- Genesis. At the beginning of February 1961, a meeting was held at the Kampala Town Hall where registered political parties chose their party symbols. UPC picked the open hand, DP the hoe, and Uganda National Congress took the key.
Fifty seven years ago this month, majority of Ugandans, save for the traditionalists in Buganda, were preparing for the first ever general election.
Of the five political parties that participated in these elections, only two have stood the test of time. The parties that contested included Democratic Party (DP), Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC), Uganda National Congress (UNC), Uganda Hereditary Chieftainship Party (UHCP) and Uganda Africa Union (UAU). Just like it is today, there were independent candidates.
Unlike now where there is an Electoral Commission, the 1961 polls were organised by the election supervisor, Mr R. C. Peagram.
For party identification, Peagram came up with 24 symbols from which the different political parties and Independents would pick to represent them.
Voter registration was conducted countrywide with the cooperation of the local administration, save for Buganda region.
Although the kingdom stopped its subjects from registering and taking part in the election exercise, some defiant subjects went ahead to vote.
Following the completion of the registration, Peagram issued a copy of the list of registered voters to all political parties. Each contestant was also given a copy of the registered voters in his or her intended constituency. The election supervisor also made copies of the voters’ register available to the public at Shs100.
At the beginning of February 1961, a meeting was held at the Kampala Town Hall where registered political parties chose their party symbols. UPC picked the open hand, DP the hoe, and Uganda National Congress took the key. Also at the event, Uganda Hereditary Chieftainship Party took the tree while Uganda African Union took a clock.
According to the Uganda Argus of February 4, 1961, “UPC was represented by AM Obote and William Nadiope. DP was represented by A. Ntale and EK Muliira. UNC was represented by Paulo Sengedo, UHCP was represented by Mbalule and Godwin Kawombe represented AUA.”
With some electorates in Buganda having registered despite the official boycott by Mengo, it was time for the kingdom’s administration to change its tone.
During a special sitting of the Lukiiko (Buganda parliament) on February 6, 1961, Dr ESB Lumu tabled a motion declaring all those in Buganda who would participate in the election as traitors.
“Any person in Buganda who found that this was too much for him to bear is free to pack and leave,” Lumu said.
The motion was supported by Y Kyazze who said, “The Lukiiko is the representative body of the country. If it decides that Buganda goes to war then there would be no question but to fight.”
The motion was passed, but not without opposition. Sixty voted in favour, four against and 11 abstained.
Among the four who opposed the motion was Y Semakula (Busujju). He urged that, “It was useless to declare somebody a traitor if he participated in the election without taking action against him.”
Another member opposed to it was J Kazairwe (Buyaga) who said, “It was high time the Lukiiko came straight forward. Just talking would never be enough and would never have effect. A law was necessary.”
The Buganda declaration was rejected by political parties and kingdom subjects who registered to vote.
UAU’s Godwin Kawombe was opposed to Buganda’s threats and was not willing to have the elections postponed until Buganda accepted to have the exercise carried out in its territory.
In Bugerere, a group of registered voters calling themselves ‘Mwoyo Gwa Gwanga’ held a public rally in Kayunga during which they vowed to oppose the Mengo government and take part in the elections.
In their declaration, they accused the Kabaka’s government of “threatening and causing disturbances”.
Jasper Kiwanuka, a resident of Kayunga, said: “The people of Buganda could no longer tolerate the Mengo threats. They had been used to prevent people in Buganda from registering as voters and it was now high time they were stopped.”
DP leaders in Buganda rubbished the Lukiiko’s declaration and vowed to go ahead with their campaigns in the kingdom just as they had planned in the rest of the country.
According to the Uganda Argus of February 8, 1961, the DP Buganda branch secretary Anslem Musoke said: “The arguments used by the Lukiiko to disparage the elections were false… would-be electors felt it wise to play it safe in a country like Buganda where they took orders from officials and the landed gentry.”
The Mengo declaration did not stop DP members in Buganda from declaring their candidature within the kingdom territory.
Six of them declared their intentions to stand in the six electoral districts of Mengo. These individuals included Juma M Masagazi, Emmanuel Mbazira, Anslem Semakula Musoke, Anacletus Wajja, Joseph Kasolo and Sylvester Mutagobya.
With about a month to the election, the Legislative Council was dissolved and an interim council of ministers created to take care of the matters of the state.
According to the editorial of the Uganda Argus of February 21, 1961, the creation of the interim council followed the passing of the writs for the elections.
Eighty two seats were to be filled through open elections and another eight were to be filled with special appointment. DP presented candidates for all the 82 seats countrywide, though only 77 were nominated.
Among the party’s notable candidates included party president Benedicto Kiwanuka who contested for the North East Masaka seat; Balaam J. Mukasa, DP’s secretary general who contested for the South Mengo seat, and Gaspare Oda, the senior vice president in West Nile and Madi West.
Others included Basil Bataringaya, the vice president for Ankole who stood for the North West Ankole seat; David K Nabeta, who had crossed from UPC a few weeks earlier, participated in the South East Busoga race; Tiberion Okeny, the party chief whip, was in the North Acholi constituency race and Paul K. Ssemogerere, the party’s publicity secretary, contested in the Mengo North race.
Among the top UPC party leaders who were fronted included T. B. Bazarabusa, a member of the central executive; national chairman John K Babiiha; assistant treasurer CB Katiti; Grace Ibingira, a member of the central executive and Milton Obote, the party president, among others.
On February 24, 1961, nominations kicked off at 9am to 12pm. The nomination exercise was a half-day event throughout the country and at the end of it, 197 candidates had been nominated.
Among the requirements for nomination was a cash payment of Shs500, a certificate of literacy to confirm that a candidate can read and write English.
Eight candidates were unopposed. These included Milton Obote, whose opponent Nicholas Opio turned up with a cheque instead of cash. Others were Onesimo Oleme for West Nile Madi Central, also a UPC member; Alphonius Ntale for Kome; Joseph Kasolo for West Sezibwa; John H. Sonko for North Kyadondo; Juma Masagazi South West Mengo, ML Choudry for North Karamoja and N Rugemwa for North Mubende, all for DP.
There was one European, PJ Wilkinson, standing for the Kampala West position on the DP ticket, and an India CK Patel who was nominated as an independent for Jinja South.
At the end of the nomination, those contesting were DP 77, UPC 65, UNC 21, UHCP 4, UAU 1 and 29 Independents. The campaigns started ahead of the elections on March 24, 1961.
About 1961 election
In March 1961, the colonial government organised direct elections, in which two political parties, namely, the Democratic Party (DP) and the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC), among others, contested. Buganda Kingdom boycotted the elections, and insisted on its demand to have its representatives elected by the Lukiiko, its local legislative assembly. DP won the election with 43 seats, while UPC got 37 seats; hence DP formed the first ever internal self-government, headed by the Chief Minister, Benedicto Kiwanuka.