Why Museveni’s UPM party lost the 1980 election

Uganda has had six elections in its 53 years of independence. The coming February 18 general election will therefore be the seventh. Save for the 1962 independence election that was organised by the departing colonial government, the running thread in all the country’s elections has been one malpractice or the other. There have been gains and there have been losses at every electoral turn. In a five part series, Sunday Monitor looks at Uganda’s long walk to an electoral democracy.

Sunday January 24 2016

An NRM supporter displays a 1980 campaign poster

An NRM supporter displays a 1980 campaign poster of President Museveni recently. NET PHOTO 

By Faustin Mugabe

If Victor Muhindo had not been murdered, the Uganda Patriotic Movement (UPM) party, led by Yoweri Museveni, just like the Conservative Party (CP) of Joash Mayanja-Nkangi, would not have won a single constituency in the December 10, 1980, general election.

Muhindo was the assistant district commissioner for Kasese. He was loved by the people of Kasese District, but loved even more in Kasese North constituency, his home area.

And when the Military Commission (government), which was supporting Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) candidate Milton Obote, received information that Muhindo was to contest for the Kasese North seat, he was suspended as the Kasese District Commissioner together with 13 other district commissioners suspected of being Democratic Party (DP) supporters.

The chairman of the Military Commission and minister of Defence, Paulo Muwanga, was the architect of the suspension.

Also suspended was Chris Bwanika, the town clerk of Kampala who was also the district returning officer. He was accused of failing to deliver ballot boxes to polling stations in Kampala within 48 hours. His excuse was that the ballot boxes in Kampala could be delivered on the morning of the polling day. But his intention was to prevent ballot stuffing by UPC agents.

Muhindo kidnapped
Meanwhile in Kasese, Muhindo’s earlier suspension did not dent his support. If anything, it instead doubled his popularity.

Muwanga, the chairman of the Military Commission, got worried. It seemed obvious that a UPC candidate would not win that constituency as long as Muhindo was out and about. A plan was thus hatched to deter him from contesting.

The option was to kidnap him and only release him after the nomination exercise. This would automatically debar him from contesting.

On the eve of his nomination in late November 1980, while driving in the company of Dr Henry Bwambale’s wife, a friend who was also to contest for the Kasese South constituency, the two were intercepted by government soldiers while driving a Datsun saloon car near Saad Hotel in Kasese Town.

The soldiers asked Muhindo why he was driving a car with a Kenyan number plate, to which he said the car was not his, but belonged to Dr Bwambale.

Ms Bwambale joined in to explain that her husband was around town and that if they wanted they could go and ask him to explain the matter.
But the soldiers could not listen. They instead dragged Muhindo from the car and bundled him into the boot of the Datsun and sped off towards Fort Portal.

This was in broad daylight.
The following day, Dr Bwambale was also arrested and questioned for driving a Mazda car with a Kenyan number plate. He was released after days in detention. However, Muhindo was never to return home.

On November 29, 1980, Muhindo’s relatives got a handwritten letter announcing his death. It contained where he had been buried; in a shallow grave.

The Weekly Topic newspaper of December 5, 1980, reported the death. The paper was owned by Kintu Musoke, Jaberi Bidandi Ssali and Kirunda-Kivejinja. The trio was UPM founding members.
On December 1, 1980, Muhindo was buried amid fears and wails. His supporters vowed that Kasese North constituency would never be represented by a UPC candidate.

Crispus Kiyonga wins Kasese North
Dr Crispus Kiyonga, now minister of Defence in the National Resistance Movement (NRM) government, was the only UPM candidate who won a seat in the 1980 general election.

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