The hotly contested Rukungiri election is over. For all its other dynamics, any keen political observer would have noted that the Rukungiri by-election was an extension of the political duel between Dr Kizza Besigye and President Museveni.
These two have been going at each for the last 18 years.
Museveni has defeated Besigye in most of the duels and more importantly the presidency four times.
Generally, Museveni had also maintained strong support in parts of western Uganda with a few scattered wins for FDC and Besigye.
Yet with each election cycle, Besigye and FDC have been gaining ground in western Uganda.
In 2006 for instance, Besigye swept Kasese district and gained a strong foothold in Kabale municipality where an FDC mayor was elected.
In 2011, FDC suffered a set back after NRM reclaimed victory in Kasese, after Museveni had returned the Obusinga, which had been a thorny issue. However, there was a positive.
FDC’s Roland Kaginda took the newly created Rukungiri municipality and a couple of years, later Jack Sabiiti won a by-election Rukiga county and Odo Tayebwa won a by-election in Bushenyi-Ishaka Municipality.
These were the tell-tale signs that the political tide was starting to change in western Uganda.
For long Rukungiri had been a blot on Besigye’s political record. In three elections (2001, 2006 and 2011), Besigye had not defeated Museveni in the district where he hails from.
He would only register victories in the areas surrounding the municipality including his home area, Rwakabengo.
But starting 2016, the political terrain changed. FDC won two out of four electoral seats in the district (Rujumbura and Rukungiri Municipality) in the February election. FDC also swept Kasese clean.
So looked at in this context, the Rukungiri woman MP by election provided Besigye and FDC a chance to fortify themselves in Rukungiri. Besigye literally camped in the district from day one of the campaigns, knowing that his political reputation and claims that he is a behemoth precariously hang on a thread.
Conversely, it also provided Museveni a platform to show Besigye that he is still king even in his backyard.
It is not a coincidence that weeks before the campaigns kicked off, Museveni showed in the Rukungiri in a generous mood. He donated equipment and other tools to women and youth groups to a tune of Shs 5 billion.
This was the biggest donation spree from the president in recent memory.
On the surface, one could say the president genuinely wanted to uplift the people of the district and fight poverty in Rukungiri but poverty indices show otherwise.
A study done last year by the Frederick S. Pardee Center for International Futures, Josef Korbel School of International Studies and University of Denver on poverty in Uganda ranked Kagadi as the poorest district in Uganda. Rukungiri was ranked among the districts with a steady improvement in the standard of living of the people.
So in reality, Museveni’s generosity in Rukungiri was aimed at trying to woo voters into ditching the opposition for NRM, where there are “good things.”
From the evidence of the results of the by-election, the voters took the goodies but voted the other way.
In the end, Besigye’s political mobilisation triumphed over NRM’s money.