Today, JOEL OGWANG, brings you the story of Jaberi Bidandi Ssali, a former local government minister
To mark 50 years of independence, New Vision will, until October 9, 2012, be publishing highlights of events and profiling personalities who have shaped the history of this country. Today, JOEL OGWANG, brings you the story of Jaberi Bidandi Ssali, a former local government minister
FOR some, he passes as a controversial figure; how could he fervently campaign for President Yoweri Museveni in the 2001 general elections, yet turn around and oppose him, even standing against his former master, 10 years later? Disloyalty? Greed? Principled? Many, though, applaud Jaberi Bidandi Ssali for being honest, simplistic, principled and a patriotic statesman.
Former education and sports minister, Namirembe Bitamazire, who worked with Bidandi at the East African Railways and Harbours, describes him as one of Uganda’s best politicians. “He is a firm man, who speaks articulately,” she says. “He has a high capacity of analysing issues and has been a key figure in Uganda’s politics, even starting his own party (People’s Progressive Party-PPP).”
Whoever lit his career candle did so with blessings, for wherever he has been, Bidandi has served with diligence, dedication and integrity, winning more friends than enemies. Starting out as a Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) mobiliser in 1962, Bidandi, mentored by the likes of Kintu Musoke, Dan Nabudere, John Kakonge, Cuthbert Obwangor and Milton Obote, went on to attract Ugandans’ passion to the extent that in him, many saw, and still see, a future president.
But if he was ever going to be president via the NRM party, then the closest Bidandi came was NRM vice-chairman, behind Alhajji Moses Kigongo, just before an incredible fall-out in 2005. At a Movement high-level meeting in 2001, it was agreed that Museveni retires in 2006, having served out the constitutionally mandated five-year term twice.
“Museveni had accepted (to stepdown after 2006),” says Bidandi. “It was even reflected in his (and NRM’s) 2001 manifesto.” Privy to this information, Bidandi asked Ugandans to ‘see-off’ Museveni by voting him President for the last term. “I had taken his (Museveni’s) word seriously, so I fervently campaigned for him,” says Bidandi.
Bidandi is no stranger to fall-outs. Having introduced UPC in Buganda, he was key in breaking up the UPC-Kabaka Yekka (KY) alliance, launching the party’s first branches under Paul Muwanga and Godfrey Binaisa against an accord that barred UPC from opening-up branches in Buganda.
Bidandi saw the UPC-KY alliance as being against Buganda as it meant the region was not represented in the party’s top rungs. In 1980, Bidandi disagreed with Museveni, the then UPM flag-bearer in the 1980 general elections, over going to the bush to oust Obote’s government. There are accusations by some NRM/NRA leaders that Bidandi refused to assist them when they contacted him, while they were in the bush.
Although Bidandi had quit UPC, he maintained close links with Paul Muwanga, the then vice-president and minister of defence, who actively spearheaded the counter-insurgency operations against NRA. “That was my first breaking point with Museveni,” Bidandi concedes, although it didn’t stop him from serving as a minister in Museveni’s government.
He also served under Tito Okello Lutwa in 1985. With this background, his ideological fall-out with Museveni was not surprising. Having publicly opposed the removal of presidential term limits in 2005, the end of the road lurked for Bidandi. Because of his stand, there were reports of an unsuccessful resolution in the NRM national council to kick Bidandi out of the NRM, but he sent his resignation to Museveni to preempt his expulsion. Bidandi never contested in the 2006 presidential elections against wide speculation. After a prolonged spate of sweettalking by opposition parties, Bidandi finally joined and was elected interim chair of the Uganda National Movement, then led by current Makerere University acting Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Venansius Baryamureeba. The party was later transformed into PPP with Bidandi as chairman.
Bidandi’s critics accuse him of intrigue and backstabbing. It is said FDC leader Col. Kizza Besigye, strongly distrusts Bidandi because he betrayed them in 2001.
Bidandi reportedly chose to back Museveni although he had allegedly agreed to join hands with a group that wanted Museveni out. Bidandi has also had a love-hate relationship with the Buganda Kingdom. Until a few years ago, he was perceived to be one of the people vehemently opposed to Buganda’s quest for federalism. His views, however, appear to have changed in favour of federalism.
Dr. Kisamba Mugerwa, the National Planning Authority boss and a former agriculture minister, notes that Bidandi is a peace-maker who distinguished himself during his tenure as local government minister. “He is one man I know who always looks for peaceful means and discussions. He left a clean record wherever he went,” observes Mugerwa.
As a deputy mayor of Kampala City Council in 1964, he was instrumental in the construction of Uganda Commercial Bank building, now Stanbic Bank and KCCA headquarters (City House) then named “White House”.
As a football enthusiast, he was key in starting KCC FC as a social football club in 1964, before it joined the elite league in the 1970s where he went on to be its manager (1974-1979). Bidandi also prevailed over the most successful Uganda Cranes team that reached the 1978 African Nations Cup finals, losing 2-0 to Ghana, a feat that has eluded the national team for 34 years now.
Bidandi was also central in forming the Uganda People’s Movement which carried the objectives of Uganda National Liberation Front in 1979, serving as its secretary-general. As the first local administration minister (1979- 1980), Bidandi is the only minister in Uganda’s history to appoint over 20 MPs who didn’t join Museveni’s bush war to the national consultative council. Bidandi built the decentralisation policy into legal format and constitutionalised it during the Constituent Assembly and implemented it as local government minister (1989-2004).
Alongside Alhajji Kigongo, Bidandi superintended the writing of the NRM-O Constitution and registering it as a political organisation in 2000. Bidandi also served as electoral commissioner (1979), director of Uganda Development Corporation, Uganda Electricity Board, Uganda Commercial Bank, Nakawa MP (till 2006), minister of labour (1986-87) and energy (1987-89) in a career spanning over 40 years. Upon leaving the cabinet in 2004, Bidandi graduated with a bachelor’s degree in local governance and human rights at the Uganda Martyr’s University in 2011, from where he is currently pursuing a master’s degree in the same course.
Inspired by great African leaders such as Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, Patrick Lumumba and Obote, Bidandi envisions building PPP as a people-based party that unites Ugandans of all ages. Asked if he would re-consider working with Museveni, he said, “The only way ‘one’ could work with Museveni is if all political parties formed a government of national reconciliation.”
“I would then convince my party members to have a representative there. PPP has groomed enough leaders, who will constitute a new breed of Ugandan leaders that is pro-people and will lead from their hearts, not the barrel of the gun or individual whims,” he said. Asked to comment on his son, artiste Bebe Cool’s campaigning for Museveni in 2011, Bidandi says his son was doing business. “I told him it was okay to support a candidate of his choice, but we would meet in the field. The only contribution he made was compose my words into a song I used during campaigns,” Bidandi said
Bidandi Ssali, the pacifist and father of decentralisation