In Ssemogerere, we grieve for loss of moral leadership, civility

Margaret Vuchiri-Alumai

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  • "This is reflected in stories about Ssemogerere returning unused per diem money to the Treasury whenever he returned from abroad as minister."

The Democratic Party (DP) president general Norbert Mao recently likened the DP to a tree typically with leaves, branches and roots. He said some leaves do fall off – likely in reference to people who leave the party. Mzee Mariano Drametu, for whose Requiem Mass we had gathered at Mbuya Catholic Church was, according to Mao, one of the few surviving members who represented the roots of DP.
Mao was eulogising a distinguished public servant who served as DP Secretary General under Paul Kawanga Ssemogerere. Drametu passed on last month and the sense of loss was more pronounced with the tree analogy. It is a powerful reflection of the current state of DP.

Ssemogerere’s death on November 18 made me reflect deeply on Mao’s statement. It made more sense. A chapter is closing. The strongest root has been uprooted, ending an extraordinary political career that embodied the tenets of DP: Truth and Justice. In Ssemogerere, those who loved DP saw hope of its reunification, survival and revival.
Probably the last icon of the independence era cohort, throughout his tenure at the party’s leadership he was a beacon of stability, seeking unity and reconciliation with other political players. He extended the olive branch for the sake of the country even at times when others felt he should have done otherwise.
 The DP historical formations reveal little if any, of politicians who were building family succession. They offered professionalism, service above self and good of country. They never sought wealth from their positions. Journalist Eriasa Mukiibi captured this well when he wrote in that Ssemogerere is “admired as a man who pursued values-based politics, a champion of nonviolence, honesty, tolerance, integrity, rule of law and democracy”.

 Ssemogerere is all of those things and more. As a child, my mother would regale us with stories of the times she hosted Benedicto Kiwanuka and later, Ssemogerere. A relationship that started with young DP stalwarts brought together by passion for politics morphed into a brotherhood that outlasted them.
 In 2015, Ssemogerere sent an email to Karoli Ssemogerere and I, expressing gratitude that we had maintained the friendship he shared with my father. A friendship from which we learnt principles that defined their genuine sense of duty. This is reflected in stories about Ssemogerere returning unused per diem money to the Treasury whenever he returned from abroad as minister.
 The values he espoused etched him as a parental figure, a counsellor and a reassuring voice. At 90, Ssemogerere lived a full life but for someone who had the wisdom and decency to lead honorably, his demise leaves a profound void. In a political space where constructive criticisms attract responses about what colour of ‘drone’ you prefer, we mourn the loss of moral political leadership and admirable civility in Ssemogerere. He personified harmony. A quiet but resilient spirit.

 Even at a time when DP faced extreme challenges, Ssemogerere’s calmness and mature approach eased the pressures. He played an integral part in our politics, making him one of the most remarkable statesmen in Uganda’s history. In spite of the reverence, he remained steadfastly simple and private.
 He sought unity for his party, the party of Kiwanuka, the party of my father… and Andrew Adimola, Tiberio Okeny, Gasper Odar, Jenaro Odoki, Boniface Byanyima – some of the DP stalwarts whose names kept coming up in the conversations of my parents and as a child kept me wondering which uncle that is – reflecting the national character to the oldest party.

 Aware of the stagnation occasioned by the no-party era, he must have wished for a legacy of a party devoid of fractures. Times have changed and a new breed of leadership is in place, though faced with challenges of cohesion. The best gift the younger party leadership can give his memory is to honour his efforts at nurturing a united national party and put party before self.

Ms Margaret Vuchiri-Alumai is a journalist. [email protected]


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