UPM party launched ahead of 1980  elections, Museveni named leader

Uganda Patriotic Movement party presidential candidate Yoweri Museveni (right) campaigns during the 1980 elections. PHOTOS/ FILE

What you need to know:

  • Yoweri Museveni emerged unopposed as the leader of the new party during elections held at City Hall in Kampala. Mr Bidandi Ssali, who had been expected to challenge Museveni, stood down.

On this day, 43 years ago, the Uganda Patriotic Movement (UPM) was launched in Kampala as the country inched towards the controversial 1980 general election.
At the time, there was a sizeable group of individuals, mostly those who had just returned to Uganda from exile, who felt that there was a need for Uganda to come up with a new political formation that would not be weighed down by baggage from the politics of the 1960s.
Some of them had actually been members of old parties, Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) and the Democratic Party (DP).

There was also another section of Ugandans, mostly from academia, who had not been involved in the politics of the 1960s, but in whom the political animals in them had been awakened by the political developments in Uganda in the late 1960s and 1970s.
Some of those who were for a new formation included Akena p’Ojok, Erisa Kironde, Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, Yona Kanyomozi, Dr Ezra Nkwasibwe, Jaberi Bidandi Ssali, Matia Kasaija, Bernard Buzaabo and Prof Tarsis Kabwegyere.
The group had by May 1980 agreed on the name, Uganda Labour Congress, but a power struggle soon ensued.

The late Kanyomozi told this newspaper before his demise that Mr Yoweri Museveni, who would later lead UPM into the 1980 general election, was never part of the initial discussions about the creation of the “third force”.
DP was preparing to renew its political rivalry with UPC, but it needed to counter UPC’s military might.

UPC, which had just retained Milton Obote as its leader, had the backing of most of the officers and men of the Kikosi Maalum, a fighting force of  Uganda exiles that is believed to have been formed by Obote with assistance from Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere.

Kikosi Maalum, under the command of Obote and UPC loyalists like Gen Tito Okello Lutwa and Brig David Oyite-Ojok, had fought alongside the Tanzania People’s Defence Forces (TPDF) in the war that ousted Idi Amin and later constituted the bulk of the Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA).
Gen Okello was to later become the commander of the UNLA with Brig Oyite-Ojok as chief of staff.

DP courts Museveni
Mr Francis Bwengye, who was interim secretary general of DP, sought to lure Museveni who was the leader of the Front for National Salvation (Fronasa) to DP. Museveni’s forces had also fought alongside the TPDF. He had since become vice chairman of the Military Commission chaired by Paulo Muwanga.
Bwengye felt that it would be better for Museveni to join DP and give it some military muscle instead of joining the “third force” that was being mooted.

Bwengye led a DP delegation, headed by the party’s national chairman Boniface Byanyima, and president general Paul Kawanga Ssemogerere, to Nile Mansions Hotel where Museveni, just like many other ministers and UNLF government officials, had a suite.
Those who turned up on Museveni’s side were Dr Ruhakana Rugunda and Rev Fr Christopher Okoth.
Writing in the book, The Agony of Uganda: From Idi Amin to Obote, Bwengye indicates that no agreement was reached.

“He (Museveni), however, revealed that his supporters, who included members of Fronasa, regarded DP as a party of Catholics and UPC as a party of Protestants and that they looked forward to the formation of a new political party which could not be identified with any of the major religions in the country,” Mr Bwengye writes.
One of the sticking points was whether DP could tweak its name to accommodate those with different ideologies.
Museveni was to attend the rally at City Square in Kampala as DP was launching its nationwide campaign. However, he did not show up there, but turned up at a luncheon that the party threw at the Imperial Hotel.

Yoweri Museveni’s 1980 campaign poster.

UPM emerges
A few days after DP had launched its campaign, it was announced that UPM had been formed to contest in the election.
The party was launched on June 4, 1980, under the slogan of “clean leadership, unity and peace”.
Former prime minister Kintu Musoke said it drew most of its members from the Socialist wing of the UPC, many of whom had fallen out with Obote in the 1960s. The group included Kirunda Kivejinja, Mr Jaberi Bidandi Ssali, Kintu Musoke, Erisa Kironde, Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, Chango Machyo and Eriya Kategaya.

Writing in the book Uganda: A Crisis of Confidence which was published in 1995, the late former Second Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for East African Affairs, Kirunda Kivejinja, cast some light on the background against which the party was formed.

“At this time a new political initiative came to the fore. Its origin was a consensus of the NCC (National Consultative Council) members. These were mainly non-exiles who had come to the Council when the rulers attempted to incorporate local opinion as partners in the interim UNLF administration. This caucus saw clearly the futility and danger imminent in the national politics that was being played by the tested teams UPC and DP,” he writes.

NCC was the interim Parliament that was formed after the fall of the Idi Amin regime.
“They had been greatly impressed by the politics of the UNLF and became totally convinced that it was the right type of recipe for the prevailing problems of the country,” he adds.

Museveni elected
Mr Museveni emerged unopposed as the leader of the new party during elections held at City Hall in Kampala. Mr Bidandi Ssali, who had been expected to challenge Museveni for the party’s leadership, opted to stand down at the last minute and settled for the post of secretary general.
It should, however, be noted that some of those who attended the City Hall meeting opted not to join the third force. They went back to their old parties.
Prof Kamuntu, Akena p’Ojok, Nkwasibwe and Kanyomozi went back to UPC. All of them were named ministers in the Obote II government. Prof Kabwegyere went back to DP.

The elections
Writing in a manuscript of his biography which is yet to be published, former prime minister Kintu Musoke reveals that they went into the election knowing that UPM would not win.
“As a new political party, UPM could not expect to beat the two old parties – UPC and DP. Its political base was still narrow, but it hoped to win a few seats in Parliament and work with the winning party,” Kintu Musoke writes.
As it turned out, UPM performed worse than had been expected.
UPC was, as expected, declared winner of the 1980 elections with 75 seats in Parliament, followed by DP which had 50 seats. UPM got only one parliamentary seat, which was won by Dr Crispus Kiyonga.

Museveni had faced off with Mr Guchwa Mingyi and his brother in law, Sam Kutesa of DP, for the Mbarara North seat. Kutesa won with 15,657 votes, the UPC candidate came second with 12,747 votes and Museveni last with 12,682 votes.