Before the turn of every five-year term in office, political machines are assembled to peddle the promises of individuals, pressure groups and political parties to the masses. In the true spirit of centuries old kakuyege (loosely translated canvassing for votes), alliances and allegiances alike are announced; kingmakers and anyone with influence over a specific demographic are sought-after to publicly endorse an individual or party. And, for the rest of the campaign, they make their allegiances known at every public gathering, in an effort to sway the popular vote to their preferred candidate.
In the run up to the 2016 Presidential and Parliamentary elections, a marriage of necessity was struck when the political fraternity wedded the local musical industry. The political fraternity desperately needed the followings of popular local icons at their political rallies and indeed crowds thronged political rallies to watch their stars take the stage before political candidates bored voters with recycled undelivered promises from the previous electioneering season of 2011.
The local musician fraternity on the other hand needed to make a quick buck. The Ugandan music industry thrives more on appearances or shows more than anything. It is concerts and shows that butter the bread of all local musicians more than anything.
The opportunity to get a slice of the sacks of money that crisscross the country when it is time to canvass for votes, is one that many a local artiste cannot miss. It only comes once in five years. That aside, the economy has picked a habit of biting hard after elections because of the commercialization of Ugandan politics; what better way to prepare is there other than making a quick earning.
In the lead up to the 2016 polls, it appeared like the who is who of contemporary Ugandan musician signed up to push the NRM agenda through the Tubonga Nawe track. Whilst most of the artistes who appeared on the multi-artiste collaboration did not physically appear on the campaign trail of NRM, Bebe Cool, amongst others, was present at all times to lend his hoax voice to the NRM cause. Crowds that flocked NRM rallies went wild whenever he jumped on stage. The NRM got a fair deal from him.
In the blue corner that seats FDC emerged the rebellious Toka kwa Barabara song by little known Adam Mulwana. The song was a hit never mind that the voice behind it was not a heavyweight on the local music scene. Crowds danced and went silly as they sang along raucously to FDC’s electioneering campaign –in spite of the incumbency and NRM.
At the close of the electioneering season, both sides of the political divide had got a fair deal from the local musical celebrities. The marriage of necessity had worked to fruition.
Months down the road from the new bill of reign handed to the NRM, government is losing the popular vote, one too many times, for the manner in which it rolls out national activities.
When it was announced that all Ugandans would have to re-register their sim cards within a seven day window or risk having their numbers extinguished, until they do so, I couldn’t help but wonder where the communications strategists that the three decades old regime had used to cook up the best way to win the popular vote had disappeared to after the February 2016 elections. I added my voice to that of many other bemused Ugandans to call the brainchild of the ultimatum a pair of unmentionables.
The resistance of Ugandans to such government draconian orders is nothing new. Whenever an ultimatum is set for Ugandans, government is readied for a barrage of attacks from public spheres. The attacks soon die out because the general public has nothing to do but comply or risk being left in the dark.
But this resistance to programs that benefit us all should never be happening in the first place. If only government rolled out the programs in an exciting manner akin to the way political campaigns are run. Bar the emergency that was attached to the sim card re-registration ultimatum, government should in the first place send out teasers about what is up its sleeve. After the teasers, the public should be well prepared to receive the daunting warning. But even then, the warning should come in an agreeable manner.
Rather than have authoritative voices like the UCC Executive Director Godfrey Mutabazi and the Inspector General of Police Gen. Kale Kayihura, repeatedly remind Ugandans of the impending threat, local icons should be hired to sell the message to the masses. The very local artistes turned to, to woo the masses to attend political rallies, still have the power to persuade the masses to oblige. The masses relate more with their preferred local stars than with the men in suits and uniform. They are less likely to shout back at Chameleon, Maddox Sematimba, Winnie Nwagi or Sheeba (you can add Pastor Okudi if he still gets you grooving) if they used an interlude during a performance to make light of a government program whilst asking their fans to please comply.
The regime should not be such a user. Government shouldn’t only turn to local celebrities for endorsement when it is time to canvass for votes. The marriage of necessity between the two forces should be used to good effect even when the curtains draw close on an electioneering season. Government stands to always benefit from the relationship. Just as an appearance by a local artiste at a political rally drew masses from whom votes back into office came, an endorsement of a program as dreary as lining up to re-register a sim card by a local celebrity also stands to draw more acceptance than resistance from the general public.