In Uganda politics has two meanings. There are Ugandans like me who see politics as an art of capturing power and using it in the interest of the people. On the other hand, there are those who see it as a means to enrich themselves. In the rush to get power, Ugandans in the latter group have hurriedly entered into marriages of convenience that are unsustainable and therefore destabilizing.
In the struggle for independence, men like Ignatius Musazi, William Rwetsiba, George Magezi and Ben Kiwanuka, among others, that had legislative experience at the regional (Lukiiko) and national (Legislative Council) levels were replaced by ambitious but very young and inexperienced people like Milton Obote, John Kakonge and Grace Ibingira, among others who formed Uganda People’s Congress (UPC).
Within UPC there soon developed ideological and cultural differences. Ibingira who became the youngest cabinet minister at independence in 1962 was connected with the ruling house of Ankole had aristocratic and capitalist values. John Kakonge, a commoner from Bunyoro was defined as a socialist while Obote a commoner from Lango was somewhere in between.
This untenable marriage of convenience began to crack when Kakonge, Secretary-General of UPC, was not nominated to parliament and could not be made a minister. In 1964 he was ousted as Secretary General of UPC at the Gulu delegates’ conference and replaced by Ibingira who then threw Kakonge and his so-called socialist supporters out of the party (many of them formed NRM and are running the government). Then Ibingira tackled Obote for UPC leadership and ended up in prison. These developments marked the gradual decline of UPC.
The ambition by Protestant individuals led by Ibingira and Obote to wrestle power from Catholic-based Democratic Party (DP) entered into a marriage of convenience with individuals in the Mengo administration that hurriedly created Kabaka Yekka (KY) and formed a UPC/KY alliance. Thus, Kabaka Mutesa II and Milton Obote “who were implacably hostile to each other [conveniently managed] to submerge their political differences and work together to prevent a Catholic politician, Benedicto Kiwanuka, from becoming the first Prime Minister of independence Uganda”(Onyango Odongo 1993).
Within the KY, as within the UPC, there were major differences. There were ambitious Baganda who “were prepared to forget Obote’s previous public speeches in which he venomously condemned Mengo Establishment. Only the shrewd Katikiro of Buganda, Michael Kintu, could clearly see the political time-bomb that was wrapped in the alliance of the UPC and the Kabaka Yekka (KY)” (Onyango Odongo 1993). And the time-bomb went off in 1966.
Then came the 1979 Moshi conference put together in a hurry by Julius Nyerere who didn’t know what to do with Uganda after he chased away Amin. People who were not talking to one another converged in Moshi, Tanzania without a well-thought out agenda and candidates to field for the transitional government. Obote, Tiberondwa and Binaisa etc were locked out of the conference. Out of the blue, Yusufu Lule was elected president, only to regret later by his sponsors that they made a big mistake. He lasted 68 days in office. Binaisa who had been locked out of the Moshi conference a few weeks earlier as unqualified became the next president. He lasted less than a year in that post. The squabbles between the legislative and executive branches of the transitional government turned the country “into a state of total anarchy”(J.R.Leguey-Feilleux 2009).
Museveni played a big role in the ouster of Lule from office as president. Yet within months, the two men formed an alliance – the National Resistance Movement (NRM) – that brought Museveni and his supporters mostly from Ankole and Lule supporters mostly from Buganda together to fight Obote and his UPC II government. Lule became chairman and Museveni vice chairman of NRM. Unfortunately, Lule passed on before Kampala fell to the guerrillas and we can’t tell what could have happened between the two men regarding occupation of state house. What we know is that Museveni resisted elections to replace Lule so Museveni as acting chairman of NRM became president of Uganda. The alliance did not hold well. Many disgruntled Baganda who had fought so a Muganda becomes president after Obote ran out of the country and some are now threatening through USA-based radio munansi that when they wrestle power from Museveni they will punish Banyankole for the damage they have done to Buganda.
With rumors circulating that political changes might soon take place in Uganda greedy Ugandans are now scrambling to form coalitions. Sejusa, among them, is frantically calling on anyone including Amama Mbabazi to join him when he replaces Museveni as the next president of Uganda through the military force.
To sum up: it is these marriages of convenience by greedy Ugandans seeking power for themselves that have turned Uganda – with all its human and natural resource abundance and strategic location – into a failed state vulnerable to internal and external shocks.
Against this backdrop, we Ugandans need to pause, reflect on this political history of marriages of convenience and decide how we should move forward together in peace, security, stability, dignity and sustainability.
Eric Kashambuzi is New York-based international consultant on development issues and Secretary-General of UDU.