Irish statesman Edmund Burke said that those who do not know history are destined to repeat it. In Uganda, there are people whom the statement fits like a glove, but its long-time President Yoweri Museveni is not one of them.
His acute sense of history is apparent in almost everything he does. Yet, ever since February when he began pushing Amama Mbabazi out of the ruling party’s top leadership, many are unable to banish the thought that the NRM has lost sight of Uganda’s relatively recent history.
They refer to a time 50 years ago when president Milton Obote moved against his party’s secretary-general, John Kakonge. He was uncomfortable with the fact that Kakonge could easily overthrow him since he was more grounded with party members than Obote felt he was. Similar discomfort has been read in President Museveni’s schemes against Mbabazi — his former prime minister, right hand man for four decades and the last party member with the historical standing to succeed him.
The Obote-Kakonge fight has received only fleeting reference in the Museveni-Mbabazi tussle, which has played out in public over the past 10 months. One of the finest accounts can be found in Kirunda Kivejinja’s Uganda: The Crisis of Confidence.
The 427-page book has been reissued to tap into what appears to be a resurgent interest in Uganda’s post-independence history. Progressive Publishing House first released it nearly 20 years ago in 1995 — 10 years later than the author had planned for it to come out — to critical acclaim.
Apparently, Obote took nearly three years to complete his machinations against Kakonge — beginning with the 1962 elections when he persuaded him not to seek re-election on the promise that Kakonge would take one of nine non-elective positions in parliament. He never got this seat.
This being blocked from parliament, as surprising and shocking as it was, it was only a dress rehearsal for Kakonge’s eventual ejection from the party’s top leadership, which happened in 1964 at the party’s national conference in Gulu. There, Obote broke every rule in the book in his quest to oust his comrade. Incidentally, he nearly failed to achieve his goal.
A few examples will suffice: He unduly increased the number of delegates from Busoga; organised fake ones from mostly eastern and parts of northern Uganda, transporting them overnight to Gulu; changed access cards so they could get into the meeting while blocking legitimate delegates; and then jammed the place with security personnel to ensure the success of his schemes and to inspire fear.
“The evils that followed the Gulu fiasco left no part of the country, and no individual, unaffected,” writes Kivejinja.
Kivejinja’s book is a seminal record of the times that anyone interested in fully appreciating what happened in the NRM and its likely effects would do well to read, especially over this festive season.
Its author is a man for the ages. When Obote moved against Kakonge in 1964, Kivejinja was secretary of UPC’s research and information bureau. This afforded him a front seat at the high drama of the day.
He went to great lengths to capture its detail, which makes his book all the richer even if is tinged with anger. And one can understand why — Kakonge was a personal friend and source of inspiration. Kivejinja, therefore, construed any attack on Kakonge as an attack against him and like-minded patriots who had given up their careers to build the party and, in effect, the country.
Fifty years on, Kivejinja is currently the chairperson of the NRM’s historical leaders’ forum, a position that affords him a place in the party’s topmost organs where, again, he has taken a front seat in the reprise of the Obote-Kakonge drama even if he remains unwilling to talk about it.
At least not just yet.