One of the snide remarks you will hear from pundits, policy analysts, commmentators and every wannabe is that Ugandan or African campaigns, unlike, say the ongoing United States presidential campaigns, are not issue-based.
You see, because every man is entitled to an opinion, folks just harp about how candidates are not tackling issues, how campaigns are trivial and how messages at rallies are frivolous but the talkers never definitively qualify what “issues” are.
Is it President Museveni’s unity message, Kizza Besigye’s defiance campaign or Amama Mbabazi’s peaceful transition?
So for Museveni not to fall victim to the punditry obsession with “issues”, he came up with an antidote. He would move with a file from rally to rally. That file would have the finer details of the “issues” in the area.
If it was compensation for victims of cattle rustling in Teso, rehabilitation of people affected by landslides in Bududa or poverty alleviation measures in the impoverished Busoga, Museveni’s file would be a one-stop-solutions centre. Those who know Museveni will attest to his zeal for everything stats.
He likes to churn out the numbers about how many kilometres of roads have been built, kilowatts generated, number of mobile phones et cetera; all this in comparison to the pre-86 era.
But his campaign stats file has not been loyal. It betrays him just when he needs it most with wrong statistics, missing figures, wrong names and other embarrassing gaffes of the sort. Granted, this file cannot be infallible but it can do better.
You see, when you are talking of a water dam supposed to have been constructed in a far-flung dry land in Teso, it is a matter that is at the hearts of the people and so, you are going to need to get your stuff correct.
Campaigning in Bunefule Village, Manafwa district early December, Museveni wrongly read from the file that Namisidwa Sub-County has a Health Centre II. For a man who has been touting building health centres as his defence in the debate over the poor state of health care [read referral hospitals], you should have seen the egg on his face.
In Lunyo Sub-County, West Budama South,Tororo District, Museveni ,seemingly amused by some difficult-to-believe figures in his files, tried pre-empting the shame, by conceding, saying that: “I do not see any sub-county here [in the file] without a health centre. Possibly, they did not include it.”
The file had let him down again on his pet subject of health centres. In Bugiri, an MC told him: “Your excellency, which sub-county is that? It is not in Bugiri,”
But not to be outdone by the file, Museveni makes up by playing around with distinct phrases in the local dialect. He will coin catch phrases about poverty, unity, development, strength and prioritisation-the pillars of his campaign. You should see how the crowds get worked up when he mumbles a word in the local dialect.
Because “things” can sometimes be lost in translation, candidates are more likely to appeal more when they have an idea about the local language.
As the campaign hits the home stretch and complacency gives way to desperation, no trick will be left in the bag in the race for the country’s most coveted office.