Some recollections on the 1980 general election

By Joseph Ochieno

Exactly 40 years ago this week, Uganda held the first multi-party elections after getting rid of Idi Amin and, the last free and democratic elections where political parties freely competed with no incumbent occupying and controlling privileges of State by force.

 The elections, held on December 10, 1980, saw Uganda Peoples Congress return with massive majority of 61 per cent. 

In those elections, Uganda Patriotic Movement (UPM), the parent organisation of NRA-NRM, won only one parliamentary seat out of a possible 126 and its leader, , lost in Mbarara North, won by DP’s Sam Kutesa. UPC came second.

During elections, Mr Museveni freely campaigned around the country without being whipped or tear-gassed, nor did families lose loved ones.

He was rejected by the people of Mbarara North and his message completely lost across the country. 

I recall his disastrous campaign trip to Busoga College Mwiri. Flanked by my decent OB, Ndugu (then his deputy and Health minister), Museveni switched students off that if elected, UPM (read NRA-NRM) would ensure Uganda was energy efficient by processing cow dung.


Demonstrating – while bending – candidate Museveni ensured he showed us where cow dung comes from. It was extraordinary. 

At the end of his speech and on their way out, students could only shout ‘OB, OB…’ to Dr Rugunda for, it was that bad for Museveni. 

How dare he behave so badly and, how could he think that – of all schools – even the weakest student of Busoga College Mwiri would not know what or where ordinarily, cow dung comes from to justify the bend? 

“Did he think he was addressing Mwiri Primary School kids?” some students wondered. In fact, even Nagongera Primary School children of P2 of that time would certainly need no demonstration in order to “locate dungs” in humans.

That was the first time I met him and, he hasn’t disappointed. Forty years on and the comic figure then is the same old man today except, with a hat. Somehow at a blink, I believe the guy is as much a player today as he was then.

Considering the on-going drama with political campaigns amid Covid-19 pandemic and the certainly-partisan security forces, those of us lucky to be old enough to have witnessed free political campaigns 40 years ago compared to the current chicanery drama like how Opposition leaders are treated, I wonder why DP’s Ssemogerere – a candidate then and still around – does not speak out loudly and frequently. 

They should for once get off their historical appreciations based on sentiments and dogma and, provide leadership on the basis of facts, evidence, counsel and comparative analysis.

Mr Museveni has used ignorance of the population and BBC-backed propaganda for far too long. While the gloss is coming off, it is not fast enough and, still too misted for ordinary citizens to see beyond the mist.

While working on this piece, I received a courtesy call from an extremely important friend whose family was part of a tragedy of the 60s. 

While we lamented the unacceptable brutality against innocent Ugandans, she wondered if her loved ones did perish while she suffered orphanage in vain. 

Then I remembered even the many more who perished in Luweero simply because a reject had become the champion; which ‘champion’ is now in complete denial.

Yet, as it happens, this week too, UPC attempted to re-constitute its leadership after a messy five years. Ssemogerere, Milton Obote and Museveni were the players of that time.
 Now, in the absence of Obote, I suggest that fear and uncertainty created by this irresponsible regime must be countered by what the Bible would call love, power and sound mind. It is possible, just have to believe in better.
The writer is former UPC spokesperson

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