Museveni has Always Won Western Uganda: Will he Win It Again?

Besigye’s score in western Uganda is a contrast of his performance in other regions, except Karamoja, where he managed to perform impressively, winning many districts or losing by a small margin.
09 Jan 2021 16:30
Summary of Besigye and Museveni percentage scores in western Uganda

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In his maiden presidential run in 2001, Dr. Kizza Besigye, the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC)’s four-time candidate polled 8 percent in Mbarara district. He almost tripled the 2001 score in 2006 election—polling 23 percent. Besigye score in Mbarara slightly went down to 20.6 percent in 2011 and he had the best score of 28.2 percent in 2016 presidential election.


Besigye’s scores in Mbarara in the four presidential elections is illustrative of his performance in western Uganda. For instance, he won only two districts—Kasese (2006 and 2016) and Rukungiri—his home district in 2016. Apart from these districts, Besigye managed to poll more than 30 percent only in Mitooma, Ntungamo and Kabale districts in 2016 election.


And his worst scores were in districts of Kisoro, Kamwengye, Kyenjojo and Kiruhura where he never scored more than 13 percent since 2001. But Besigye was always making minimal improvement in these districts. For instance, he polled 3 percent in Kisoro in 2001 and had improved this score to 10 percent in 2016. 


Besigye’s score in western Uganda is a contrast of his performance in other regions, except Karamoja, where he managed to perform impressively, winning many districts or losing by a small margin.


The National Resistance Movement (NRM) candidate, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni maintained such a tight grip on western Uganda votes.  Elvis Harold Twikirize, 32 years, a resident of Rubanda district started voting in 2011 and has been voting Museveni for what he says has done in the “health and education.” He says he will give Museveni a “thank you vote” for creating Rubanda district. The district was curved out Kabale in 2017.  

Joy Katusiime, 60 years, from Hoima City says she has been voting Museveni because of improvements in the health sector which has benefited women. For this reason, she will vote him again. Joy says Museveni is “still leading this country into the right direction.”


When he came into the race in 2001, Dr. Mwambutsya Ndeebesa, a lecturer at Makerere says, Besigye was first seen as a traitor who was coming to interrupt their turn to rule. That didn’t win him many votes in the region.


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In subsequent elections, Ndebeesa says Besigye won more political support which he failed to turn into a wider vote win because of weak organizational structures. “Elections are won on two grounds: organizational factors and political factors. Besigye did not have organizational factors in his side,” he says.


Bernard Sabiti, a researcher and public policy analyst says Museveni has had a substantial support in western Uganda over years that disadvantaged Besigye. “It’s being naïve to say Museveni has no support at all. That is not true. There is genuine support for the president especially in the countryside and particularly in western Uganda.”


The growth of opposition in western Uganda and across the country, Sabiti says is impeded by lack of a leveled playing field. For instance, he says most radio stations—the main communication medium—are owned by NRM bigwigs or rich businessmen affiliated to the ruling party who don’t let opposition candidates use them to reach a wider audience. A number of opposition candidates have been blocked from appearing on radio stations during the ongoing campaigns. 


Both Sabiti and Ndebeesa say NRM has leveraged patronage and state machinery to tempt politicians who walk away back into its fold but also frustrate organizational capabilities of opposition parties in western Uganda.


In Toro, Beatrice Kiraso says the region has historically embraced Museveni as their own. “Toro has really taken NRM and Museveni government to be their thing all this time,” she says. 

It was the first area to be captured by National Resistance Army -NRA. Kiraso says Toro is one regime behind the rest of Uganda because when Bazilio Olara-Okello and Tito Lutwa Okello overthrew Milton Obote in 1985, the Toro had already been captured by NRA. In other words, the Okellos never ruled Tooro.


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Besigye is not on the ballot paper in this election. How will western Uganda’s voting pattern change as a result? For instance, Edward Rugumayo says, certainly, Toro’s voting pattern will change as Toro urbanize, more people get educated and youth access social media to keep update withthe country’s political environment. 


Rugumayo’s forecast is: “Museveni is going to win but with a reduced percentage.” He adds; “Young competitors like Kyagulanyi and Mugsha Muntu will take away some of the voters that Museveni has taken for granted.” He says Besigye’s voters will be largely shared by Kyagulanyi and Muntu but some will stick to the FDC candidate Patrick Oboi Amuriat. 


Kiraso who is now chief of staff of Renewed Uganda of Gen. Henry Tumukunde, a presidential candidate says Toro people “seem to have come to realize that they were taken for granted.” People, she says have started “slowly and steadily” embracing other political parties other than NRM. “There are so many young people who don’t see any reason why they should  vote NRM,” she says.  

Besigye’s best performance in Toro was in Hoima and Kabarole where he polled 23 and 22 percent respectively in 2016 presidential election. Kiraso says these votes will be shared by opposition candidates.  

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Kiraso further argues that the last presidential election “was a two horse race.” And now there are more horses that have come into the race, a disadvantage to Museveni. But in 2016, former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi was projected to be a horse when he entered into the race. He never lived to peoples’ expectation. Therefore, it’s not certain that presidential candidates such as Muntu and Tumukunde will be “horses” in this election. 


She reckons, “Actually, I would be shocked if Museveni get a clean 50 percent in any of the districts in Toro.” 


Same as other analysts, Peter Bogere of Uganda Project Implementation and Management Centre (UPIMAC), an organization that conducts voter education thinks that Besigye's votes will be shared by opposition candidates. For Besigye fanatics, they could still be waiting for him to endorse a political candidate. Besigye has seldom been on the campaign trail with FDC candidate, Amuriat. 


Bogere argues that candidates such as Tumukunde and Muntu can only make inroads in Museveni strongholds if they are meritoriously organized. 


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Forecasting opposition chances in western Uganda and across the country, Bernard Sabiti argues that Bobi Wine—the main opposition candidate—will perform less “impressively” than Besigye. He says Bobi Wine is viewed as a youth and Besigye had some kind of “authenticity” that the musician turned politician lacks.   

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And for the youth vote, who are viewed as a key in this election, Sabiti argues that the thinking of most rural youth in not different from that of their parents who are sticking to Museveni. “The majority of youth who are 18-30, these are married and many of them are living a rural life,” he says. Most of these youth, he says will also vote for Museveni.     

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Ndebeesa say without Besigye, FDC with perform dismally in western Uganda. He argues that voters tend to vote for personalities rather than political parties. Whereas Besigye was well known, Amuriat—the candidate who replaced him isn’t.


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“You get votes because there are people to hunt votes for you, there are people to sustain votes for you,” Ndebeesa says. “Because on the day of voting, in western Uganda, you will find that even those who have not turned up to vote will be voted for, and they will be voted for in favor of candidate Museveni.”

Such are the circumstances that make opposition candidates lose in western Uganda. And they will lose again.       

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