DR PAUL KAWANGA SSEMOGERERE is the President
General of the Democratic Party. He served nine years as minister
under President Museveni. He was in the Internal Affairs ministry
during the five-month regime of Tito Okello Lutwa, held the same
office under Museveni before moving to second deputy prime minister
and minister for Foreign Affairs and Public Service. He later resigned
to contest the presidency in 1996. A day after DP got a certificate
allowing it to operate as a political party, 'Ssemo' gave his recollections
of Museveni to Richard M. Kavuma:
- His iron fist forced me out of office
PAUL KAWANGA SSEMOGERERE
Working with Museveni
We held discussions after the take over and had some kind of understanding
and expectations regarding the return to democracy. We agreed to
have dialogue with the NRM leadership because Museveni came with
the idea of broad based leadership.
We met him with several of my [DP] colleagues but we also agreed
on structured dialogue between the DP and the NRM. Our team was
led by [now Justice, Joseph] Mulenga while the NRM team was led
by Mr. Eriya Kategaya.
They took a lot of time to understand what the DP stood for and
they were very impressed.
Bumanji, Ssese Islands, Kalangala district.
St. Henry's College Kitovu, St. Mary's College Kisubi (was
national Featherweight boxing champion), Makerere University
(Education), Allegheny College, USA; Syracuse University (Master
of Public Administration)
• Arrested by Obote 1969-73
• Part of Moshi Conference (1979)
• Lost 1980 elections
• Internal Affairs minister (1985
under Tito Lutwa, and 1986-88 under Museveni)
• Second deputy Prime Minister and
Foreign Affairs minister (1988-94) Public Service Minister
Family: Married to Dr. Germina Ssemogerere
with three girls and two boys.
Those talks terminated in 1994: we wanted a model based on pluralism
and the issue was referred to the President. But he never accepted
this principle of multipartyism.
When they took over, he had a skeleton cabinet. Mr. Kizza Besigye
was in Internal Affairs. But then at the end he appointed me the
minister of Internal Affairs and Besigye became a kind of deputy.
You have to go back to the anti-Amin struggle when we were together
in the Moshi Conference and we wanted democracy, peace, etc. When
it came to the 1980 elections, we had discussions aimed at working
I encouraged him to join the Democratic Party which he never really
accepted. There was a possibility of working together in an alliance
or some sort of co-operation. I proposed proportional representation
but then he never accepted that.
After the elections of course he went to the bush. Some individuals
from DP went to the bush but DP as a party never went to the bush.
When it came to 1986, we did not approve of the method of taking
power but now it was fait accompli. And we considered that in the
interest of the country, could we play a role, or leave the country
just like that?
For instance, on the issue of human rights, there was general agreement
that we could work together. We could also help end the war and
also improve the image of the country because we had a very good
Museveni the person
I think he has some [good] qualities: he has some knowledge about
everything. And also people, he studies people. I think he has a
strong character and he can be persuasive so that when you are in
a cause, he can persuade people to join. He has extensive knowledge
of guerrilla activities. And he has ….I think those are the
[As for weaknesses], he is authoritarian.
He thinks he is right all the time. He wants to give orders all
the time – although this emerged much later on. Initially
he never used to order me around. But then eventually you would
see it. Even his rejecting of the pluralistic model is about his
desire to control everything and institutions. It is a totalitarian
kind of model. That is what struck me. His model of governance is
totalitarian. And he uses it everywhere to undermine institutions.
He does not want any centre of power other than him.
And then what he controls, he controls totally to the minutest
detail. And he could break all rules, for instance if he wanted
to put some one in a certain position, you couldn’t say that
‘he is not qualified.’
He was not like this at first. Can you imagine that during Cabinet
meetings at Parliament he used to refuse to sit in the official
chair for the chairman? He used to put the chair aside and used
to castigate past leaders for excesses. He used to take tea or bushera
in a gama [metallic mug].
Even the cars for the ministers, he bought us these Nissans. It
was a rebellion against the Mercedes Benz. He sent [David] Kibirango
who was the minister for Public Service to a factory in Japan to
buy cars for ministers.
What I must emphasise is that we began to see these weaknesses
much later. For instance, all of them – NRM and NRA –
when they came in, they wanted to abolish the Police Force so that
the NRA would assume the role of the police.
But luckily, we agreed [with Besigye] that the police should stay.
We accepted that the police had weaknesses but our solution was
to screen the force and rid it of unqualified people and those with
criminal records. We would then recruit massively and have a crash
Then he was still listening.
Even in Foreign Affairs, he never used to appoint someone, say
a diplomat, without discussing it with me. I remember one time he
brought some one and I rejected her because she was not qualified.
Later, Museveni brought up the subject and I explained to him.
I know ministers who would speak their minds. Amanya Mushega was
one of them; I think even [Kahinda] Otafiire, Serwanga Lwanga, [Tom]
Butime. But for me when there was something, I usually spoke my
mind. Sometimes he would choose to react if he disagreed. Or he
could state a position very, very strongly and then some people
would take cue.
But I think his reaction was more outside Cabinet than inside. Sometimes
he would talk to a minister in the corridors and they agree, but
then when you raise the issue in the meeting, he keeps quiet.
I was disappointed, that is why I left and even decided to stand
against him [in 1996] because he was no longer speaking the same
language as before. Because we all started on the assumption that
he was committed to democratic governance. As a matter of fact,
he used to say he was going to spend a little time; that he had
We had had differences over this matter of political pluralism
but we kept on discussing it with several of my colleagues, with
the hope that we could convince him. But finally in 1994, that is
when it became clear... I wrote to him and gave him my proposals
and his response was clear that he was not accepting this principle.
Then we had a meeting at State House with my colleagues. And his
interest was, “What do you want? Come let us run this country
together”. But that was not my interest.
Then we knew that we had reached the end of the road.
But in the meantime, I continued to state my position on pluralism
at home and even abroad. One day we were in Washington and after
he made a presentation, I said something entirely different.
Army MPs were a given in the first phase of the NRM/A because when
Amin took over power he appointed army men. But to his credit, Museveni
appointed many civilians and from all parties.
But when it came to institutionalising it in the Constitution in
the Constituent Assembly (CA), that was the problem.
The idea of the districts was mooted when I was still in Cabinet
but it was not as serious as it is today. But in my own district,
I discouraged it.
Definitely this fragmentation is not good for the economy, it is
not good for democracy, and it is not good for those who cherish
He makes the districts small so they can’t stand on their
own feet and they go to him. Now, if the local government is not
viable and it depends on the centre for survival, then he who pays
the piper calls the tune.
And then of course he appoints big people there and he pays them
heavily. One of the reasons our economy is distorted is because
of large public expenditure: the districts, the MPs, ministers are
I was strong on human rights. And this includes when I was in Tito’s
government. One of the first things I did when I took office was
to release about 2,000 political prisoners arrested during the Obote
days. I was totally against these arbitrary arrests.
I refused, under Tito and under Museveni, to sign a single detention
order. There was one man who the President wanted me to write a
detention order for but I refused. One day when I went to Kabale,
Museveni himself signed it because he had the powers, only that
he had delegated them to me. But eventually there was a lot of agitation
and the man was released.
I also set up a tripartite forum for the ministers of Internal
Affairs, Justice and Attorney General, and state for Defence. The
idea was to help particularly Defence to know the rights of prisoners.
I made my application and got the OAU and UN Committee on Crime
Prevention to support Uganda to host the United Nations Institute
for Crime Prevention and Treatment of Offenders, which is now at