The fever is slowly catching on. People are setting eyes on several prizes ahead of the 2011 political festival. One huge anticipated race will be that between the Presidency Minister Beatrice Wabudeya (NRM) against Nandala Mafabi, the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, for the Budadiri West seat in Sironko District.
What we shall witness, after Wabudeya declared she would no longer go for the Sironko Woman seat and instead move turf to Budadiri West, will be a culmination of two dissimilar journeys of politicians largely known.
Wabudeya jumped into the political fray in 1996, taking the Mbale Woman seat in a grueling battle with then UEB boss Irene Muloni. Coming from a humble veterinary profession, hers was a real coup—but the even bigger surprise was her inclusion on cabinet as a Primary Health Care minister thereafter. Of course this political foundation was mainly attributed to the silent support she got from then powerful NRM Political Commissar and Speaker of Parliament, James Wapakhabulo. Wabudeya and Housing Minister Werikhe Gabafusa were Wapakhabulo’s two projects that he helped not just win seats but find slots for in cabinet.
And yet for Wabudeya—hers was never a clear political path. Largely said to be aloof—it occurred to her that fighting for the Mbale Woman seat was going to be a tall order—she tactfully withdrew to the Sironko Woman seat in 2001—good enough the new-district craze had caught on.
She then took a tour through the education ministry and ended up at the doorstep of the presidency—as the minister in charge. It is a position she’s held ever since she made it through the 2006 elections—where she literally had to shoot her way to victory. With a little-known accountant taking her on the FDC ticket, it took deploying security agencies and literally stuffing ballot boxes—with skirmishes at Sironko Town Council—for her to score victory.
Compare that with Nandala Mafabi. Largely unknown before 2000; he leaves a well-paying job in the World Bank and makes it on the opposition ticket as MP for Budadiri West in 2001. The early days see him named in a few corruption scandals (the Mukwano case) but he later makes a sterling performance as chairman of the House’s National Economy committee.
He then shoots to prominence as chairman of the Parliamentary Accounts Committee; he becomes the face of Parliament’s fight against corruption; grilling district and government officials accused of plunder by the Auditor General. Nandala by no mistake is a great accountant. He has a laser-precision of seeing through documents—especially when they are about accountability.
Such are the CVs of these two big politicians who have finally chosen to lock horns—with different motives. It is obvious that President Museveni wants Nandala out of the House. He’s helped expose the murk in the regime—many times just falling short of implicating the Presidency—like in the CHOGM theft scandal. Like Museveni did with Maj. Kazoora, Hon. Sabiiti and Augustine Ruzindana in 2006; Nandala is a marked man for 2011. That the President has taken time to go to Budadiri West and alert the peasants there about his dislike for Nandala is no surprise.
But whereas Janet Museveni might have found it easy to unseat Ruzindana in Ruhaama, Wabudeya may not just have it smooth in Budadiri. Nandala in Mbale is popularly referred to as “the king of the Bamasaaba”. It is a title won very hard. He fought tooth-and-nail to take over management of Bugisu Cooperative Union—the one-time pride of Mbale. Despite stiff opposition from the government, which at one point tried to change the law to bar Nandala from contesting, he went ahead and swept the poll. Today, barely a year after he assumed that mantle, the union is registering billions in profit, up from the heavily-indebted apparatus it had become.
For this single sole reason, Nandala has become a messiah of sorts. The small-bodied man, who walks with a slight stoop and always has his sleeves rolled up (Obama style), has taken Mbale by the storm. At no previous point in Bugisu’s history (maybe with exception of Masette Kuya and Wapa at some point), have Bagisu rallied so concretely behind a politician—let alone one in the opposition. He sponsors over 200 university students from his constituency, giving them part of their tuition. His numerous petrol stations are a source of employment for many.
That exactly is the difference between Nandala and Wabudeya. As minister—and knowing how politics has come to be defined in this country—many Bagisu though Wabudeya’s positioning would enable them access jobs or related benefits. How mistaken they were! Either out of principle or stinginess, this has not happened much. When Wabudeya was education minister, Bugisu was among the worst-performing regions in national exams. She watched as the only giant school, Nabumali, slid to anarchy. Even when she was in health, the state of hospitals never changed—instead facilities like Bududa Hospital continued to become fossilized. I met a frustrated student who thought by being from Mbale, she had a good shot at a government scholarship to study abroad—because Wabudeya was minister. I later learnt that many young Bagisu had suffered similar fate. Not even the presence of Ms Gabona, another daughter of the soil as head of the scholarships board in the ministry could help. And yet the case was different for people from another region!
A few weeks ago, I made an appointment with someone who was to become a new friend. It turned out it was Wabudeya’s daughter—fresh from school. She was asking if I could help her get a job—and wondering why—she told me her mum could never peddle influence to get her an appointment. Now, this can either be a plus or minus depending on where one stands. Principle or stinginess?
That said, it is clear Nandala is the more popular—but Wabudeya has the state machinery. The story is that Nandala was actually intending to run for the Mbale Municipality seat after Wilfred Kajeke threw in the towel. When news made the rounds that Wabudeya was eyeing his home turf, he cancelled the idea, instead opting to have the face-off.
But also with the news that Principal Private Secretary to President Museveni Amelia Kyambadde is jumping into elective politics--the done deal is that she will take the Presidency Minister slot--if she goes through. This makes it even more important for Wabudeya to snatch the Budadiri Seat; but if she fails--I see her political career plummeting from then on. With such high stakes, this makes a real dream contest!