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Is tribalism killing DP?

By Vision Reporter

Added 29th November 2000 03:00 AM

Allegations that tribalism is the main factor underlying the current bitter power struggles in the Democratic Party (DP) suggest the party's not too glamorous past is back to haunt its present and cloud the future.

Allegations that tribalism is the main factor underlying the current bitter power struggles in the Democratic Party (DP) suggest the party's not too glamorous past is back to haunt its present and cloud the future.

* UYD action proved the party has not outgrown its Catholic and Buganda inclinations By Gawaya Tegulle Allegations that tribalism is the main factor underlying the current bitter power struggles in the Democratic Party (DP) suggest the party's not too glamorous past is back to haunt its present and cloud the future. Last Friday, a faction led by Vice President Zachary Olum "suspended" President Dr. Paul Ssemogerere, Treasurer Ssebaana Kizito and Organising Secretary Damiano Lubega, accusing them of standing in the way of leadership renewal. Ideally, you don't replace permanently someone who has only been suspended. But strangely enough, the three were replaced immediately. Francis Bwengye was declared President, Evaristo Nyanzi Secretary General, Wasswa Lule Publicity Secretary and Maurice Kagimu Kiwanuka, Organising Secretary. Zachary Olum remained Vice President, while Dr. Michael Bayiga became Assistant Secretary General, replacing Mary Mutagamba who defected to the Movement. But the Uganda Young Democrats - a bunch of political rookies keeping their eyes wide open for any openings to burst into the political limelight - set out to prove that they too have their uses. They promptly moved in and threw out the Bwengye-Olum faction with clubs and mean-spirited verbal artillery. Ssemogerere - in a very rare and uncharacteristic show of venom - declared that whoever wasn't satisfied with his leadership should go and form their own party. But most worthy of note were the invectives used by DP's young turks when evicting the Olum faction. They accused the rebels of trying to promote Banyankole (Bwengye and Chapaa Karuhanga) when they (UYD) were actually trying to throw out another Munyankole (President Museveni). Every building or institution has a foundation on which it stands. Rock that foundation and you get the whole structure tumbling down. For DP, the foundation is Buganda and the Catholic faith, a foundation the Olum faction threatened to rip apart. DP came into existence almost by default. It emerged as a reaction to the byzantine political dynamics of pre-independence Uganda. In March 1952, the first nationwide political party was formed. This was the Uganda National Congress, led by Ignatius Musaazi. Its leadership were overwhelmingly Baganda, mostly the old boys of Budo, the leading Protestant high school. The dominance of Protestants in holding public office had been established for a long time, more so in Buganda. It was tradition that the Katikkiro and Omuwanika (treasurer) were supposed to be Protestants. Only the Omulamuzi (Chief Justice) could be a Catholic, that is at the very worst of circumstances. If it could not be avoided. The majority of Sazza chiefs were Protestant. The British were not about to leave their former empire in the hands of Catholics. They deliberately encouraged Protestant domination in politics and high offices. The UNC moved from district to district, championing whatever local issues there were topical, in order to have a national image. One of the conditions on which the Kabaka's exile was ended was that Buganda would turn into a Constitutional monarchy. Tired of being a nobody in a foreign land when he could be a king, however small, in his own land, Mutesa II agreed to the conditions. On October 17, 1955, he landed at Entebbe airport to a tumultuous welcome and the setting up of a new Buganda government began. The Lukiiko was the electoral college for selecting the Katikkiro. The contestants were outgoing Katikkiro Paul Kavuma, outgoing chief justice Matayo Mugwanya and Mikairi Kintu, a prominent county chief who had been instrumental in negotiating for the Kabaka's return. Mugwaya was a Catholic and grandson of Stanislaus Mugwanya, one of the former regents of Buganda and who had led the Catholic faction during the religio-political wars in Buganda. Mugwanya was favourite to win and it became clear that history was in the making - the first Catholic Katikkiro since 1900! This was bound to upset the religio-political order of the moment. Kavuma was persuaded to step down, so that his supporters would gang behind Kintu. Kintu won very narrowly. In the following year, 1956, Matayo Mugwanya won a Lukiiko by-election. But Kabaka Mutesa II himself prevented Mugwanya from taking his seat on the Lukiiko, on grounds that he was a member of the East African Legislative Assembly. Desperate and disillusioned, Mugwanya and other Catholics ganged up to form the Democratic Party in August 1956, with Mugwanya as President General. The party was overwhelmingly Catholic in membership and leadership. But they backdated their existence to 1954, to separate its origins from the 1956 religious scuffles that had infact led to their existence. What had existed in 1954 was in fact the Catholic Servants Welfare Association whose organisation efforts were largely augmented and initiated by the Catholic church in Uganda. There was of course the credibility problem: how would they appeal to the rest of Uganda and win votes outside Buganda when the party was known to be Catholic and Kiganda? It had no trouble attracting a country-wide following because there were many Catholic faithfuls all over Uganda. At last, they said, here was something they could identify with; something that they could call their own. Matayo Mugwanya was succeeded by Benedicto Kiwanuka, almost as Catholic as the Pope and fresh from law school in England. Kiwanuka, murdered in 1972, was succeeded in 1980 by Paul Kawanga Ssemogerere. Since 1962, DP has never tasted power. The party claims it was wrongfully denied victory in the 1980 elections, allegedly rigged in favour of Obote. But to this day, Catholicism and Bugandaism remain the power locus of DP and to emerge as DP boss, party tradition has it that both interests ought to be represented. Even DP's donors and international sympathisers are largely Catholic, at least in roots. The big mouths in DP have it that former President of Uganda, Yusuf Kironde Lule (RIP), was the best placed person to step in Ben Kiwanuka's shoes. But he was blocked on account of being a Protestant. The religion factor was also reflected in the way Robert Kitariko became Secretary General to succeed Francis Bwengye. Bwengye's Assistant, Alex Waibale was, like all Waibales, a Protestant. But when Bwengye fled to exile, Waibale was not promoted, capable though he was. Instead Robert Kitariko - who was not even a member of the executive - was made Secretary General. In 1984, Tiberio Okeny too, had his ambitions - to become the biggest fish in the DP pond. But once again, history got the better of the situation. He was Catholic fine, but not a Muganda. It was okay for him to remain DP Vice President, but please, no more. Okeny decided to try his talents elsewhere and founded the National Liberal Party. It returned to the fold this year. Has DP outgrown its Catholic and Buganda inclinations? The party stalwarts say it has, but as the UYD proved last week, DP is yet to shed its milk teeth. That could also explain why many thought it inconceivable that Alhajji Nasser Ntege Sebaggala, a muslim of radical persuasions, could emerge as party president or its presidential candidate. The future of DP will very much depend on how it handles this crisis. The lack of internal cohesion hall-marked by the failure of democracy to solve the crisis in a party which claims to be a democratic institution can only kill it, regardless of which faction wins. Ends.

Is tribalism killing DP?

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