What could swing the voting pattern in Greater Masaka region?
By Edward Bindhe
The Greater Masaka region is a hotspot only rivaled by Kampala and Bugisu when it comes to voting period and the 2016 general elections might not be any different. Yet at the moment, the region is looking to be one of the most crucial swing votes going by the way the electorate is tinkering with their support for the presidential candidates, whose support often corresponds with what other aspiring leaders such as members of parliament would garner.
But to get into the heart of the Greater Masaka electorate, aspirants must address poor infrastructures, lack of power, poor education standards, and lack of transport, water crisis and unemployment. These are issues the voters are adamant must be high on the manifestos of aspirants.
Greater Masaka region is made up of eight districts. They are Kalangala, Rakai, Lyantonde, Masaka, Lwengo and Bukomansimbi. Others are Sembabule and Kalungu. These apart from Kalangala have almost cross-cutting issues.
In Kalangaa, lack of transport in the island district is one of the key election issues that aspiring politicians are struggling to explain to voters. Yes, it might be a politicking time where empty talks and lies sound more convincing to the people, but when it comes to the issue of transport, especially one that has to connect islanders to the mainland, the people of Kalangala are not about to node their heads at the speed of empty words thundering from public address systems.
Politicians in Kyamuswa County, where most of the islands are located are struggling to explain to voters why government has not provided a ferry to connect to the main island.
There are two ferries connecting to the main Bugala Island through Bukakata and Bugoma landing site. These are MV Ssese and MV Pearl managed by Kalangala infrastructural services.
These ferries, including MV Kalangala, that operates the Entebbe route, only serve Bugala Island, while 83 other distant islands remain without reliable transport.
Fishermen in the 83 islands have always complained that government neglects them and they are determined to show their discontent through the ballot.
Joseph Mazige and Paul Ssenkatuuka, are residents of Kyamuswa sub county. The two say in 2006 and 2011 general elections, politicians promised to convince government to provide a ferry for their island to connect to Kyamuswa county and other islands such as Nkose and Misonzi.
Ssenkantuuka says without a reliable ferry, their transport is a misery. He explains that they cannot refer patients to the main Bugala Island to get medication from Kalangala Health Centre IV.
Kalangala district has two health centres at the level of Health Centre IV; Kalangala Health Centre IV and Kyamuswa Health Centre IV. There are other small health centres such as Mazinga health centre and Bufumira health centre III, which are located at far-flung islands.
Isaac Mugera, the Kalangala district information officer, says majority of these health centres lack health workers because they are in hard-to-reach areas. The health centres, Mugera adds, suffer an endemic shortfall of more than 20 health workers because those posted in area either do not show up or flee, citing poor living conditions.
Even the monthly health workers outreaches to the area sometimes fail due to lack of resources and rough waters on Lake Victoria.
Joseph Mazige, another resident of Nkose landing site, says the illegal operations against illegal fishing is a serious issue in the area.
Mazige says the current leaders in Kalangala allowed soldiers and other operatives to carry out operations against illegal fishing, but besides leaving most of them jobless, the operations—riddled with corruption—leaves bitter tastes in their mouth. Mazige notes that the soldiers that carry out operations are not professional fishing technocrats.
Because of the perceived injustice being meted on them, many of the fishermen have vowed not to re-elect current Kalangala leaders as a protest vote.
According to Kalangala district fisheries department, at least 3000 fishermen have been kicked out of the activity for allegedly practicing illegal fishing.
In Bukomansimbi district, Masaka, Lwengo and Rakai districts, poor road network, unemployment among youths, poor education standards are among the dominant issues.
Isaac Lwanga, from Bukomansimbi, says he has teamed up with more than 100 other fresh graduates to decampaign aspirants whose manifestos are silent or do not give a solid note on job creation.
He says he is unhappy that although the district was established to create jobs, majority of the people working there are not residents.
Caroline Nankya, a resident of Kitasa in Bukomansimbi, says the decline in education standards must be addressed. She says pupils no longer study well in public schools at both primary and secondary levels.
Nankya says teachers lost morale of teaching after government failed to increase salaries as promised last financial year.
Frank Ssemanda, a voter in Butenga, says poor road network must be a key issue to address.
He says the road that connects Sembabule through Kyabakuza in Masaka, is in a very poor state. Ssemanda, a farmer, says it is very difficult to transport produce to markets.
Muhammad Kateregga, the Bukomansimbi LC5 chairman, says the district does not have a single tarmac road. He says the Villa-Sembabule road, which government has been promising to tarmac for the last 10 years, remains a source of muck and mud to the people.
In Kalungu district, land wrangles that have left over 10,000 people at the verge of eviction.
Musa Musoke and Joseph Kigundu are residents of Lukaya rural and Lwabenge sub counties, respectively. Kigundu says in Lwabenge Subcounty, there are more than 5,500 people that are unsettled on their land because army officers are evicting them.
Without giving names, he says in May, soldiers backed by police, raided Kilimanyaga village and ordered them to leave. Although government blocked their eviction, those affected remain landless and have since vowed not to vote for ruling government-leaning aspirants.
In Rakai, Lwengo and Lyantonde, persistent water crisis is a key election issue. In Rakai, although government launched construction of a multi-billion bulky water project in Kagamba Sub County five years ago, the project stalled.
Joseph Kizito, from Buyamba, says he will not vote because politicians are ‘liars’. He says in 2011 general elections, President Museveni promised them electricity and water but the water crisis has never been resolved. Although electric poles were built-in, power is yet to be connected.
Rakai district has only managed to construct about 50 boreholes to address the water problem, saying that is as much as its resources can do. Water and Environment ministry contracted Dott Services to construct boreholds at Kagamba to address the water challenges as fulfillments of President Museveni’s 2011 campaign pledge, but the project has stalled.
Residents are bitter that the project, which was supposed to be completed in 2013, is incomplete and no one is explaining why.
Rakai district has only two partially tarmacked roads; the 88-kilometre Masaka-Mutukula highway and 35-kilometre Kyotera-Rakai road. The rest of the roads are of loose surface. In 2011, President Museveni promised to tarmac Lumbugu-Lyantonde and Kyappa-Kasensero roads, but that was just about it: a promise.
Charles Njuba, a fish trader in Kasensero landing site, says the poor state of Kyappa-Kasensero road affects transportation of fish. He says the marrum which was used on the road has given way to gullies.
Njuba explains that his truck spends more than two hours on the 66-kilometre stretch because of potholes, making it difficult to deliver fresh fish to the markets in Jinja and DR Congo where his biggest clients are.