Community, Diaspora and Immigration
How DP, Kiwanuka snatched defeat from the jaws of
Benedicto Kabimu Mugumba Kiwanuka, leader of the Democratic Party, was the man destined to become the leader of Independent Uganda. Born May 8, 1922, Kiwanuka had joined the Kings African Rifles and fought in World War II, rising to the rank of sergeant major.
After a stint as a court interpreter in Kampala, Kiwanuka spent two years studying in Lesotho before being admitted to University College, London in 1952 to study law, before being admitted to the bar in 1956. By the time he was elected president general of DP in 1958, he had established a private law practice in Kampala and DP enjoyed widespread support, especially among the Catholics in Buganda, but also elsewhere in the country.
As earlier noted, some officials at Mengo, the seat of Buganda Kingdom, had expressed secessionist views and had attempted to declare Buganda an independent state in December 1960. When that failed, the pro-secession faction called for a boycott of the March 1961 legislative elections. DP refused to boycott and easily won the elections, allowing Kiwanuka to become the Chief Minister and a leading candidate to become prime minister when the country became independent.
That script was torn up with the creation, in 1961, of Kabaka Yekka (KY) party. KY was born out of the realisation that the secession project had failed and that the rest of the country was united against such a prospect. According to historian Phares Mutiibwa, the creation of KY was part of a policy shift at Mengo, which “included securing a position of supremacy in an independent Uganda for the Kabaka and the achievement of full federal status as a way of securing the kingdom’s continued existence”.
Prof. Tarsis Kabwegyere adds that the formation of KY was also driven by a resentment of Kiwanuka’s political personality (which was more national than parochial), as well as “a desire in Protestant dominated Mengo, the seat of the Buganda Administration, to stifle the emergence of a Catholic ascendancy” of DP.
However, Prof. Kabwegyere notes “the few attempts to extend Kabaka Yekka outside Buganda in Busoga, Ankole and Kigezi met with failure”. “People interpreted the move as an attempt to impose the Kabaka on Uganda as a whole, and this action thus aroused anti-Buganda feelings in the rest of the country. For example, the Omugabe and the [Council] of Ankole condemned this Kabaka Yekka’s activity in Ankole.”
While KY could command support in Buganda, it needed allies if it was to have appeal in the rest of the country. There were two potential allies, both bad for KY; DP and Kiwanuka were resented while Obote’s UPC was, at its core, driven to contain Buganda ambition.
It is quite possible that Kiwanuka could have mended fences and reached out to Mengo and KY after becoming chief minister in 1961 but relations between the two factions had become more acrimonious, giving Obote the opening he needed to pull off one of the greatest political feats of Uganda’s history.
Mutiibwa has described the ensuing alliance, between UPC and KY, as one of two parties that were “diametrically opposed” in their approach and ideology but who were drawn together by selfish considerations and the prospect of easy, short-term gains.
“Obote’s nationalist and seemingly progressive UPC joined hands with the traditionalist and conservative KY to form an alliance of convenience, entered into by each partner for personal gain,” Mutiibwa argues. “Obote was clearly a master of the art of the possible – something which the British-trained lawyer, Benedicto Kiwanuka, was not.”
Of the two leaders, the historian adds; “Obote proved a more crafty, pragmatic and astute politician at that time”.
Daudi Ochieng and Abu Kakyama Mayanja had introduced Obote to Mengo and the Kabaka but not every one was keen on the alliance, in particular Katikkiro Michael Kintu.
To the leaders at Mengo, the alliance with Obote and the UPC was the less of two evils and, as Kabaka Muteesa later recalled, the best chance of safeguarding the kingdom’s interests in post-independence Uganda. “An alliance between Buganda and UPC was suggested with innumerable promises of respect for our position after independence. [Obote] would step down and I should choose whoever I wished to be Prime Minister,” Muteesa later wrote in his book, Desecration of my Kingdom.
“Though I did not particularly like him, for he is not a particularly likeable man, I agreed to the alliance without misgivings. He understood our fears for a united, prosperous and free Uganda. [Katikkiro] Kintu was the only one who objected. Obote had said that he meant to crush the Baganda, and Kintu would not forgive or trust him. We waved it aside as an impetuous remark made to please crowds.”
Muteesa added: “Now we thought him reformed, the obvious and best ally against Kiwanuka and the hated DP…Obote assured us that all the details would be ironed out later in discussions between the relevant Ministers of the Lukiiko, and of the National Assembly. We could count on him. ‘Trust me,’ he said, and smiled reassuringly. With only faint misgivings, we did.”
Thus Buganda had signed a pact with a group that had emerged precisely to oppose it and its interests, just to frustrate DP and Kiwanuka.