Parliamentary nominations conducted in Mbale district on Thursday brought out the beautiful and bizarre in Ugandan politics.
From dawn to dusk the streets of the eastern Ugandan town were filled with crowds of people marching, dancing and singing in celebration as candidates of their choice were vetted to stand for the 2011 elections. The sound of the distinctive Gisu kadodi drum was never far away all day, perhaps a sign of the vibrant campaign season that lies ahead.
Amidst the frolicking, the reality of the living conditions in Mbale was at the forefront of everyone's mind.
Despite its location in the eastern highlands, good soils and weather and the benefit of infrastructure and systems dating back to the colonial days, poverty is rife in Mbale. All 15 candidates nominated on Thursday promised that if elected next year, this state of affairs will end and poverty in Mbale will be no more.
One of the first parliamentary candidates nominated was a Rabbi of Uganda's indigenous Jewish sect, Abayudaya.
The 37-year-old Rabbi Gershomu Sizomu is well known to the people of Mbale and has garnered much international attention for his efforts to validate the authenticity of Uganda's only indigenous Jewish community. Through his leadership the Abayudaya, who are based in Bunghoko North Constituency, were given their first health center and modern secondary and primary schools.
Sizomu is standing for office on a Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) ticket. He says he will use the strength of his party and his own experience in social work to end the abject poverty in Bungokho North.
//Cue in: "People are poor ..."
Cue out "... their standard of living."//
Mariam Nagudi, who won FDC primary election to stand as Woman MP for Mbale, says she will also focus her campaign on poverty eradication.
This isn't the first time Nagudi has made an attempt at parliamentary election. In 2006 she narrowly lost the vote to Erina Rutagye Wangwa of the National Resistance Movement (NRM).
Nagudi says she will capitalize on gains made four years ago to win the seat. If elected into office, she intends to use the Constituency Development Fund to directly finance income generating projects for women. Nagudi says a major fault of the current MP is her failure to consider the economic plight of women in Mbale.
In Mbale Municipality, Shinyabulo Mutende another previous election loser has also set his sights on victory. Mutende, who was unsuccessful in the recent municipality by-election, says that if elected, he will lobby for the establishment of an industrial park in Mbale which will provide jobs to 36,000 graduates.
Mbale already has an industrial hub created in the 1960s, a large section of which is abandoned and lying is disuse.
Mutende, one of the people who authored the NRM election manifesto, says industrialization is the only sure way to end poverty in Uganda.
//Cue in: "When I push for ..."
Cue out "... a very big challenge."//
Michael Werikhe, the State Minister for Housing, was also nominated on Thursday for a third term as MP for Bungokho South constituency.
Werikhe is not alone in that race. Sam Wandeka, a former staff member of Makerere University, was nominated for election in Bungokho. He says he will focus on simple income generating projects to provide employment for the youth.
A poverty assessment report released early this year by the Uganda National Bureau of Standards and Statistics named Mbale as one of the districts in Uganda with the highest concentration of poor people.