarara FDC now depends on veteran John Kazoora who has now moved to Mbarara municipality where he will tussle it out with Michael Tusiime of NRM and Dr.Medard Bitekyerezo.
But again a survey among voters showed that he still has a mountain to climb if he is to beat the NRM candidate.
In Ankole Besigye will perform best in Mbarara municipality because of its urbanised nature and historical influence of Winnie Byanyima. “When you break off from NRM, you are dead politically here,” says Enos Mujuni in Mbarara.
In any other politicians with the calibre of Amanya Mushega, Byanyima, Matembe and Kaijuka broke off from a party there would be chaos.
People like Mushega, Matembe and Kaijuka have been trying to issue out their message home to the population that Museveni has lost the initial objectives of the revolution; that he should go now if the prosperity he brought to Ankole is to be retained.
However, the population, going by the past election results is not listening. After the nominations for MPs in December last year FDC got at least 21 candidates nominated for the over 32 direct constituencies.
Among the notable FDC MP candidates include Mweteise Bitambara in Kazo, John Kazoora in Mbarara, Naboth Ahabwe Barya in Kajara and Odo Tayebwa.
At LC5 level they have four candidates out of 10 while at district women MPs they have seven out of 10. This is a better showing than 2011 though.
But of course all these opposition candidates find in daunting to campaign in an area that is Museveni stronghold.
“We are working in a very hostile environment where opposition to Museveni is considered a crime,” Mweteise Bitambara says. To many of the people in Ankole opposing Museveni is like a betrayal of some kind.
How they will vote
By the time of writing this story Mbabazi had already campaigned in Ankole and just like his rallies in most of western Uganda Mbarara did not welcome him warmly.
There was a clash with NRM supporters in Mbarara and Ntungamo, Besigye campaigned there too and received a far better reception than Mbabazi.
Besigye also went much deeper into the villages than before. “Besigye’s message was clearer this time round than in 2006 and 2011,” says Charles Gumisiriza, a local political analyst and a former MP candidate.
He however says Besigye’s main weaknesses lie in FDC’s lack of candidates and strong personalities to deepen and sustain the message after he has left.
Besigye has set up cells of the now famous “Power 10” supporters in Ankole. However, they are more visible in municipalities like Mbarara and Bushenyi and not rural areas, where most of the voters are.
Besides, many of the Power 10 members are not known opinion leaders, capable of changing the minds of voters.
This is where Museveni beats all the other candidates. With candidates in each of the over 32 constituencies and all LC5, LC3 and LC1 seats, Museveni has a very strong team on the ground to prop up his message even when he has left.
“Each of these candidates carries the NRM party colour and values to every rally, small or big,” Gumisiriza says.
In 2006 Museveni won Mbarara with 76% of the votes cast he won in Ibanda with 85%, Kiruhura with 92%, Isingiro with 85%, which gave him an overall winning percentage of 88% of all votes cast in the four districts. That was not surprising.
However the most surprising result came from the municipality. It is in Mbarara municipality that President Yoweri Museveni performed worst in Ankole region in 2001, 2006 and 2011.
In 2006 Museveni won with just above 58% of the votes cast against Colonel Kizza Besigye’s 41%. But again given the fact that Mbarara Municipality is the largest urban area in the west the voters were keeping with the tradition of voting against the incumbent in urban areas.
Besigye will once again perform best in Mbarara municipality in the whole of Ankole region. In 2011, Museveni won Ankole with 83% of the votes. Given Besigye’s increased efforts in the region, Museveni’s winning margin is likely to drop by about 5% from 83% in 2011 to 78% in Ankole, come February 18.