Ssemo leads search for Opposition unity

Former DP president Paul Kawanga Ssemogerere (centre), and wife Gemina Namatovu Ssemogerere (3rd right), Prince David Wasajja (2ndL) and wife Marion Nankya, religious and Opposition leaders at Hotel Africana in Kampala yesterday. Mr Ssemogerere was celebrating an award from Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II for his contribution to the field of politics. Story on P.4  PHOTO | ABUBAKER LUBOWA  

What you need to know:

  • Gulu Municipality MP Lyandro Komaketch represented Leader of the Opposition in Parliament Betty Aol Ocan, while Jinja Municipality MP Paul Mwiru represented Alliance for National Transformation party leader, Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu.

Retired politician Paul Kawanga Ssemogerere yesterday used the occasion of celebrating an award given to him by Kabaka Ronald Mutebi II to announce a fresh attempt at brokering Opposition unity ahead of next year’s elections.

Kabaka Mutebi awarded Dr Ssemogerere for outstanding service in the field of politics. This was at the occasion to mark the Kabaka’s 65th birthday on April 13, held at Lubiri, Mengo in Kampala.

“We must not waste this opportunity,” Dr Ssemogerere told this reporter days after he was awarded. 
“We need to build on it to create new opportunities for positive change in our country,” he added.

The retired politician, sources say, has since held various meetings with a number of players on the Opposition side with the view to forging unity and possibly forming a joint front for the coming election. At the function held at Hotel Africana in Kampala yesterday, most Opposition leaders of note were present or sent representatives.

Left to Right: Mr Erias Lukwago, Mr Robert Kyagulanyi and NUP secretary general David Lewis Rubongoya after a function to celebrate Dr Paul Kawanga Ssemogerere’s award in Kampala yesterday. PHOTO | ABUBAKER LUBOWA

Opposition leaders present
Former presidential candidate Kizza Besigye, FDC president Amuriat Oboi and his party chairperson Wasswa Biriggwa were present, and so was Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago, Democratic Party president Norbert Mao and National Unity Platform (NUP) leader Robert Kyagulanyi, plus his party secretary general Lewis Rubongoya. 

Gulu Municipality MP Lyandro Komaketch represented Leader of the Opposition in Parliament Betty Aol Ocan, while Jinja Municipality MP Paul Mwiru represented Alliance for National Transformation party leader, Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu.

Mr Daudi Mpanga, a long-serving official of Buganda Kingdom, gave the keynote address at the function, praising Dr Ssemogerere for his humility and distinguished service to the country.

Mr Mpanga said: “In Dr Kawanga Ssemogerere, the kingdom of Buganda sees a beacon that politicians of today need to emulate … he has been exemplary in fostering unity in diversity … when Dr Ssemogerere talks to you about it please listen.”

The politicians took turns at praising Dr Ssemogerere, with each pointing out the moments they have shared over the years and what they learnt from him.
“I thank the Kabaka for pointing out our elder for this award, and perhaps he (Ssemogerere) is the only one deserving of this award in this country,” Dr Besigye said.

Dokolo Woman MP Cecilia Ogwal said: “I found my brother Paul a very flexible leader.” Ms Ogwal worked with Dr Ssemogerere to bring an end to the bitter feud between DP and the Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) – which had run since the struggles for independence in the 1950s – by forming the Inter Political Forces Cooperation (IPFC), under whose auspices Dr Ssemogerere vied for the presidency in 1996.

In celebrating Dr Ssemogerere, Lord Mayor Lukwago spoke with anticipation. He said: “May you be the glue that will bind us together; may it be the reason God has kept you around for long!”
Mr Lukwago must have spoken with knowledge of the processes taking place in the background.

Ssemogerere’s agenda
On his part, Dr Ssemogerere spoke of an “agenda” that needed to be discussed further, and revealed that he had been hard at work with a number of politicians, adding that there would be no prizes for guessing who some of them were given the attendance list.

He and Ms Ogwal spoke of business regarding building Uganda that they said remained pending since the days of writing the 1995 Constitution, a process in which both of them participated. 

The duo talked of an urgent need to return the country, which they say is a dictatorship, to democratic rule so that a number of changes may be carried out.

Dr Besigye called for a change in approach on the part of political parties. When he was about to exit as president of FDC, Dr Besigye said, he proposed to the leadership of his party to change so that only the party leader is elected and then given powers to appoint all other office bearers within the party.

“You cannot have democratically run parties under a dictatorship,” Dr Besigye said. He said political parties are infiltrated by state operatives, which he said a party’s president would be in position to detect and deal with, if given enough powers.

Such a process, he said, would be crucial in cementing unity or preventing friction within Opposition parties, by doing away with cut throat competition for secondment to stand for elective positions.

Mr Kyagulanyi’s NUP is currently locked in disagreements between players who are fighting for the party’s flag, with a number claiming that the party’s processes dropped them unfairly.

Dr Ssemogerere, in talking about the need to rethink the process of selecting Opposition candidates under the current environment, said there is a need to come up with creative solutions to the problems that the Opposition parties face at the moment, perhaps including forming “joint commissions” to select candidates for different positions.

Sources close to the process say the players involved are more comfortable participating in a process led by Dr Ssemogerere than one engineered by civil society and other players like what happened in the lead up to the 2016 election. 

The Democratic Alliance failed to produce a candidate between Dr Besigye and former prime minister Amama Mbabazi.
Before that, the Inter-Party Cooperation  had also failed to lead to opposition unity in 2011, with DP refusing to participate and UPC under Mr Olara Otunnu pulling out after the parties failed to agree on boycotting the election.

What they said

Kizza Besigye, Opposition leader: “I thank the Kabaka for pointing out our elder for this award, and perhaps he (Ssemogerere) is the only one deserving of this award in this country.... If Ssemogerere were in the army, he would be at the rank of field marshal...»

 Daudi Mpanga, Buganda Kingdom official:  “In Dr Kawanga Ssemogerere, the kingdom of Buganda sees a beacon that politicians of today need to emulate … he has been exemplary in fostering unity in diversity … when Dr Ssemogerere talks to you about it please listen.”

Paul Kawanga Ssemogerere, retired politician:  “We must not waste this opportunity. We need to build on it to create new opportunities for positive change in our country.” 

Erias Lukwago, Kampala Lord Mayor: “May you be the glue that will bind us together; may it be the reason God has kept you around for long!”

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