KAMPALA —The 2021 general elections came with surprises and disappointments in equal dosage. One of the hair-raising developments in this particular election was the political bloodbath that the ruling party, National Resistance Movement (NRM) suffered in Buganda region. Out of 105 parliamentary seats in greater Buganda (including Kampala metropolitan area), the party took at least 36 (representing 32.4% of what will later mutate into the Buganda caucus in parliament). All ministers, the Vice President, Edward Kiwanuka Sekandi among the bruised lot, in the current cabinet were ejected out of the August House by voters in the different constituencies of the country’s most ethnically diverse and cosmopolitan region. President Yoweri Museveni, accustomed to a lovey-dovey relationship with Buganda since 1996 is still nursing political wounds after a region that midwifed his five-year long guerilla war against Milton Obote (1981-1985) and later Tito Okello Lutwa in the thickets of Luweero Triangle sang from the same political hymn book, giving Mr. Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine, a resounding victory. In the final tally, Museveni polled 58% of the vote against Kyagulanyi’s 34%.
President Museveni, now set to stretch his presidency to 40 years, is not new to such election surprises though. In the 2006 election, his ex-personal doctor and minister, Colonel Kizza Besigye enjoyed a comfortable lead in parts of the east and north, thanks in part, to the state’s failure to resolve the security question at the time. The 2006 election results however, were easier to stomach. There were obvious reasons for those regions to deny the president support and once those reasons (largely instability that ground the rural economy there to a halt) were addressed, General Museveni now enjoys some breathing space in what one can call the political north. In 2021 he led in that area, anyway.
The obliteration of the NRM in Buganda (and parts of Busoga) though, is reported to cause the ruling party and its septuagenarian leader, a master tactician whose magic tragically failed this time round, some bouts of migraine. Why? How? Where and when did the rain start beating the NRM in their hitherto political base (outside Kampala, Wakiso and Mukono?) are some of the questions lingering restlessly in the hearts and minds of the men and women running the show in the yellow bus. There are no easy answers.
In our Evergreen series, an effort by Vox Populi to return to life stories and opinion editorial articles authored years back whose relevance is shaped by events today, senior writer and researcher, Faustin Mugabe dived into the archives and found this perspective by Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda, the Kira municipality MP who, at the time of writing the article, was a vibrant journalist. As is the case with our Evergreen series, whether the said authors or political actors no longer stand with their statements is immaterial. Ours is to bring history to life for history shapes our appreciation of yesterday, today and tomorrow. In so doing, this publication would be living true to its commitment to foster robust public debate that accommodates even unpopular opinion and to expand the frontiers of freedom of expression, speech and conscience as hallmarks of democratic values. Here we go.
Once upon a time, Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda wrote that no Muganda will be President of Uganda again. He made the stinging statement 23 years ago. When Ssemujju said that, he was still a journalist. Today the 47 year-old (who was 24 at the time he wrote this featured piece) is the Member of Parliament for Kira Municipality, north of Kampala city. He is also a member of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party and its gifted spokesman. This opinion piece was published in the Monitor newspaper of August 22, 1997. The story was titled: “No Muganda will be President again”. We reproduce it verbatim.
“It was in 1979-80 when a Muganda last presided over this country as head of state. Even then, it was not a reign worth writing home about. Yusuf Lule, Godfrey Binaisa and Paulo Muwanga – the only ever Baganda Presidents – were not given the opportunity to complete their terms. The three had just months to try out their talents for steering the country before they were forced to leave the prestigious seat. Ben Kiwanuka and Kabaka Mutesa, the first Baganda ever to lead this country, were no exception. You all remember how Milton Obote grabbed the presidential seat from Mutesa in the infamous 1966 invasion of the Lubiri. Baganda have helped several people, including the son of Kaguta (Museveni) to assume the presidency. But whoever attains the presidency, just forgets the Baganda people. The problem of the Baganda lies within themselves.
They are opportunists, something that has haunted them since the colonial times. They collaborated with the colonialists to beat other regions into submission and share in the booty and ever since, they have assumed a secondary position of helping others to become bosses. Baganda politicians have, however, learnt and forgotten nothing. Judging from what is taking place today, I can confidently conclude that a Muganda will never be President again. Baganda opposition politicians lack vision and a broad national approach to the presidential seat. Just take a count of them.
Wasswa Ziritwawula, Wasswa Lule, Herman Semujju, Ken Lukyamuzi, Paul Semogerere and renegade Paul Kafeero, among others. There isn’t any seriousness or fire left in them. They only make sure that they make enough noise to have their presence felt so that they can earn some bread. For instance, take the case of MP for Rubaga south John Ken Lukyamuzi, and the president general of the Freedom Party, Herman Semujju. These two cannot stand the challenges of Museveni’s era and have now turned into clowns. In fact, those who advised them to join the Bakayimbira drama club were spot on. They deserve nothing more.
Last month, Ken Lukyamuzi told a public rally at Kitebi Primary School that he will never comb his hair again until Article 269 is repealed. (See. “Lukyamuzi Admires Obote’s Hair” The Monitor, July 22) “Obote left his hair to grow because Ugandans are not free and I have also stopped combing my hair, and will leave it to grow until Article 269, which suspended political party activities is repealed by the government ‘nationalist’ Lukyamuzi reportedly told his audience. I think Ugandans have serious problems which cannot be solved by ‘growing’ hair or noisemaking. Such a statement not only hurts me but makes me wonder whether those people who voted for Lukyamuzi had any sensible criteria of choosing who should be their MP.
It seems the Rubaga constituency was just opposed to the NRM and Lukyamuzi was voted in because he was the only candidate who was ready to abuse Museveni. Herman Ssemujju is as good as a toothless dog and I have no better advice for him than those who advised him to become a comedian. Ssemujju sought political asylum in Kenya, but stayed on a few weeks. It was reported that this ‘presidential material’ was arrested in Kenya for being idle and disorderly and that he could not raise K.Shs 3,000 (UShs 57,000) to bail himself out of prison. He dismissed this as malicious and convinced people that a man of his caliber who even owns an Omnibus could not fail to raise that amount of money. You have probably all read the story that Ssemujju went to Denmark as a dancer, but on arrival he faxed a report that he had gone for a political trip (‘Ssemuju Goes To Denmark as Dancer’ The Monitor Aug. 13). Those are our politicians who want to change the system.
Dr. Paul Kawanga Semogerere is no longer fashionable. Instead of dealing with the crisis in his party, the guy is busy dying hair to hide his age. Let Semogerere leave the mantle to people of this generation, the likes of Maria Mutagamba, who seem ready to face the challenge. Muhammad Mayanja, another up-and-coming politician in Buganda, has his own impediments. First, people will tell you that the guy is a Muslim. Others will tell you that he has no experience – as if there is a school that teaches experience. It means therefore, that Buganda has no strong opposition leadership that can vie for this country’s highest office. Even with the best monarchial set up at Mengo, hope for a Muganda becoming head of State is still very minimal. With due respect to Ssabasajja Mutebi, I think the kingdom needs a more serious leader. Early Buganda kings, the likes of Mutesa Mukabya, were very serious politicians and Kabaka Mutebi should emulate them.
In his book, ‘The Desecration of My Kingdom’, the late Mutesa demonstrated his qualifications as a serious politician, but his interests seem to lie in protecting the environment. NRM Baganda politicians are the worst creatures in the kingdom. Their only ambition is to make Museveni happy. In other words, these chaps are just representing Museveni’s interests and in the process picking up a few crumbs without any regard for their fellow Baganda. The likes of Bidandi Ssali, Kintu Musoke, Medi Kagwa, Mayanja Nkangi, Princess Ndagire, Kisamba Mugerwa, Kiddu Makubuya, Muruli Mukasa, Janat Mukwaya – are all working for only Museveni and themselves. No one seems to be bothered about the kingdom. These cadres are the same as those early Baganda who sold the kingdom to the colonialists for beads. In fact, Museveni today is more concerned about the wellbeing of the kingdom than some Baganda in his government.
My humble request to all Baganda politicians is to stop fighting for today’s meal when there is another day to come. Although they are content, the next generation may suffer because they sacrificed the future for today’s meal. Let all of you join hands, for even if you fail to become president today, the coming generation will respect you. This business of scarifying your uncle for a jerrycan of milk should stop. Even if you gave away your daughter for a cassava plantation, tomorrow will still come with its challenges. When we meet chaps from other regions, especially from the West, they frankly tell us that a Muganda will never become president. And there is good reason to believe them. I think we need seasoned politicians who have the qualities of the late Ben Kiwanuka, if Buganda is ever to produce president.”