In October and November last year, we conducted a research project on why political coalitions and co-operations fail in Uganda. We sampled and interviewed 34 top political elite and entities, with the exception of President Museveni and Bobi Wine. But we interviewed their secretaries general Richard Todwong for Museveni’s National Resistance Movement (NRM), and David Lewis Rubongoya for Bobi Wine’s National Unity Platform (NUP).
Among the 34 respondents, Cecilia’s viewpoints stood out. Her personal experience and sharp grasp of Uganda’s culture and history of consociation democracy or political cooperation greatly enriched our report on why political coalitions fail in Uganda. This was not surprising because Cecilia was one of the co-principals of the formidable 1996 Inter-Political Forces Cooperation (IPFC), which joined forces and pushed hard to give Museveni a knockout blow and eject him in the 1996 presidential election.
Midwife of IFPC
Determined, Cecilia stood shoulder-to-shoulder with a largely male-dominated group of firebrand opposition politicians, among them UPC big wigs Yona Kanyomozi, Adonia Tiberondwa, Prof Patrick Rubahayo, and Patrick Mwondha. In DP were Maria Mutagamba, Damiano Lubega, Ssebaana Kizito, and Prof Ogenga Latigo. They fronted Dr Paul Kawanga Ssemogerere to fight it out with Museveni for the presidency. They had formed IPFC out of the National Democratic Caucus in the Constituent Assembly (CA), the interim Parliament that framed the 1995 Constitution.
The IPFC wave, which many young people, among them Norbert Mao, rode on to enter the 6th Parliament, nearly sent President Museveni home, packing. Museveni was only saved by NRM’s crude propaganda that hoodwinked the rural folks in Buganda. Besides their offensive display of skulls in places like Kikusya in Luweero, the NRM spin masters stoked fear as they cooked up and published stories and pictures of mammoth crowds jubilating, claiming that Dr Ssemogerere had promised in his campaign trail in Lango, to bring back deposed and exiled former President Obote.
Another story claimed that Dr Obote had flown from his exile base in Lusaka and had arrived in Western Kenya and was headed back to Uganda to reclaim the presidency.
Illogical as the propaganda sounded, the rural folks in Buganda believed and shunned the IPFC and Dr Ssemwogerere, who was cast as being in league with the UPC to bring back former President Obote. As a result, Dr Ssemwogerere lost the vote in Buganda, including in his own constituency. The North, however, gave the IPFC and Ssemwogerere a block vote. The IPFC also garnered substantial votes in Eastern Uganda, but these were counterbalanced by fear-inspired votes Museveni gathered in Buganda, and Western Uganda, handing Museveni a win and deep sigh of relief.
In the end, Cecilia and the IPFC team she superintended lost to President Museveni. Although they lost the battle, they won the war. Museveni garnered 4,428,118 votes, representing 74.2% against Ssemwogerere’s 1,416,139 or 23.8% amidst claims of a rigged election.
Wins of IPFC cooperation
Despite this setback, Cecilia’s IPFC playbook has inspired many political coalitions and attempts, including the Inter-Party Cooperation (IPC) in 2011; The Democratic Alliance (TDA) in 2016; and the nascent United Forces of Change. Even Buganda that shunned the IPFC in 1996 is today the epicentre of the anti-Museveni struggle. The region has borne the brunt of Museveni’s long stay in power, and its once vibrant coffee economy is now a shadow of its former self.
The IPFC has also scored in terms of political reconciliation. It should be remembered that in 1980 General Election, the North shunned Ssemwogerere. Thus in the IPFC configuration, UPC was meant to be DP’s ticket to open up the North, while DP in return was UPC’s ticket to end its stigmatization in Buganda. This was a classic win-win with valuable notes for latter day coalitions. Moreover, Dr Ssemwogerere despite his 1986 Nabbingo Agreement with Museveni was accepted across DP, UPC, and National Liberal Party as their presidential candidate. To date, this coalition is considered the best ever seen on Uganda’s political landscape.
Torchbearer of coalition
Cecilia’s biographical context is instructive in understanding her mind and approach to consociation politics or political coalition. She always took pride in representing Dokolo; her birthplace and a melting pot of Uganda’s first political coalition. In her own narrative, is a symbolic site for the first potent anti-colonial coalition between Kabaka Mwanga of Buganda, Rwot Awich Abok Lutanymoi of Acholi, and Omukama Kabalega of Bunyoro. Rwot Awich was later arrested and incarcerated at present day Kololo, a place later named after his lamentation in Luo – Adong kololo, meaning “I have been abandoned alone.”
Cecilia also joined politics immediately after graduating from the University of Nairobi in 1969, three years after the collapse of UPC-KY alliance and two years shy of Amin’s violent takeover of government. As someone who was very active in Uganda Students’ Association and in the East African Students’ Association, Cecilia immediately joined the anti-Amin struggle. She only missed out on the Moshi Conference on account of carrying a pregnancy that year.
Cecilia Ogwal is no doubt the mother of political coalitions and consociationalism in Uganda.
We stand with her husband, Mzee Lameck Ogwal, the family, and entire nation to say fare-thee-well Imat Cecilia Barbara Atim Ogwal, you were one of a kind.
Mr Okidi is a scholar and former Democratic Party (DP) national youth leader.