Published by Patra K on

Is populism a new strategy of consolidating political support?

The Kawempe North MP Muhammad Segirinya donated an ambulance & opened up a hospital during the 2nd COVID wave. (Photo courtesy of the Independent)

Over the last decade, politics in Uganda has changed with the emerging trend of populist politics. Under this trend, there is an understanding that if the interest of the mass majority is not handled properly by government, other individuals arise and take up the space. Populist politics manifests differently in countries not excluding developed democracies. In Africa however, it takes a different form. In Uganda by norm and practice, politicians in recent times are appearing to be philanthropic in nature by giving out donations and covid-19 relief supplies. 

The media lately has been a wash of politicians donating Eid-Al-Adha food items to Muslim faithful in their constituencies. It is quite common these days to see politicians filling in the void of government by providing services to their constituents. They take advantage of philanthropy to politically popularize or consolidate their candidature by capturing the hearts of the voters they have donated to. In doing so, they are sowing seeds that they expect to germinate after five years.

Given the covid-19 context, many politicians have taken gain of the lockdown which left many Ugandans that are dependent on daily income vulnerable. These politicians have come up to donate especially food items, ambulances, and even cash. The donations are usually branded with their names and distributed in the full glare of the media. 

One would wonder whether this supposed act of “kindness” is the primary reason or rather a disguised form of politicking. It goes a long way to show that the politicians are more interested in being popular to win public support. 

When asked what explains the growing trend of public display of philanthropy by elected officials, Abas Agaba, lawyer and former MP Kitagwenda county, Kamwenge district explained that this could be because of the growing number of politicians over leaders. This was on the latest episode of ACFIM Talks last Friday.

Trends have changed and unlike previous parliaments, for example, the 7th and 8th were a few people were voted based on competence and leadership skills, presently especially in urban areas, voters elect based on populism bringing in more politicians and fewer leaders. This could be partly explained by the changing behavior of the electorate making populism one of the quickest tickets to get into parliament.

MP’s have ignored their cardinal roles which include representation, legislation, oversight, and appropriation of budgets, and have resorted to becoming welfare officers. “They work more on the welfare of citizens instead of encouraging government to perform their role“ Mr.Agaba added.  

The SecretKnown is that politicians donate because it appeals to the emotions of the people and attracts attention. Some even take part in demonstrations because it keeps them relevant. This is normally in urban constituencies which favors the opposition mostly making it difficult for NRM politicians. 

Mr.Agaba cited the difference between religion and politics. According to Islam when one gives out for purposes of faith, the left hand should not know when the right hand gives. However, in politics, it is all about show off and being noticed. Even at church and burials, one must announce how much they have contributed. 

According to him, there is a difference between politicians and leaders, a leader should be able to guide the people whereas a politician simply identifies what the people want, then dance to their tunes whether good or bad for them. Politicians are only concerned with the vote and not about the quality of life people live. He advised that those elected need to find a balance between what they are supposed to do as a leader and what the people want because as a leader you cannot help government provide services but rather speak up for people to get government services. 

Donations and philanthropy by politicians are welcome, especially during the covid times we are living in. Mr.Agaba however stressed that donating an ambulance shouldn’t take away one’s obligation to perform his/her roles as a member of parliament. 

He blamed corruption and monetized politics for the escalated populist politics stressing that money in politics has discouraged would-be good potential leaders from taking part in politics leaving the floor to populists seeking office for self-gain. 

On the trend of non-seasoned politicians joining politics, Mr.Agaba commented that the stage has been left for populism throwing out ideology. Being in a multi-party dispensation, political parties in Uganda that are supposed to groom people to take power as they provide alternative policies have instead embraced populism because most political parties thrive around a populist individual. In order to get rid of this, Mr.Agaba conclusively emphasized the need to teach people the qualities of a good leader. 

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