I would like to respond to the article, “There’s no shadow to what happened to UPC in 1964” by Kalundi Serumaga, which appeared in the Daily Monitor of February 11. In the first place I do agree with him that Harold Acemah erred in attempting to treat what happened at the UPC Gulu conference of 1964 as casting a shadow over subsequent events.
What Acemah views as a shadow are actually the struggles for national-democratic liberation. The only link with the Gulu conference is that the conference was the first episode of that struggle. What happened later were not caused by the events of the Gulu conference nor were they shadows of it as Acemah seems to imply.
Secondly, Serumaga challenges Acemah “... on the possible meanings of the Uganda Peoples Congress first delegate’s conference, and the extent to which the fallout from that event is being felt today.”
To interpret the conference, it is necessary to bear in mind that struggles take place in phases. We went through the phase of the anti-colonial struggles from around 1900 to 1962 when Uganda attained Independence.
Then from the eve of Independence up to now and for the next 100 years or so, we shall be going through the struggles for national-democratic liberation.
By national-democratic revolution we mean revolutions which seek to end national and colonial oppression as a means of laying a basis of further struggles. They also seek to eliminate feudal and pre-feudal relations as well as establish new nations.
It is in this context that the 1964 UPC conference should be viewed. In my view, Grace Ibingira represented the anti-national-democratic forces and John Kakonge those of the national democratic liberation.
Serumaga goes on to write: “Much as Ibingira did emerge ‘victorious’ from the historic conference, the facts about how he came to be so need to be brought out. Imperialism and Revolution in Uganda (Tanzania Publishing House, 1978), the late Professor Nabudere’s seminal analysis of the history of the progressive movement in Uganda may help here.”
Serumaga bases his account of the conference on Dan Nabudere’s book. Unlike Serumga, I have never been enamoured by Nabudere’s appreciation of the progressive movement in Uganda. Over the years, Nabudere has conducted himself as someone who never knew the phase of struggle at which Uganda is.
In the specific case of national-democratic liberation, Nabudere has demonstrated a terrible inability to appreciate this phase of the struggle. A good example is that whereas in early and mid-60s he was with Kakonge against Ibingira, in 1979 in Moshi and there after he was with Ibingira against UPC.
It is also interesting to note that while Kakonge made up with Milton Obote to the point of becoming the most outspoken person during the 1966 struggles in parliament, Nabudere never made up with Obote.
With that settled, let us deal with Ibingira’s victory over Kakonge. One, it must be remembered that at its formation, UPC was essentially a coming together of notables from various districts. From Busoga was Nadiope, from Lango was Obote, from Acholi was Peter Oola from West Nile was Felix Onama, etc.
Now going into the Gulu conference, almost all the notables were against Kakonge. And these notable were not small men in the party. Kirunda Kivejinja, in his book, recounts a case when Nadiope threatened to carry his Members of Parliament and join the DP if Kakonge was not ‘tamed’.
In such circumstances, what would one have expected Obote to do?
Secondly, the UPC Youth League had become a nuisance. At one time they held up Onama, then assistant secretary general of the party at UPC headquarters against his will. At another they made the editor of Uganda Argus, a muzungu, carry a bunch of matooke on his head as a sign of Uganda’s Independence. They also were constantly in and out of police cells, being released by Obote.
The then Leader of Opposition, Basil Bataringaya, once raised the issue of the behaviour of the UPC Youth League in Parliament thus:
“Mr Speaker, we cannot go on like this. Let us face the fact that these youth wingers, if they are not stopped in good time, are going to be very difficult to handle because other political parties are going to organise their youth wingers to meet the UPC and the result would not be good.” (Parliamentary Debates Second series, Vol 15 (1963/64), page 666)
This behaviour of the UPC Youth League was generally blamed on Kakonge because he was seen as its patron and mentor.
What Obote did at the conference, which Serumaga describes as “to ensure the conference outcomes would be more to the Big Men’s liking” was to keep the UPC from disintegrating. I believe it is a strategy which worked and later Kakonge and Obote reconciled as I have already indicated. On the other hand, the views of people like Nabudere could have led the party to disintegrate before it was consolidated.
Mr Adhola is a leading ideologue of UPC