Understanding Uganda’s Political Structure

The big Question: ARE ETHNIC AND RELIGIOUS DEMOGRAPHICS RESPONSIBLE FOR WEAK TRADITIONAL OPPOSITION PARTIES?

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Early political parties in Uganda were formed out of the religious and economic demographics that began to model politics before Uganda’s independence. The Roman Catholics, the Anglican (Protestant Christians), and Islam battled each other to extend their influence in Buganda and Uganda as a whole. In Buganda, all three built powerful indigenous alliances and tried to influence the Kabaka (Buganda king) By the 1950’s, the Anglicans had achieved the most influence over the Kabaka.

For the Buganda, Uganda’s largest ethnic region and most influential in the country’s politics since the country’s boundaries were drawn up by the British colonial power, they wanted a separate autonomous state independent from the rest of Uganda with the traditional leader, the Kabaka as its head. This led to the formation of the Kabaka Yekka loosely translated, King only. Since the Kabaka was an Anglican by faith, this party reached out mostly to Baganda Anglicans.

There were the elite class Baganda who wanted a modern state to be centrally governed with the rest of Uganda. The Catholic faith which considered itself left out of the Kabaka Yekka set up paid allegiance to these elites and formed the Democratic Party. The pro-kabaka section of Buganda saw this elite class as traitors to the kingdom. It is against this back drop that the Democratic party tried to venture out into south western Uganda in a bid to become a national party.

Feeling left out, the non Baganda from the rest of Uganda saw their interests more represented in the Uganda People’s Congress, headed by a northerner in Milton Obote. The non Baganda saw the DP and Kabaka Yekka parties as tribal parties representing the interests of only the Baganda and south westerners.

More than fifty years later, the Democratic Party and Uganda People’s Congress are still embroiled in this ethnic and religion based politics. That is partly why there were murmurs of disapproval within when Norbert Mao, a northerner was voted party president and presidential party flag bearer in the 2011 presidential elections.

The National Resistance Movement (NRM) formed much later has tried to bridge this ethnic divide despite it being dominated by westerners from Yoweri Museveni’s home region. During its early days, it tried to appeal to the Baganda and other ethnicities by restoring their traditional leaders who had been outlawed by the Obote’s UPC government.

The Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), a breakaway party from the NRM also dominated by westerners in electing Patrick Amuriat, an easterner as its party president last Friday was a significant step to achieving national appeal. Unless national appeal is achieved by the opposition parties, the traditional parties of DP and UPC are looking at an insignificant existence in the future.

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