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DP is dying – rest in peace

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Uganda’s oldest party, the Democratic Party that was founded in 1954, last week buried one of the last of its veteran leaders to take part in the Independence struggle – Mzee Boniface Byanyima.

Sadly, the DP appears to be following Byanyima to the grave, but hopefully it will pull back from the brink, or at worst resurrect.

DP was founded mainly by Baganda Catholic school teachers.

As it happened, the chiefs of the Buganda kingdom who had connived with the British empire builders to depose Buganda’s last sovereign king Mwanga II at the close of the 19th century, marginalised the clan leaders who were the natural representatives of the subjects.

Second, as Independence approached, the kingdom chose to engage in partisan politics, thus becoming a rival to majority of its subjects who subscribed to other parties. It is like the Queen becoming an active campaigner of a new party called Queen’s Party to fight the Conservatives or Labour in the UK.

All the same, the DP grew into a national party and won the first pre-Independence elections.

Its leader Benedicto Kiwanuka became the country’s first prime minister-elect in 1961, but due to machinations by the departing British colonialists, the election was cancelled and DP’s national rival UPC, in alliance with the Kabaka’s party, took power in a flawed election in which the entire Buganda region was not allowed to participate directly.

Some 18 years later, in 1980, the DP meekly accepted another disputed election result that again favoured the UPC, even though the poll was widely believed to have been won by Paul Ssemogerere. As DP accepted the role of the parliamentary opposition, the second runner-up in the election, Yoweri Museveni, took to the bush to fight the new UPC government.

Many DP supporters were disappointed by Ssemogerere’s acceptance of defeat and joined Museveni’s armed struggle. When Museveni emerged victorious in 1986, the weakened DP leadership gladly joined him in government.

In 1996, Ssemogerere led the Inter Party Coalition in an electoral bid to unseat Museveni. Ssemogerere lost and his chief campaign manager Maria Mutagamba was the first to decamp to Museveni’s party thereafter. Many others have since followed.

Presidential candidates

In 2001, as Kizza Besigye contested against President Museveni for the first time, the DP types who hadn’t joined NRM supported Besigye.
The story has been repeated every five years as the DP supports presidential candidates other than its own.

In last year’s election, DP didn’t even field a credible candidate. DP president Norbert Mao was busy campaigning for Amama Mbabazi, who had deserted Museveni’s camp to stand for president.

Mao’s main rival for DP leadership is Kampala Mayor Elias Lukwago, a staunch Besigye supporter who cannot stand in the same election against the retired colonel. Lukwago instead hopes to succeed Besigye as presidential contender.

Besigye incidentally is the son-in-law of the departed DP luminary Byanyima.

Other top DP leaders including national MPs support different presidential hopefuls outside their own party.

Several are staunch Museveni supporters.

Currently, the issue helping the DP remain in the news is a sporadic catfight between DP president Mao and MP Betty Nambooze, a staunch Besigye supporter, who is DP’s regional vice president for Buganda region.

The beautiful, clean DP that has never sinned against Uganda now appears to be a vehicle for giving its individual leaders some bargaining power in other political parties.


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