October-November last year, I did a research project on why political coalitions and cooperation(s) generally fail in Uganda. I put up a team that managed to reach 34 of Uganda’s top political elite and entities with the exception of president Museveni and Bobi Wine, whose Secretaries General: Todwong and Rubongoya respectively we interviewed.
Among the 34 respondents we interviewed, Cecilia Ogwal’s perspective stood out. The convergence of her lived experience and deep appreciation of Uganda’s consociational culture and history, which we captured verbatim using AI greatly enriched our report titled Politics in Hybrid and Predominantly Agrarian Context: Why Political Coalitions Fail in Uganda. Needless to say that she was also co-principal of the impregnable 1996 Inter Political Forces Cooperation (IPFC) which emerged out of the National Democratic Caucus in the Constituent Assembly.
Determined to give Museveni a bloody nose in the 1996 Elections, Cecilia Ogwal and the entirely male dominated team of firebrands which included among others Yona Kanyomozi, Adonia Tiberondwa, Professor Patrick Rubahayo and Professor Ogenga Latigo fronted Dr Paul Kawanga Ssemogerere for presidency.
The IPFC wave which many young people then including Norbert Mao rode on to go to parliament nearly sent President Museveni home packing. Museveni was only rescued by NRM’s crude propaganda machinery that hoodwinked Buganda. Besides display of skulls in places like Kikusya in Luweero, NRM tricked Cecila Ogwal in the middle of the campaign trail while at Mbale that Obote wanted to meet her in Nairobi. She heeded on account of loyalty to her leader. She would later be detained at the airport and immediately radios broadcasted that she was on her way to meet Obote, who they said was already in Busia coming back to Uganda.
Illogical as it sounded, Buganda believed and shunned the IPFC. Ssemwogerere lost in Buganda including in his own constituency as a result. The north however, went ahead and gave the IPFC a block vote. The IPFC also garnered substantial votes in the east, but counterbalanced by Buganda and west handing Museveni an edge.
In the end Cecilia and the IPFC team she superintended lost to President Museveni. Although they lost the battle, they won the war. Today her IPFC playbook has inspired many political coalitions and attempts including the nascent United Forces of Change. Even Buganda that shunned them in 1996 is now 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 an existential shadow of its former self.
The IPFC also scored in terms of political reconciliation. It should be remembered that in 1980, 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 stigmatisation in Buganda. A classic win-win with valuable notes for latter day coalitions. Moreover, Dr Ssemwogerere despite his 1986 Nabingo Agreement with Museveni was accepted by everyone as the presidential candidate. This coalition to date is considered the best ever seen on Uganda’s political turf.
Cecilia’s biographical context is instructive in understanding her consociational political mind and approach. She always took pride in representing Dokolo: her birthplace and a melting pot of Uganda’s first political coalition. In her own narrative, Kabaka Mwanga of Buganda, Rwot Awich Abok Lutanyamoi of Acoli and Omukama Kabalega of Bunyoro formed the first potent anti-colonial coalition there. Awich was then arrested and incarcerated at present day Kololo, a place later named after his lamentation in Luo “Adong Kololo”, meaning “I have been abandoned alone”
She also joined politics immediately after graduating from 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, she immediately joined the anti-Amin struggle. She only missed out on the Moshi Conference on account of being pregnant that year. Cecilia is no doubt the mother of political coalitions and consociationalism in Uganda. We standby Mzee Lameck and family.
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