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Like Obote, like son

By Kavuma-Kaggwa

UPC’s Jimmy Akena walks in the political footsteps of his father

Recent events show that Jimmy Akena, one of the young politicians of modern Uganda, is literally `walking in the political footsteps of his father”, Dr. Milton Obote, who received the instruments of Uganda independence from British colonial rule on October 9, 1962 at Kololo and led this country twice.

Jimmy Akena, a tall and slender man who speaks English with a firm baritone is set to become the president – general of Uganda’s second oldest party, the Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC).

Akena’s father, Obote, founded UPC at the beginning of 1960. Akena was recently elected by the UPC members to lead the party, taking over from Olara Otunnu who has retired after leading it for five years.

Akena’s election has been opposed by some UPC members and the situation at the party headquarters at Uganda House on Kampala Road has required police intervention.

But Akena seems to have inherited his father, Obote’s extreme political shrewdness, natural intelligence, and political smartness.


Obote smartness in politics came to the fore early in his life.

At the time, there were three powerful forces in Uganda. These were religion, which was dominated by the Protestants, the monarchs who were dominated by Buganda, and the rulers – the British. To succeed, a politician needed to juggle these three powerful forces.

Firstly, Obote must have realised early that he needed to attend the most powerful school of the day; Kings College Budo.

But, as he told us one day at the Uganda National Congress (UNC) offices in Katwe in the 1950s, when he sought admission to Budo, he found there was one place left and the headmaster had received instructions to admit a student from one of the famous Buganda families. He then went to Namilyango College but the headmaster at that time, told him that he could not admit him because he was not a Catholic, then he went to Busoga College Mwiri where he was admitted. After Mwiri, he went to Makerere University and then to work in Kenya.

Obote attempts to join

Kenya parliament

Obote returned to Uganda from Kenya in the middle of 1958 almost at the final stages of the bitter struggle by UNC and the Democratic Party (DP) for Uganda’s Independence.

In Kenya, Obote had been friends with the late Kenyan freedom fighters: Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, Tom Mboya, C.M.G Argwings – Khodek, and Masinde Muliro. They all lived in Kaloleni African Estate on the eastern side of Nairobi.

Even in Kenya, the ever ambitious Obote wanted to become a member of the Kenya Legislative Council (LEGCO). But his Kenyan political mentors politely told him to “go back to Uganda”.

When he arrived, he became fully involved in the UNC activities and he used to come to Kampala from time to time accompanied by UNC activists like Otema Allimadi, Peter Oola, and Ben Ochaya.

At the time, I (Kavuma Kaggwa) was Secretary of UNC Youth League. The top leadership of UNC at that time, I.K. Musaazi (President General), Dr. B.N. Kununka (Secretary General), J.W. Kiwanuka (Chairman), Jenkins Kiwanuka (Chairman of UNC Youth League).

We welcomed Obote wholeheartedly into UNC. He was straight away elected Vice President of UNC taking over from Yekosofati Engur, who was a founder member of UNC in March 1962, who had been imprisoned for one year on charges of telling the people of Lango “not to take European medicine”.

We moved with Obote in Eastern and Northern Uganda, spreading the gospel of nationalism and the rallying call of “Independence Now”, throughout Uganda.

Things started to move in high gear towards the end of 1958 when the British Government decided to increase the membership of the LEGCO by having each district outside Buganda to elect one member to represent it in the LEGCO. UNC sponsored Milton Obote to represent Lango and Balaki Kirya was sponsored by UNC to represent Bukedi District at that time.

Obote became a famous speaker and a formidable debater in the LEGCO especially during the motions which were being moved by a Masaka member, Y.S. Baamutta, demanding Independence for Uganda. The others were Dr. B.N. Kununka (Buganda), George Magezi (Bunyoro), Cuthbert Obwangor (Teso) and Gaspire Oda (West Nile – Madi). At that time I was the Parliamentary Reporter for Uganda Post and Uganda Express which were the mouthpiece of UNC.

Obote, as a great speaker and debater, would speak in the LEGCO for two hours nonstop without repeating himself. The others like him were Dr. B.N. Kununka, Cuthbert Obwangor, and George Magezi. They were the ones to speak at the end of the debate before the Chief Secretary, Sir. Charles Hartwell could reply on behalf of the Government.

When the UNC split towards the end of 1959 due to internal disagreements which centred on the UK £ 500,000 which was negotiated by Abu Mayanja and John Kale in the People’s Republic of China, Obote and Abu Mayanja and Balaki Kirya formed their own splinter UNC faction. Obote then made another smart move.

At that time the Democratic Party was strong in Ankole and other areas of Western Uganda because of John Kabaireho, who was Prime Minister of Ankole plus the support from the Catholic Church.

The Banyankole Protestants formed a political party, Uganda People’s Union (UPU), to rival the Democratic party, they put it under the leadership of W.W. Rwetsiba, a product of Kings College Budo and former member of the LEGCO from Ankole.

In March 1960, Milton Obote moved very fast and negotiated with W.W. Rwetsiba to form one strong party which would be dominant in the west and north of Uganda.

They all agreed but Obote insisted that the word “CONGRESS” must be in the name of the new party, because CONGRESS was known everywhere in Uganda since its inception in March 1952 and what it did in the struggle to return Kabaka Mutesa from exile in 1953/1955 and the struggle for independence and national unity. They agreed on the name `Uganda Peoples Congress’ because the name embraced both sides.

Obote was also reportedly strategic in belonging to the Protestant religion. It is said the British helped him because they did not want to leave an independent Uganda in the hands of Catholics.

Baganda Protestants were victorious in the religious wars in Buganda in 1884 which took place between the Baganda Protestants and Baganda Catholics to decide which religion would rule Buganda. Protestantism became the ruling Religion in Buganda and Uganda during British colonial.

Obote outmaneuvers Kiwanuka

But in 1961, when general elections were held, the dominant Democratic Party (DP) won and its Catholic leader Ben Kiwanuka became prime minister ready for independence. Kiwanuka was in exactly, the same position as Akena finds himself in today; he had won the election and was waiting for his authority over independent Uganda to be achieved. Obote was the MP for Lango on the UPC ticket.

However, as the leaders of Uganda travelled to the Lancaster Constitutional Conference in London in 1961 to approve the 1962 Independence Constitution, Obote was busy scheming his most enduring outmaneuvere –against Ben Kiwanuka. Mark you, Ben Kiwanuka’s DP and the Uganda National Congress (UNC) had been the dominant parties in fighting for independence. Obote’s UPC was filled with `new comers’.

At the conference, Obote shrewdly sided with the “Mengo Baganda”, the Buganda Lukiiko “to the hilt” in its demand to make the Buganda Lukiiko appoint all the 21 Baganda Members of Parliament. That automatically blocked DP and Ben Kiwanuka from contesting for Parliament in Buganda in the September 4, 1962 General Elections before Independence on October 9, 1962.

Obote had the full backing of the then Kabaka of Buganda Sir, Edward Muteesa II, the Buganda Lukiiko and the Baganda in general. The Baganda, traditionally, could not divert from what the Kabaka wanted politically.

The Baganda truly liked Obote and composed a Luganda song – “Akalulu k’Obote yekka”, meaning that “the vote was for Obote only”.

When the elections were held both DP and UPC got an equal number of seats outside Buganda. The Buganda Lukiiko was the deciding factor to choose which party to support and it gains a majority in Parliament so as to form the Independence Government of Uganda.

The Buganda Lukiiko passed a resolution authorising Kabaka Yekka (KY) party to form a political alliance with UPC/Obote. Milton Obote became the prime minister of Uganda and his Party UPC and KY formed a coalition government which operated until May 24, 1966.

From then on, the Baganda hated Obote bitterly until his death in exile in Zambia in 2005. They hated him because of the “Mengo Hill Crisis” of May 24, 1966 when Obote sent his troops to attack the Kabaka as a result of a serious political disagreement which developed between the two, the Kabaka and Obote.

As a result of this crisis, the Kabaka fled into exile in the United Kingdom where, it was alleged, that he was poisoned by Obote’s secret agent at his birthday party on November 19, 1969.

After the Kabaka fled, Parliament elected Obote the President of Uganda and he straight away abolished the Buganda Kingdom and other Kingdoms in Uganda as well as other cultural institutions and finally Uganda was declared a Republic in 1967. But a few years later, in 1971, Obote was ousted in a military coup by Gen. Idi Amin who was ousted in 1979.

But soon after, Obote again played some amazing political gymnastics that saw him become president for the second time in December 1980 after general elections that were disputed.

The Democratic Party is said to have actually won 75 seats out of the 108 members of the National Assembly at that time. But Paul Muwanga, who was the Chairman of the then ruling “Military Commission” and Head of State at that time awarded victory to UPC/Obote. Muwanga had the support of the Tanzanian armed forces which were still in the country after overthrowing President Idi Amin in April 1979.

Milton Obote was sworn in as the President and Paul Muwanga became the President. Their Government was opposed by the people right from the start until when it was overthrown on July 27, 1985 by General Tito Okello Lutwa and General Bazilio Okello.

It is clear that Obote was a shrewd politician. He was also lucky that God gave him a high quality of natural intelligence and political smartness. He was also greatly helped by fate and friends to acquire political fame and leadership in Uganda.

Akena’s turn

His son Jimmy Akena, who was born in 1967, had a lot of time to learn political tactics from his father who died in 2005 aged 79.

Akena has grown up as a political animal. He was bare four-years old when his father was ousted for the first time in 1971 and he was 18 years old when his father was ousted for the second time in 1985. He has also been greatly groomed by his politically stable mother, Miria Kalule Obote.

Miria Obote seems to have it in her heart that one day, if all goes well, her son, Jimmy Akena, will be President of Uganda because that is always the ultimate aim of any Ugandan who becomes a leader of a political party.

In Akena’s case, working on this objective started in 2005, when Miria Obote took over the leadership of UPC from the “fiery iron lady”, Cecilia Ogwal, now MP of Dokolo County. Cecilia Ogwal had led the party and kept it alive and vibrant during the most difficult times of Uganda’s politics after Idi Amin. All that time, Milton Obote and Akena were in exile in Zambia.

Because Cecilia Ogwal was a strong politician, it was reported that even President Museveni had an idea of appointing her a Vice President of Uganda, but when she consulted Milton Obote in Zambia about it, Obote was reported to have turned down the offer.

During the campaign and General Elections of 2006, Ogwal was forced out of Lira Municipality and she moved to Dokolo which she represents now in Parliament. Jimmy Akena took over as Lira Municipality MP up to now.

Miria Obote worked out a good political plan for her son to be in Parliament, and perform very well like his father did and make himself well known in the politics of Uganda, move motions in Parliament, so that by the time he comes to contest for the leadership of UPC and the country as well, he will be well-known to the voters.

From parliament Akena is now moving to conquer the country. He has started realising the big challenges facing him in the the coming days and years as the leader of Uganda’s second oldest party, UPC. It would be good if he realises that the Uganda of today is quite different from the Uganda of 2005.

The people of Uganda are anxiously waiting to know whether his party will join the recently formed Democratic Alliance which is focusing on sponsoring one Presidential Candidate in the forthcoming General Elections of 2016. If he does not join the Democratic Alliance, will his party sponsor him as their Presidential Candidate to compete against President Museveni? Or will he sit back and use this period to grow his strength as he waits for 2021 or even 2026 when he will be just 59 years old?

Jimmy Akena faces another big challenge, and that is to gain support in Buganda. UPC stands as a completely hated party because of what his father, Obote, did in 1966 and the years that followed. Today if you talk about UPC in the villages of Buganda, you may end up being abused by the people and some may even spit on you.

Jimmy Akena must find a way of working with Joseph Bossa and other people so that they work together and do some damage control in Buganda. Otherwise it may take UPC another 50 years to get some support in Buganda.

I remember in 2005 when Dan Muliika was Katikiro of Buganda and Mrs. Miria Obote went to the Katikiro’s office to apologise. The outgoing UPC president Olara Otunnu recently did something similar when he visited Mengo and met with the katikiro, Charles Peter Mayiga. But I think something more must be done now that her son seems set to take over the leadership of the party. Buganda and UPC should open up a new chapter.

Finally, there is a general belief that a son or daughter of a politically famous leader can also do very well in the political leadership of a country. Jawaharlal Pandit Nehru, former Prime Minister of India, groomed his daughter, Indira Gandhi and she became the Prime Minister.

In the United States of America, President George Bush Sr. groomed his son G.W Bush and he also became President of the United States of America. In the Philippines, the late woman President, Corazon Aquino groomed her son Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino and he became president of the Philippines.

In Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta, the founding father of Kenya, groomed his son Uhuru Kenyatta before he passed away in 1978. After that, his mother, Mama Ngina Kenyatta and some Kikuyu elders of GEMA (Gikuyu Embu, Meru Association) groomed Uhuru Kenyatta and he is now the President of Kenya.

In Uganda, it is now common knowledge that President Museveni is grooming his son, Brig. Muhoozi Kainerugaba to take over the presidency of Uganda, possibly, in 2021, if all goes well. In Buganda, the famous Katikiro, Sir. Apollo Kaggwa groomed his son Michael E. Kawalya Kaggwa and he was Katikiro of Buganda from 1945 to 1950.

Jimmy Akena has done very well to come out and “walk in the political footsteps of his father”. Besides Elizabeth Musaazi (the daughter of I.K. Musaazi, founder of Uganda National Congress and the man who struggled for Uganda’s Independence), who is now struggling to represent the women of Nakaseke in Parliament in 2016, I do not see any sons or daughters of the former famous Uganda politicians in any position of political leadership today.

I will be extremely happy to see the sons and daughters of Abubakar Kakyama Mayanja, the founder of Uganda National Congress and a great African freedom fighter and Pan – Africanist, in the Parliament of Uganda in 2016 and beyond.

But I know life is sometimes not straight. Although Obote was an extremely studious man whose hands were never empty hands because he was always either holding a book or a newspaper in readiness to read it, his son Akena is not a man of letters. That is one difference in their lives. There might be more.

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Kavuma – Kaggwa is an elder from Kyaggwe, Mukono District,

Tel: 0772 584 423

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