Friday June 6 2014

Museveni’s letter on Luweero: In defence of the Democratic Party

By Yoga Adhola

In his letter about the victory of the Democratic Party in the recently concluded by-election in Luweero, President Museveni took occasion to attack the social base of the party. Museveni made attempts at presenting DP as a Catholic organisation. Admittedly, there is a coincidence between the membership of the overwhelming majority of the party and their Catholic faith; however, that does not make DP a purely confessional party.

What Museveni does not know or pretends not to know is that in the DP, Catholics are not just members of a religion, they are also an oppressed and discriminated identity. To understand this aspect of the Catholics in the Democratic Party, we need to go back into the history of Buganda to the last quarter of the 19th Century, or more precisely to the events that have been characterised as the religious wars.

The struggles were initially for converts between the Catholics and Protestants, but eventually these two religions turned into marks of social identity.

The conflict between the Catholics and Protestants was eventually resolved in a war which broke out on January 24, 1892. In this brief war, Captain Lugard, the leader of the Imperial British East African Company (lBEAC), who had been instructed to “consolidate the Protestant party” lent support to the Protestants who were under the leadership of Apollo Kagwa.

The outcome of the war was a decisive defeat of the Catholics led by Kabaka Mwanga and Stanislaus Mugwanya. The defeat of the Catholic party broke the backbone of any resistance to British supremacy and brought to dominance the Protestant party, a social force which was wholly dependent on the British.

After the defeat of the Catholic party, it was agreed that a Catholic could not be Katikkiro. The highest post in the kingdom that a Catholic could aspire to was the Omuwanika. There had always been 10 Protestant county chiefs, compared with eight Catholics ones; and in the Kabaka’s government which was formed in 1955, four of the ministers were Protestants, one a Mohammedan, and only one a Catholic.

This was the order which obtained throughout the colonial period. Much as the Catholics were treated as second class subjects of the Kabaka and were uneasy about it, there was not much they could do.

To make matters worse, in 1955, Matayo Mugwanya, a Catholic and son of Stanislaus Mugwanya, the leader of the Catholic forces during the 1892 war, contested for the post of Katikkiro of Buganda. He came within three votes of being elected Katikkiro. Actually, had the Kabaka not replaced several members of his representatives in the Lukiiko in the last minutes, he would have won.

With the political awakening on the eve of colonialism, the Catholics organised themselves in a political party called the Democratic Party to redress themselves of their minority status. Ironically, the firstpresident of the party was Matayo Mugwanya, the son of Stanislaus Mugwanya. In other words, the struggles of the late 19th Century was still continuing.

The foregoing is the specific history of the Democratic Party; however, Museveni has expressed misgivings about identity politics. In his book, Sowing the Mustard Seed: The Struggle for Freedom and Democracy in Uganda, he states that: “... pre-capitalist polarisation based on identity rather than rationality can be quite injurious to a country.” (Museveni, Y 1997: 187 also quoted in Kassmir, R. 1999: 654).

This is not accurate. We know that developed capitalist countries have identity issues. Canada has the problem of its French-speaking citizens who occupy the Quebec Province of Canada and who have tried many times in vain to break away from English-speaking Canada. We also know that Belgium has serious identity issues to the point where it once went without a government for four years.

We could quote more instances, but we shall sum it all up in the words of Prof Gitlin who, in his essay, ‘From Universality to Difference: Notes on fragmentation of the left’, argued: “This logic is more than a way of thought.

Identity politics is a “form of self-understanding, an orientation toward the world, and a structure of feeling which is characteristic of developed industrial societies. (For purposes of this discussion I beg the juicy question or whether it is characteristic of human societies altogether.)”

What Prof Gitlin is saying here is that identity politics is not just limited to pre-capitalist societies. In fact, as far as he is concerned, identity politics is an issue of developed capitalist countries; he simply wonders whether it is not also found in the pre-capitalist societies.
Secondly, nobody polarised society along ethnic and religious issues. As we have shown above, by the time DP was formed, Catholics as an identity already existed. Those who formed DP only did so in order to redress themselves of oppression and discrimination of Catholics.

Yoga Adhola is a leading ideologue of UPC.