At last, Democratic Party (DP) President Norbert Mao aka Chairman Mao, has managed to strike a deal with President Museveni’s ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) that reportedly creates ground for a cordial working relationship between the two parties.
The embattled President of the almost defunct Democratic Party met President Museveni at State House Entebbe yesterday where, a memorandum of understanding was reached. Barely forty-eight hours after that, Mao was appointed and announced the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs.
Tongues are wagging on whether the 68-year-old DP will re-emerge again in another form, or get buried completely, with its reining President. Although there are those who are throwing jibes at Norbert Mao for ‘selling’ off Uganda’s oldest political party, there are those who think that keeping DP around was not a viable option anymore.
Over the last 30 years, DP had degenerated into a party for convening news conferences. Although they were fielding candidates in the general elections, they were not registering any substantial impact on the political scene. Although they kept on managing a good number of Parliamentary seats, they were not strong enough to determine the political direction of the country.
Practically speaking, the reality on the ground had showed that DP was no more. It only existed in name. The puling and pushing political forces of the 2021 general elections simply buried the fortunes of the 68-year-old DP when almost, the entire High Command of the senior DP members crossed to Hon Hon. Robert Kyagulanyi’s newly created National Unity Platform (NUP) Party. The bitterly embarrassed and evidently embattled DP Party President was left to leak a doomed political future of running a party without clear political grounding.
Created in 1954 to build and consolidate the interests of the Catholic Church in particular and the Baganda fraternity in general, DP had emerged during the pre-colonial days. During those days, there were deep religious divisions between the Muslims on one hand, the Catholics on another and the Protestants, who enjoyed the support of the British that were majorly Anglican Protestants.
The Ugandan social terrain was so deeply divided that a Catholic child couldn’t get admitted in Protestant School, and vice versa. Each religion had to build their own social base by providing services like schools, hospitals and other public services. Matters were made worse by the mere fact that the Britons easily identified with the Protestants. This meant that the colonialists favored protestant Ugandans for big jobs and other juicy appointments.
The Ugandan Catholics felt marginalized and formed a political party that would fight and agitate for their rights. Because the crusade was initiated by Baganda Catholics in Buganda, the party was deeply associated with the duo identity of being Catholic and Buganda in branding. At first, it performed well enough to win the 1961 elections.
They managed to form the first government and produced the first Ugandan Prime Minister, Benedict Kiwanuka, who was atypical catholic-Muganda. However, because of the tribal and religious branding that restricted its credentials, in terms of fan base, another party with a nationalistic character in the names of Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) emerged under the leadership of Dr Apollo Milton Obote, who later emerged as Prime Minister in 1962.
Obote himself was a Protestant, and it is believed that he was helped by the mere fact that he came from a smaller tribe (Langi), which made him appear more nationalistic than Kiwanuka who was more of a Muganda who were the dominant tribe. Obote worked hard to sink DP to the extent that by 1969, he managed to persuade the entire DP Members of Parliament, save for one, to cross over to UPC.
Despite of that incursion, DP managed to survive long enough to see the overthrow of President Obote in 1971, the killing of Ben Kiwanuka by Obote`s successor President Idd Amin in 1972, the overthrow of President Amin in 1979, and then managed to actively participate in the 1980 elections, where they narrowly lost to UPC.
To-date, the DP still strongly believe that they did win the 1980 elections. Controversial as the elections may seem, the observers pronounced that the UPC won the elections. A fair mind would say that although the 1980 elections were marred by political violence, orchestrated mostly by agents of the UPC, the circumstances show that UPC could have still won them in a free and fair environment. Why?
The 1980 elections were held in parliamentary system where, a party that won the most seats formed government. But even before casting of the vote, UPC had 17 seats unopposed. Secondly, although DP had commanding following within Buganda, UPC had a bigger nationalistic following all over the country.
So, the truth is that although DP won in most parts of Buganda, it lost in other parts of the country. The verdict here is that although the 1980 elections were occasioned by the killing of DP supporters, by UPC agents and the violence, UPC won the elections. But you will be surprised that DP managed to survive the UPC era from 1980 to 1985 when President Obote was overthrown by a military junta.
During the early 1980s, post-colonial movements like the Uganda Patriotic Movement (UPM)-National Resistance Movement (NRM) emerged and started preaching against sectarianism. During the bush-war they (now NRA rebels) centered their political doctrine on preaching against tribal and religious sectarianism. When they eventually took over in 1986, they absorbed the entire DP in its ranks of government.
Senior party leaders like Dr Paul Kawanga Ssemogerere, who had stood and allegedly won the 1980 elections that were rigged by UPC, were given powerful ministerial positions. But with the emergence of political party activities, Dr Ssemogerere quit the NRM and contested again in the 1996 general elections but lost to President Museveni. But DP managed to sustain its political roots in most parts of the country and have managed to field candidates in almost all elections that have taken place. These are 1996, 2001, 2006, 2011, 2026 and 2021 general elections.
DP has also managed to remain a political force even when there was the constant anti-sectarian gospel that preached against belief in religion and tribe. But over the years, the Catholics were no longer sure if it made any sense to identify with the green and white party. This stance, while the Baganda had also moved on to other political addresses. The party has been swimming from one deep-end of political oblivion to another, to the extent that a Muslim in the names of Hajji Nasser Ntege Ssebaggala once assumed its Leadership.
Some shrewd observers claim that this was the time when DP capitulated as a political force. By the time Nobert Mao emerged as its leader, it was a shadow of what should have been a very vibrant party. Mao himself has tried to push its relevance with little or no success at every trial. In the end, DP had to wind up, the way it eventually did.
To be fair to Chairman Mao, we must also appreciate that most of Africa’s old pre-colonial political parties were swept out by the new political forces. Kwame Nkrumah’s Convention Peoples Party went with him. Jomo Kenyatta’s KANU was swallowed by emerging political alliances that cropped up at every election cycle. Dr Apollo Milton Obote’s UPC was swallowed by the NRM when his son and Party President, Hon Jimmy Akena did what Mao did the other day. Honestly speaking, Mao had no choice but to strike the nearest deal both for the party and himself.
What is Mao`s Fate?
So now, what will be Norbert Mao’s fate in the alliance with President Museveni’s NRM? By the time I was working on this article, I had not got the news about his appointment as the Minister of Justice and Constitutional affairs. But when one looks at the hierarchy of the NRM leadership, President Museveni is surrounded with women in top positions. It’s fair to suggest that it’s unlikely that he can include another woman, anywhere at the top. This gives a man of Norbert Mao’s caliber, a chance to sneak in Museveni’s government in a more powerful position than ministerial. Well, there are strong indications that the DP man is likely to reap big from his integration with the ruling clique. Early this year, Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba twitted that Chairman Norbert Mao was the best leader from the opposition. Now, with Gen Muhoozi pushing for his own presidential bid, it’s an obvious guess that Norbert Mao is more likely to climb as high as the Vice Presidency itself.
- Fred Daka Kamwada is a seasoned journalist, blogger and political analyst for over a decade in Uganda
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