There is expected to be fireworks in Igara West, Bushenyi district when perennial rivals Raphael Magyezi and Prof. Tarsis Kabwegyere, renew their political battle ahead of next year’s polls.
In many constituencies, incumbent MPs are worried about those who have made their intentions to replace them, public. In our ongoing weekly series of analyses, examining the aspirants and the issues that are likely to influence voter choices, UMARU KASHAKA and CHRIS MUGASHA look at Igara West constituency in Bushenyi district, where the incumbent, also local government minister, Raphael Magyezi, seeks re-election against 11 challengers.
There is expected to be fireworks in Igara West, Bushenyi district when perennial rivals Raphael Magyezi and Prof. Tarsis Kabwegyere, renew their political battle ahead of next year's polls.
Kabwegyere lost the Igara West seat to Magyezi in the September 2010 NRM primaries. He had occupied it for 10 years and also participated in the Constituent Assembly that made the 1995 Constitution.
When contacted, Kabwegyere confirmed his interest in contesting next year, saying he would not have dared to do so, if his opponent, Magyezi, was still strong.
"As I have always done in Parliament, I try as much as possible to identify what people need, compared to what they want and that is how I have been involved in planning and working to make sure tomorrow is better," he said.
Kabwegyere said he established projects in education and supported schools through fundraising and mobilised women groups to uplift themselves out of poverty.
"There are things I have done in my constituency, which will be there even when I am gone. I have built schools like Nyabubare Secondary School and contributed generously towards the construction of churches and mosques. I have created awareness and got people to know what they need — in other words, establishing roots of development," Kabwegyere said.
Observers say he has benefited from different regimes, under various capacities. He has held many ministerial positions since the 1970s, under President Idi Amin's regime and was dropped as minister in charge of general duties in the Office of the Prime Minister in June 2016.
He has issued out a booklet dubbed "Rwongyesereza" that contains some projects which he implemented, supported and initiated in the area while he was MP.
"My people need education and want to start on the development process. I distributed piglets to women groups in every cell and those who do not deal with pigs for religious reasons, got goats and sheep.
"Many of them have now graduated from sheep to cows, to educating their children. That is opening people's eyes to see how they can be better off, rather than giving them an impression that you are the one who will look after them," Kabwegyere said.
His comments will be widely interpreted as a thinly veiled attack on Magyezi's style of leadership. The professor of sociology scoffed at his critics who say he is too old and frail to represent the constituency.
"I am not going to be carrying sacks of coffee or running races. Leadership is not physical. If that were the case, then we would have toddlers leading the country because they are younger and stronger," he contended.
He said age is just a number. "That is not the issue and Magyezi himself cannot present it anymore because he moved a Bill which lifted the age limits from the Constitution, paving way for people like me to stand for the presidency. So, if I can stand for the presidency, why can't I contest in a constituency?
So the issue is not age, it is performance. What have you done for the people?" Kabwegyere argued. He and Magyezi will rely on the structures they have built over the years, although the other aspirants have also set up their own.
Analysts speak out
Before a nationwide lockdown was imposed to contain the spread of the coronavirus, most of the aspirants were taking advantage of public functions, such as funerals and weddings, to drive their messages home.
Igara West is predominantly NRM, where the winners of the party primaries are assured of a smooth sail in the general elections. And this perhaps explains why nearly all aspirants are seeking the ruling party's flag.
Analysts say the crowded race might make it a stiff battle for the contenders, but Magyezi, who rose to prominence as the mover of the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2017, which removed the age limit, disagrees.
He says the bigger the number, the better for him. "I regard it as positive. It is a good sign for our democracy that people feel free to compete and you leave the judgment to the population. So, I am not scared at all. I know them and I know their capacity," he told Sunday Vision.
"The fact that many people want to contest is because they are finding the constituency attractive. It is shining and on a path to development. So, they know when they win, they will not cry out that they are breaking under the weight of their voters' demands," he stressed.
He, however, reminded his rivals that his term as MP has not been inconsequential. "I have united the people. I have done my best to serve without segregation and people are now together. My second achievement is the visibility of the constituency. "The most important role of an MP is legislation, so the strength of the legislator is what makes the constituency visible. And that is not contested. I have done my part," he said.
He noted that he has achieved a lot in areas of infrastructure, education and healthcare, among others.
He said: "We have done a lot in terms of lobbying for electricity, urban development programmes and agricultural inputs. So, there is a lot we have done for the constituency and that is why it becomes attractive."
The race is likely to be mainly among Magyezi, Kabwegyere and Mbwatekamwa. Mbwatekamwa, it is said, had said he would not seek another term in Parliament, citing government's lack of commitment to implement key resolutions passed by the House. But he is now said to be switching to Igara West. Efforts to get a comment from him by press time were futile.
Observers say many people believe that Mbwatekamwa's roots are in Bushenyi, but he contested and won the MP seat for Kasambya County in Mubende district in the 2016 elections. And they believe that that could work against him. Mbwatekamwa, who is in Parliament on NRM ticket, has been opposing party positions and hobnobbing with members of the opposition. He opposed the removal of the age limit. He is the coordinator of the People Power pressure group for the Ankole sub-region.
He has already recruited some people and bought two ambulances for two health centres in the constituency, to help him in the mobilisation.
He might be planning to ride on the wave of Kyadondo East MP Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine's popularity and his stand on age limit Bill to win the votes, especially among the youth who oppose NRM. But some analysts say the 39-year-old Adrin Kobusingye, the only female aspirant, could cause an upset in the elections, given that Igara West is dominated by tea farmers.
These farmers, analysts say, might look at Kobusingye as "one of us".
"I am convinced that I have the ability and capacity to work and deliver for my people of Igara West because I have been with them throughout," she told Sunday Vision. She is also the founder chairperson for Igara/ Buhweju tea farmers Savings and Credit Co-operative Organisations, which has a membership of 4,000 people.
Igara West has four sub-counties — Kakanju, Nyabubare, Kyamuhunga, Bitooma and part of Ishaka/Bushenyi town council. The constituency is well known for the growing of bananas and dairy farming. Residents also grow coffee and tea. It is found in Bushenyi, which has the biggest number of ministers in the country.
Each of the main aspirants has strong support within their subcounties and observers say a win will depend on who can get the most votes outside their home areas.
How tight is the race?
● Raphael Magyezi is expected to contest against Kasambya County MP Gaffa Mbwatekamwa, former contestant and director for JJ Community (a non-profit organisation) Horace Muhabuzi, the Growers tea factory board chairperson Adrine Kobusingye, Dr Nicholas Karuhanga who runs a clinic in Ntungamo district, Nyabubare sub-county district councillor Adam Kyakuwa and Hajji Umaru Muhanguzi, the deputy Resident District Commissioner (RDC) of Bundibugyo district.
● Muhanguzi was the Bushenyi district National Resistance Movement general secretary before he was appointed RDC. Muhanguzi also served as the district councillor for Kakanju sub-county.
● Other aspirants are former contestant Onesmus Tumutegyereize, Robert Bahiga, Andy Yellow (Andrew) and Ruhamire Muhamma.
About the contesters...
● Magyezi, 59, is the incumbent MP and also local government minister, while Kabwegyere, 77, is the former Minister for General Duties in the Office of the Prime Minister.
● Kabwegyere joined politics in the 1960s while at Ntare School in Mbarara district. He chaired the Moshi conference of 1979 in Tanzania, which plotted Idi Amin's downfall and was a member of the Democratic Party (DP) in his early years of political activism, serving as its secretary-general at one time.