With just a couple of days left to Uganda’s 2021 General Election, we can already write the post mortem of why it went the way it did. Of course with 11 presidential candidates in the ring, that would be 10 post mortems, why each lost.
But some four candidates did not really signify much and even I don’t know the names of two of them, though I am aware of one woman and the boss of the country’s oldest party but most of whose senior members have been supporting Bobi Wine.
There have been seven real presidential contestants namely incumbent Yoweri Museveni and his top challenger Robert Kyagulanyi (Bobi Wine); two retired generals Mugisha Muntu and Henry Tumukunde; ‘baby’ John Katumba and barefooted Patrick Amuriat; and finally preacher man Joseph Kabuleta.
This week we only have space for one post mortem — why Joseph Kabuleta did not make it. He trained as an engineer, worked as a journalist, lived as a preacher and wound up a politician. Before he entered politics he was well known in elite circles but not to the masses. Then he did something dramatic that made everyone notice — he kissed his pastor’s shoes.
Everything was thrown at him on social media and when someone mentioned the Pope, Kabuleta’s dismissive comment about the Pontiff irked Uganda’s Catholics until in an inexplicable twist, Pope Francis himself closed that debate by exonerating Kabuleta.
This post mortem is important because Kabuleta’s presidential bid is the first one to differ from all the previous contenders’ bids since independence, which were about seeking power to then improve the citizens’ wellbeing. Kabuleta’s bid has instead been directly addressing the citizens’ wellbeing by talking specifics under economic justice or what he calls financial liberation.
We can straight away sign off the post mortem report for Kabuleta’s electoral loss thus: It was caused by his late start. He started sharing his message late and it got lost in the democracy — power — politics talk of the other candidates which has been gaining traction for 60 years and the 17 million voters have grown to expect.
Yet the rules allowed presidential aspirants a full year to ‘consult’ countrywide before the nomination. So if Kabuleta had started the ‘consultation’ in October 2019, more people would have realised the difference, in that his bid was more relevant to their well-being than most.
So when he really started campaigning, just three months back, he mostly sounded like an activist in a hurry. Some of the things he said could even be described as ‘dangerous’ and indeed, much earlier before he joined politics, he had been arrested and detained for about a week over what was considered subversive talk. Yet it was all about economic justice and accountability, but his presentation was reckless, and everybody said he had it coming when he was thrown in the coolers.
While some of Museveni’s other challengers like General Muntu and Engineer Amuriat sounded fine, it was hard to put a finger to what exactly these candidates intended to do with the power on getting it. It was Kabuleta’s exactitude that set him aside from the pack.
Kabuleta spelt out how much income a household should earn from which activity after working at it for what length of time. He not only told people that good income was their right but showed them that Uganda indeed has the resources to make the earning of that income a reality. He cited the mineral resources which are free wealth from God that just need smart management for all the citizenry to benefit.
Of course his pet topic was petroleum coming as he does from Bunyoro region, where the country’s vast resources are located. Some of the allegations he made about the oil earlier landed him in trouble with police, but there is now a possibility that the delay in executing the oil story might leave it unconcluded by the time oil loses demand as the race to develop clean energy sources gathers competitive momentum all over the globe.
Uganda is actually lucky that it could be having all the strategic minerals for the future industries based on clean energy, including the energy minerals themselves.
They are certainly not in the magnitude they exist in Congo, but there is for example enough iron ore to produce steel for the next 200 to 300 years at projected local and regional demand.
Everything required for modern heavy infrastructure construction is available in extreme abundance. And activities involving them can create a million jobs, but the public land where these resources exist must be protected from grabbers.
These are the things Kabuleta, or another candidate who wants to be directly relevant to the voters needs to spell out in simple terms. But they must do it in good time, not just a couple of months to the elections.
Joachim Buwembo is a Kampala-based journalist. E-mail:[email protected]
This article was first published in The EastAfrican newspaper on January 9, 2021.