SOME of them have grand children, others are veteran MPs and local leaders and none is below 30 years. However, they are still glued to the leadership of a youth organisation. The Uganda Young Democrats (UYD), arguably the most vibrant youth political organisation, started about 13 years ago and the
SOME of them have grand children, others are veteran MPs and local leaders and none is below 30 years. However, they are still glued to the leadership of a youth organisation. The Uganda Young Democrats (UYD), arguably the most vibrant youth political organisation, started about 13 years ago and the founders have refused to let go of it. Elections that had been intended to change the leadership of the group were put off early this month, largely because the old guard did not want younger blood take over.
The history of youth wings of political parties in Uganda can be traced to the 1950s. Most of the current Ugandan leaders started as youth wingers of different political organisations.
President Yoweri Museveni joined politics as a youth winger in the Uganda Peopleâ€™s Congress (UPC) in the late 1960s. Others in the group include Kirunda Kivejinja, Bidandi Ssali and Kintu Musoke. In the 1980s, UPC youth wingers were deployed as militias fighting for the Government in the Luwero war.
Between 1986 and 1994, there was no active political youth group in the country. This is partly because most of the people in the opposition today were still in the Government serving as ministers.
It was in 1994 that opposition to the Government began to take shape. Members of the opposition started to look for ways of accommodating the vibrant youth within their ranks. That marked the rebirth of youth groups.
Officially, UYD is the youth wing of the Democratic Party (DP). UYD was started in 1994 by Joseph Luzige and others, mainly students of Makerere University. Luzige, who has since defected to the NRM, brought the idea from Brussels. The group spread like a wild fire, opening branches in nearly all major education institutions. Because there was no political youth group at the time, students who wanted to join politics used the UYD as the gateway.
Leander Komakech is the chairman of the UYD and John Ssebaana Kizito, the DP President and former Mayor of Kampala, is the patron. Other leaders are Michael Mabikke, the Makindye East MP, as secretary general, Kenneth Kakande (vice-chairman) and others. All of them are above 35.
But Komakech views himself and his colleagues as a youth. â€œWe are working alongside our mother party to promote democracy in this country. The only difference between us and our mother party is that we are youth, while most of the leaders of the mother party are veterans,â€ he says.
UYD has proved to be effective, especially in matters concerning vote-searching at the grassroots â€” kakuyege during national elections. Compared to other youth groups like the Uganda Young Movementists (UYM), Reform Agenda and UPC youth wing, the UYD has been the most effective in mobilising voters.
UYD was key in the 1996, 2001 and 2006 presidential campaigns for Dr. Paul Ssemogerere, Dr. Kizza Besigye and Ssebaana Kizito respectively. UYD also saw Ssebaana and Nasser Ssebaggala to the Kampala mayorship.
The fact that some UYD members are MPs is testimony to the groupâ€™s strength. These are Ssebuliba Mutumba (Kawempe South), Latif Ssebagala (Kawempe North), Isa Kikungwe (Kyadondo South) and Michael Mabikke (Makindye East). A number of local leaders such as Mohamed Kezaala (Mayor, Jinja Municipality), Godfrey Sserunjogi (former chairman, Kampala Central) Nasser Takuba (Kawempe) Deo Kijjambu (former chairman, Makindye Division) are UYD members.
UYD members also formed the leadership of the Popular Resistance Against Life Presidency (PRALP), a group that campaigned against lifting of presidential term limits, albeit unsuccessfully. This group provided the most confrontational fight against the lifting of the term limits.
It is on the basis of its strength in grassroots mobilisation that UYD has a big hand in the running of DP. However, trouble is that most of its leaders are no longer youth. Mukasa Mbidde is a grandfather, Kenneth Kakande has gray hair, and Komakech is even older.
Michael Mabikke, in his second term in Parliament, is also above 35. The groupâ€™s constitution is silent on age and term limits for executive members.
Kakande says: â€œIt is surprising that people think we should be thrown out of the UYD. We were voted into office and can only be removed through a delegatesâ€™ conference.â€
But DP Secretary General, Dr. Lulume Bayiga, says morals should be put at the fore in a party whose motto is: â€œTruth and Justiceâ€. He argues that it would be foolish to have leaders of UYD who cannot stand for youth elections. Only persons aged 18-30 are eligible for election as youth MPs and district youth leaders. If the UYD leaders lost their positions in the group, they would have no responsibilities in the party since most of them do not hold any responsibilities in DP.
This probably explains why there are plans to transform the group into a political party, autonomous from DP.
Recently, Kakande said Gulu LC5 Chairman Norbert Mao would be standing on the DP ticket in the 2011 presidential. It might turn out for UYD ticket.
Will UYD break off DP to be a party?