Former DP President Paul Kawanga Ssemogerere is dead. The longest serving Democratic Party president has passed away at the age of 90 years. He reportedly died this morning at his Busiro county home though the cause of death is yet to be revealed.
Ssemogerere led the Democratic Party in the highly contested 1980 general election which was won by two time Ugandan president Milton Obote’s UPC party.
Ssemogerere and DP stalwarts disputed the result.
The disagreement triggered a civil war in Uganda during which various political actors, including then minister Yoweri Kaguta Museveni took to the bush to overthrow the Obote government. Museveni founded the PRA (People’s Resistance Army) which would later morph into the NRA (National Resistance Army) for this purpose.
Museveni had also been a contender in the general election under his Uganda People’s Movement (UPM).
Others who opposed the result included breakaway DP party member Andrew Kayiira who led his UFM (Uganda Freedom Movement) in a similar struggle.
Ssemogerere was reportedly against an armed resistance to the “theft” of his victory. A lifelong believer in democracy and dialogue, Ssemogerere repeatedly expressed concern that a war would cost lives and not really resolve the misunderstandings that plagued the political class at the time.
Ssemogerere opted to challenge the election result in court, setting a precedent that lives on to this day. He would also become Leader of Opposition in the Ugandan parliament from 1981 to 1985.
The 1981-1986 “Liberation War” would cost an estimated 300,000 Ugandan lives before Museveni’s NRA battled their way to the capital city Kampala in January.
Ssemogerere would serve as Internal Affairs minister (1986-1988) in the Museveni led government as the NRA leader sought to heal the divisions that had nearly torn apart the country. Decades later, sitting DP president Norbert Mao would point to this precedent to argue for his taking up the seat of Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs in 2022 while still DP leader.
Ssemogerere would go on to hold various positions in the Museveni government while agitating for a return to multiparty politics through numerous court challenges.
He would leave government for good in 1995 ahead of challenging Museveni for the presidency in the 1996 general election. He would lose his second presidential bid.
Ssemogerere struggled to hold together an increasingly divided DP through his 25 year tenure before relinquishing his position in 2005. He would be succeeded by longtime friend and ally, and future Kampala mayor John Ssebana Kizito.
Ssemogerere himself had succeeded legendary DP founder Benedicto Kiwanuka who was murdered in 1972. Kiwanuka was the first prime minister of Uganda who played a crucial role in the independence of the country from British colonial rule in October 1962.
A devout Catholic, Ssemogerere was a regular at Rubaga Cathedral every Sunday with a reserved seat near the front. In fact, it was during a church service that the public first learned of the Ssemogerere’s declining health when he collapsed during a Sunday Mass on October 28, 2018. He made a full recovery at Rubaga Hospital where he had been rushed.
In retirement, Ssemogerere’s Mengo home became almost a scene of pilgrimage for opposition politicians seeking his wisdom and blessing while challenging Uganda’s longtime ruler President Yoweri Museveni. Ssemogerere’s counsel was sought by the likes of Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) founder Dr Kizza Besigye and National Unity Platform (NUP) leader Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, who visited him a week ago.