Cecilia Ogwal, first presidential running mate, coalition builder 

Author: Karoli Ssemogerere. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • Ahead of the removal of age limits, Cecilia and her husband, Mzee Lameck Ogwal were beaten up by police as they tried to project a message that so many promises had been broken under the 1995 Constitution making it a mirage.  

Last June, I was invited by Parliament to address Opposition MPs on the possibilities of alternative representation. Our discourse focused on proportional representation, and also revisiting the size of Parliament which has become an underpin of over-representation of some areas and underrepresentation of some areas. 

In the game of numbers, the opposition has not been able to even match their scores in the presidential election which is the only truly national election we have in Uganda. That election 30 years after promulgation of the constitution for many reasons is yet to achieve its promise, “free and fair”. You challenge that hypothesis at your own peril, it goes.

In my audience listening patiently at the front were two female members of Parliament, Betty Aol Ochan, former Leader of Opposition in Parliament and Imat Cecilia Ogwal, the now fallen Dokolo Woman Member of Parliament. 

In November last year, Mrs. Ochan on the anniversary of the passing of my father called me to reassure me. It was hugely personal. 

On the sidelines of the conference, Cecilia, “we always called her Cecilia” the emphasis on the first syllable told me, “Yes even with rigging” together with Paul we had won about 30 percent of the vote. If we had started Parliament with one third of members of Parliament, many of the bad things that happened later would not have happened.” “The Constituent Assembly made a mistake to defeat this proposal.” 

Another lawyer, also of FDC, Wandera Ogalo, former Member of Parliament and Constituent Assembly who drafted the petition challenging new restrictions on political parties, an elder statesman of sorts today was of a similar view.

We miss these battles of ideas in our public discourse. Cecilia never gave up. From a Christmas Card she sent my Dad in 1992, in large font, Assistant Secretary General Uganda Peoples Congress, she was always seeking a way to find how Ugandans could come to find a common good.

It was a risky partnership for the two of them to present to Ugandans a Right-Left coalition, of polar opposites in a general election. 

Cecilia understood that her party’s leader had made a mistake of allowing brutalization of innocent people in Central Uganda which then and today remains Uganda’s economic engine. 

In a US presidential style election, she influenced many decisions. There was going to be a woman heading his presidential election campaign, a recent convert from NRM, Maria Lubega Mutagamba. 

Cecilia campaigned the full 39 days, there were just 39 days to campaign all over the country. She was an attack-dog, pit-bull terrier and on the final day over-delivered. The Daily Monitor headlines in the morning reported, Ssemogerere was leading in Gulu by 91 percent. The truth was elsewhere, ballot ticking, ballot stuffing distorted the final outcome whose regrets we live with up to this day.

Whenever I met Imat, our discourse was technical, thoughtful and provocative. We met more than once, while I was helping draft the Uganda Communications Regulations, promulgation of which required an amendment to the principal act, the Uganda Communications Act. 

“Karoli, how can we help you.” “Can Parliament create a committee to process subsidiary legislation?” And off we went. My father was very fond of Cecilia. After her fallout with UPC, she decamped to FDC. She kept a much lower profile. She had seen something coming, her decapitation part of the scheme by NRM to run all political parties remotely. But she never stopped trying. Ahead of the removal of age limits, Cecilia and her husband, Mzee Lameck Ogwal were beaten up by police as they tried to project a message that so many promises had been broken under the 1995 Constitution making it a mirage. The Constitutional Court disagreed.

But the Cecilia we knew, was always working. In 2016, a few people in Parliament had zeroed in on another challenge to the incumbent in the person of former Speaker Rebecca Kadaga. That effort ended in tears for the prospective candidate all the way to her removal from the Speakership. But Cecilia was always in the background. 

It’s a positive note, that Kadaga’s successor and her former compatriot in FDC, Speaker Anita Among, was crucial in ensuring she got adequate healthcare in her final days. Small things do matter, in the big picture of our country. May her Soul Rest in Eternal Peace.

Mr Karoli Ssemogerere is an Attorney-At-Law and an Advocate. [email protected]