Childhood to Old Age Image of Uganda’s Long Trudge to Nationhood

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Childhood to Old Age Image of Uganda’s Long Trudge to Nationhood

Childhood to Old Age Image of Uganda’s Long Trudge to Nationhood


As one enters Entebbe Town, right after St Mark’s Anglican Church, there is a lone tree on the right-hand-side standing in the middle of a small open well-mowed green area. It is called The Tree of Freedom (Omuti Ogw’Eddembe). It has also been variously referred to as The Independence Tree. Around 1961, while I was in primary school and my older brother were all away at King’s College Budo, my father started asking me to go with him to The Tree of Freedom. The Tree of Freedom was the congregating place for rallies by political parties. My father had been approached by respective representative of Kabaka Yekka (KY), Uganda People Congress (UPC) and Democratic Party (DP) to be their party’s candidate for the upcoming National Assembly and Lukiiko Elections. He said that he had refused because my mother did not want him to get involved in politics. Also my father was feeling that the people leading the political parties had not been able to give him a good idea of how they were going to combine all the different areas and tribes into this new country of Uganda. My father felt that people should be meeting to discuss this instead of fighting and abusing each other about who was going to replace the British Colonial Governor (and to sleep in Government House, as the Governor’s residence was then known). In spite his misgivings, my father let me know that I was witnessing a great historical event – the birth of Uganda as new independent nation (eggwanga eppya ery’efuga) in which people would live in freedom from colonial rulers.  


One day after school, I went with my father to The Freedom Tree for a Kabaka Yekka (KY) rally during what were to be the last Elections before Independence. It must have been in early 1962. By this time, KY had settled into a coalition with the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC). Buganda was going to elect its members of the Lukiiko (Buganda Parliament) who would in turn select Buganda’s representatives to the National Parliament. The rest of the country was going to elect National Assembly members directly. At this particular rally, the KY candidate, Charles Ffulu, had rolled out Grace Ibingira, then Secretary General of UPC to support him. Ffulu had been the Chief Clerk at the Gombolola before being anointed to run for Lukiiko. The Democratic Party candidate, Charles Ssekyaalo stood on the edge of the gathered crowd. He was speaking with a man in a suit. I learned that the man in the suit was a Makerere University don and that he was one of the most educated people in Uganda.


Memory fades about what was exactly spoken by Ffulu and Ibingira on that day. What I do recall is that Ibingira spent much of his time telling people about how DP was going to try to bribe them for their votes. "Take the money, pocket it, and then vote for KY," he exhorted in impeccable Luganda amid cheers. When Ssekyaalo asked Ibingira a question, Ibingira gave a reply that has lived with me for over 50 years. He said to thunderous applause, "I will not answer you. The Kabaka's people do not like you at all!" The don raised his voice and politely requested Ibingira to answer the question.


A primary school teacher named Magambo, a fanatical KY adherent jumped into the fray. Magambo venomously attacked the don and Ssekyalo. All reason seemed to have taken flight as Magambo shouted at the don: "Genda e Lubaga Kiwanuka akubatize." (“Go to Rubaga [the Catholic Church headquarters] and get baptized by Kiwanuka [the then Catholic Archbishop of Uganda].”) This was in reference to the don’s religious affiliation: in spite of being a Protestant Muganda and educated at King’s College Budo (the presumably leading Protestant school), the don supported DP (the presumed Catholic Party). By this time the crowd was riled up and jeering Ssekyaalo and the don. It may have been only the presence of some policemen that saved Ssekyaalo and the don from being lynched.


On 9 October 1962, Uganda was proclaimed as the newest member of the fraternity of nations. My parents took me with them to the midnight raising of the flag ceremony and to daylight observations at Kololo Airstrip in the morning. By this time, the UPC and KY Coalition had triumphed over DP in the elections. Milton Obote, the UPC Leader was Prime Minister of Uganda and received the Independence Instruments from the Duke of Kent representing the Queen of England. Sir Edward Mutesa the Kabaka of Buganda seemed to play a significant, even if just ceremonial, role in the celebrations. The traditional rulers of other kingdoms and areas of Uganda seemed to be only in attendance. Uganda was admitted to the United Nations (UN) as the 110th member on 25 October 1962.


Uganda’s experiment as a “new independent nation” has now been going on for fifty-three years. As we dig into the second half-century of Uganda’s existence as a nation, this now grown and almost retired witness to Uganda’s birth needs to confess that he is in a state of mind that falls way short of the spirit of guarded optimism and adventure that his father tried to share with him in the 1961-1962 era. The period of almost 20 years between the 1962 Independence Elections and the 1980 Elections were marked by regimes of oppressive brutality and the spilt blood of hundreds of thousands of Ugandans. This was followed by a civil war that pitted the well armed purported winners of the 1980 Elections against the purported losers. After the latter vanquished the former, it took more than ten years before Ugandans were ever offered the option to elect their government. Even then, none of the five Elections that have been held between 1996 and 2016 have escaped the ignobility of being labeled “not free and fair” by a significant number of Uganda and international observers. Meantime, after 37 years of Independence, two sessions in jail for accusations of being against the respective ruling regimes, debasement and later complete disappearance of his pension income and other afflictions, my father died in 1999 at the age of 87 years. In 1996, the old man had reflected on his dream of Uganda as the “new independent nation in which people would live in freedom from colonial rulers”. He sadly told his son, “May be people were better off under the British.”


An honest assessment of Uganda at 53 years old, right after the 2016 Elections, surely has to be that it is very hard to pin down a firm indigenous assurance of Uganda’s purpose as a nation. There is a feeling of defeatism in the air as citizens are forced to ask the question: if, after more than 50 years of Independence, this has been the type of politics on offer, is it worth striving so hard to be a nation? Some people have suggested that may be Uganda’s future lies in a merging with neighbouring countries into a bigger entity – something like the East African Union. This writer is doubtful that Uganda, in the failed state that it seems to be in, would ever be an attractive enough courtship for such a union. On the one hand, Uganda would bring too much political garbage into a political union with a stable neighbor like Kenya and Tanzania. On the other hand, union with a country like Rwanda, Congo or South Sudan would conceivably just be an act of piling political garbage upon political garbage.


A serious suggestion for Ugandans is that it is time to sit down together and think about the history and the future of Uganda as a nation, including its significance and its purpose.


Level 2 (XP: 400)
Ndungu Muniini - Pre-Independence figures: I have been told that Mr. Ssekyaalo, the DP Candidate for Entebbe in the 1962 Lukiiko Elections, is still alive and and happily living out his old age in his community near Entebbe. I will ask a friend from his community who is visiting Uganda to look him up. It would definitely be interesting to get his feel of things after 54 years. Many others have passed on. I do not know the fate of Schoolmaster Magambo. It would be interesting to catch up with someone like that. Memories of him are still crystal clear.

East African Union: What amazes me about this topic right now is that there is even pitch for an East African FEDERATION, something even more intimate than a mere Union. And the strongest pitch for a Federation is from the least democratic and most impunity-driven leader in the region, Yoweri Museveni ( To some ears, this may sound like the case of a hard-drinking spouse-beater and child molester who goes to his brothers and says, "Let us consolidate our homes in one compound so that we may reap the benefits of jointly managed resources and close proximity to each other." The latter brothers will tell abusive the sibling to first put his own house in order before taking on roles in other people's houses!

I like your description of the required prototype of a leader in the Union as someone who is "humble ... enough to accept that the Union would need leadership, not rulership". Since the Union is something that is meant to bring together existing states, I suspect that the Union's leaders are typically going to come from those existing states. What kind of leaders are we expecting to get from failed or near failed states like Uganda? Is it implausible that a failed Muluka (Parish) Chief will go on to make a meaningful Ssaza (County) Chief, let alone the leader of Uganda? Recall when a certain Bush went from near Waco Texas and was placed at the helm of a certain country? That country is going to take years to recover from the trauma of misrule, misguided adventures and missed opportunities that the cowboy leader inflicted on it.

There is a revived East African Community. Let us do our best to manage that well and to build upon it. Then we can realistically dream of even more complex unions. I suspect that Museveni's blusters about "East African Federation" are a ruse to divert attention from detestable sins of mis-governance and abuse of due power and processes.
Muniini K. Mulera
last year
Ndugu Bbuye, might one or two of these gentlemen still be alive and in position to give us their take with the benefit of hindsight? If so, please do a follow up with them while you still can.

I struggle with the question re: the feasibility/viability of an East African Union. I am very much in favour of pushing ahead, notwithstanding the mixed bag of political and other behavioural cultures. However, I do not know how we can persuade the political classes to humble themselves enough to accept that the Union would need leadership, not rulership. It would need a Washington, a Mandela, a Seretse Khama to succeed. We live with hope.

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