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Friday, June 2, 2023

Obote Eats Humble Pie, New Vision’s Peter Bites Dust

Exiled former president and leader of Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC), Dr Milton Obote, the Nyamurunga (beautiful bird), Ojalokwome (the one who bears his body to suffer for the people like a messiah) had an uncanny ability to cast a spell over the party faithful.

It was both troubling and amazing when Obote was president for the second time (December 1980-July 1985) time watching him work the crowds in UPC strongholds. He would stand at a rally, sway a little, with both arms spread out, and twist his forefinger like a choir master. Slowly the crowds would begin chanting: “UPC…UPC…eeh…eh…UPC…” By the time Obote starting giving cues about “Everywhereeee UPC, n’Apac…UPC, Kamucha (Kamwokya)…UPC, n’Elwero (and Luwero)…” it would be a deafening din, with Congressmen and women trembling with political fervour.

Because Obote could sway so many people’s hearts, he thought (and still thinks) he could sway their minds too.

Obote (and many UPC fellows), for example, holds that his government did not ban political parties in 1969. After reading the claim that it did repeated several times in these pages, Obote asked party officials to forward his rebuttal to The Monitor (See “I Defended Parties Against UPC, Claims Obote”, Feb. 05).

Obote argued that it was the UPC Annual Delegates Conference (ADC) of December 20, 1969, which voted to have a one-party state. That when closing the ADC, he dissented and “strongly condemned and rejected the resolution that Uganda be a one-party state”. He vows that no law of any sort was ever passed to ban political parties. That “Dr Naphlim [Adoko] arranged for the condemnation and rejection to be put on gramophone records, the sales of which were interrupted by the military coup of January 1971”.

The old man is not finished. He strikes out self-indulgently; “The detractors of UPC, however, propagate falsely that it was the UPC government which banned parties apparently without amending the constitution or publishing the ban in a legal instrument (emphasis mine).”

Amin, Obote tells us, is the one who in fact banned the parties. He then throws out a boisterous challenge; “No one, even today, can produce any law enacted or any legal instrument issued by the UPC which banned all parties except the UPC (emphasis added)”.

Most of us tell small lies many times. To save our lives, to protect our families and friends, to elevate our image in places where we would be despised or discriminated against, and to get a buck to put food on the table. When I audited philosophy class at university, the professor called these “noble” lies. The big “evil” lie though, is a different story. It can lead to the death of thousands of people, because we miss out on the lessons of history, and an opportunity to avoid the mistakes of the past. Obote’s claim that UPC never banned parties, and that there is no legal instrument to that effect is a big lie. Because this claim has gone unchallenged for long, doesn’t mean everyone is swayed.

The UPC government banned political parties by Statutory Instrument No. 233 of 1969 (see graphic). The order was signed by Minister of Internal Affairs Basil Bataringaya (RIP) on December 20, 1969, a day after the assassination attempt on Obote at the Lugogo Stadium:

“In exercise of the powers conferred upon the Minister by Paragraph (c) of subsection (2) of section 54 of the Penal Code Act, this Order is hereby made this 20th day of December, 1969.

“1. The societies specified in the Schedule to this Order are hereby declared to be societies dangerous to peace and order in Uganda.

“2. This order may be cited as the Penal (Unlawful Societies) (No. 2) Order, 1969.


The “societies” specified in the schedule were:

1. Democratic Party.

2. Uganda National Union.

3. Uganda Farmers Voice.

4. Uganda Conservative Party.

5. Uganda National Socialist Party.

6. Uganda Vietnam Solidarity Party.


The banning order didn’t describe these parties as “parties”. There was a reason for that. To call them parties would have been to equate them to UPC and, secondly, it was necessary to portray them as being less than parties, to deny them the protections accorded to them in the constitution.

The NRM government of President Yoweri Museveni is doing exactly the same thing today. The Museveni cabinet refused to acknowledge the political parties as “parties” and instead recognises them as political “organisations”; hence the ill-fated Political Organisations Bill. There is really little that is new in our politics, and in the case of the Museveni government they are playing into the hands of their DP critics who say it is not surprising that they do such things, because its top leaders including the president himself are almost all products of the UPC political kindergarten in its heady days of the 1960s.

Some UPCs have argued that even if Statutory Instrument No. 233 of 1969 was indeed on the books, it didn’t ban parties because some members of the opposition DP continued to sit in Parliament.

There shouldn’t be any mystery about this. The grounds and procedure for unseating a sitting MP were far wider than No. 233 of 1969 provided for. To deal with the awkwardness of having MPs of a banned party in the House, parliament decided that they be called plain “Opposition MPs”, not DP MPs since it was an illegal party.

Therefore when Obote says his UPC government didn’t ban parties, he is lying.

When he says there was no published legal instrument banning parties, he is lying.

When he says no one, even today, can produce any law or instrument issued by the UPC which bans parties, he is dead wrong.

And when he says Adoko had even recorded a gramophone record of his rejection and strong condemnation of a UPC delegates conference resolution to turn Uganda in a one one-party state, he is telling a tall tale.

Could it be that with time and age, Obote has forgotten? I doubt. It is more likely that the party ban has “slipped” his mind because it was a “small matter”. It did not hurt him much, so he can gloss over it easily.

It still happens to this day. The ban on political parties and the persecution that multipartyists are facing in Uganda is also another “small matter” for Museveni & Co. It does not hurt them, because they aren’t at the receiving end.

The political parties are a play thing for the Museveni government. It doesn’t even see them for the parties that they say they are. They are just some “organisations”. In another time, they could have been “societies”. Museveni does not think the multipartyists have any serious principle, any beliefs, ideals which they hold dear. He therefore doesn’t think they feel the injury of their persecution. Well, this country has been there before.

Another man who went places is New Vision’s Political Editor Peter Mwesige, a bright young man and a good friend.

Mwesige used to work with The Monitor, and was one of a group of youthful journalists who went to start The Crusader. He was appointed Political Editor at New Vision with some fanfare last year.

We had a long conversation before he went to New Vision, and he reflected on how challenging it would be to balance his free spiritedness and the inevitability of “playing by the rules” in a state-owned newspaper.

Peter shortly got a column, “Tuesday Insight with Peter Mwesige” which was the first item I went to in the Tuesday New Vision. Last Tuesday, Feb. 18, he gave his most feisty and controversial offering so far, “Why Does The President Keep Repeating Himself” in which he argued that President Museveni is tired and all his speeches are old hat.

That was last week. Yesterday, Peter came to us in a new feature “Tuesday Crossfire With Peter Mwesige”, a non-controversial Question & Answer affair. After his Feb. 18 outing, the high and mighty came down New Vision and Peter’s head like a ton of bricks. “Tuesday Insight” is no more. And Peter is no longer Political Editor. They created a new position of “Parliament Affairs Editor” and slotted him in there.

Peter is not the first, nor will he be the last, to take the fall. Many have been where he is before. From there, however, their destinies have been different and the strength of Peter’s character will be in the path he chooses. Some went down further. Some stayed down. Some picked themselves up, and started all over again. And one man, Obote, has also shown us that you can also keep trying and trying, although you will never make it again.

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