To strengthen her re-election bid last September ahead of the NRM parliamentary primaries, outspoken minister of state for Investment and Privatisation, Evelyn Anite donated an ambulance to her constituents in the West Nile town of Koboko Municipality–creating one of the most critical services in this sub-region where too few ambulances are normally available for millions of people.
The second act of the MP was to use the donation to whip up the colour-coded politics in the sub-region. The ambulance was painted yellow to emphasize Anite’s loyalty to the ruling NRM party and bore an imprint; “MP Nakonesi” (Kakwa, for an action-oriented MP).
The donation was a sweetener to sway voters to re-elect her for a second term. The ambulance was to facilitate transportation of mothers to referral hospitals and health centres to reduce maternal mortality and risky deliveries at homes, as well as help fight against fistula.
On September 7,2020, Anite handed the ambulance to the municipal health department and promised to pay the driver up to six months. But the donation of such a rare service was not enough to fend off an embarrassing defeat at the voting booth.
She was beaten in the NRM primaries by Dr Charles Ayume, son of the late Francis Ayume, the former speaker of parliament. In the general election, Ayume defeated Charles Yakani, an independent candidate supported by Anite. The defeat of Anite, a dominant NRM force going into the primaries, was a big letdown for her.
Angry and bruised, Anite reversed course on her pledge to maintain the ambulance service for at least six months. She withdrew the ambulance and later told NTV in an interview that, “I am not a member of parliament for Koboko. I don’t want to answer anything… So, do not ask me anything. I am a private citizen; so, leave me alone. I repeat, leave me alone.”
Interviewed then, the Koboko Municipality mayor, Wilson Sanya, confirmed the ambulance was handed back to the MP. “I confirm that the ambulance was handed back to Anite by the district. The last time I spoke to the ambulance driver, he confirmed that it had been taken back on the minister’s orders,” he said.
Anite is not alone, Sarah Babirye Kityo, the outgoing Central Youth MP, also withdrew the tents and chairs she had donated to villages in Bukoto East, Masaka district. From 2018, Kityo made endless visits to the opposition-held constituency, hoping to win it back for the ruling party, which lost the seat 10 years ago to Florence Namayanja. Namayanja relocated to Masaka City and won the mayorship.
In Bukoto East, her political party, the National Unity Platform (NUP), fronted Evans Kanyike who defeated Kityo. NUP swept all elective positions in the area. The NRM won just two councilor seats. Annet Mpamurungi and David Karangwa were elected councilors to the Buwunga sub-county LC III council.
Kityo used a thanksgiving event she organized to retrieve her tents and chairs from the locals. According to Richard Nkunyingi, the NRM chairman for Kasaka parish, the MP did not see any logic in leaving the donations with a community that is not appreciative.
“We expected them to reciprocate by voting for her but since they rejected her parliamentary bid, it serves no purpose for us to leave our tents and chairs with them,” Nkunyingi said.
When she lost the Kalangala Woman parliamentary seat, the incumbent Aidah Nabayiga withdrew her scholarships for 34 final-year students at Bumangi Community Polytechnic. Nabayiga, who lost to NUP candidate Helen Nakimuli, had been sponsoring over 80 students.
None of the sponsored students has registered for the Uganda Business and Technical Examinations Board (UBTEB) exams, scheduled to start on April 8, 2021. About 46 students are also likely to drop out of school should they fail to find new sponsors. Morris Kuule, the bursar of the polytechnic, said they haven’t heard from the legislator.
According to Kuule, the affected students are required to pay their own tuition of Shs 400,000 and registration fees of Shs 200,000. Even before he lost his re-election bid, Rukiga county MP Herbert Kabafunzaki threatened to withdraw his two ambulances and stop giving condolence money to families if he lost.
Kabafunzaki, the former Labour, Employment and Industrial Relations state minister, ran two ambulances registration numbers; UAU 677X and UBA 466A, which he procured in 2017 and 2020 respectively. He also contributed Shs 30,000 in condolence fees for every person who died in the county.
The MP, however, told voters in Kamwezi sub-county that he no longer had mercy for people who don’t support him. For Mubarak Munyagwa, the outgoing Kawempe South MP, his loss despite the investment he had put in the constituency speaks to the hypocrisy of voters.
Munyagwa told journalists at parliament that since March 2020 when President Museveni announced the Covid-19 lockdown, he spent over Shs 200 million on his constituents.
“Ugandans don’t appreciate; I think I invested more than I should have done. For instance, I distributed 45,000 bags of maize flour and rice. Every after two years, I have been spraying bedbugs in over 20,000 homesteads, I had two ambulances and 39 free water distribution points…,” Munyagwa said.
The water distribution points were dismantled immediately his NUP challenger Bashir Kazibwe Mbaziira was declared winner of the January 14 election.
“The moment I lost the election, [National Water and Sewerage Corporation] cut off the water supply and some people took advantage and removed the tanks. I have no interest in those old tanks but it doesn’t make sense for me to continue paying the water after they have voted me out. I have been spending about Shs 16 million to Shs 25 million every month out of my family savings to pay for that water,” he said.
He said since he’s out of a job, he cannot afford to pay for the water. Like Anite, Munyagwa too says, his successor is now the right person to meet the demands of the constituency.
“If the incoming MP is willing to service the ambulances and pay the drivers, I am willing to donate them to the community but what the election showed me is that Ugandans don’t appreciate,” he said.
“This could explain why people like President Museveni who fought to come to power are merciless because they have seen the hypocrisy of Ugandans. Ugandans don’t appreciate.” For this reason, Munyagwa said, he may not take part in Dr Kizza Besigye’s defiance activities.
“Dr Besigye had instructed me to join the defiance campaign but I may not because I need some time with my family; I need at least two years to myself,” he said.
Roland Mugume Kaginda has also withdrawn his ambulance from Rukungiri Municipality. The outgoing Rubaga North MP Kato Lubwama is an angry man too. He withdrew his bursaries. He said in a recent interview that he is referring parents begging for school fees for their children to the new MP.
The withdrawal of donations simply illustrates one point; the relationship between lawmakers and their voters is largely transactional. According to a research paper titled; Cost of Politics in Uganda written by Frederick Golooba-Mutebi, politics in Uganda, especially at the higher end of the political system, has in recent years become increasingly the preserve of a small self-selecting elite, those who can raise the vast amounts of money needed to conduct successful campaigns for election to public office.
“Ever since the restoration of multi-party politics, competition for the rather limited elective offices has become highly intense. As with MPs in other multi-party systems, Uganda’s parliamentarians dedicate large shares of their campaign funds to personalised networks. Those who end up winning parliamentary seats do so not on the basis of the attractiveness of their manifestos, but because they out-do their rivals in as far as “buying votes” is concerned,” he said.
SELLING ONE’S VOTE
“This has profound implications for the voters and the wider political system. For the voters, selling one’s vote literally absolves the buyer of responsibility as a representative who goes to parliament to represent their views and interests. For the wider political system, it excludes otherwise capable, experienced and knowledgeable people who, owing to lack of resources, will refrain from standing for election and ultimately making a contribution. The inevitable question these observations raise is: what should be done about it? Care must be exercised not to look to technical solutions to problems that stem from the current political economy of campaign financing.”
A good number of incumbents lost their seats. More than half of MPs who voted for removal of the presidential age limit from the Constitution on December 20, 2017, lost the January 14 election. Of the 433 elected MPs that were in the House by 2017, 379 voted on the controversial motion that sought the removal of presidential age limit from the Constitution, which paved way for President Museveni, 76, to run in the January 14 elections, which he won.
The amended clause barred anyone aged above 75 or below 35 from contesting for president. It was removed following a motion for amendment tabled by Igara West MP Raphael Magyezi.