Kamuli: How Salaam Lost M7 Favour
The Watongola Win Untold Story
By John V Sserwaniko
Modestly educated Hajjat Rehema Watongola is back as Kamuli Municipality MP having decisively defeated archrival Salaam Musumba with a margin of over 3,000 votes in the last week by-elections.
But what many are wondering is the reason why President Museveni, who had previously worked with Musumba, unleashed so much military might to subdue the FDC candidate. As LC5 chairperson for Kamuli, Salaam had through NRM SG Kasule Lumumba cultivated good rapport with the President and even accompanied him to Rome during the Papal visit.
This development sparked anxiety in FDC with members concluding their iron lady was defecting to NRM. Salaam also reduced her militant rhetoric against the system. Yet that wasn’t all. Unconfirmed reports show that a few months ago, Museveni financially intervened with Shs500m when a city bank was on the verge of taking the Nakasero residence belonging to Salaam and Isaac Musumba.
Reliable sources say that Museveni’s generous gesture was prompted by Lumumba who is friendlier to Salaam than Minister Isaac Musumba. The two-Salaam and Lumumba-share a lot including being devout Catholics who went to school together.
They also go to the same salon (Lords & Kings Parliamentary Avenue) and co-founded PAFO to oppose the lifting of term limits along with others. Its alleged when Salaam agreed, as LC5 chair, to scale down her criticisms of the system, Museveni tasked Lumumba to follow up the modalities including defecting back to NRM and be made a minister.
Apparently this is where Salaam reneged justifying the viciousness with which Museveni acted last week as seen in the heavy deployments. “She has been playing hide and seek yet Mzee expected Lumumba to report back that she has finally agreed,” said knowledgeable sources.
The other thing that happened last week and greatly perturbed Museveni, was the big Salaam crowds that gathered in Kamuli town to taunt and humiliate him as he drove back from Watongola rally at Kamuli district headquarters.
Donned in FDC colors, the Salaam crowd violently heckled as Museveni passedby, a thing that showed Museveni Salaam hadn’t changed as Lumumba had promised she would. Her supporters were, throughout the campaign period defiant, violent and very provocative towards NRM to the extent of stopping police trucks to check suspected ballot stuffing and other election offences.
There was something called the Arrow Brigade whose commanders were Besigye FDC diehards from mostly Kasese and Kampala. Museveni had previously protested to Lumumba about Salaam’s continued closeness to Col Kiiza Besigye including agreeing to serve in his People’s Government Network as Prime Minister.
“Museveni is more comfortable with people allied to Muntu but Salaam has remained a Besigyeist not willing even to make that little shift of denouncing KB for Muntu like the Katuntus have done,” said a Museveni assistant.
The other thing angering Museveni was the message the FDCs-Nandala Mafabi, Semujju Nganda, Harod Kaija, Kassiano Wadri and others-gave to Kamuli residents while marketing Salaam. They consistently told people the party badly needs Salaam back to Parliament at a time Museveni is pondering lifting age limits.
“This messaging made Mzee realize that this was about him politically. That is why he put more efforts than he originally intended to. He spent a whole day in Kamuli and also stayed in nearby Mayuge from where he supervised the elections to ensure that the unrepentant Salaam is politically neutralized,” sources said.
The lukewarm attitude would-be kingmakers Rebecca Kadaga and Lumumba exhibited towards Watongola also prompted Museveni not to take things for granted. Whereas Lumumba came mainly on the day Museveni visited and didn’t stay long, Kadaga was totally absent. In her place came Mike Mukula. The two powerful ladies are close Musumba allies. Museveni couldn’t take chances having seen the political humiliation such intrigue caused him in Abdul Katuntu’s Bugweri County where his man Kivejinja was annihilated during the December 2008 by-elections.
The last week defeat notwithstanding, Kamuli watchers insist Salaam can’t be written off so easily. “She is a multi-tasking politician with a following just imagine getting 5,000 votes in such a small town. She is still relevant and the Salaam I know isn’t yet done. She is going to build on those votes and can upstage NRM in 2021 about 4 years from now. The incumbent will no doubt make mistakes and will have to pay debts first and to also use this period to catch up on personal things having been in battle since 2015.
This is what Salaam is going to capitalize on. The Hajjat Watongola myth of a people’s person is going to be demystified: the 2m per zone, the chairs and tents she has been donating will be no more and voters will begin grumbling,” remarked an influential Busoga radio personality ever keenly following political trends in Kamuli.
Yet to fully understand the last week results, there are other factors one has to look into including the role played by ex-Minister Asuman Kiyingi who is also former Bugabula South MP famous for thrice overcoming Salaam.
Kiyingi was originally supposed to run in the by-election having mostly been urged to do so by supporters in Namisambya and Basata parishes (consensus is Muslims should rule this Municipality and it had to be Kiyingi in absence of Watongola). These are rural parishes that were added onto the other 8 to make Kamuli Municipality.
They were cut from Kiyingi’s Bugabula South and, whereas she was neck to neck with Salaam in the urban parishes, Watongola got block vote here because of Kiyingi’s influence. Along with LC5 Chairman Thormas Kategere, Kiyingi epitomized the Kaugu camp which always opposed the Kadaga camp.
Watongola, who once contested with Kadaga for woman MP Seat, also belongs to Kaugu camp and Kiyingi and Kategere provided the nucleus around which other hitherto disgruntled camp members coalesced to fail Salaam. There were fears the 6 others she competed with in NRM primaries would gang up and split the NRM vote and diminish Watongola’s chances.
This was very much expected after Masitula Namatovu originally of the Kadaga camp in the primaries, kept hostility to Watongola even after primaries. The camp was originally in disarray but the Kiyingi/Kategere solidarity provided glue on which Watongola built. Many including Isaac Musumba, Moses Kizige and others had originally shunned Watongola fearing she had been discredited too much (as ebichupuli politician) to win.
The Salaam propaganda had been too much and the fear was the population would morally shun her. The Kiyingi solidarity delivered something unexpected on nominations day-with a crowd of over 7,000 people joining the Watongola entourage which also comprised of many cars. This pomp was completed with Kiyingi’s posh car in which Watongola rode from nominations. Isaac Musumba had previously vowed never to support anybody from the Watongola because an impression had been created it produces only ebichupuli politicians.
This characterization gained currency after Watongola was disqualified for having fake qualifications and her husband detained for alleged dishonest dealings. Led by Kiyingi, the Kaugu camp influence further manifested in the role DJ Ronald Mengoli played. He is Kamuli’s leading celebrity and has the best disco system in the town.
He is a pace-setter of sorts and was initially hostile to the Watongolas. His candidate all along was Kiyingi who bowed out arguing Hajjat was popular enough to win for the NRM party. Kiyingi tactfully recapitalized Mengoli’s disco business with Shs27m that was used to ship in brand new machines and Public Address System.
This gave him a say in this influential celebrity’s life and business decisions. “He has the best public address system and once he switches it on, the entire town is brought to its knees. This is what was used to drown the Musumba procession on nominations day as people at Salaam’s rally couldn’t even hear the speeches because the entire town was drowned in Watongola music,” remarked Suleiman Ikoba, a Boda-Boda rider in Kamuli.
The following day the Musumba camp approached Mengoli and offered Shs0.4m per day but still the DJ couldn’t abandon Watongola who was giving only Shs150,000 per day because of the new equipment Kiyingi had contributed.
Ability to monopolize Kamuli’s best music address system ensured Watongola’s campaign momentum kept growing daily and by the time Salaam brought in the Besigye’s and others from Kampala, it was too late to tame the momentum Watongola’s bid had generated.
Highly placed sources say when celebrated researcher Semujju Nganda entered Kamuli he spent much of his time talking to ordinary people on the streets and his clear conclusion was it was too late to reverse the Watongola momentum. He left days after and didn’t come back.
Reliable sources say this irreversible momentum is the reason even Isaac Musumba, who had previously denounced Watongola, had to join her the Sunday before Museveni came on Monday. Salaam supporters had all along claimed Isaac was with them as evidenced by logistics like hoes that were being given to voters in the FDC candidate’s stronghold areas.
This momentum resulting from the Kaugu solidarity also emboldened Museveni, who had previously given up, to invest more efforts in Watongola. He had previously been convinced to be low profile on grounds the Watongolas had morally been too soiled for the liking of Kamuli people.
However, the intelligence reports he got showing clearly Watongola was strong (because of the Kaugu solidarity, campaign organization, the Salaam character problem of abusing people and the voter sympathy) greatly emboldened Museveni not only to drive to Kamuli and spend a whole day there but to also camp in nearby Mayuge to ensure the FDC iron lady is politically uprooted once and for all.
In fact Museveni’s presence, which Kiyingi and Kategere spent 2 hours rationalizing on election eve on Sebo FM, prompted hitherto fence-sitting cadres like Bugabula South MP Kibalya Maurice to become part of the last minute efforts leading to Salaam’s political misery.