Religion, Greed & Personalities: Understanding the Genesis of Political Conflict in Rukungiri District

  • by ReConcepts
  • July 14, 2018

By Jackson Mwesigwa

Last month, President Museveni wrote an article in the New Vision about the recently concluded parliamentary by-elections but put much emphasis on the Rukungiri woman MP by election that was won by the FDC.

In his article, the President highlighted four major reasons he thinks the NRM lost and these included; leaders not linking with the economic interests of specific groups in a systematic way, lack of organizational political linkages with villages or urban groups, leaders of NRM in different areas taking sides within the intra-movement competitions and lack of thorough preparations for elections.

The President further stated that sectarianism of religion (catholic vs protestant) and tribe (Bakiga vs Bahororo) were used by opposition to win this election. However much as some of these factors could be true, I do not agree with his assertion on tribes. It’s evident that Hon Winnie Matsiko (a Muhororo) won in almost areas occupied by the Bakiga. These include; Nyakishenyi, Nyarushanje and Bwambara sub counties.

In response to the above article, the chairperson NRM Rukungiri District, Hon Major Gen Jim Muhwezi wrote along article published in the New Vision newspaper edition of 26th June 2018.

Gen Muhwezi blamed party leaders who collaborated with opposition priests in misleading NRM supporters to vote for an FDC candidate along religious lines, among other factors. However, he did not explain why NRM leaders decided to campaign for an FDC candidate not even an independent candidate in the worst case scenario. Furthermore, Gen Muhwezi states that the NRM leadership supported an independent candidate against Hon Paula in the 2016 elections in Rubabo constituency.

If this is the case, should we conclude that some NRM leaders like Hon Paula, Mr Ndindirize and Hon Sezi Mbaguta have crossed to FDC? I am sure that all of us cannot agree with such an assertion. Therefore this could have been individual political fights between Gen Muhwezi and some leaders within the party but not a representation of the entire party leadership as stated by him.


To put this into perspective, in the 2001 elections, Hon Paula and Hon Babihuga had expressed interest in the seat for the Rukungiri District Woman MP.

In the interest of the NRM party, Hon Paula stepped down for Hon Winnie Matsiko and in compensation; she was given a job in GAVI FUND under the ministry of Health where Man Gen Jim Muhwezi was the line Minister at the time.

In the 2006 elections, it was expected that Hon Paula would contest for the Woman MP seat but instead Gen Muhwezi in connivance with Hon Matsiko diverted her to Rubabo constituency, a seat that was occupied by Prof Mondo Kagonyera, an in-law to Hon Winnie Matsiko. It is alleged that Gen Muhwezi planned this not to antagonize Hon Matsiko but instead push out Prof Mondo who they were no longer on good terms.

Indeed, Prof Mondo lost to Hon Paula and he blamed Gen Muhwezi for the loss. It is further alleged that the then personal assistant to Gen Muhwezi, Mr Emmy Ngabirano was assigned to ensure that Mondo lost to Paula. For example in the strongholds of Mondo specifically Kahoko and Rwanyondo parishes in Nyakishenyi sub county, Ibanda and Kisiizi parishes in Nyarushanje sub county, elections were postponed under the above influence so as to first receive results from Hon Paula’s strongholds and later manipulate Prof Mondo’s votes in his strongholds.

Results were being announced before voting in the above areas could even take place. This created an impression that Prof Mondo had already lost even before voting could take place in those areas. This highly demoralized Prof Mondo and his supporters. It is said that Muhwezi was against Prof Mondo because he had earlier supported a censure motion against him in Parliament.

In the aftermath of the 2006 elections, President Museveni appointed a non political actor, Hon Sezi Mbaguta Minister of state for Public service as she prepared to get into elective politics in 2011. It is alleged that because of the conflicts among NRM MPs in the district, Hon Sezi Mbaguta was appointed a minister regardless of the three elected NRM MPs.

In 2011, it was highly expected that Muhwezi would support Hon Sezi Mbaguta, the choice of the President in the District Woman MP elections but surprisingly, two political camps came up. Hon Paula and Hon Sezi in one camp with several other fellow catholic political followers and then Mumwezi-Winnie in the other camp with another huge number of predominantly Christian Protestants. These were publicly seen as religious camps and a big number of voters took religious lines to make their voting decisions. Since then, religion has become a key aspect in Rukungiri politics.

Remember, these camps were among NRM leaders.


Furthermore, Muhwezi supported Dr Rutahirwa (protestant) against Dr. Kamugisha (catholic) for Rukungiri Municipality MP and also supported Mr Charles Byabakama (protestant) against Mr Andrewson Kateebire for LCV Chairmanship. This clearly drew religious lines.

Muhwezi loses MP seat

In the 2016 general elections, these two camps fought each other and Muhwezi, as a result lost his Rujumbura County MP seat to FDC’s Fred Turyamuhweza.

This was highly attributed to the above religious conflicts which made almost all catholic priests “gang up” against Muhwezi.

NRM loses in party strongholds

In Rujumbura County, it’s well-known that however much Mr Muhurizi Julius lost to Jim Muhwezi in the 2016 NRM primaries, he is still very popular. Mr Muhurizi lost with a very small margin and he alleges that Muhwezi rigged him out.

Therefore, when Muhwezi came up as the chief campaigner for Hon Winnie in the just concluded by-election, the enthusiasm of Muhurizi’s supporters to campaign for Hon Winnie was nominal however much he personally campaigned for Hon Winnie. Additionally, the NRM leadership did not disengage Hon Sezi Mbaguta from standing as an independent candidate. She alone made NRM lose close to 1,000 votes.

Secondly, it is alleged that Hon Sezi was rigged out in favor of Hon Winnie, Dr Kamugisha was rigged out in favor of Dr. Rutahirwa and in the process of balancing the religious factor, Mr David Ndindirize was rigged out in favor of Hon Paula by not cancelling purported rigged votes from Nyakishenyi sub-county (Hon Paula’s stronghold) as it had been done in Rukungiri Municipality where the Eastern Division results (Dr.Kamugisha’s stronghold) were cancelled on similar grounds and Dr Rutahirwa declared winner on the basis of the remaining two municipal divisions (southern and western). Mr. Ndindirize alleges that it is Hon Winnie who publicly opposed the cancellation of votes from Nyakishenyi and this was seen by Mr Ndindirize as betrayal. On this basis, Mr Ndindirize (NRM c/p, Nyarushanje sub county), did not campaign for the NRM candidate and this led to the loss of margins in Nyarushanje sub county.

It is alleged that all this was orchestrated by Gen Jim Muhwezi.

 The NRM candidate

The public perception about the NRM candidate played another role towards her loss in this just concluded by-election. It is alleged that ever since she won the election in 2016, she had never gone back to thank her voters. It is also said that she never attends any function let it be burials or weddings and this completely detached her from voters. It is further alleged that while in Parliament, Hon Winnie organized two private functions at her home but her neighbors and campaign managers were not invited. To the ordinary people, this has a huge political implication. This was highly felt in her previous strongholds of Ibanda and Kisiizi parishes in Nyarushanje Sub County.

 Choice of campaign managers in key areas 

It is alleged that her Nyakishenyi sub-county campaign manager, one Mr. Wednesday (District councilor, Nyakishenyi sub county), had conflict of interest while participating in the selection of groups to benefit from an assortment of goods sent to the people of Rukungiri by the President. He gave Miyenvu SACCO Shs100 millions (one hundred million) where he is the Chairperson and his girlfriend, one Ms Rovence Asiimwe is the manager. He further benefited two vehicles valued at more than Shs100million (one to his cultural group called “ENGABO ZA KIGEZI” where he is the managing director and another vehicle to NYAKISHENYI COFFEE FARMERS ASSOCIATION where he is the Chairperson.

In light of the above, the people of Murama parish where he comes from overwhelmingly voted for the FDC candidate. We have further witnessed post election violence in Nyakishenyi against Mr Wednesday including vandalism of his car.

The Presidential “handshake” for Rukungiri Development

The presidential visit to Rukungiri before elections where several items including vehicles, motorcycles, scholastic materials and funds were given to different groups in the district was not properly managed. The feasibility study was not properly done to identify legible beneficiaries and these items ended up in wrong or non existing groups.

This created several disparities among the people of Rukungiri. Additionally, the rationale of these items did not tackle the real problems of Rukungiri in general.

Rukungiri district is fairly empowered  economically and majority of the people are interested in jobs for their sons and daughters, government investments like construction of a Referral Hospital to boost existing medical services, establishment of a Public University to steer economic development of the district as a result of multiplier effect of aggregate demand for goods and services in the district, construction of roads i.e Rukungiri-Kashenshero-Ishaka, connectivity to Bwindi and Queeen Elizabeth National parks to boost tourism and skillfully utilize entrepreneurial base of the people right from village level. To me, t

These are key demands from the population that would greatly impact the political and economic wellbeing of the people of Rukungiri.

In the President’s article, he talked about lack of organizational linkages with villages or urban groups and I partly agree.  There were several groups campaigning independently for the NRM candidate and no one bothered to harmonize these groups. Even on the voting day, one would wonder who was in charge of what. Key political players failed to harmonize and this distorted cohesion since there was no clear command centre. NRM agents were not facilitated and even some polling stations, NRM had no polling agents. More so, security personnel were deployed without any facilitation and in some areas, police officers were facilitated by opposition leaders.

Unnecessary arrests and detention

Security agencies got information that some NRM agents were not necessarily supporting their party candidate and started arresting them. For example the arrest of one Mr. Matagari in Nyakishenyi and Mr Athanasius Rutaro and several others caused panic in the population and this partly explains why voter turnout that was at 120,000 in 2016 general elections dwindled to  only 100,000 in the by election.

Regardless of the above challenges on the NRM side, the margin between the NRM candidate and the winner (FDC) was so narrow. It was earlier anticipated that this seat would be won by FDC by at least by 75%. It was however surprising that the NRM candidate got 46,000(forty six thousand) votes against FDC candidates’50,000 leaving a margin of only 4,000 votes. This jump from the earlier anticipated result was attributed to the following;

  • President’s two day vigorous campaigning in every sub county.

The president camped in Rukungiri for two days and held huge rallies in all sub counties except Nyakagyeme. This was a big boost to the whole campaign. He ignited the campaigning spirit among NRM mobilizers who had been silenced by opposition.

  • The Tumukunde factor

The participation of Lt. Gen Henry Tumukunde in the last two weeks to elections was very vital towards the whole campaign. Before he went there, the NRM camp had completely given up on this election. They had been politically paralyzed by opposition mobilisers to the extent that NRM groups feared campaigning publicly due to intimidation.  However, Gen Tumukunde revived the morale and this was highly witnessed in Rukungiri municipality where huge crowds could be seen at his rallies. This again put FDC on pressure to vigorously mobilise especially in NRM strongholds.

Gen Tumukunde also convinced NRM leaning independent candidates to step down for the NRM candidate. He convinced Ms Sheila Kirebete who had a huge following in Nyarushanje and Nyakishenyi to step down and also Ms Elizabeth Rwakitonera who had a huge following among the youths especially in Rukungiri Municipality to step down and these two openly campaigned for the NRM candidate.

It is therefore clear that if he had not intervened, it was likely that Hon Winnie would have lost with a much bigger margin.

Conclusively, it should be put on record that the loss of NRM in the just concluded by election was as a result of infighting and lack of coordination among NRM leaders rather than the strength of opposition in Rukungiri District.