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60 years of the Democratic Party

By Kaggwa- Kavuma

Can the party, which started in Buganda and is now under Nobert Mao from Acholiland, garner nationwide support?

The Democratic Party (DP), Uganda’s oldest political Party, celebrated 60 years of its existence on March 1 at Gaba Beach just outside Kampala on the edge of Lake Victoria.

It was a big and colorful ceremony attended by thousands of people from all corners of the country that included leaders of the other opposition parties, religious leaders and elders.

Many speakers congratulated DP on its long existence and achievements.Currently DP has 15 members of Parliament who include the fiery and indomitable “iron lady” Betty Nambooze who represents Mukono Municipality and the preacher of “truth and justice” Mohammed Muwanga Kivumbi of Butambala County.

The strongest base of the Democratic Party right now is Buganda. This is where it was founded. But the good news now is that the party under Nobert Mao from Acholiland, has embarked on a vigorous and aggressive campaign to regain grassroots support and membership in parliament in Ankole, Kigezi, Acholi, West Nile Madi, Busoga, Busia, Bugisu and other areas of Eastern Uganda. In the olden days; at the time of Uganda’s Independence, those were the areas were the Democratic Party was very strong. These were the areas where DP got many members of parliament.

In 1961, the Democratic Party won overwhelmingly outside Buganda and Ben Kiwanuka who was the leader of DP at that time, formed the internal self-government and became the first Prime Minister of Uganda.

The situation only changed in 1962 after the approval of the Independence Constitution in London and Buganda kingdom’s decision to enter directly into the party politics of Uganda. Milton Obote then shrewdly worked with Buganda and his party; the Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC), acquired a majority in Parliament because of the 21 Buganda MPS who were nominated by the Buganda Lukiiko.

Buganda formed a political alliance with UPC and its leader Milton Obote became the executive Prime Minister and received the Instruments of Independence on October 9, 1962 at Kololo Ceremonial Grounds.

Originally in 1959, Buganda had rejected entering the politics of Uganda because the British government had not stipulated clearly what will be the position of the Kabaka of Buganda and the position of Buganda in an Independent Uganda.

At the London talks to approve the Constitution, it was agreed by all parties and entrenched in the Independent Constitution of 1962 that Buganda had federal status in Uganda with all its institutions and that it would collect taxes.

DP’s strength

The Democratic Party was founded by seven revolutionary Catholics to fight for Uganda’s Independence and National Unity. They were the products of the famous Catholic schools: Namilyango College, St. Mary’s College Kisubi, St. Henry’s College Kitovu and St. Peter’s Secondary School Nsambya.

They were Joseph Kasolo who was the founding President General, Joseph Kasule, founding Secretary General, S.B Kibuuka, A.B Serubiri, L.M Tyaba, M. Kiddu and Alphonse Ntale.

The Democratic Party was founded on October 6, 1954 at Rubaga, a Kampala city suburb.

The Democratic Party is the second oldest political party in Africa after the African National Congress (ANC) of South Africa which was founded by Albert Luthuli and others in 1912.

Many Political Parties in Africa have perished but the Uganda Democratic Party has survived up to now and it will live forever because it is like the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in Germany.

The DP also has strong roots of Christianity and Islam. People call it their original party, which they cannot abandon.

I remember in the olden days – but I do not know whether the practice is still going on; in Catholic families, immediately after baptising their child, the parents would get a DP membership card for their child. That was intended to mean that the child grows knowing that his/her political party is the Democratic Party.

The DP remains strong because whoever is elected to the leadership in the party at any level everywhere in the country does not come in for financial gain. They come in to safeguard the “baby” or product.

DP’s achievements

The Democratic Party has made very big and very remarkable achievements since its inception.

The formation of the DP marked the real beginning of the Multi- Party System in Uganda. It was formed in 1954 after the Uganda National Congress (UNC) which was formed on March 2, 1952 at the Kabaka’s Lake in the house of late Kitamirike who was a prominent elder in Buganda.

The Uganda National Congress (UNC), the party which first spread the gospel of nationalism and fought for Uganda’s Independence alongside the DP was founded by six men: I.K Musaazi, Abubakar Kakyama Mayanja (Buganda), Stephen Abwangoto (Bugisu), Ben Okweredde (Teso) Yekosofati Engur (Lango) and S.B Katembo (Toro).

The DP, under the visionary and charismatic leader the late Ben Kiwanuka who took over the leadership of the party in1958, led Uganda to Internal Self-government in 1961

This achievement came after a bitter struggle by DP and UNC leaders and supporters Ben Kiwanuka and Joseph William Kiwanuka (Jolly Joe) who defied Mengo in January 1959 and forced the people especially the Baganda to register as voters and elect members to Parliament because “Independence was coming”.

People registered overwhelmingly throughout the whole country except in Buganda where registration was scanty.

I remember in Bugerere County the late Professor Ponsiano Mulema of DP got three (3) votes only and the Governor Sir Andrew Crawford ordered that “Mr. Mulema must take his seat in Parliament because the people of Bugerere have elected him their Member of Parliament.”

Several DP members stood out when the various members of the different parties were forming different liberation movements in Nairobi and Uganda to fight the tyrannical regimes in Uganda which started in 1966 and the people achieved final victory in January 1986 when the tyrannical regimes where completely wiped out.

In December 1980, the Democratic Party had won the General Elections with 75 seats out of 108 but the late Paul Muwanga who was the Chairman of the then ruling Military Commission rigged the elections on the orders of the late Tanzanian president, Julius Nyerere and awarded victory to UPC/Obote.

After knowing the election results, Paul Semwogerere and the late Everisto Nyanzi straightaway went to Paul Muwanga at Parliament Building and demanded that he should arrange for the swearing ceremony the following day for Ssemogerere to take over the presidency of the country.

Paul Muwanga told them to “come back the following day”.

As soon as they left his office, Muwanga telephoned President Nyerere in Dar es Salaam. He told him: “The DP has won the elections with 75 seats and Paul Ssemogerere wants to sworn in as President, what should I do?”.

President Nyerere replied: “Paul you have got my army there; change all the results.”

This conversation was overheard and relayed to me by the DP sympathisers who were working in the Post Office at that time.

It took Paul Muwanga three days to change the results and declare UPC and Milton Obote as the winners.

When Obote formed his government, he appointed Paul Muwanga as his Vice President. That rigging sparked off the fighting in Luweero by NRA and with full support of the Baganda and victory was achieved on January 26, 1986.

The DP members who engaged in these battles included Dr. Semu Nsibirwa, Balaki Kirya, Prof. Y.K. Lule, Kavuma Kaggwa (myself), Prof. Peter Muyanda Mutebi, Abu Mayanja, Peter Mukiibi, Ben Mumanya, George Nkwanga, Ben Kasunku, Edward Mugalu, Sam Mutyaba, and many others who formed Uganda Federal Movement (UFM), but later on George Nkwanga broke away and formed the Federal Democratic Movement of Uganda (FEDEMU).

When UFM collapsed due to operational difficulties in Bujuuko forests, Prof. Lule and his group in July 1981 negotiated with Yoweri Museveni (now President) and they formed NRM/NRA. Prof. Lule was elected chairman of NRM but unfortunately he died in February 1985 before we achieved victory in January 1986.

The other achievement was when the then DP leader Paul Ssemogerere served as Foreign Affairs Minister in the NRM Government for nine years until 1996, when he resigned to fight for the multi-party system in Uganda.

Ssemogerere is highly credited and will always be remembered by the people of Uganda as a man who successfully led the DP through all kinds of difficulties from April 1980 during the time of President Godfrey Binaisa until when he retired from active politics in 2005 and handed over to veteran politician John Sebaana Kizito.

Members of DP were deeply involved in battles in the courts of law which in 2005 led the High Court of Uganda to declare that the Movement System was not a political party and ordered parties to register officially at the Electoral Commission. There was also a referendum and the people of Uganda voted massively for the multi-party system. The first direct elections to Parliament under this system were held in 2006.

The Democratic Party is very proud of these achievements. It is the only party which has been changing its leadership democratically. It is a party of all regions and all tribes. Right now the leader is an Acholi and the next leader is likely to come from the eastern part of Uganda.

Finally the Democratic Party has stuck to its motto of Truth and Justice. The colours of the party are white at the top to symbolize the party’s “peace-loving” policy and green at the bottom to symbolize the ever green country, Uganda, which the late Sir. Winston Churchhill described as the Pearl of Africa in 1908 when he stood at the hill at Mukono at the headquarters of Kyaggwe County.

Kavuma-Kaggwa is an elder from Kyaggwe in Mukono District

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