Ssemogerere: The true democrat who should have led our country

Author: Musaazi Namiti. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • He was also instrumental in fighting unconstitutional laws, and he and Zachary Olum took the lead in challenging the Referendum (Political Systems) Act of 2000. They emerged victorious as all five Constitutional Court judges unanimously ruled that Parliament did not follow procedure while enacting the Act in June 2000 — making the whole process null and void.

Last week, Paul Kawanga Ssemogerere died at the ripe old age of 90. It was hard to write something for this newspaper at the time news of his death broke because columnists have a Tuesday deadline to submit their work, yet the sad news came on a Friday.
For those who have been following news of the death of prominent Ugandans who have previously worked for/with President Museveni, there was something remarkable on social media about Mr Ssemogerere’s death. It was not celebrated; there was a genuine outpouring of grief. 

There were no memes caricaturing his death and saying he was joining Ugandans who have died over the past few years and had become infamous for torturing Ugandans — or appearing on TV to defend the regime’s egregious behaviour towards political opponents.
Ssemogerere was the people’s politician. I first saw him in 1987 when he was invited as a guest of honour to officiate at a fund-raising drive for a school near our (then) home in Gomba District. 

At the time, NRM’s leaders were still pretending they were only interested in serving people, not opulent lifestyles. Mr Ssemogerere, who worked with those leaders and was Internal Affairs minister, arrived in a Isuzu Trooper and only had a policeman as part of his security detail. He freely interacted with the villagers, danced with them and was even served tonto.
As a politician, Ssemogerere headed Uganda’s oldest political party, the Democratic Party, even when he was working with Mr Museveni — and was the party’s presidential candidate in the 1980 disputed elections that he is widely believed to have won. He did not take up arms to fight the government that stole the election and was content to serve as leader of the Opposition when that government was sworn in.

He was also instrumental in fighting unconstitutional laws, and he and Zachary Olum took the lead in challenging the Referendum (Political Systems) Act of 2000. They emerged victorious as all five Constitutional Court judges unanimously ruled that Parliament did not follow procedure while enacting the Act in June 2000 — making the whole process null and void.
Ssemogerere remained incorruptible yet he served a horrendously corrupt government. Journalists have written stories about him returning unspent per diem on official foreign trips when he worked as a Cabinet minister. For me, this was arguably the best thing about him.
So how did Mr Museveni react to the death of this truly admirable statesman who served not only as his Internal Affairs minister but also Foreign minister and minister of Public Service? He did eulogise him and asked Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja to represent him at his burial. But on Mr Museveni’s Twitter page, there was nothing about Mr Ssemogerere’s death. That matters.

When Mayanja Nkangi died in 2017 — he was Museveni’s Cabinet minister (Finance and Education) and a presidential candidate in the 1980 election, just like Mr Ssemogerere — Mr Museveni tweeted: “Heard about the untimely death of Jehoash Mayanja-Nkangi. He was a calm, industrious nationalist. He will be greatly missed. Rest in peace.”
About Tumusiime-Mutebile, he tweeted: “Paying homage to the Late Emmanuel Tumusiime Mutebile for his meritorious and patriotic service to this nation. I salute him!  May God grant his soul eternal repose.”
When Jacob Oulanyah died, Mr Museveni tweeted: “It is with a lot of sadness that I announce the death of the Rt Hon Jacob Oulanyah, the Speaker of Parliament.”
I think Mr Museveni did not really like Mr Ssemogerere probably because he espoused values the President only pays lip service to.


Mr Namiti is a journalist and former Al Jazeera digital editor in charge of the Africa desk
[email protected]    @kazbuk

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