REAL LIFE: What it takes to become a Ugandan MP

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To be a Member of Parliament in Uganda is a prestigious and sometimes lucrative venture. Being a Member of Parliament in Uganda comes with a prestigious title of "Honourable" and to an ordinary Ugandan, an enviable salary package. It doesn't actually matter whether the person being referred to, all of a sudden as "honourable" is honourable in character, traits, actions and behaviour. 

It is a title that one is bestowed on immediately he or she wins a parliamentary constituency contest. The rest will for sure be left to be work-in-progress. Even it doesn't actually matter how that person won the parliamentary seat!

Interestingly, it has become common to find contestants in their early stages of declaring their aspirations to contest for a parliamentary seat being referred to sometimes in absolute opportunistic reverence as "honourable". It only makes the aspiring contestant more confident, zealous, assuming but also innocently more vulnerable to the mischievous voters.

What can be said with certainty is that what most people don't know is that the journey of being a Member of Parliament in Uganda is not for the faint hearted. In very few and rare instances and only in by-elections when there is need to replace a fallen incumbent Member of Parliament, do you normally get to have someone sojourn of a rather short journey to Parliament. Some have found themselves in the chambers of Parliament on account of sympathy votes when replacing their departed father, mother, brother or spouse.

Otherwise, becoming an MP in Uganda is an all out onslaught journey that is not predictable and certainly always never adequately prepared for. This is a journey that comes with untold twists and turns while requiring the contestant to beseech and call on every trait of an accomplished schemer, planner and mobilizer of charisma, charm and most importantly of deep, very deep pockets.

Deciding to go and contest in a parliamentary seat contest in Uganda, first and foremost, you must have amassed hard cash that you are ready and willing, without blinking to part with amidst all uncertainties of the outcome.

Becoming a Member of Parliament in Uganda is an investment business for which one has no certain Return on Investment (ROI). It is all and until the final moment when the electoral polling officer declares the ultimate winner, the investment remains on probability. Sometimes, it even doesn't matter how much following or presumed support or connections that one may have. It may not even hinge on how much money you dished out during the grueling contest. It all remains in the air until you are eventually declared the winner!

That is how the journey of becoming an MP can be nerve wrecking, stressful and full of dripping adrenaline.

To put these things is perspective, we need to recall that in the 2006 contest for representation in Parliament when I, your writer offered myself to contest for the Kigulu North Parliamentary seat, the amount that was being talked about as to have been adequate to enable one win the contest was in the range of shillings 200million. That was big cash to be dished to voters. But one had to have it. Then came the next round in 2011 and the amount had jumped to shilling s 300million. Not small and not easy money at all!

But as the perks for parliamentarians in terms of the total package that would accrue to an MP in the entire period of the five year tenure jumped up so did the stake for being an MP. In the election cycle of 2016, the amount that the contestants were talking of as needed in order to accomplish the job had jumped to shillings 500million.

Actually, we are now told that majority of the contestants in the 2021 elections forked out to the tune of a whooping shillings 1 billion. Now for all purposes and intent, that journey to parliament cannot be described as cheap and for the clay footed. Trust me that in the coming 2026 Parliamentary elections if things remain on the trajectory that they are on right now, a contestant with less than shillings 1.5billion will have no say to the voters.

Money on a table

All I can attest is that the figures mentioned or the amount of money spent in a contest notwithstanding, all is sweet and joyous if you end up being victorious and declared a winner. You immediately stop looking at what you spent, who ate your money and those who didn't vote for you. You instead start focusing on the Return on Investment that is going to accrue.

However, the tables turn upside down when after spending all that colossal sum of money and talking yourself hoarse while promising voters what is even evidently beyond your individual personal ability, you don't make it. This is when one gets to realise that investment business is not for everyone.

We do know that investment business that goes on with the Stock Markets like the Stock Exchange of New York is anchored and thrives on calculative speculation. This means that even for Uganda's political contest, one must have good speculative calculation. You can't throw in everything of yours including borrowed resources, proceeds from sold property and even mortgage your home then you get to loose such an election and you are expected to stay the same. Not at all! It can be very devastating and many have been devastated. Many homes and many lives have been ruined. The journey of being an MP in Uganda is very treacherous.

Journalist runs ahead of police vehicles in campaigns

That aside, I get to believe that as long as our Uganda politics continues to be heavily monetised as actually the case is right now and exhibited in the numerous preceding elections, the talk about fighting corruption, graft and abuse of office will continue to sound hollow and only for rhetoric.

As I said earlier, the journey for one becoming an MP in Uganda is a long one. To some, the journey may start five years to the next general election. To others it takes even more than ten years of trying and failing before eventually there is victory.

Apart from the staggering amount of money required for one to be to stage a formidable and successful campaign for a parliamentary seat, there is the factor of the electorates, the voters. It is so amazing that as time has gone by and successive election cycles held, the voters tend to have over time become similar in traits and behaviour across the entire electoral platform. Actually it is only those aspiring contestants that do take time and efforts to fully comprehend the voters that normally come out victorious in these contests.

Kyagulanyi addresses a political rally

It doesn't matter however amount of money that you have or you are willing to splash around in order to impress, you must understand the voters. You must be in sync with the electorates and they must be in sync with you as their preferred candidate otherwise all may be in vain.

We are told of a story of an incumbent Cabinet Minister who suddenly dropped dead at his home the moment the news broke to him that he had been trounced by a previously unknown opponent in the bid for the Minister to retain his Parliamentary seat.

It said that what greatly shocked the Minister probably resulting a cardiac arrest that eventually took his life wasn't the fewer votes he garnered across the constituency, but the fact that he had sunk in all his money and that even on the election eve, his chief campaigners had drained him of more money on account that they needed to just mop up the remaining supposedly stubborn votes. So the Minister had been assured a clean sweep. He felt that he had cordoned off the entire constituency. He had attended to and met every monetary demand that the voters had reportedly made to him. His campaigners had assured him, come rain, come sunshine, the thing was in their bag!

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So on the voting day, the Minister sat at his home relaxing in an exceptionally jovial mood. He ordered his home maids to dispense full courtesy of generosity and pleasure to whoever bothered to pass by his palatial country residence for a  meet and greet. Beverages were in plenty. Sumptuous food was prepared. Music sound system was at hand to serenade the relaxed mood at home. It is said that according to the look of things, everything seemed had gone on well the entire day. None of his campaigners or cheerleaders had come to report to him anything of serious nature that could possibly have been seen as cause to upset the anticipated victory.

Actually, for the entire day of voting, no one came to the Minister's home. This, he assumed was due may be to the fact that all his campaigners and close political cheerleaders were busy doing what he expected them to do. He presumed that all his people were actually busy manning polling stations and ensuring that none of his votes go unaccounted for. He also relaxingly assumed that it was only a matter of time before his people would pour in the residence to jubilate and celebrate their deserved victory. So he wasn't bothered at all as to why no one was coming to the residence through the day. He knew that once his victory was certain and irreversibly ascertained, his chief campaigners would definitely lead a procession of jubilate sea of supporters back to base, his home to enjoy all that he had prepared for them.

Certainly, the journey to being an MP in Uganda is no walk in a manicured forest park!

What the Minister's confidence blinded him from seeing was the real reason his campaigners and cheerleaders had avoided his home the entire voting day; the reality was being unveiled at the polling stations. The Minister had no votes. The electorates had rejected him in spite of all that he had put in. In fact they had eaten his money, but their preference was with the rather unknown underdog, his rival. The campaigners, had long seen this even before the voting day, but they decided to continue draining the man even up to the last coin that he had with him. They knew it was going to be overkill for the other guy and this was the only last opportunity they had to milk the cow and indeed without any disappointment or remorse they did. 

It was only towards 8.00Pm as the excitement of the voting day was drawing down that the now impatient Minister decided to turn on to his radio. Probably, he thought he could results news of other colleagues in other constituencies across the country as he awaits his own. Little did he know that actually the counting and declaration of a winner in his constituency had been long done and the celebrations were high gear in his rival's camp.

As soon as he tuned in properly to Radio Buddu, the first news cast was about the Bukoto East Minister that had been trounced by in what previously seemed to be a lope sided contest. It is reported that, it is this shocking news that sent the Minister in a sudden cardiac arrest and to eventual demise.

What we learn from this and many other numerous instances is that in trying to become an MP in Uganda whether it is for the first time or a return, one must intimately watch the money but also watch the voters and watch the campaigners. One must watch the election officials and one must watch the security agencies. One must also watch your own political party if you are seeking to contest under the auspices of a particular political party.

Too many to watch but you must watch all of them! We are not short of stories of how a particular party member was preferred over another one and thus fought even up to denying that particular individual a party flag in the party primaries. We are not short of stories of how election officials also have their own preferred candidates and at times contestants accompanied by crowds of their supporter for days at the election declaration offices in a bid to put pressure to be declared as the rightful winner! We have seen dripping blood being shed right inside the electoral declaration offices as a result of fierce scuffles between the protagonists in a constituency contest.

The journey to becoming a Member of Parliament in Uganda is a treacherous one. Nothing is certain.

Nothing is over until it is over!

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