Uganda elections 2006: Symbols, Effigies a Big Campaign Tool as Musevenism, Besigyesm Take Root

Uganda elections 2006: Symbols, Effigies a Big Campaign Tool as Musevenism, Besigyesm Take Root

By Gideon Munaabi
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First published: February 7, 2006

Watching the political situation in Uganda, one cannot help wondering what the people whose motto is 'For God and my country' are up to.

Those of you who have watched the film "the Ten Commandments" may be forced to think that what supporters of President Yoweri Museveni and his main challenger Dr. Kizza Besigye are doing is turn their candidates into gods and worshipping them.

It is not uncommon to hear names like "savior", "a new Moses" and "the God sent" being sang by supporters at rallies or their small gathering as well as in the bars, taxi parks and motor garages. Many Ugandans keep swearing how they are willing to die for the sake of their candidates. That is just one way of measuring the support of people especially in Kampala City, where support for some candidates especially Dr. Kizza Besigye can be equated to a cult.

With less that three weeks to the February 23 Presidential, Parliamentary and Local Council Elections, the political temperatures are beginning to rise as supporters of different candidates are doing even more crazy things to show support.

On Thursday February 2, Police in Kampala had to use tear gas to disperse Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) supporters, who were dancing and chanting party slogans at Kibuye Roundabout on Kampala-Entebbe road. People have created effigies of Presidential candidates especially of Dr. Besigye, which they pray for and to on different parts of day, serve drinks and food at regular intervals. In some places, the effigies have tables and cakes, which are served.

Genesis of the riot:
The supporters of both the National Resistance Movement (NRM) and the opposition FDC clashed over who should take control of the roundabout and fix the effigy of either side's candidate, now a common campaign tool in Kampala and other urban areas.

Trouble started when Besigye and President Museveni's supporters fought over who was the rightful group to fix the effigy of their candidate on a strategic spot on Entebbe road. Anti riot police had to be called in to handle the situation.

History of the Effigy:
Because Dr. Besigye was nominated in absentia, FDC officials went with his portrait to Namboole stadium where the nominations took place and fixed his photo on the main chair to represent their candidate who was at that time on remand in Luzira maximum prison.

On top of the chair, the FDC officials fixed an FDC cap and a newspaper photo. It was possible to think that Besigye attended the nominations. The supporters have improved the innovation by the FDC officials by making an effigy with Besigye in chains as he used to appear at court before he was granted bail.

The latest is where the supporters lay mats; fix a table on which they put different types of Sodas, a cake, mineral water and millet porridge (bushera) among others, presumably for their dear Besigye to feast.

Effigy of Byesigye
Effigy of Byesigye.

Whenever effigies have been placed, supporters heavily guard the effigies and keep gathering and sing praise to their candidate. It is not common for these supporters, mainly youth to attack their opponents, as was the case in 2001.

The isolated case was at Nakasero market where FDC supporters were carrying out an opinion poll that annoyed the NRM supporters who were passing. According to the poll, NRM's Museveni was trailing when we were at the scene. We were asked to sacrifice to the candidate by putting some money in the basket before taking the picture of the effigy.

Although this is common with Besigye's supporters, President Museveni supporters have borrowed it to boost their essanja (dry banana leaves) symbol.

There are different types of effigies but the most common ones are those where the head of President Museveni or Dr. Besigye is cut from the campaign portrait and fixed on wooden sculpture in the shape of a human being dressed in a coat. With this effigy, you may think the real Museveni or Besigye is addressing a rally at the spot.

Youth supporters carry it either on rallies or through the streets as they sing party songs of praise and shout their candidate's praises. The other one is where the portraits are glued on the four sides of a box and hanged together with either a bottle/bottles of soda or a bottle of mineral water on telephone or electricity wires.

The third and most common one is where the portrait of a candidate is fixed on the chair and is protected from the sunshine and supporters keep tenaciously wiping off the dust from their candidate.

Effigy of Byesigye
Effigy of Byesigye.

In some places, there are copies of that day's newspapers and a television set to keep the "candidate" informed about the political trends in the country.

Museveni's Essanja symbol:
symbol was born from the Luganda word Ekisanja that means a dry banana leaf and is also used to means a "term" in office. President Museveni is seeking re-election for the third term following the amendment of the constitution to remove term limits fro the president.

The opposition could have tried to decampaign President Yoweri Museveni using his essanja symbol, but this has not yielded much as expected. When Dr. Besigye returned from exile last year, he told the Ugandans who had gathered at Kololo Airstrip to welcome him, that he was not going to use the symbol of the hammer that he had used in 2001, because Mr. Museveni was now weak and that all that is required is a broom.

"In 2001, we needed a hammer (Besigye) to remove the quarter pin (Mr. Museveni), but now he has turned into bisanja (dry banana leaves) and we shall only need to sweep him," he said. He has continued using the sweeping symbol to that effect.

This has however not moved the NRM supporters and particularly President Yoweri Museveni as donning essanja on top of a yellow NRM T-shirt has now become fashionable among the supporters of President Yoweri Museveni.

Although it was associated with bad rituals, the essanja has become a valuable commodity in Uganda as it is not only don by supporters but is also rapped on posters, effigies and vehicles by some Museveni supporters.

Controversy under party politics:
It is expected that under party politics, political parties are more prominent than candidates like was the case in the party politics before the NRM came to power.

However, in these first ever-multiparty polls after 20 years of the one party system, people still look at the individuals than political parties, thereby raising fears about the fate of these parties should the people they worship be out of party leadership.

The coming of effigies and symbols has gone a long way to show how many Ugandans are turning to worshiping candidates like gods. This has led to some people to ask whether these are supporters or fundamentalists.

Because of the kind of support for the leading two candidates in the February 23, 2006 elections, some people have started referring to the trend as Besigyeism and Musevenism. One cannot help but wonder where this will lead the country given the fact that only one candidate will win and head a government for the next five years.

Effigy of Byesigye
Effigy of Byesigye.

By Gideon Munaabi
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First published: February 7, 2006
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Gideon Munaabi is a journalist and public relations practitioner with Ultimate Media Consult (U) Ltd. He has been and continues writing widely for different publication locally and internationally. He is a founding member of Ultimate Media Consult (U) Ltd and is currently the chairman of the organisation.