28th July 2005
He is authoritarian; likes ordering people

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


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.

Paul Ssemogerere
SSemo: factfile

Born: 1932

Home area:
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)

Political career:
• 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 (1994-95)

Family: Married to Dr. Germina Ssemogerere with three girls and two boys.

President Museveni

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.

Earlier links

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 together.

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 standing.

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 main things.
[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 programme training.
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.

In Cabinet

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.

The fallout

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 other plans.

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

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.

Small districts

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 federalism.

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 too many.

Detention order

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 Naguru.