Do more wins for NRM in New counties prove gerrymandering?
On 15th July 2015, Adolf Mwesigye, Minister for Local Government moved a Motion for a Resolution of Parliament to approve the creation of 39 counties under Art 179 (4) of the Constitution and Section 7(7) of the Local Government Act Cap 243. On July 29, 2015, the Minister amended the motion to add one more county to bring the number to 40. Later on August 4, 2015, he amended the motion again to add 3 counties, totaling up to 43 new counties, consequently approved by parliament.
This notwithstanding, on 20th August 2015, parliament considered and approved a Motion for a Resolution of Parliament on the creation of 19 municipalities; with 12 municipalities to start effective 1st July, 2015 while the remaining 7 municipalities will be effective come 1st July 2016. Although the creation of municipalities was not highly contested by the opposition, there were questions about financial implication of these units from the civil society. Parliament’s approval of counties was, however highly contested by the opposition within Parliament and by civil society outside parliament. The opposition, led by Shadow Minister for Local Government, Betty Namboze, based their argument on Section 45 of the Local Government (Amendment) Act 2013, which stipulates
‘…there shall be a council at each level of the administrative units except for a county.’
They described the creation of these new counties as not only an illegality according to law but also as “a case of gerrymandering on the part of government in favor its sycophants because the counties were being created in the National Resistance Movement (NRM) strongholds.”
Is it really a question of gerrymandering one would ask? As evidenced by the 18th February 2016 Parliamentary election results, the opposition registered decimal performances not only in old counties but worse in the newly formed counties. Out of the 12 municipalities, NRM won 6 seats while the opposition; Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) had one, Democratic Party (DP), two seats and the Independents got three seats most of whom are NRM-leaning. Out of the 43 counties, with the exception of Dokolo South County were elections were postponed and Ik county whose results I cannot trace, the NRM registered 31 wins while FDC- 04, DP- 02, Independents (04)- still with most them being NRM-leaning.
Senior opposition members lost five counties to the NRM after dividing their counties into two. For instance, Geoffrey Ekanya, Shadow minister for Finance lost the Tororo North County which was curved out of Tororo County to an Independent NRM leaning, Annet Nyakecho. Amuriat Oboi, Shadow Minister for Physical Infrastructure was also defeated in Kumi County by NRM. This was after curving 2 counties out of Kumi county, Kanyum County and Kumi Municipality- both the mother county and the new one were taken by NRM while the municipality was taken by NRM-Independent leaning. The chairperson of the Parliamentary committee on Government Assurances, Kasiano Wadri also lost in Terego East to the NRM, the county was curved out of Terego County.
Government Ministers also won in five new counties, Minister for Presidency, Frank Tumwebaze won the Kibale East seat, Chua East County was won by Okello Oryem, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Koboko County and Koboko Municipality were won by James Baba, Minister of State for Internal Affairs and Evelyne Anite, Minister of State for Youth and Children Affairs respectively. Sam Kahamba Kutesa, Minister for Foreign Affairs won the newly created Mawogola North county curved out of Mawogola county and Minister of State for Defence, Jeje Odongo took the Orungo County parliamentary seat.
While considering the motion providing for creation of new counties, members queried the criteria used by government to create these new counties. They argued that there a number of areas which needed to be divided due to their high population but they were not. For instance, Nathan Nandala Mafabi, Member of Parliament for Budadiri West made mention of areas like Busiiro County East and Bungokho North which despite being densely populated were left as is. Therefore, basing on the fact that counties which are in dire need of dividing were not while those less deserving were, could only prove the notion of gerrymandering by the government.
Going forward, Government and parliament should ensure equity during creation areas of representation in the legislature so as to provide a level playing ground for all political parties in order for democracy to prevail.