17 May 2017

Uganda: Boniface Byanyima Death - a Political Behemoth Rests

Photo: The Observer
Mzee Boniface Byanyima (L) with daughter Winnie Byanyima.

In a life spanning 96 years, Boniface Byanyima influenced Ugandan politics from start to finish.

Yesterday, when he passed on at Nakasero hospital in Kampala, Uganda lost a political behemoth of unparalleled stature. Mzee Byanyima, as he came to be known in his later years, served Uganda as a teacher at Mbarara High School, a member of parliament belonging to the Democratic Party (DP) and then wound up his career as the longest-serving DP national chairperson.

Byanyima's best known offspring is daughter Winnie, the country's first aeronautical engineer, a politician of her own standing and, lately, an international public servant as executive director of Oxfam International. Together with his wife Gertrude, who died in 2008, Mzee Byanyima had seven children in total, most of who are known public figures.

Yesterday, after Mzee Byanyima succumbed to a stroke, his son Anthony Byanyima told The Observer that their family was still holed up in a meeting to discuss burial arrangements.

The funeral and burial of Mzee Byanyima is likely to be a hot political potato for the government and the opposition in the currently polarized political times, given that he raised President Museveni in his home but is also the father-in-law of Kizza Besigye, a political nemesis to the president.

Byanyima himself had outstanding differences with Museveni, which stemmed from the government's invasion of his two-square-mile ranch in Nyabushozi, where several heads of cattle and houses were razed. In addition, Museveni's political battles with Besigye saw some of Byanyima's family members - including his son Anthony - flee to exile at some point after the 2001 elections, although the government later allowed them to return home.


Yesterday, the speaker of parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, led the tributes for Byanyima, when she told MPs to observe a minute of silence during yesterday's plenary session.

In an interview with The Observer yesterday, the current DP president general, Norbert Mao, described Byanyima as an exceptional politician whose term as chairman of the country's oldest political party was unrivalled.

Mao said he will remember Byanyima as a very incorruptible man who was the embodiment of integrity and consistency.

"Politicians are normally very inconsistent but Mzee Byanyima was very consistent and never departed from his party, even when it was in turmoil," said Mao.

Byanyima was among five DP MPs who stuck to the opposition side while others joined the Uganda People's Congress (UPC) during President Milton Obote's reign. He also severally rejected offers from Obote to serve as a minister in his government.

Former Masaka Municipality MP John Baptist Kawanga, a personal friend to Byanyima, was unaware of the late's demise by the time we reached him. Kawanga told this reporter he needed more time to digest the news, which he received while in court.

"You are giving me news. Please, I cannot comment now but ring me a little later," a stunned Kawanga said on phone.

Emmanuel Ssempala Kigozi Ssajjalyabene (Makindye-Sabagabo), who is serving a first term in parliament, described Byanyima as a key mentor for many of Uganda's politicians.

"Mzee Byanyima nurtured many of the country's politicians across the divide. He must be honoured in parliament and be given a deserved state funeral for his contribution to this nation," he said.

Some politicians lauded Byanyima's fervent struggle to liberate Uganda from one-party rule to multiparty dispensation. Former Supreme court judge, Justice George Kanyeihamba, recalled that while Byanyima was instrumental in pushing for multiparty democracy, this principle has been deviated from due to self-seekers within political parties.

UPC member Yona Kanyomozi, who was one of Byanyima's students at Mbarara High School, prides himself in having passed through his political hands. Kanyomozi said Byanyima mentored many people not only in Ankole but also across Uganda.

Mao said the late had died at a very critical time of history, where Uganda is grappling with issues of transition of power and before seeing peaceful change in post-independence Uganda.

By press time, the family was yet to release a detailed programme of the burial arrangements.


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