Uganda Peoples Congress

UPC External Bureau Sweden

Uganda People's Congress Campaign

New Vision 19th Feb 2006

This year's presidential election experience has been anything, but a walk in the park for Mrs. Miria Kalule Obote (pictured). First, she was not nominated as scheduled on December 14. She only showed up the following day after sorting out the confusion over her supporting signatures. She, however, did not put her campaign show on the road until December 21 when she headed east to Bugiri for her first rally. Bugiri, once the biggest eastern fortress of UPC's support was where her late husband, Apollo Milton Obote who died October 10, 2005, last addressed a gathering before fleeing into exile in 1985. There were many teary-eyed faces in the crowd as Miria, who had been swept to the helm of the party's leadership by the lingering wave of sympathy at the death of her husband, took to the podium to give her first real campaign speech. In her typical motherly style, she coaxed, counselled and charmed, as she relived the memories of UPC's golden era when hospitals had sufficient doctors and drugs; schools had well-fed fresh-faced pupils, and well-qualified school masters and university students would find jobs waiting long before their graduation.

To the young, it might have sounded utopic, but to the old, it was a bittersweet reminder of what life used to be and could be if they were to elect her as president. Her campaign travels have taken her to every corner of the country, except perhaps Karamoja. A review of her campaigns suggests she has been largely riding on the back of UPC's previous leadership record in government and its achievements. She has also tried to draw comparisons between the past and the present, and then using her manifesto, outlined her programmes. "It's on record that in eight years the UPC government built schools, roads hospitals, schools and factories," she challenged during a well-attended rally in Ibanda. "How can you expect one teacher to teach a class of 100 to 300 children? This is not quality education at all. "We are going to ensure we have enough teachers. We are also going to reduce the number of children in classes," Miria promised. But her promises were not the usual run-of-the-mill politicking. She went a step further by showing how she would implement her promises. In Ibanda for instance, she said, "I will remove the money hidden in State House and benefiting a few and put it under the Ministry of Education for all students."

While in Masindi she said, "I will introduce a loan scheme for needy students in higher education repayable in 10 years of their gainful employment." At the beginning of the campaigns, Miria had set out seemingly unschooled in the ways of the country's politics. But as her campaign wagon rolled from one dusty town to another, she became bolder in her approach to is! sues and began to speak more confidently. She also showed that she had learnt a thing or two from her more experienced opponents by adjusting her approach to localise issues to rhyme with the needs of the people. In Kapchorwa for instance, she zeroed in on wheat, the major cash crop and economic backbone for the area. She promised to provide combine harvesters through a micro-credit scheme to step up wheat production up from 12,000 tonnes annually.

Similarly, her speeches in northern Uganda, where UPC has traditionally enjoyed massive support, were dominated by ways of ending the LRA rebellion.

Her promise to peacefully end the war rather than by military means, was music to many ears as was her idea to establish a truth and reconciliation commission to heal the wounds of the war. Miria's reconciliatory approach was no more visible than during her visit to Bulange Mengo for a meeting with the new Katikkiro of Buganda, Dan Muliika. Miria, whose husband, abolished kingdoms, in 1967 regretted what she described as the personality clash between Obote and Kabaka Mutesa II but said, "We do not think it is useful to the healing and reconciliation process to dig further for other reasons for the misunderstanding." The major hiccup of her nationwide campaign struck when she lost her voice as her campaign headed to western Uganda. As ironies go, Miria could only wave to crowds of supporters in Fort Portal and in Bushenyi, while party officials addressed the rallies.

However, the most damaging of all was in Busia on December 26 where she is reported to have campaigned for FDC presidential candidate Kizza Besigye.

"If you don't vote for me, then vote for Kizza Besigye," screamed the headlines the next day.

Her spokesman, Joseph Ochieno, quickly issued a denial and said, "Miria is not campaigning for anybody else apart from herself. She is going to be the next president." In the ensuing days, Miria took off the gloves and indiscriminately pulled a few punches at her opponents' credentials to repair the damage and to prove she could hit as hard as the big boys. "They accuse us of killings in Luweero but who led the war, Besigye under the command of Mugisha Muntu under the leadership of M7," she charged at a rally in Moyo. In her next round of ammunition, she targeted the symbols of her opponents. "What I know about the thumb is that it is used for killing fleas, bedbugs and lice. You cannot use the thumb to reconcile with anybody you wronged. Because it is a symbol for war, that is why the northern war has not ended," she said at a rally at Kasambya, Mubende District. "Others will come with a 'V' (FDC) symbol of two fingers. That is just a makansi (a pair of scissors). A makansi can only cut, kata kata kata, but it cannot sew back the cloth. Some people come waving a fist at you (DP symbol). We are not interested in fighting each other," she said. Despite these occasional excesses, Miria did not for once lose sight of her winning card. As the only woman in the race, she repeatedly emphasised her womanly charms as a peaceful, loving and caring mother and politician to sway the women to her side. "Fellow women, I am a mother like you. This is the only chance you have to vote for a woman president who will have your problems at heart," she pleaded at a rally in Mbale. Miria has not fared well in opinion polls conducted so far. Nearly all have placed her at the bottom of the table along with Dr. Abed Bwanika.

With just three days to the polls, can she pull off an election surprise and become president as Obote did in December 1980? Or is she destined to be just his widow?