By Moses Walubiri
The fourth memorial lecture in honor of Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) founding president, Dr. Milton Obote on Wednesday, was a scene unlike many political gatherings in Uganda.
First was the ambience that took many party stalwarts down memory lane, a time when the party they fondly refer to as “the congress of the people” held sway in Ugandan politics.
Organisers contrived to make sure that even the music blaring out of the gigantic loud speakers during interludes was reminiscent of UPC’s hey days.
As such, it was the crooning tunes by artistes like Maywood, Lionel Richie, Franco and Billy Ocean that guests hummed to as they patiently waited for the guest speaker, Prof. Patrice Lumumba, who never showed up.
Then, there was this affinity for UPC colours by those in attendance, that would have left supporters of rival political parties casting envious eyes, as Sheraton Hotel’s Rwenzori ballroom was turned into a sea of red and blue.
From children to the party officials, the majority of those in attendance were attired in red or blue shirts, neckties, bracelets, bangles, dresses, shoes or trousers.
However, the most fascinating sight was the spirit of camaraderie on display. The lecture attracted some long-forgotten, formerly powerful politicians in Obote’s governments.
Like animals coming out of hibernation, many party stalwarts – former ambassadors, district commissioners, MPs and ministers – came in droves.
True, some like Omara Atubo, Anthony Butere, Cris Rwakasisi and Yona Kanyomozi, have long ditched strife ridden UPC, but their presence was testament enough that they have not forgotten their roots.
These and others like Samwiri Mugwisa, Edward Rurangaranga, Night Kulabako, Peter Walubiri and FDC’s Salamu Musumba exchanged pleasantries as they reminisced about UPC’s glory days.
In honour of Obote’s memory, even the feuding factions in UPC tentatively buried their hatchet, which saw the likes of David Pulkol, Jimmy Akena, Betty Amongi, Joseph Bbosa and Olara Otunnu sit in the same room without security having to restrain them from tearing each other to smithereens.
However, the highlight of the evening was Rwakasisi’s submission about the man who, by a strange quirk of fate, turned him into a powerful politician from a little known Bushenyi UPC functionary.
Under the theme, The Obote I knew, a nostalgic Rwakasisi profusely paid tribute to the man he repeatedly referred to as “my president.”
“The Obote I knew was not a confrontational politician. He was a gentleman, whose love was boundless and merited, blind to tribe and religion and only a servant of the party he founded,” Rwakasisi said, amid the singing of UPC songs and chanting of party slogans.
Rwakasisi described Obote as a “shrewd politician”, whose love for young people saw him take their counsel on many fundamental national issues.
On the usually touchy issue of Obote’s relationship with Buganda, Rwakasisi decried the demonisation of Obote, which he attributed to a savage media campaign to slur his legacy.
The former security minister said Baganda dominated key ministries and parastatals during Obote’s time, yet his government continued to be reviled in the region.
“When criminalisation of a person is accomplished, no cleansing is possible, especially if the media is against you,” Rwakasisi said, before calling for forgiveness among Ugandans.
When asked by party supporters why he had ditched UPC, Rwakasisi, who was recently saved from the hangman’s noose in Luzira Prison by President Yoweri Museveni, delved into his biblical knowledge by quoting Jesus: “Those who are not against us, they are with us.”
Obote passed away on October 10, 2005 and UPC, has since 2009 held annual memorial lectures in his honour.