President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni on Thursday paid tribute to Mzee Boniface Byanyima, describing the deceased politician as a champion of education and agriculture.
The 97-year-old veteran politician passed away on Tuesday, May 16 at Nakasero hospital in Kampala.
As a principled leader, Byanyima is remembered for standing his ground in the early 1960s to oppose the new independence, even when almost all Democratic Party (DP) Members of Parliament crossed the floor and joined the ruling Uganda People's Congress (UPC).
Museveni said Byanyima was among the pioneer Ugandans who loved teaching. He said his first interaction with Byanyima was in 1959 when the future president joined Mbarara high school where the DP icon was a teacher.
He notes that his contribution in education cannot be under-estimated, having been among the first people in Ankole to get education and become teachers. Byanyima taught Museveni in Junior one and two.
“When somebody dies, we cannot resurrect him but it is important to put on record his contribution. Some of us who know him, Mzee Byanyima was among the Batembuzi in Ankole in a number of fields.
First of all in education, he started teaching several years ago. I came to know him as a teacher in Mbarara high school in 1969 when I went for what they called junior secondary one, which was like primary seven and therefore he was among the pioneers of education in Ankole. He taught me in junior one and junior two”, Museveni said.
Museveni hailed Byanyima's contribution towards modern farming in the Ankole region; saying that Mzee Byanyima was among the first three groups of people to practice modern agriculture which included paddocking, ranching, and spraying of animals from ticks.
“The second area in which he pioneered together with some few others was modern farming. You can call it evolution because in our area, farming was traditional. But him and some few others; taking advantage of the programme which was started by the colonial government in 1958 when they cleared tsetse flies. He started modern ranching in what they were calling Ankole-Masaka ranching scheme, whereby they he became one of the three examples of modern farming in our area. There was one other example by a man called Mbiire - another example of these ranchers. For them they concentrating on beef livestock", added Museveni.
Museveni also hailed Byanyima for playing a significant role as chairperson of DP for a long time. He noted that he had a unique character that he always stood his ground in politics.
“He was one of the early members of the Democratic Party…I was a very active youth of DP, when I see these DPs of today, I just keep quiet. He left teaching and joined politics. We elected him in our constituency, Ankole northeast. Again, there Mzee was a pioneer, and he was a principled one and not like the others. So because of those principles the alliance of DP and UPC collapsed because of the lost counties. These 24 DP MPs once they got elected, many of them changed sides by joining UPC. By 1971, only 8 of them were remaining in the opposition including Mzee Byanyima”, said Museveni.
Museveni and Boniface Byanyima were once like father and son. While still in school, Museveni was adopted into the Byanyima family where he would spend his high school and university holidays. The Byanyimas treated him as their own, and to this day, Museveni's high school and university books hold their place in the Byanyima family library.
Byanyima would later narrate that even as a young boy, Museveni was ambitious and never hid his desire to be at the helm of political change and leadership, whether in his local community or on the national stage.
They later bitterly fell out, with Byanyima accusing Museveni of lacking principles and honesty. Museveni himself has confessed that when he was entering politics, it was only Mzee Byanyima who understood and encouraged him. And for that he would be eternally grateful to him.
"I was a very ardent supporter of DP and when I grew up I became very active after my A'level in 1966, I liaised with Byanyima who introduced me to some elders some of who I knew, others I didn't know in 1967. That is how we were able to do some work there," Museveni said.
Museveni noted that Byanyima has left a legacy having played his part and most of the times as a pioneer, starting new things.
"Later on when I joined freedom struggle, although he remained in DP, we remained on good terms," the president said.
Born in 1920, Boniface Muyogoma Byanyima is a great-grandson of Kyamufumba Kya Ndagara Rwamigano, eldest son of Omukama Ndagara, the last king of Buhweju. In his early years he lived in the court of chief Ndibarema in Nsiika, Buhweju.
Byanyima started school at Kinoni primary school where he is said to have completed three classes in one school year, moving on to Mbarara high school for primary four. A gifted and disciplined student, he won a scholarship to Kings College Budo. He excelled at Budo and entered Makerere University College, where he studied Education.
After graduation in 1951, he was posted to teach at Bishop Tucker theological college, Mukono. Among his students were the late Bishops Amos Betungura, Yustace Ruhindi and Misairi Kauma among others.
Byanyima returned to teach at Mbarara high school. He was a devoted teacher, who brought out the best from his students. He was known to be extremely punctual, strict but kind and approachable.
A music lover, Byanyima taught himself how to play the piano and joined Mr Yuda Nyondo as a second pianist at St James's Cathedral, Ruharo. Among his many students were Yona Kanyomozi, Ephraim Kamuntu, Amanya Mushega, Yoweri Museveni and Ernest Rusita.
In 1954, Byanyima went to Exeter Universty in the UK to pursue a post-graduate diploma and on completion he returned to Mbarara high school.
As Independence approached, Byanyima was persuaded by friends to contest the Ankole North East constituency. He said he joined DP because it represented the interests of the excluded. He won the 1961 election with a landslide and joined the DP pre-independence government as minister for public service.
In 1962, there was another election which resulted in a UPC/Kabaka Yekka government. Byanyima was re-elected to parliament and served until 1971 when Idi Amin overthrew the government. The Democratic Party had been banned in 1969 and Byanyima and 5 other DP MPs remained in parliament as opposition MPs.
He served as national chairman of DP throughout the period it was banned and was instrumental in reviving the party after the fall of Amin in 1979. A consistent champion of multiparty politics, of truth and justice, Byanyima retired from active politics in 1980 but remained an adviser to DP leaders.
A successful rancher, Byanyima married Gertrude Kabwasingo, also a teacher and future political activist, in January 1956. They lived together for 52 years until Gertrude passed away in 2007. They had 7 children; Edith, Winnie, Bernard (RIP), Anthony, Martha, Abraham and Olivia.
Byanyima will be buried on Sunday at his home in Ruti, Mbarara municipality.