By Mukalazi Deus Mubiru
In one of his articles, the government Spokesperson, Ofwono Opondo said ‘…the National Unity Platform (NUP), which while has a semblance of countrywide presence, in reality, the just concluded election showed it is a tribal sectarian outfit.’ The same sentiments were echoed by his boss, President Yoweri Museveni while dismissing the NUP performance as a tribal victory in Buganda. Many other analysts have come out to claim so. But is this true? Is NUP any different from other parties like NRM, UPC, FDC, DP and others? What does the analysis of 2021 election results reveal?
Writing before the election in August 2020, Michael Kakumirizi, dived into the topic of Bobi Wine, NUP and tribalism and ably explains the difference between tribalism, sectarianism and nepotism. He argues that there is ethnic nationalism, tribalism, and there is nepotism; — that these are three separate things, but republicanized Ugandans mix up those three, and call it all ‘tribalism’. Tribalism, is the unprincipled use of ethnic identity to advance the political and material interests of individuals. The key indicator of this is how they use and invoke ethnic nationalist arguments, but critically, do not want to recognize or give due authority to the native governance institutions created by that ethnicity. Or if they do, to then hijack them. Clearly, anyone who has taken time to study the rise of Bobi Wine and NUP would arrive at the conclusion that the support NUP enjoyed(s) within Buganda is not a principled deliberate move.
That NUP enjoyed massive victory in Buganda is a fact. But also, what is true is that other parties enjoyed unprecedented success and victories in other sub-regions where their principals hail from and picking out NUP’s victory in Buganda is dishonesty. For example, the NRM won with over 80 per cent in Ankole sub-region. FDC’s Patrick Oboa Amuriat who only managed a paltry 3 per cent nation wide garnered 24 per cent in Teso sub-region. In Lango sub-region much as UPC did not front a Presidential candidate, it’s the only area where UPC managed to get nine parliamentary candidates voted. What’s common in all these scenarios is that voters seem to have voted for “their own” across the regions.
For us to understand whether the NUP massive victory in Buganda was mainly because of tribe, we have to look at the performance of NUP in other regions and other considerations like the time and resources NUP had to mobilize, it’s history and propaganda spread by those opposed to NUP both in NRM and opposition. But also, what is wrong with organizing along ethnic lines if political parties are intended to reflect social cleavages? They need a social base they can draw support from. The real issue is how the organization along ethnic lines is managed and whether it leads to exclusion – or not. Ethnicity remains an important part of identities in Africa. Although ideology in the European sense is widely absent in Africa, ethnicity, as a social construct, can be considered as a sort of ideology.
It’s important to note that in Buganda sub-region, a region where Robert Kyagulanyi hails, he scored 59 per cent of the vote while Museveni managed 40 per cent in the same region. In Ankole, the sub-region where Museveni hails, he scored 87 per cent whereas Kyagulanyi managed a paltry 8 per cent. In Gomba District (Kyagulanyi’s ancestral District) he scored 53.66 per cent whereas Museveni scored 45.43 per cent. In Kiruhura (Museveni’s ancestral District), Museveni scored 98.76 per cent while Kyagulanyi scored 0.81 per cent. Rukungiri District, was, between 2006 and 2016 known predominantly as an FDC stronghold. In 2021, however, the only year where Dr Kiiza Besigye (who hails from the same District) did not contest), the voters there decided to vote for Museveni giving him 71.42 per cent followed by the FDC candidate Amuriat with 16.8 per cent. One can safely conclude, based on the above scenarios that people from Ankole and Kigezi are most likely to vote someone simply because he or she is one of their own compared to Buganda.
As stated by the Katikiro of Buganda immediately after these allegations of Baganda voting along tribal lines were made, Buganda is the only sub-region that has a history of voting non ethnic Baganda in office. The trend was the same in 2021 at all levels. Non Baganda got elected in Buganda even when they were up against Baganda. In Gomba District, Kyagulanyi’s home district, his own sister, Betty Ssentamu, a Muganda by tribe was defeated by a Sylivia Nayebale, a Munyankore by ethnicity. In Kampala City, Stella Nyanzi, a Muganda lost to Shamim Malende a Mugisu.
So, why would people like OO and Museveni overlook these simple clear facts to brand NUP tribalistic? It is because they choose to engage in the politics of fear. People have always used fear for intimidation of the subordinates or enemies. There is a longstanding history of employing the fear of “the others,” turning humans into illogical ruthless weapons. Fear is a very strong tool that can blur humans’ logic and change their behavior.
Tribalism is the biological loophole that many politicians have banked on for a long time: tapping into our fears and tribal instincts. The typical pattern is to give the other humans a different label than us, and say they are going to harm us or our resources, and to turn the other group into a concept. When building tribal boundaries between “us” and “them,” some politicians have managed very well to create virtual groups of people that do not communicate and hate without even knowing each other. And this was true for Kyagulanyi and NUP in the recently concluded elections. Many hated them without knowing why.
The writer is NUP Member, and Former MP Contestant, Mbarara City North.