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Uganda’s political landscape made Abu Mayanja a nomad

By Vision Reporter

Added 7th November 2005 03:00 AM

Abu Mayanja, who died on Friday, was one of the most colourful politicians to have graced the political scene in Uganda for almost 55 years. Having started his political activities at Makerere College where he was dismissed in 1951 for leading in a strike, he proved to be at the centre of all contro

Abu Mayanja, who died on Friday, was one of the most colourful politicians to have graced the political scene in Uganda for almost 55 years. Having started his political activities at Makerere College where he was dismissed in 1951 for leading in a strike, he proved to be at the centre of all contro

Abu Mayanja, who died on Friday, was one of the most colourful politicians to have graced the political scene in Uganda for almost 55 years. Having started his political activities at Makerere College where he was dismissed in 1951 for leading in a strike, he proved to be at the centre of all controversies in the country.
Mayanja was also one of the most brilliant politicians we have ever had although his brilliance never found him a firm niche in the leadership of the country.

The political environment of the country forced Abu, as he was popularly known, to be a political nomad. At Budo, his headmaster, Lord Hemmingford testified to the brilliance of the young muslim from Ngogwe, Kyaggwe county, who beat christian students at scriptures.

At school, Abu seems to have shown more brains than leadership until he went to Makerere where he led the strike which led to his expulsion together with seven other students including Josephat Karanja, the former Kenyan vice-president and Omollo Okello who has just retired as chairman of Kenya Airways.

All the expelled students obtained Indian Government scholarships to go and study at Indian universities, thanks to the benevolence of Jawahalal Nerhu, India’s prime minister then. The new governor of Uganda, Sir Andrew Cohen, however, was so impressed with Abu’s brilliance and concluded that the only place for such a person was King’s College, Cambridge, the governor’s own alma mater, where he proceeded to send him on a government scholarship to read history later qualifying as a barrister at the Inns of Court School of Law, London. At the law school, he was a member of the prestigious Honourable Society of Grays Inn.

While at Cambridge, he was involved in serious politics, both Ugandan and African and his letters to the editor of the Uganda Argus and other papers rank among the best written and thoughtful contributions to the Uganda independence struggle.

Mayanja’s biggest contribution to Uganda’s politics was in the formation of the Uganda National Congress with I. K. Musazi and others in 1952 when he was appointed its first secretary general, a job he had to quit when he left for his studies at Cambridge. Later in 1958 when Kwame Nkrumah organised the first all-African Peoples Conference, Abu who was still a student in London, helped in the organisation and played a leading part in the proceedings of the forerunner of the Organisation of African Unity which was formed in 1964, now the African Union.

On his return to Uganda in 1959 soon after he had written his famous letter in the Uganda Argus from London in which he declared that he had crossed the Rubicon to come back and crush Mengo, Abu found himself sucked into the same institution he had vowed to crush when he was called upon at 29 years and only three months into his private legal practice to become Mengo’s minister of education.

Abu handled the ministry very well when more responsibilities were being devolved on the Buganda government from the centre and with people like William Kalema his permanent secretary who succeeded its first English occupant and E.K.K. Ssempebwa, the scholarships secretary, Buganda’s educational programmes reached new heights. Abu resigned from Mengo after the Speaker called him “a boy” in the Lukiiko chamber whereupon he walked out never to return although he kept his tentacles there to the last.

After Mengo, he rejoined legal practice first with an Asian lawyer, Treon and later went on his own but was not exactly comfortable in finding a political base. This was the time political parties were going through reconfiguration and realignments after all the leaders of the original political parties were exiled.

Mayanja first joined Obote’s faction of the UNC but very soon joined hands with his farmer teacher, Apollo Kironde. he formed the United Party where he became the publicity secretary. He then joined Kabaka Yekka (KY) in 1962.

Mayanja is credited with having worked out the voting arithmetic in the Lukiiko which ensured that all the Buganda MPs who were elected indirectly by the Lukiiko in 1962 were KY to the exclusion of DP members and he joined the independence Parliament among the 21 members who were elected from Buganda. In Parliament Mayanja was an intellectual jewel in his contributions.

However, he fell out with the authorities when he and two other youngsters, Davis Sebukima and Peter Mulira published articles critical of the 1967 constitution in the intellectual magazine, Transition, in the of issue of April 1968. Mayanja and Sebukima were detained without trial only to be released by Idi Amin in 1971 in the wake of his coup. Mulira was saved by being a young student away in the UK.

From detention, Abu became the country’s minister of education a post he left after he fell out with Idi Amin a few years later.

In the election of 1980 Abu joined DP and stood for election in Mityana where he had been allocated a large farm during Amin’s era but lost and went into exile in Kenya where he worked as a teacher, Ugandan lawyers not being allowed to practise there, and doubled in the liberation struggle.

He became Attorney General before he was retired and became an ordinary backbencher in Parliament.

In 1995 he was elected to the Constituent Assembly where he fought a valiant battle for federalism but at the time the idea had a bad connotation as everybody thought, rather wrongly, that federo was the cause of the 1966 crisis. He was defeated in the subsequent parliamentary elections.

Abu has spent his last years practising as a legal consultant in his son’s law firm and contributing a very provocative weekly column in The New Vision which many will miss. Little is known about his family except that his children inherited his brilliance and are all doing very well. At a recent seminar for Parliamentarians where Godfrey Lule and Abu made brilliant presentations Prof. Edward Rugumayo was moved to say in appreciation of the two men that “age is golden”.

Perhaps Mayanja’s greatest value to Uganda has been that he was the remaining linkage between the past and the present age of cosmetic politics. Adieu, Abu.

Uganda’s political landscape made Abu Mayanja a nomad

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