1996 polls: How IPFC was formed, Ssemogerere named flag bearer

Wednesday July 8 2020

Dr Paul Kawanga speaks at a campaign rally in

Dr Paul Kawanga speaks at a campaign rally in Kampala in 1996. File photo 

By ISAAC MUFUMBA

CA debate and vote on pluralism
During a four-day debate in July 1995, proponents of political pluralism argued against the enshrinement of the Movement political system in the Constitution on grounds that it would constrain the citizenry’s ability to change their political system.

They also argued against the use of periodic referenda as a means through which political systems could change on grounds that besides being easy to manipulate, referenda would most likely create instability.
They at some point staged a walkout, but their cause was defeated. 199 delegates voted in favour of a continuation of the “no party rule”.

Sixty eight people voted against it and two people, Gen David Sejusa, formerly Tinyenfuza, and Lt Col Sserwanga Lwanga, who had earlier advocated for a quick return to political pluralism, abstained.

That led to the inclusion in the 1995 Constitution of Article 269, which barred parties from engaging in “any activities that may interfere with the Movement political system”. It also barred activities such as operating branches, holding public rallies and sponsoring candidates for public office.

Move towards alliance of parties
As deliberations in the Constituent Assembly (CA) progressed, proponents of multipartism formed the National Caucus for Democracy, with Prof Dan Wadada Nabudere as the secretary general.

Some of the caucus’ notable members included Ms Cecilia Ogwal, Mr Obua Otoa, Mr Okullu Epak and Mr Dick Nyai.
It was that spirit of cooperation that paved the way for the formation of the Inter Political Forces Cooperation (IPFC), which brought together the Democratic Party (DP), Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) and the National Liberal Party, who zeroed in on Dr Paul Kawanga Ssemogerere as their candidate.

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The alliance
It should, however, be noted that even if UPC had wanted to field a candidate in the race, the odds were too highly stacked against it in most of southern Uganda. Besides, the party’s president, Apollo Milton Obote, was in exile in Zambia.

Mr Peter Mukidi Walubiri, a UPC lawyer who participated in the talks that resulted into the formation of the alliance, says it was not difficult to identify Dr Ssemogerere as the alliance’s candidate.

“There was not much of a contestation about Ssemogerere’s candidature because UPC was reluctant to participate in an individual merit type of election. On the other hand, DP seemed to have a little bit of faith in individual merit,” he explains.
Besides, he says, no party was at the time strong enough to go it alone.

“[President] Museveni and his National Resistance Movement (NRM) had been in power for close to 10 years.
The NRM had the State, the military, public resources and public servants. The parties on the other hand had neither resources nor structures. There was no realistic chance of victory except by working together,” Mr Walubiri says.

The parties agreed to open a joint campaign headquarter in Kabusu in Rubaga, have a joint presidential candidate and where possible, joint candidates at all other levels.

Post-election agenda
They agreed that if their candidate emerged successful, the first step would be to repeal Article 269. Next would be to implement a minimum economic recovery programme and demilitarise politics by ejecting the army from Parliament. That too would require amendment of the Constitution.

Surprisingly though, the parties never discussed how power would be shared and what was agreed upon was not put in writing.
“This was a gentleman’s agreement and we never discussed who would take which job if we won. We were not looking for jobs. We were fighting for freedom and democracy. Besides, we knew that a new government would be transitional,” Mr Walubiri explains.

Supporters at President Museveni’s rally at
Supporters at President Museveni’s rally at Kololo Independence Grounds in 1996.

Elections and campaign
The 1996 presidential elections, which saw the Movementists face off with a combination of both multipartists and some of those who had fallen out with the NRM, came 11 years after the coup which saw Obote deposed by the Okellos.

Those who had been teenagers during the Obote II days had now come of voting age and memories of some of the real and imagined atrocities associated with his regime were still fresh in their minds.
The fight between the two leading candidates was mostly for the heart of Buganda. DP had swept all but two constituencies in the 1980 elections, and done considerably well during the National Resistance Council (NRC) elections of 1989.

However, the NRM had made major inroads by giving key government jobs to many DP supporters, some of whom chose to stay and support Mr Museveni after Dr Ssemogerere quit government.
Most notable among those was Dr Ssemogerere’s son-in-law, Mr Gerald Ssendaula. Mr Ssendawula, who was married to Dr Ssemogerere’s eldest daughter, Grace Tereza Nabatanzi, had been a DP Member of Parliament in the 1980s before serving in Mr Museveni’s Cabinet.

In the paper, Money and Power in Uganda’s 1996 elections, published in the African Journal of Political Science, Mr William Muhumuza says the IPC “candidate was disadvantaged right from the start”. The electoral law and history were simply not on his side.
He added that the 39-day period which candidates were given to campaign around the country favoured Mr Museveni, who could use presidential privileges such as a helicopter.

Mr Museveni had also a few months to the election traversed the country in the name of popularising the poverty alleviation programme, the Entandikwa scheme.
At the same time, whereas the law provided for formation of an Interim Electoral Commission (IEC), Mr Museveni had handpicked the commissioners, including its chairman, Mr Stephen Besweri Akabway.

Obote scare
In a report, Hostile to Democracy, published in 1999, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that the Museveni campaign team sent out a message that a vote for Dr Ssemogerere would cause a return to political instability.
“Another campaign advertisement stated bluntly: ‘A vote for Ssemogerere is a vote for Obote,’” the report read in part.

One of the messages that gained traction towards the end of the campaign was that “former dictator Milton Obote had left Zambia and moved to Busia in neighbouing Kenya,” waiting for Ssemogerere to win so that he could return and take charge.

UPC had for all the first 10 years of Mr Museveni’s rule been demonised for allegedly having been responsible for most of Uganda’s post-independence troubles.
The events of 1966 that saw Obote order an attack on the Kabaka’s palace resulting into the flight and subsequent death in exile of Sir Fredrick Muteesa and the abrogation of the 1962 Constitution were still fresh in the minds of the older people.

Many of those who were either toddlers or teenagers when the Luweero Bush War started also remembered the various security operations (panda gari) that saw hundreds arrested and either detained without trial or killed. They were now of voting age and would not love to see the country return to that.

The NRM’s popularity had tremendously risen between 1986 and 1996. There was more unity in the NRM then, little corruption and Uganda was still looking like a reconstruction project in the making. The economy was still very strong, liberalisation had taken root and the country was getting a lot of donor money.

Dr Fred Muhumuza, an economist attached to Makerere University’s School of Economics, describes the period between 1986 and 1996 as a decade of remarkable economic achievements.

“That is when they did their best. Having been amateurs who had just come from the bush, they let the professionals do their work and also sought advice from experts. Some of us wish those times could return,” he says.

Skulls campaign
HRW reported in Hostile to Democracy that Mr Museveni’s election campaign team took a bizarre twist in April 1996 when they took out whole page advertisements using skulls from the war in Luweero to campaign against Dr Ssemogerere.

“Don’t forget the past. Over one million Ugandans, our brothers, sisters, family and friends, lost their lives. YOUR VOTE COULD BRING IT BACK,” one of the adverts read.
The IEC remained conspicuously silent about the adverts until one of the seven commissioners, Mr Charles Owor, castigated the Museveni campaign team for using them, but rather than have the team change strategy, Mr John Nagenda, who was Mr Museveni’s advisor on media and public relations, and the brain behind the adverts, opted to blast Mr Owor.

Neither the IEC chairman, Mr Akabway, nor any other member of the commission went to Owor’s defence.

Election violence

Whereas the campaign period was largely peaceful in most parts of the country, intimidation of voters and election violence soon broke out in parts of western Uganda.
Former CA delegate for Rujumbura County, Mr Charles Rwomushana, told Daily Monitor in a 2016 interview that Dr Ssemogerere had been subjected to barbaric acts by Museveni’s supporters in Rukungiri.

A group of rowdy youth who were staged outside Sky Hotel, blockaded candidate Ssemogerere for hours, making it impossible for him to implement his campaign programme. When he eventually left, his motorcade was stoned.

In the story, “Patriot Speaks out on Museveni’s hell-hole”, published by the Executive Intelligence Review in August 1997, Mr Charles Atwoki Kagenda, who was the director of UPC’s bureau for research and information, was quoted as saying Dr Ssemogerere was denied access to some parts of the west.

“Ssemogerere was not even allowed to go to Kisoro. Why? Because the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) crossed. The RPF crossed and came and took over Kisoro on the day Ssemogerere was supposed to be there,” he said.

Mr Museveni was declared winner with 4,428,119 votes (74.2 per cent). Dr Ssemogerere came second with 1,416,139 votes (23.8 per cent) and Mr Mohammed Kibirige Mayanja came last with 120,000 votes, but Mr Owor later poured cold water on the victory when he declared on October 16, 1998 that the election had been neither free nor fair.