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Mzee Boniface Byanyima is Dead

The 97-year-old veteran politician will be remembered as a principled politician who stood his ground in the early 1960s when almost all Democratic Party DP Members of Parliament crossed the floor and joined the ruling Uganda Peoples Congress UPC.
Boniface Byanyima, the former National Chairman of the Democratic Party is dead.  Byanyima passed on at Nakasero Hospital in Kampala.

Byanyima was an articulate legislator and educationist who represented Nyabushozi County in the then Ankole District from 1961 until the military coup of 1971. Thereafter he stayed on as DP Chairman throughout the years political party activities were banned in Uganda. He was father to Oxfam International Executive Director Winnie Byanyima.

The 97-year-old veteran politician will be remembered as a principled politician who stood 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). Save for the few months in 1961 when DP under Ben Kiwanuka formed the first government in the run up to Independence a year later, Byanyima is known to have remained in opposition throughout his political career.

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 in present day Kiruhura District, did not cross the floor. 

Almost two years later, another DP member David Barisigara, the MP for Kigezi West also joined UPC.

In his early years before joining politics, Byanyima served as head teacher at Mbarara High School.

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.

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