Sunday February 2 2014

50 years on, Gulu UPC Delegates Conference still casts a long shadow

By Harold Acemah

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the historic UPC annual delegates’ conference which took place in Gulu in 1964. This was the first UPC conference to take place after Uganda achieved independence in 1962 under the able and wise leadership of Prime Minister Apolo Milton Obote, founding President of the Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) and the illustrious John Kakonge, founding UPC Secretary General. The Gulu conference was a landmark and a defining moment in the history of UPC.

At a personal level, the conference took place when I was in Senior 4 at Sir Samuel Baker School, Gulu and a candidate for the Cambridge School Certificate, but we had time to follow and eavesdrop on events taking place at that important event.

According to the renowned UPC ideologue Yoga Adhola, who is writing a book on the vanguard role UPC has played since 1960 in the national-democratic liberation struggle of the people of Uganda, the most important item on the agenda of the Gulu conference was the election of Secretary General of the party.

He argues that there were two forces involved in the liberation struggle; a national-democratic force led by the party president, Dr Obote and what he calls an “anti-national-democratic force” led by Grace Stuart Ibingira, a senior cabinet minister in the first UPC administration.

In a hotly-contested election whose implications and ramifications would be felt for many years, Mr Ibingira, to the surprise of most observers, defeated the popular and charismatic Kakonge for the powerful position of UPC Secretary General. That election set the stage for many historic events in 1965 and 1966; some scholars have argued that the ideological and power struggle within UPC contributed significantly to events which culminated into the 1966 national crisis, followed by the adoption of a Republican Constitution in 1967. The legacy of the Gulu conference continues to cast a long shadow in the corridors of UPC.
What next for UPC?
The last UPC annual delegates’ conference took place at the Mandela National Stadium, Kampala, in March 2010. The conference elected Ambassador Olara Otunnu as UPC president for five years. He defeated seven other candidates in a free and fair election.

Unlike the Gulu conference, the election of Secretary General was not on the agenda; since 1980 the party president appoints all senior party leaders, such as chairman, secretary general, and treasurer.
My position on this matter is well known in the party.

I am opposed, on principle, to the appointment of senior party leaders because it is contrary to the commitment of UPC to practise democracy at the party and national level. The next annual delegates conference should revisit this matter and make appropriate constitutional changes to allow for election of all party officials.

Many political analysts and commentators have argued that Mr Otunnu has not made good and maximum use of the overwhelming mandate he received at the 2010 UPC delegates conference; some say he has squandered a golden opportunity to rebuild UPC into a united and formidable party which it once was by wasting time and energy in micro-managing the UPC secretariat at Uganda House which is not the primary responsibility of the party president.

While I appreciate the efforts Mr Otunnu has made as party president, many party members believe that Dr Obote would shudder at the state of UPC under his leadership.

Since 2010, general elections took place in February 2011 and the Electoral Commission announced in 2013 a roadmap to the 2016 elections. Many political activities have also taken place in which UPC has participated.

It is, therefore, a matter for regret that the current leadership of UPC has not convened, for four years, any of the main party organs, such as the annual delegates conference and the national executive council to take stock of what happened at the 2011 elections, draw appropriate lessons and chart the way forward, including making necessary preparations for the 2016 general elections.

Congressmen and women are deeply concerned about this matter; some have already made their views known to the party leadership, while others have kept quiet, but are anxiously awaiting word from Uganda House.

I would like to appeal to the UPC president to heed the call of thousands of party faithful and convene a delegates’ conference without much delay. The Milton Obote Foundation and friends of UPC should be requested to provide the necessary resources to facilitate this important party activity.

UPC is a party of ideas, not of strongmen, like NRM which lacks positive ideas to govern Uganda, but specialises in harassing and blackmailing the opposition parties. NRM must stop its negative and shameless practice of misusing Uganda’s national resources to bribe and security organs to intimidate and torture members of the opposition.

There is urgent need to revitalise UPC and get the party ready for the 2016 elections. Time is clearly not on our side and the sooner UPC begins its preparations the better; even more important is the need for the party to unite and position itself for the just and patriotic struggle of the people of Uganda to urgently rid the country of tyranny and corruption which have devastated the body-politic and soul of our beloved country.

The people of Uganda naturally look up to UPC to save the pearl of Africa from imminent collapse and it is our bounden, patriotic and pan-African duty to prevent Uganda from deteriorating into a failed state.
UPC shall rise and shine again. Aluta continua!

Mr Acemah is a political scientist, consultant and a retired career diplomat.