Ugandans head to the next General Election in 2021. But elections in what came to be known as Uganda can be traced to pre-independent times.
This dates back to the days of the Legislative Council (Legco), the precursor to the present day Parliament, although the elections were not through adult suffrage.
1958 first elections
The first elections on adult suffrage were held in 1958 after the Legco enacted the Elections Ordinance No. 20 in 1957. Following the passing of the ordinance, the colonial government organised the first elections in 1958, which gave indigenous Ugandans limited franchise to elect representatives to the Legco in only 10 constituencies.
Writing in the book, Uganda: A Country Study, Rita Byrnes says “the elections were flawed because not everyone participated. Buganda boycotted the election, Bugisu District Council refused to participate and Karamoja also had no representative.”
There were also five nominated women to the Legco.
After the elections, the colonial governor, Sir Fredick Crawford, appointed colonial administrative secretary J.V. Wild to head a constitutional committee of self -governance made up of 11 indigenous Ugandans, three Europeans and two Asians.
The Ugandans on the committee included T.B. Bazarrabusa, C.B. Katiti, Erisa Kironde, B.K. Kirya, G.B.K. Magezi, B.J. Mukasa, W.W.K. Nadiope, A.M. Obote, Cuthbert Joseph Obwangor and G. Oda, with Frank Kalimuzo as its secretary. The two Asians were C.K. Patel and H.K. Jaffer, while the Europeans were J.V. Wild, A.A. Baerlein and K. Ingram.
The Wild report formed the basis of the 1961 elections; the first general elections in the country based on political parties.
Five political parties, and independent candidates registered to participate in the first general election. They were Uganda People’s Congress (UPC), Democratic Party (DP), Uganda Hereditary Chieftainship Party (UHCP), Uganda National Congress (UNC), and Uganda Africa Union (UAU).
The election had nothing like a commission or chairman, they had a supervisor; R.C. Peagram. Voter registration was done by local leaders countrywide save for Buganda where there was an official ban. But a few defiant Baganda registered.
After the registration of voters, Peagram issued a voters register to each party and candidate. Copies of the register were available for sale to registered voters at a cost of Shs100.
The making of party symbols
The 1958 polls being the first general election under a party system, each party had to be distinguished from the other, hence the birth of political party symbols.
In February 1961, Peagram convened a meeting at Town Hall (City Hall) in Kampala and presented 24 different symbols from which each party and independent candidate chose. UPC picked the open hand and DP the hoe, while UHCP chose the tree, UAU opted for the clock while UNC the key.
Baganda overlooks Kabaka’s directive
Mengo government was opposed to the 1958 elections and declared a boycott. It also banned the kingdom’s subjects from participating. The Lukiiko (Buganda Kingdom’s parliament) held a special session on February 5, 1961, to discuss the boycott. During the sitting, Dr E.S.Lumu tabled a motion declaring Baganda who participate in the elections traitors.
“Any person in Buganda who finds that this is too much for him to bear is free to pack and leave,” Lumu said.
Y. Kyazze supported the motion saying: “The Lukiiko is the representative body of the country. If it decides that Buganda goes to war then there would be no question but to fight.”
But within the Lukiiko, there were rebel members who opposed the motion.
J. Kazairwe, a member for Buyaga said: “It is high time the Lukiiko came out straight. Just talking will never be enough and will never have effect.”
He was supported by Busujju’s representative Y. Semakula, who said: “It is useless to declare someone a traitor if he participated in an election.”
When the motion was put to vote, although it passed, four members voted against it with 11 others abstaining to vote. It passed with 60 votes.
With the Mengo government having declared a boycott, a group of Baganda in Bugerere calling themselves Mwoyo gwa ‘gwanga (country at heart) held a political rally at Kayunga Trading Center, vowing to participate in the election.
During the rally, Jasper Kiwanuka, a resident of Kayunga, said the people of Buganda could no longer tolerate the Mengo threats.
Kiwanuka said they had been used to prevent people in Buganda from registering as voters and it is high time they stopped.
DP Buganda branch secretary Anslem Semakula Musoke as quoted by the Uganda Argus of February 8, 1961, said: “The arguments used by the Lukiiko to disparage the elections were false, would-be electors felt it wise to play it safe in a country like Buganda where they took orders from officials and the landed gentry.”
Different individuals vying for the six electoral districts in Buganda went ahead and declared their candidature.
These included Sylvester Mutagobya, Joseph Kasolo, Juma Masagazi, Emmanuel Mbazira, Anacletus Wajja and Anslem Semakula Musoke.
Nominations for aspiring candidates were half day and carried out countrywide on February 24, 1961. A non-refundable fee of Shs500 and a certificate of literacy to confirm that a candidate can read and write English, were the only requirements.
By the end of the exercise, 197 candidates had registered to contest for 82 open seats while another eight were to be filled through nomination by the colonial Governor.
By end of nomination, DP had 77, UPC 65 candidates, UAU 1, UNC 21, UHCP 4 and 29 independent candidates.
Two non-indigenous Ugandans were nominated; P.J Wilkinson, a European standing on the DP ticket for the Kampala West and CK Patel, as an Independent for Jinja South.
By the end of the nomination exercise, eight candidates were already confirmed members as they were unopposed.
Of these, six were DP and two UPC candidates.
They were M.L. Choudhry for North Karamoja, John Sonko for North Kyadondo, Alphonius Ntale for Kome, N. Rugemwa for North Mubende, and Joseph Kasolo for West Sezibwa.
The UPC candidates were party president Milton Obote whose challenger Nicholas Opio presented a cheque instead of cash and hence his nomination was disqualification.
In accepting to take part in the 1962 elections, Buganda did so on their own terms hoping that the kingdom will retain its status. In so doing, it needed an alliance which was not going to be possible with DP. Hence the birth of the Kabaka Yekka (KY) a Buganda political pressure group.
On April 25, 1962, the second elections were held countrywide. Unlike in the previous elections where the Mengo government declared a boycott, this time it did not. But the Buganda representatives were to be elected from within the Lukiiko.
Save for UPC, which had formed an alliance with Mengo’s political pressure group KY, all other parties contested for seats in Buganda.
Outside Buganda, UPC garnered 37 seats while their closest rivals DP collected 24 seats.
However, with the KY alliance, UPC was boosted with another 21 more seats, giving them a comfortable majority.
In his memoir, Fr Damien Grimes, the former headmaster of the once famous Namasagali College, says: “Kabaka Yekka swept the board in Buganda. In the rest of Uganda, the British fixed the polls to ensure that Obote and his UPC won majority in the new Uganda parliament. British officials privately told missionaries, such as myself, that they had been ordered by London to do that… It was the British who put Obote in power by corrupt means.”
DP wins most seats, UPC wins popular vote
After the nominations, the candidates were given a month for campaigns ahead of the March 24, 1961, when the 1,362,755 registered voters went to the polls.
At the end of the exercise, DP which had got a total of 438,420 votes, took the day with 43 seats out of the available 82, UPC came second with 495,909 votes with 35 seats,
UNC had 40,134 votes with one seat, the independents collectively garnered 45,946 votes with only two seats while the other parties collectively collected 9,115 votes with no seat. Voter turnout was 1,027,524 out of the 1,362,755 registered voters.
With these results, DP leader Benedicto Kiwanuka, who had also stood for North East Masaka, became the chief minister and head of the Self-Government.