It’s a good feeling to be home. The last time Kizza Besigye tried to go to Rukungiri, his home district, on October 10, he was blocked about 30 kilometres before Mbarara. For refusing to drive back to Kampala and remaining parked in the middle of the road, the police loaded his vehicle, with him inside, on a flat-bed truck and ferried it to a police post.
Wafula Oguttu, the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament who was with Besigye, pleaded with the police in vain for his party’s flag bearer to be allowed to “go home”.
In Rukungiri, Ingrid Turinawe, FDC’s secretary for mobilisation who also hails from the district, was organising for what the party said was a function to open offices, identify candidates for different positions, and fundraise.
Rukungiri residents, who attempted to access the venue identified for the rally against the will of the police, were scattered with tear gas. One of them was hit with a rubber bullet. None of that is expected this time as Besigye makes his entry into the hilly town some 400km south west of Kampala on Monday, November 9, for the first rally of his fourth shot at the presidency.
Besigye is challenging Rukungiri people to better their counterparts in Kampala, who on November 4 turned out in their thousands to set up one of the biggest processions any Kampala resident had ever seen. That was when he was going to Namboole stadium for nomination, and then back to the city centre for a rally at Nakivubo War Memorial Stadium.
This is the first time Besigye starts his rallies 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.
Be it Besigye or Muhwezi, the people of Rukungiri have been very supportive. They played a key role in diffusing the Muhwezi-Museveni fallout, and they strongly protested attempts to take Besigye to the Army court when in 1999 he wrote a dossier that Museveni considered offensive to the military code.
When Besigye first stood in the 2001 elections, the people of Rukungiri were at the receiving end of violence, with the then Presidential Protection Unit deployed there. Beatings and torture were recorded, and at least one death.
Besigye claims he wins in Rukungiri and elsewhere. He says it is rigging that denies him victory. In all the three elections he has participated in, however, Besigye, according to the results declared by the Electoral Commission, has never won in Rukungiri.
He is now the FDC secretary for mobilisation and publicity, and must ensure that more registered voters than the 71 per cent who voted in 2011 turn up this time. Although this was substantially higher the national average – 59 per cent – it was much smaller a turn out than the 84 per cent who voted in the same election in Kiruhura, President Museveni’s home district.
Kigezi sub-region, of which Rukungiri forms part, is expected to be a fierce battleground, especially with the entry into the race of former prime minister Amama Mbabazi. Mbabazi comes from Kanungu District, which was carved out of Rukungiri.
When Besigye went to Rukungiri in the last in 2011, he told the people there that he had set up a fool-proof vote protection mechanism that would ensure that all their votes would be counted. And he said each vote would count. The mechanism did not work.
What the people of Rukungiri will this time hear from their son will be very different. He will tell them that he now recognises that he alone cannot guarantee the safety of their votes. He will tell them, as he says everywhere these days, that their power was captured by a handful of people, and that the job is for the citizens to recapture the power from the people who “grabbed” it.
He will tell them, as he said at Nakivubo at his nomination rally, that the coming election is between “the captives and the captors”. He will only offer himself as a partner of the people to confront the “captors”.
In 2011, Besigye polled 40 per cent of the votes cast in Rukungiri, trailing Museveni who got 59 per cent. Besigye will tell them that those results were cooked up, and that if they embrace his message of “liberation” through “defiance and not compliance”, he will win in the district this first; and also in the country.