DAVID MAFABI: Oyam By-election; could it be a curse of hereditary politics in Uganda

Eunice Otuko Apio receiving the declaration form from Richard Onoba, the District returning officer.

The Electoral Commission on Friday July, 2023 declared Uganda People Congress’s Eunice Otuko Apio as the duly elected Member of Parliament for Oyam County North bi-election. Eunice Otuko got 15718 while closet rival managed Samuel Engola Okello got 15,718 votes.

It was obviously a narrow defeat which has left a bitter test in the mouth for the NRM that has won the majority of the previously hereditary bi-election and set a bad precedent that has haunted Uganda’s politics for years.

Eunice Otuko will replace the late Charles Okello Engola, who was in May shot dead by his body guard Wilson Sabiiti whereupon his son was handpicked as usual to contest on the NRM ticket I hear to accomplish the late father’s manifesto.

The defeat will seemingly appear to be the first defeat in all the bi-elections after the hotly contested 2021 general election. It is also the first defeat of a candidate who replaced a deceased relative in many years.

My late grand mum used to say “When the roots of the tree begin to decay, it spreads death to the branches.”, I hope this is not spreading death of hereditary type of politics in Uganda.

According to electoral commission records, 31,996 voters participated in the elections out of the 90,733 registered voters from the 167 polling stations.

This was yet another democratic test where Forum for Democratic Change’s Freddy Newton Okello came third with 714 votes followed by Daniel Okello of the National Unity Platform who got 403 votes.

The whole exercise and general outlook of the entire bi-election was a mockery of the true values of democracy.

And this reminds me of the famous quote that; The only choice which Providence has graciously left to a vicious government is either to fall by the people if they become enlightened, or with them, if they are kept enslaved and ignorant.

The NRM Samuel Okello Engola is yet to concede defeat but I personally don’t see him contesting the election in court as UPC’s victory is a victory of the NRM. The two parties have lately exhibited signs of being in bed with each other.

The election was more of a friendly fire to seal the marriage between the two and in a shocking turn of events, President Museveni has already sent a congratulatory message to Eunice Otuko and her party the UPC calling them allies. One wonders if they are still an opposition party.

Before the election, there were reports of violence and voter bribery in many areas of the constituency where some people were arrested with small denominations of money said to have been set aside for voters. Similarly, goons and security agencies were reported everywhere in the constituency. There were reports of soldiers beating up people who seemed curious to avert any ballot stuffing. The media also reported a case where Akena was telling off NRM’s Tanga Odoi to desist from engaging in electoral malpractices.

Two days to Election Day, it appeared obvious that Samuel Okello Engola Junior was headed for victory to replace his father but the intervention of Akena at the last minute changed the narrative. The kind of money that was flowing in the constituency in favour of UPC’s candidate could not have come from their coffers but from the ally.

It appears to have been a stage managed bi-election to cover up for the recent embarrassment in Bukedea District Bi-election where the election was stolen in favour of NRM by security agencies.

Despite the odds at play, a number of Parliamentarians have found themselves in the August house, thanks be to the legacy left behind by their deceased relatives who were occupying those parliamentary positions.

Some of us believe it was a set up to prepare Ugandans to get used to hereditary politics where husbands can replace their wives, wives replacing their husbands, brothers or sisters replacing their siblings and or children replacing their parents.

That has been the trend for years and could have influenced Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba to start positioning himself to replace the father.

Ability is one thing a riding on the legacy of another is another thing altogether. It had become a common practice in Uganda for a family member to replace a deceased relative in Parliament. It had become a trend and had remained so until the Oyam County Bi-election in Oyam District.

It has now be­come a com­mon prac­tice in Uganda that when a Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment dies, some­one from the de­ceased’s fam­ily is cho­sen to re­place him/her in Par­lia­ment. It is re­ported that the un­timely death of the Busiro South Con­stituency, Ki­wanuka Mu­sisi’s death set the trend af­ter he was re­placed by his son Joseph Ba­likudembe.

It has been a common practice for fam­i­lies to seek sym­pa­thy votes from the con­stituents. This is usually done carefully by a high profile people dur­ing fu­ner­als. In so doing, they scare off potential opponents in attendance. No one cares whether the chosen replacement can fit in the shoes of their deceased relative.

Florence Andiru Nebanda- sister to Butaleja Woman MP Cerinah Nebanda, Beatrice Malinga- Wife of Butebo MP Stephen Malinga, Proscovia Alengot Oromait- Daughter to Michael Oromait of Usuk County- Katakwi, Suzan Lukyamuzi- Daughter of the ousted Ken Lukyamuzi of Rubaga South-Kampala, Emmanuel Omoding- son to former Serere County MP Patrick Okabe, Andrew Ojok Oulanyah the son to the Omoro County Jacob Oulanyah, Veronica Nanyondo sister to late woman MP for Bukomansimbi Veronica Namaganda among others.

Now that NRM has sacrificed Samuel Okello Engola in favour of their allies in UPC, we hope the trend can be maintained in future. I am not aware of any of these heirs who has performed wonders in Parliament.

Although some scholars argue that this kind of politics can have positive spillovers into parliamentary workflow, raise efficiency, and create institutional cohesiveness among members of legislatures, Uganda is yet to see this from Hereditary type of politics introduced by the NRM party..

Conversely, it can be argued that hereditary politics creates negative externalities, spurs corruption, lowers mobility, and creates parliamentary inertia.

However note must be made that hereditary type of politics happens when nepotism becomes the prominent feature of a country’s political system?

The biggest question of the day should be how effective are parents at passing on their values to their children? So what are the main factors that shape a child’s political attitudes, and what role do the parents actually play?

MPs are obliged to re­lay con­cerns from their re­spec­tive con­stituen­cies to the house, it is what the rep­re­sen­ta­tion role en­tails. All MPs are therefore re­quired to par­tic­i­pate in Com­mit­tees, at­tend ple­nary sit­tings and any other Par­lia­men­tary ac­tiv­i­ties.

Dur­ing ple­nary, Mem­bers pre­sent the views of their con­stituents through rais­ing is­sues of na­tional im­por­tance, pre­sent­ing pe­ti­tions (pre­sent griev­ances and seek so­lu­tions), lay re­ports and de­bate them but to our dismay most of the MPs who have gone to parliament through hereditary politics have failed to live to this.

It is on record that many of the politicians who have taken power after death of their parents or relatives have in-fact served only one term and disappeared off the political scene un-noticed

And it is also true that others have been re-elected but remained silent throughout. To hell with political heirs, some of them have remained under the shadows of their deceased relatives.

To Top