Much has changed since FDC’s Kizza Besigye swept Rukungiri, his home district during the February 18 presidential elections, beating the incumbent Yoweri Kaguta Museveni for the first time in four attempts at the presidency.
Still, none of that blather was expected this time as President Museveni made his entry into the hilly town some 400km south west of Kampala on Sunday, January 8, for consecration and enthronement of Bishop Benon Magezi as new Bishop of North Kigezi Diocese.
This was not to be the first time he would be attended a religious ceremony in Rukungiri, which to many is the original home of opposition to President Museveni in western Uganda. Besigye aside, there was Maj Gen Jim Muhwezi, who squared up with Museveni, rebuffed calls to apologise to his president, before eventually making up with him.
But Uganda’s number one citizen did not show up!
It’s not hard to get lied to by politicians in a small Ugandan town. But it’s unsatisfied to be to subjected to such by the Church. Radio announcements had been made in the past days inviting people to turn up in big numbers to welcome the President but come D-day, many of the locals looked dejected on realizing Mr Museveni was a no-show.
And his personal absence has raised more dust than it can settle being the first event of such magnitude the President has skipped in many years.
Bishop Magezi replaced Emeritus Bishop Patrick Tugume Tusingwire as the fifth Bishop of North Kigezi dioceses at a ceremony that was presided over by Archbishop Stanley Ntagali at St Emmanuel Cathedral Kinyasano.
Mr Museveni who had been expected to be the guest of honor instead delegated Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Gen Kahinda Otafiire to represent him.
Security Minister Gen Henry Tumukunde said during his afternoon speech that the fact that the president delegated was itself enough to ensure that his presence was felt.
Also in attendance is State Minister for Housing, Dr Chris Baryomunsi, Rubabo MP Hon Mary Paula Turyahikayo, Rukungiri Municipality’s Hon Roland Kaginda and his Rujumbura counterpart Fred Turyamuhweza while former Rujumbura MP Gen Jim Katugugu Muhwezi is also there.
But the suspicious stares and vaguely — and maybe not so vaguely — hostile words never came.
TheUgandan understands that having attended the consecration ceremonies of the past three business during his 30-year reign, President Museveni’s absence today has left many Christians angrier than bemused with some of them saying the presidential snub could be due to the declining support the people of Rukungiri have extended to the ruling NRM government as a whole than him being busy.
There is also the fact that of Rukungiri’s three constituencies, two are represented by opposition MPs in Parliament and this has been construed as being strongly opposed to the government establishment.
Mr. Don Wonyama, the Senior Presidential Press Secretary however told TheUgandan that he was not aware whether the President Museveni was invited but was sure the bishop’s ceremony was not on the official Museveni schedule.
President Museveni usually donates a $40,000 Pajero vehicle to a new Bishop but Minister Kahinda was not the case in Rukungiri with Gen. Otafire held that he had forgotten to pick the monster ride and deliver it since he got instructions from State House at a short notice.
Over the years, there have been accusations that religious leaders are compromised through presidential donations. Retired Assistant Bishop of Kampala diocese, Bishop Zac Niringiye, says that after religious leaders have accepted government gifts, they could not bring themselves to speak out against poor leadership.