Masaka’s Rising Tensions: NUP Feud with Mathias Mpuuga Shapes 2026 Election Battleground

Bobi Wine addressing a rally in Masaka on May 31 (Photo/Bobi Wine)


  • The ongoing feud between the National Unity Platform (NUP) and former Leader of Opposition Mathias Mpuuga is significantly impacting Masaka, turning it into a critical battleground for the 2026 elections. Masaka’s electoral importance stems from its past support for NUP’s Robert Kyagulanyi (Bobi Wine), who won 73% of the vote in 2021. The conflict within NUP and between NUP and other political entities, including the Buganda monarchy and the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM), has heightened tensions.

The feud between the National Unity Platform (NUP) and former Leader of Opposition in Parliament Mathias Mpuuga has festered for months and all indications are that it will go on until the 2026 elections.

But as this feud turns Masaka into a 2026 ‘battleground state’ that is threatening to upset alliances and is pitting institutions like the Buganda monarchy and NUP, a Buganda-dominated party, against each other, what lies ahead for all contenders; including the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party?

A look at the polling data from the 2021 election shows why Masaka matters and why it has become front and centre in the election roadmap.

Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine notched 73% of the vote beating President Yoweri Museveni who got just 25%. Bobi Wine ate into Museveni’s vote margins because in 2016, Museveni had fought competitively with Dr. Kizza Besigye scoring 50% and 45% respectively. In 2011, Museveni carried the district with 53% against Besigye’s 37%.

With the red wave in 2021, Museveni settled for the crumbs as he couldn’t even get an NRM MP from the district let alone the Buganda region which Masaka is at the heart of.

The stakes are even higher when it comes to the regional vote (the central region which comprises nearly two dozen districts). Bobi Wine got 64% almost doubling Museveni’s vote at 33% according to data by the Electoral Commission.

The trend shows that Museveni’s political fortunes have been on a downward spiral in the area. In effect, Museveni and the NRM face the worst possible outcome at the next turn which is why NUP is not taking chances with the ongoing schisms.

Since the NRM and NUP have recently held big rallies in the area to show off their political muscle, all eyes are now on Mpuuga and his upcoming event slated for June 21 at Masaka Diocesan Sports Arena.

Flagged as a thanksgiving ceremony, the event will serve as the launchpad for Mpuuga’s 2026 plans according to organisers although The Independent could not reach Mpuuga for details.

Mpuuga’s moment

Mpuuga is big in Masaka and Buganda. In 2020, he led the crossover from the Democratic Party (DP) of over 20 opposition MPs who joined NUP in an alliance that wrestled the Buganda region away from the NRM. The merger made NUP, which had just been registered, the largest opposition party in parliament with 59 MPs.

In return, NUP appointed Mpuuga as deputy for the Buganda region. In 2021, Mpuuga’s star rose further when Bobi Wine tapped him for the prestigious post of Leader of Opposition. Mpuuga was respected across the political aisle but the unease between NUP and the DP bloc was apparent.

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His two and a half year term was rife with rumours of an imminent sacking. This entrenched intrigue and subterfuge within the party. Now, a blood feud with the party that made him a heavyweight could derail his political trajectory.

Despite his prominent political plumes in Masaka it remains doubtful he alone can draw crowds as big as those of the recent NUP event in the area headlined by its principal, party president Bobi Wine or those of the Patriotic League of Uganda (PLU) of President Museveni’son and heir apparent, Gen. Muhoozi Kainerugaba.

For support, Mpuuga has rallied a number of MPs from NUP and his former party, DP, for a function where Buganda Kingdom Katikkiro Charles Peter Mayiga will be Chief Guest.

NUP Secretary General Lewis Rubongoya and other NUP leaders In Masaka (Photo/NUP)

Key in Mpuuga’s camp is Kimaanya Kabonera MP Abed Bwanika, a Masaka man born and bred who has contested for the presidency thrice. In 2021, Bwanika found new fortune when he rode to parliament on the NUP ticket but he has since broken ranks with the party.

Bwanika is the chief organiser of the upcoming fete for his comrade Mpuuga. He has told journalists that the ceremony will be a way of appreciating leaders when they are still alive.

Other MPs who have reportedly cast their lot with Mpuuga are Joyce Bagala (Mityana Woman), Juliet Nakabuye (Masaka City Woman), Charles Tebandeke (Bbale County), and Brenda Nabukenya (Luweero Woman) among others. Like Mpuuga, Nabukenya was formerly with DP.

Bobi Wine’s unstoppable train

Since NUP President Bobi Wine removed Mpuuga from the Leader of Opposition in Parliament (LOP) position and installed Nakawa West MP Joel Ssenyonyi in December 2023, tensions have been simmering in NUP over factionalism, finances and political strategy.

These tensions spilled into the open when a parliament expose revealed Mpuuga, in his capacity as Parliament Commissioner, pocketed a Shs500m service award for his time as LOP. Mpuuga, a three term MP, has faced backlash from NUP for the decision that placed him in cahoots with three NRM parliament commissioners who all together are facing censure.

Mpuuga has not relented in his defence and rebuttals since the fallout with the party he still serves as deputy president albeit estranged. Bobi Wine attempted to suspend Mpuuga but the action was not as straightforward and Mpuuga has stayed put. Reports that Mpuuga is planning to start his own party are fueling the animosity.

For months, NUP and Mpuuga have traded barbs in an internal rift that has tested the young party’s resolve. The high stakes political disputes could have implications for the 2026 elections.

In a television interview coming after the recent NUP rallies, the Nyendo-Mukungwe MP got something off his chest when asked if he had something to say to his party.

“They are a letdown. The public expected better from them. The amount of energy and resources they have committed in wanting to bury the person and character of Mpuuga would have been invested elsewhere because they have failed.”

The latest such investment is a rally Bobi Wine held at the Masaka Recreations Ground on May 31 that was like a coming out party for NUP in the war against Mpuuga; its erstwhile luminary whose constituency is located in the district.

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The rally was preceded by a road show that paralysed a section of the Kampala-Masaka Highway in the area. The mammoth crowds that thronged the event appeared to assert the dominance of the People Power wave that caused political upheavals in Greater Masaka in the 2021 elections.

Bobi Wine said as much when he addressed the crowds which were teeming in a sea of red. Speaking in his native Luganda and draped in red overalls with a beret to match, Bobi Wine saluted the people of Masaka for their bravery and resilience even as police closed roads and forced the event to be staged at a different venue.

“This train started long time ago and will not stop. Anyone who stands in its way, will just be bypassed,” he declared to ululations.

NUP honchos like Secretary General Lewis Rubongoya, current LOP Joel Ssenyonyi, Mityana Municipality MP Francis Zaake, lawyer Benjamin Katana were part of the tour that reprised the one of last year. Mpuuga did not attend the rally part of a second countrywide NUP tour which appears to have had less fanfare as police blocked a number of planned stopovers in eastern Uganda.

Abed Bwanika

On the day of his rally in Masaka, Bobi Wine who was born and raised in the nearby Mpigi district, offered his thoughts on Masaka, and its “significant role” in Uganda’s political history.

“It was a battleground in the 1970s, especially in 1979 when the Tanzanian army bombed to the ground most of its infrastructure as they drove Idi Amin from power. From September to December 1985, dictator Museveni’s rebels laid siege on and eventually captured Masaka from the UNLA forces, which paved the way for Kampala’s eventual collapse one month later in January 1986,” he posted on X.

The NUP leader also described Masaka as the capital of Buganda Kingdom in an apparent broadside at the kingdom for taking sides with Mpuuga. Katikkiro Mayiga has tried to mediate the bad blood between the two groups with little success.

Mayiga has rallied to Mpuuga’s defence in the face of criticism from NUP and the public over the service award that brought him into disrepute. NUP critics accuse the party of instigating attacks on the kingdom.

In his post, Bobi Wine also brought up the issue of machete-wielding gangs who killed area residents over the years—an issue that remains an open wound—that NUP has used to rally masses. Masaka’s renewed significance in national politics has turned into a battleground as the NUP row with a son of the soil escalates.

For some of the party faithful, the Masaka rally provided an opportunity to denounce Mpuuga in his backyard. Amid the just ended mobilisation tour, there are suggestions that NUP is looking for a candidate to sponsor against Mpuuga who is now considered rogue.

It was also in response to those Masaka politicians in Mpuuga’s corner, such as Bwanika, who have been leveling attacks at Bobi Wine and other NUP officials.

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Mathias Mpuuga

In May, for instance, Masaka played host again to the bickering that has held the party in a visceral grip. At the burial of Pascal Ssekasamba, brother to the late former Bukoto South MP Mathias Nsubuga, Bwanika attacked Bobi Wine who was present, accusing him of “destroying leaders” like Mpuuga.

It was a fiery speech in which Bwanika went for the jugular. “This is not the struggle we were saying Mr Kyagulanyi, those youth who are abusing us are your children and anyone who wants to take me out of here you can do it. Kyagulanyi, stop killing our leaders,” said Bwanika. He singled out NUP deputy spokesperson Alex Waiswa Mufumbiro as one of those insulting leaders opposed to Bobi Wine.

In response, Bobi Wine calmly rebuked Bwanika and said he was the reason Bwanika and many others were able to become MPs. He downplayed the differences in his party saying their only enemy was President Museveni.

Bobi Wine’s attempt to reframe the service award saga as one where Mpuuga apologised was quickly rejected by the former LOP who signaled his displeasure. The event laid bare the frailties in NUP and seemed like only a taste of what lies ahead.

Bwanika is a close ally of Mpuuga who has gone gung-ho at the opposition leader and NUP. At the burial, he also told Bobi Wine, “Ffe e Masaka t’etulya bisiyaga (In Masaka, we are not homosexuals).” This was a dig at the NUP leader for his association with the LGBT community at a recent event in Europe but also a sign of the deep differences between the two politicians.

Bwanika also accused Bobi Wine, a former presidential candidate himself, of ferrying crowds from Kampala to his Masaka rallies.

Other allies of Mpuuga like Joseph Kasirye, a NUP Masaka City registrar, have scoffed at the plan by NUP to issue membership cards. NUP started a registration drive in April. Kasirye reportedly said the idea could attract members who are disloyal and expose the party.

As the rift that has set the stage for a bruising battle whose centre stage is Masaka, the district that Mpuuga calls home continues, the area appears to be opening up to machinations by actors outside NUP.

To possibly squeeze out some political capital from the fractured NUP house, PLU staged a mobilisation event there in March. It was early in the year and the feud between NUP and Mpuuga was just cracking open. Muhoozi’s team looked like they were plotting more moves in the area until Museveni appointed them to cabinet and also made Muhoozi army chief.

After the massive PLU event and the equally well attended rally by NUP in Masaka, attention is now on June 21 where Mpuuga’s thanksgiving event could become the big moment for all players, whether it succeeds or fails.

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