Political and religious leaders in Mbarara have expressed shock at the passing on of Mzee Boniface Byanyima, the former Democratic Party chairman who died today aged 97.
Many in Mbarara, Byanyima's home area which he represented in Parliament from 1961 to 1971, residents and leaders described the deceased politician as an exemplary leader, advisor and mentor.
The 97-year-old veteran politician passed away today at Nakasero Hospital in Kampala. A principled politician, Byanyima is remembered for standing his ground in the early 1960s when almost all Democratic Party (DP) Members of Parliament crossed the floor and joined the ruling Uganda People's Congress (UPC).
Western Regional chairperson for the Democratic Party Imam Makumbi told our reporter that the death of Mzee Byanyima is a big loss to the party and Uganda as a whole. Makumbi reveals that the party is in touch with the family to prepare for the deceased's burial.
Makumbi says that the deceased was very firm and principled and remained in the Democratic Party despite his close friend Grace Ibingira convincing him to cross to the Uganda People's Congress (UPC). Ibingira served as Minister of Justice and secretary general of UPC in the 1960s.
Just over a month after the November 1964 referendum on the lost counties, six DP legislators including then leader of opposition in Parliament, Basil Bataringaya, joined UPC. This came at a time the ruling party was looking for allies to bolster its support after the collapse of the Kabaka Yekka-UPC alliance in the wake of the controversial referendum. The five who crossed with Bataringaya James Ochola, MP South East Bukedi; Stanislaus Okurut, MP South Teso; M. K. Patel, MP South Jinja; Joseph Magara, MP South West Bunyoro; and Francis Mugeni, MP South Bukedi. Byanyima, then representing Nyabushozi County in Ankole, did not cross the floor.
Almost two years later, another DP member David Barisigara, the MP for Kigezi West also joined UPC.
Forum for Democratic Change party chairperson for western Uganda Stanley Katembeya describes the deceased as a principled man who was always willing and ready to advise others. Katembeya further revealed that the deceased was generous and always shared what he had with others.
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Mbarara High school Head teacher Benon Twinomujuni told our reporter that the Byanyima was known to be committed to work and had enough time with students. Twinomujuni says that the deceased never tolerated indiscipline and continued supporting the school even when he was no longer working there.
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In his early years before joining politics, Byanyima served as head teacher at Mbarara High School.
Ankole Diocesan Bishop Dr. Sheldon Mwesigwa described Byanyima as a reliable man noting that his death is a big loss to the church and the country. By the time of filing this story a group of Democratic Party officials in Mbarara were locked up in a meeting at their regional offices in preparation for the burial.
While Byanyima is widely known for having adopted and helped educate a young Yoweri Museveni in the 1960s, he disagreed with the future president of Uganda and did not serve in government after 1986 when Museveni came to power. While he supported Museveni's decision to wage war against the UPC government after the 1980 elections, he did not actively mobilise or drum up support for the five-year war. In 2012, the veteran politician explained his decision in an interview with The Daily Monitor: “I did not take active part in the bush war but I told DP members that DP had won the 1980 elections so that we should reject the results but Paul Ssemogerere (former DP President) refused and joined Parliament. I supported all who went to the bush because the government in power was illegitimate but I did not buy and supply arms from Democratic Republic of Congo as alleged.”
He would however, fall out with Museveni after the latter's government grabbed ranches in Ankole region, including that of Byanyima, and distributed them to landless people. On the ranch measuring about two square miles, were about 1,200 heads of cattle which were taken. At the time of his death, he was still struggling to regain his ranch.
Byanyima is a father of six, including Winnie Byanyima, the executive director of Oxfam International.