THE recent Democratic Party (DP) delegates conference which held in Mbale at which Norbert Mao was elected new president general of the party reminded us of another party conference which held in the same town half a century ago when Apollo Milton Obote was elected president general of a faction of
THE recent Democratic Party (DP) delegates conference which held in Mbale at which Norbert Mao was elected new president general of the party reminded us of another party conference which held in the same town half a century ago when Apollo Milton Obote was elected president general of a faction of the Uganda National Congress (UNC).
The DP conference was held amidst controversy following a dispute between the partyâ€™s then president general John Sebaana Kizito and its chairman Professor Joseph Mukiibi just as the earlier conference was held after a fallout between the UNC president general Ignatius Musazi and its flamboyant chairman Joseph â€œJolly Joeâ€ Kiwanuka.
Both conferences marked a transfer of leadership of each party from the central region for the first time. The election of Obote as leader of UNC was important because it marked the end of UNC as a serious contender for the leadership of the country. At the time of his election in January 1959, Obote was almost unknown politically outside his home district of Lango where his uncle Y. Engur was chairman of the district council and an all-powerful UNC leader in the north.
At first it was believed that Kiwanuka intended to install himself as the president general of the party but he must have realised that he needed to neutralise Engurâ€™s influence in the north if he was to be relevant there especially since that region was traditionally Musaziâ€™s territory from the days of his activities in the Uganda Farmersâ€™ Association through which he mobilised cotton farmers in the area.
Obote himself must have been surprised by the turn of events for he was not at the conference and was only in Mbale just before the elections. If Kiwanuka had expected to be the power behind Oboteâ€™s throne he was soon to be disappointed for as soon as the new president general took office he became his own man and this brought about a split with his benefactor leaving Kiwanuka to lead his own faction of the party independent of Oboteâ€™s. This meant that the UNC, Ugandaâ€™s first political party which was formed in 1952 with I. K. Musazi as its first president general and youthful Abu Mayanja as secretary general was now split fourways, the first split having taken place in 1956 when 14 young turks including Senteza Kajubi left the party to form the United Congress Party under David Lubogo after Musazi had unilaterally supported the extension of Sir Andrew Cohenâ€™s term as governor .
With mainstream UNC in disarray, Oboteâ€™s star soon started to rise helped in no small measure by a number of factors including his political shrewdness, the fate of other political leaders and Bugandaâ€™s intransigency over constitutional developments which ruled out for the first the emergence of a leader in national affairs from the central region.
However Oboteâ€™s greatest moment after becoming president general came 10 months later when he was elected as Lango district representative to the legislative council in the first national direct elections held in October 1958. This meant that apart from having a vantage political platform as party leader the young former trade unionists in Kenya was now able to demonstrate his oratorial skills which were greatly sharpened through elocution lessons at the Makindye home of an English member of the legco Barbara Saben who became the rising politicianâ€™s mentor. Obote was also helped in his political climb when most of the senior political party leaders from the central region including Musazi grouped themselves in the Uganda National Movement in March 1959 which declared a trade boycott of shops owned by foreigners. These leaders were rusticated by the colonial government to remote areas of the country leaving the political field to Obote and Ben Kiwanuka of the DP. The situation was even more propitious for Obote because the Buganda Lukiiko (Assembly) had earlier boycotted the elections to the legislative council in 1958 which meant that Kiwanuka could not be in the House where Obote was able to demonstrate his leadership qualities unrivalled by any other serious leader. This made him the putative leader of the nationalist movement in the eyes of the colonialists who came to favour him in later constitutional developments.
The only shortcoming in Oboteâ€™s star was that he was a leader of a mere faction of a party and did not enjoy any support in Buganda which had taken itself out of the national fold. But even Bugandaâ€™s intransigence worked in Oboteâ€™s favour because after the elections of 1958 which Buganda boycotted, African representative members of the Legco had formed their own party they called the Uganda Peoples Party under William Rwetsiba as a way to provide a counter-weight to Buganda.
However this party was moribund from the start and with plodding from people like Barbara Saben, Obote agreed to unite his faction of UNC with UPP to form the Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) under his leadership. From now onwards the battle for Ugandaâ€™s post-independence leadership was set to be between Obote and Ben Kiwanuka.
This battle was settled at the London constitutional conference in 1961 where Kiwanuka opposed Bugandaâ€™s demand for federalism and indirect elections of Bugandaâ€™s members of parliament. Obote outsmarted his nemesis by supporting both measures which earned him Buganda support and a Kiganda name of Bwete.
In supporting the federal arrangement for Buganda, Bunyoro, Toro, Ankole and Busoga, Obote was convincing enough when he argued in a memorandum to the conference that â€œby granting these kingdoms a federal status the central legislature will not be weakened. The country could have a strong unifying arrangement even though its component parts were federally related to the centre.â€
In the general election which were held in April 1962, Buganda showed its gratitude to Obote by handing over all its 21 MPs who were elected by the Lukiiko to UPC which enabled it to form the independence government. Four years later, Oboteâ€™s legacy went up in smoke when he ordered an attack on the Mengo palace which led to the the flight into exile of Kabaka Mutesa II. He went on to abolish federalism and the Buganda kingdom which had enabled him to win the elections in a mindless act of revenge the nature of whose cause has never been understood.
Perhaps the editor of the Uganda Argus saw it all coming when he wrote in an editorial on January 1, 1959: â€œSir Andrew Cohen introduce the phrase â€œunitary stateâ€ into public discussion and others advocated a federal state. It seems a great pity that these abstract terms got into circulation as expressions of policy. The practical question is this: how should present governments in this country evolve and what powers should they have?
The goal is not so much a unitary or federal state as the creation of a strong and united country in which all areas feel their needs respected.â€
The writer is a lawyer
DP delegates conference akin to UNCâ€™s 50 years ago