UPC rows caused the 1966 crisis

Monday, 25th September, 2006

Peter Mulira
A LEARNED FRIEND WITH A HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE

Although the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) has been largely at loggerheads with the central region for the greater part of its 40 six years of existence, its greatest handicap has always been its internal contradictions and intrigues.

The party’s tenure in government has twice been terminated by military coups carried out by once trusted supporters in the army. The 1966 crisis which changed the face of this country was preceded by infights and struggles for power within the party.

To understand the life and times of UPC one has to start with the direct elections to the legislative council (Legco) which were held in 1958 two years before the formation of the party.

Buganda boycotted the elections, much to its disadvantage, as later events proved. Out of the 10 elected members of the legco, five belonged to the Uganda National Congress (UNC) one to DP and the rest registered as independents.

With Buganda absent on the national scene, the 10 representaitves soon saw the opportunity for snatching national leadership from the central province where all the political parties had started and out of this new sentiment, they formed the Uganda People’s Party (UPP) with only Milton Obote of UNC and Oda of DP staying out.

In taking this step, the legislators were greatly aided by Buganda’s obscurantism as well as by the fact that all the leaders of the traditional parties with the exception of DP had been exiled by the British government, an action which rendered their parties moribund. However, UPP’s anti-Buganda’s stance denied it a foothold in the central region where it mattered a lot to have support and due to the efforts of Barbara Saben who was a British member of legco and one of Uganda’s greatest ladies UPP joined with Obote to form UPC with Obote as leader.

At the time of UPC’s birth in April 1960 members of the Asian community were still smarting from the effects of the trade boycott of 1959 and were undecided about their future in the country. Some young Asians who included Gurdial Singh, Waheed Karim, Anil Clark, Shaffique Arain in well-attended meetings which were held in Kampala and Jinja managed to convince their compatriots to identify themselves with the African cause. The Asians decided to throw in their lot and UPC became the beneficiary of their support and financial muscle.

With the Asian problem out of the way, only the Buganda issue remained to be resolved. Obote, the shrewd politician who had been totally opposed to Buganda’s demands, suddenly changed his mind at the London constitutional conference which was held in June 1961 and supported Buganda’s federal status in exchange for Mengo’s agreement to deliver all the 21 Buganda parliamentary seats to UPC due in April 1962.

As expected, UPC won the elections with 56 seats to DP’s 24 but the relationship between UPC and Kabaka Yekka (KY) became contentious soon after independence with KY members claiming that they were being sidelined by the principal party.

Within UPC itself, things were not all that comfortable. The intrigues within the party started even before it formed the first government in April 1962.

Under the constitutional arrangements in force then nine special members of parliament were to be elected by the parliamentary group and Kakonge as secretary general of the party expected to make it to the house through this door but as things turned out he was rigged out whereupon he exiled himself to Tanzania.

Many saw the hand of Grace Ibingira behind Kakonge’s experience. Within three months of independence, UPC found itself preoccupied with problems arising from its alliance with KY. but early in 1963, the party was also beset by the problems caused by its youth wingers who were operating from the party headquarters and had become a law unto themselves.

The youth wingers seemed to be aligned to communists and at one time the secretary for youth in the party, Mr. Opio Nasau, who belonged to a different group claime d that there were ideological schools in Kampala which were trying to capture the youth and workers. The youth problem escalated into the Ibingira-Kakonge factions which split the party down the middle. Initially, Obote and Ibingira appeared to be in the same camp to the extent that Ibingira publicly supported Obote’s call for the establishment of a one-party system.

Kakonge, on his part, was not hiding his enthusiasm for communism, a thing which alarmed many of his colleagues and put his tenure as secretary general of the party under threat. It came as no surprise when Ibingira replaced Kakonge as secretary general in a raucous general meeting which was held in Gulu in May 1965.

In the meantime, the party was making a determined effort to establish itself in the central region and at the regional annual general meeting in August, 1965, Godfrey Binaisa the regional chairman declared openly that the party was ready to capture the government at Mengo.

At the same conference, Ibingira called on members to stop what he called “internal personalism in the party” but when Obote stood up to speak, he said he did not want to discuss what Ibingira said. This indicated that all was not well in the party. By the end of 1965 the country was awash with rumours of a coup until an mP, Daudi Ochieng, dropped a bombshell when he claimed that senior members of government together with a high ranking army officer, Idi Amin, were planning a military coup and accused them of being involved in smuggling of gold from the Congo.

On February 14, 1966 Obote denied Ochieng’s allegations and later on April 17, 1966 he himself announced the setting up of a judicial commission of inquiry to look into the allegations. He also announced that Amin would be dealt with according to the provisions of the Army Act.

With the country already in a state of suspense it came as no surprise when Obote announced, “In the interest of national stability and public security and tranquility, I have today the 22nd day of February, 1966, taken over all powers of Uganda. I shall henceforth be advised by a council of ministers whose names I shall name later.”

Thus the constitution was abrogated and five UPC ministers were detained, including Ibingira. The events preceding the abrogation indicate very clearly that it was not Buganda or federalism which caused the 1966 crisis. Neither can it be claimed that religion had a hand in those events.

The crisis was caused by contradictions and struggles for power within the governing party.

In other words, if Obote had not acted as he did, perhaps another group was ready to do so. It was a case of survival of the fittest.
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