By Patrick Odongo Lango
Kampala—13, July 2020: A week is a long time in politics. Two weeks ago, Health Minister, Dr Ruth Jane Aceng, declared her intention to run for the seat of a Woman Member of Parliament for Lira District on the NRM ticket. The news that startled political observers and neutrals in equal measure soon became a hot potato issue to both her admirers and haters alike.
In addition, the news set off the political talking heads on social media in a fierce debate about the pros and cons of her aspirations. As usual, the self-appointed spin doctors embarked on aggressive debates, some skewed to sooth the souls of their political sponsors, while others welcomed the move as a positive development that will sour up the image of Lango sub-region once again on the map.
For the record, the Lira District Woman MP seat in Parliament is currently being occupied by Hon. Joy Atim Ongom of the increasingly beleaguered Uganda People’s Congress (UPC); the grand old party.
Over the weekend, I opined for Sunday Monitor that Dr Aceng dipping of her dainty legs into the murky waters of elective politics will set the political arena aflame. Predictably, opinions were sharply divided across the aisle on the wisdom of her joining the rough and tumble of elective politics. Many opposition leaning people, fearing the unknown factor that Aceng brings, have urged her to stick on her technical job and perhaps get an international job within the UN system.
This attempt at dissuading is akin to Judas Iscariot complaining when a woman poured an expensive perfume on Jesus, arguing that it was a wastage since the proceeds would have gone to help the poor. Obviously, the opposition fears that Aceng’s entry would most likely upset their political apple cart.
On the other hand, members of the ruling party, NRM, are salivating at the prospect of finally ending the UPC hegemony in Lira district by presenting a formidable candidate to the electorates.
Over this weekend, in almost all social media forums, a video footage of Dr Aceng marching in a procession of excited women circulated or went viral, drawing condemnations and denunciations from the usual government critics crying “double standards”. It seems that as Dr Aceng was “launching the distribution of masks” in Aromo sub-county, Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda, the FDC spokesperson, was having running battles with the police over concerns about holding public meetings and processions.
Welcome to Ugandans politics, Dr Jane Ruth Aceng!
Dr Aceng needs to take heart. She is not alone in receiving a roasting for political missteps. In the 2016 USA presidential elections, a few weeks to Election Day, an audiotape was discovered of Donald Trump bragging on tape that, because he’s a star, he can grope any women.
“This is the end of the man”, the holier-than-thou political commentators intoned solemnly on television and social media. Even the usually unapologetic Donald Trump looked properly chastened and scared for his political life.
However, as we all know, Trump, like a magician, defied all predictions and pulled the rabbit out of his hat. Conventional wisdom was trounced. The issues that exercise the minds of the electorates are usually bread and butter issues that rarely feature on the radar of armchair social media commentators.
In the UK, last June, police were called at the flat of Boris Johnson, then vying to become Conservative Party leader and future Prime Minister. It seemed there was a serious domestic altercation between Boris and his fiancée. The British tabloids had a field day and pilloried him ruthlessly.
However, the voters in the UK were able to effectively separate form from substance and elected Boris Johnson with a thumping majority. This goes to show that we need to distil the real issues that drive election-day decisions of voters from the excitements of social media trolls. The real issues that move the needle of public opinion and determine one’s fortune at the polls rarely get reported on and are seldom discussed on social media.
The election fortunes of Dr Aceng will not be determined by this one singular incidence. In the coming weeks and months, a confluence of factors will come into play that will determine whether Dr Aceng gets elected or loses. Perhaps she might even not be on the ballot given the serious jostling happening within the NRM in Lira district. But what we can be sure of is that Dr Aceng is not a political lightweight.
The author is an NRM cadre from Minakulu, Oyam district.