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Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Political parties seek converts at Makerere

The latest tussle amongst the major political parties is playing out at the universities, especially Makerere, the largest of them all. And it all makes sense that the parties should keenly focus on universities for recruitment of much needed younger blood to help fire things up a little bit.

More importantly, almost all students at the universities, are above 18. That means every one of them recruited into a party is a potential vote. So it is not just about looking for membership. Parties are also looking to getting new voting members come elections next year.

Makerere, with a student number of well more than 20,000, is alive with registration of new members, formation of branches, consultative workshops and civic education. Things are so feverish that the Democratic Party's Uganda Young Democrats, which has been the dominant branch of any party on campus, is almost dead. The persistent wrangles within DP and UYD itself have not helped matters. The more exciting groups now are those of the Forum for Democratic Change, the Uganda Peoples Congress, and the well-facilitated NRM.

FDC leads the pack
Undoubtedly, FDC Makerere Branch is more active than other political parties. Its emergence can be traced back to Dr Kizza Besigye's presidential run in 2001. The exiled Besigye, now the chairman of FDC, was a darling among campusers so much that they even stopped President Museveni from addressing them until some policemen fired live bullets in the air to restore order.

"We have launched moves to woo new members to the only party with a vision for this country," said Mr Atria Angels, the FDC president at Makerere.The branch organises press conferences, debates, and seminars as a way to spread word regarding what FDC is all about. Publicity Secretary Ivan Ssekatawa said that they reach out to people through email, text messages, and posters. And things seem to be working fine. The party recently launched another branch at Uganda Christian University in Mukono. Ssekatawa said the branch's followers are fighting corruption and general moral degeneration to ensure democracy in the country.

UPC branch
Meanwhile, the UPC youngsters are going about their business quietly and methodically. Headed papers with the party symbol of a palm are used for official work. The branch has distributed caps and T-shirts, all in party colours and symbols. Members and sympathisers refer to each other as 'comrades' or 'congressmen/women,' which reportedly creates a sense of belongingness.

"Now is the time to redirect the future of our dear motherland, and to protect the grains of our party," said Mr Emmanuel Kigaye, the local branch boss.

The branch scores because of its unparalleled seriousness, said observer Dennis Mayobo, a social sciences student. Kigaye claimed that the branch has 800 registered members. Among them is a Catholic general secretary and a Muslim speaker – the branch's way of emphasising diversity.

"Religion is a colonial tag of divisive politics," Kigaye said. "That is why the national chairman [Hajji Badru Wegulo] is a Muslim."

The branch has opened others at Uganda Christian University in Mukono, Kyambogo University, and Makerere University Business School. All the branches are guided by a constitution similar to the one of the national party.

NRM swings
While Makerere University maybe a multiparty stronghold, the Movement government is not sitting back. The NRM branch is up and running. Members have composed pro-kisanja songs, canticles, and slogans to chant all over the leafy campus.

Mr Vincent Nuwagaba, a master's student of Political Science, said NRM support at the university is more or less non-existent.

"Some time back, they held a consultative meeting in Nkrumah Hall but only 10 people attended," he said, adding that those who pose as members do so expecting cash.

Not so, say branch members: "NRM reflects the [desires] of the people and there is no way it can form a branch without support," said Mr Aggrey Kyobuguzi, a prominent branch member.
He said the branch's popularity is reflected in the big number of students who go around explaining NRM achievements. He cites one consultative meeting held in Mitchell Hall and attended by Ms Alice Kaboyo, an aide on youth affairs at State House, where Mr Morris Okeni, a former chairman of the UPC Youth League, defected to NRM.

"We have even carried out cadre courses and taken members to Kasenyi to equip them with military tactics for self-defence," Kyobuguzi said.

Published in Daily Monitor, March 27, 2005