Disclaimer: Parts of this story may not be 100% accurate as it is recollected from childhood memories of stories from 3rd party sources. I pray that some readers find it worthy of a corroboration or refute especially people whose names will be mentioned herein.
Setting: Rural Rukanga village, Nkongoro Subcounty, Kajara County, Ntungamo District, South Western Uganda.
Event: Parliamentary Elections.
In 1996 Uganda held both Presidential and Parliamentary elections for the first time since 1980, 16 years earlier. The tempo was so high and excitement way above the clouds. As a young boy, typical of young boys, I remember running around with small posters of a middle aged Yoweri Museveni with a mustache in black and white. I remember the swagg I used to move around with being a source of these much coveted small flyers. I remember Paulo Kawanga’s rally at Rwashaimeire Saza grounds in which he said; “Njagala akalulu kamu kokka, akako!” meaning “I need only one vote, yours!” which was misquoted by the banyankore to mean he only wanted one vote. I remember people chattering about how a man could traverse the whole district looking for just one vote.
However, the highlight of 1996 Elections for me wasn’t the Presidential election, it was the Parliamentary election between Hon. Kweronda Ruhemba (Who had served as Minister for Cooperatives, later Minister for Economy in The Office of the President and was appointed an ambassador after losing in 2001) and Hon. Nuwagaba Herbert Muntu (Elder brother to Gen. Mugisha Muntu). Partly because my late father was one of the strategists in Herbert Nuwagaba’s camp and on the other part it was a highly charged campaign since both candidates were both big wigs in the Museveni government. Hebert worked in State House in addition to his brother being the then army commander.
There was a lot of voter bribery then as it is today. Sugar and soap were the main currencies in exchange for a vote. Both Nuwagaba’s and Kweronda’s camp had procured these items in anticipation for distribution on the eve of voting day. It was speculated that the Nuwagaba camp was better equipped since it even had brand new bicycles to be given to the agents to undertake this exercise. Judging from the rallies one could conclude Herbert Nuwagaba was winning the election without much hustle. On the final rally at Rwashameire Playground I remember Nuwagaba standing on top of a bus to address a mammoth crowd because there was no other elevation on which he could be seen by everybody present.
Then something unusual happened. On the 27th June 1996, eve of election day a decision was reached by Nuwagaba camp that there would be no distribution of items in exchange for votes but they would rather be given out during the victory celebrations. During a meeting held at my home and chaired by my father, Nuwagaba’s agents resolved that they would instead spend the night frustrating Kweronda’s agents from distributing their items in homesteads. Young as I was I spent the whole night in my father’s small “Dudu” (I still don’t know how those small pick-up vehicles are called) in a goose-chase with a Kweronda camp vehicle shouting at the top of our voices; “Abashuma mbabo, abashuma mbabo!” (Here comes the thieves, here comes the thieves!).
I was told by my father years later, that the “infamous decision” of not distributing the goodies had been influenced by Gen. Mugisha Muntu who argued that if his brother’s camp was engaged in voter bribery, they would have no difference with the Kweronda camp.
Another queer story was told, that on the day of elections (27th June 1996), Hon. Kweronda Ruhemba after voting at his polling station sat in the voting booth (they used to make an enclosure with dry banana leaves before the introduction of basins) with a pistol and was compelling everyone who walked in to vote him. It is said that Gen. Mugisha Muntu (Then army commander) personally went to the polling station walked into the booth and simply asked Hon. Kweronda; “Aho niho wahika?” literally meaning ‘you have sunk this low?’ and moved out entered his car drove off.
As fate would have it Hon. Nuwagaba Herbert lost the 1996 election to Hon. Kweronda. There have been two explanations for the loss which a day before had seemed to be an obvious victory;
- That Hon. Kweronda Ruhemba succeeded in bribing the voters because as we were busy shouting after his agent, they were throwing the goodies in people’s compounds.
- That we even annoyed some of our supporters by not buying the votes and going ahead to frustrate the one who was willing to bribe them.
That election shaped my political outlook even when those experiences were gained when I was barely 8 years old.
What is indelible also is my image of Gen. Mugisha Muntu as an incorruptible and principled leader who refused to compromise his standards or use his power and influence as Army Commander in favor of his elder brother. I have since followed Gen. Muntu with mixed feelings. Admiration, reverence and sometimes annoyance. I remember watching him on TV one day and muttering to myself; “How do you manage to be so rigid all the time?”. Sometimes we just want to see someone we admire act like the rest of us so as to vindicate our shortcomings in character.
Its rejuvenating to note that Hon. Nuwagaba Herbert Muntu managed to secure a win in 2001 elections when his young brother (Gen. Muntu) was nolonger Army Commander and had even turned down a ministerial appointment. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to experience it firsthand as my family had since shifted to Kihiihi, Kanungu District and I was actively involved in another violent contest between Rt. Hon. Amama Mbabazi and James Musinguzi Garuga.
When Gen. Mugisha Muntu says #CountryBeforeSelf I feel proud that I know what exactly he is talking about.
If only Uganda had more Muntus!
By Ian Gumisiriza Jeremiah