Have Ugandans learnt anything from Ssemo?

Author: Asuman Bisiika. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

The appeal to associate with the ideals Paul Kawanga Ssemogerere stood for was so high...

Paul Kawanga Ssemogerere, former president general of the Democratic Party, died last week. He was celebrated by many as a politician whose ideals of a democratic country Ugandans espouse to have.

The appeal to associate with the ideals Ssemogerere stood for was so high that even the state had to tap into the national outpouring of celebration and grief. The state offered an ‘official funeral status protocol’ for the send off of the fallen politician. That Paul was the doyen of political opposition didn’t matter…; he was, after all,  Ssemogerere, DP president general, two-time presidential candidate and evergreen national leader.

In rural Kasese, we first heard of Ssemogerere as the presidential candidate for the Democratic Party in the 1980 General Election. He and late Milton Obote were the main contenders in what many historians have referred to as rigged elections. 

Ssemogerere was later to offer his candidature in 1996 presidential elections where he (and Mr Museveni) were the main contenders. But what do these two presidential elections mean to Ugandans? First, they were the first presidential elections organised by post-colonial Uganda. Plus, both elections have been viewed by many Ugandans as acts of validation of candidates who enjoy the support of the military establishment.

But our family has their own story to tell about the 1980 election. Our father was a DP member. He was the DP vice chairperson for Kisinga Sub-county. The chairperson was Mr Cyril Bwambale Musimba.

 In 1980, Rwenzururu Kingdom was the de facto civil policing authority in Kasese District, some parts of Bunyangabu District and Burahya County of Kabarole District. In an open expression of support for UPC, Rwenzururu Kingdom issued a statement, calling on people to vote for UPC candidates (only). The statement also contained names of the (UPC) candidates chosen by the Rwenzururu Kingdom for the three constituencies of present day Kasese.

The candidates were Amon Bazira (Kasese West),  Bruno Bwambale (Kasese South) and Paddy Kabagambe (Kasese North). But Kabagambe and Bwambale declined Rwenzururu Kingdom’s overtures.

With two candidates off the Rwenzururu’s wish list, UPC quickly shopped for Adam Kisughu (Kasese North) and Amos Tibaijuka Kambere (Kasese South). But all the three DP candidates (Kasese West, North and South) persisted in the race in spite of the pressure from the Rwenzururu Kingdom. However, on nomination day, UPC candidates for Kasese South ad Kasese West were announced winners (unopposed). They had won the race on a technicality that many frame as part of the body of evidence of election rigging.

My father was one of the nominators of Dr Bwambale (DP – Kasese West). When Dr Bazira, the UPC candidate, was declared winner of the Kasese West Seat (unopposed), chaos ensued. And some blows were exchanged.

My father was the chairperson of Kabirizi Cooperative Society while Sylvester Bwambale was the Secretary Manager. Sylvester had gone to Kasese to nominate Bazira (the UPC candidate). It is said a personal fight between my father and Sylvester (both deceased) ensued. A youngish Sylvester must have made easy work of my father.

From that day, my father never returned home until NRA soldiers reached our part of Uganda in September 1985. He used to boast that he was never ruled by Obote II.

The family abandoned its home and started sleeping in the bush. Young members of the family such as Mr Amis Asuman (now Bunyangabu Chief Administrative Officer) were sent away to stay with our more politically-pliant relatives.

Have Ugandans learnt anything from Ssemo’s political life?

Mr Bisiika is the executive editor of the East African Flagpost. [email protected]

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