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Adios Mzee Chango Machyo

According to former UPC stalwart Aggrey Awori, the late Chango Machyo used to don a three-piece suit shortly after graduating in property management as a surveyor.

With this in mind, we can safely assert that the apparel is not necessarily the man. These suits are associated with English nobility   or other members of the upper classes. Of course, at the time of his demise this month, his trade mark attire was a peasant suit-Mao style-collarless suit without a tie or a shirt under, the perfect image of a stern puritanical revolutionary.

He attended University in London at a critical stage in Uganda’s development, shortly before independence came in 1962. It  was the golden age for East Africans in Great Britain, where Chango  Machyo met many of  Uganda’s leading independence intellectuals –Prof Dani Nabudere (RIP), Prof Kakooza (RIP) the father of legal education in East Africa, Prof Edward Rugumayo, Prof Ali Mazrui, the late Tom Rubaale (once minister for Public Service), Paul Sebalu the formidable advocate now retired, among others.

The East Africans excelled in their endeavours. Prof Rugumayo was adjudged the best science teacher in Britain by Guinness, Ali Mazrui at Manchester University won an assay competition at national level, while Chango Machyo, according to my conversation held with   those distinguished compatriots, became the president of the national students’ union in Britain. Dani Nabudere joined the British Communist party.

To appreciate how daring it was to  admit  being a communist, let us recall the hysteria  which developed in connection with John Kale, whom many now know as General Kayihura’s father when it was rumoured that he was in association with communists in Eastern Europe. He died in 1960 but his funeral service was not conducted until 2012.

Till then, no priest would dare say Mass for his soul. Of course John Kale (RIP) was a great man in his right as Pan-Africanist, a top fighter for Uganda’s independence, alongside Ignatius Musaazi, Semakula Mulumba, Milton Obote, and Jolly Joe Kiwanuka at the time.

Whilst a student in Britain, Chango Machyo become a Marxist and was later joined by Dani Nabudere. At a conference, one of their associates spoke in favour of the Soviet Union against Britain – British delegates looked at the Ugandan (not Chango or Dani) in consternation. In the Ugandan’s own words, the British thought the delegate was from Mars and not planet Earth. This was at zenith of the Cold War.

The radical stance Chango Machyo took endeared him to radical elements in United Kingdom especially, F Brockway, MP of the Independent Labour Party. Brockway and Chango Machyo became close friends, which association proved useful to Uganda’s nationalists including Milton Obote. F Brockway became a vocal member of the British Parliament against colonialism.

By the time he died in 1988, he had been elevated to peerage in the House of Lords. But Brockway was at heart a radical who opposed colonialism and campaigned for independence for whoever was under foreign rule.  When the Spanish civil war broke out, Brockway recruited Britons to go and fight Franco’s fascism in Spain. That is the calibre of men Chango Machyo courted to fight for Uganda’s independence.

It should not be forgotten that Chango Machyo was better acquainted with British politics than most Ugandans by then. When delegates went to the famous Lancaster House conferences in London ‘to deliberate on how Uganda should be governed after independence, Chango’s information and contacts proved invaluable. He freely interacted with politicians, civic leaders, Kings and commoners alike in London at the Lancaster House negotiations.

I learnt as much from him when we met at Centre for Basic Research (CBR) at Kololo in Kampala near his residence at the time some five years back. It is at that time that I got a privilege of being given his last book, Africa a Second Liberation. We met several times at International Cultural Studies conferences at Makerere University political science department organized by Prof Rutanga.

In the book, he does not hide his disappointment with post- independence leaders. He argues for a second phase of liberation so that the ordinary people can fully benefit from the fruits of independence. Chango Machyo was at centre of events that have shaped Uganda’s development as a nation. As in all political dispensations, there was always contestation between left- leaning members and their protagonists, the right wingers in ruling party, the UPC.

In the early days of independence, the Right was led by Grace Ibingira (RIP) whilst the Left was spearheaded by John Kakonge (RIP), the secretary general of UPC. At the momentous 1964 Gulu conference the Right emerged victorious with Ibingira as the new secretary general. As Milton Obote backed him, Grace Ibingira ensured UPC got rid of Left-inclined intellectuals.

It is at that time that  Chango Machyo, Dani  Nabudere, Kirunda Kivenjnja, Ali Kisaka, Bidandi  Ssali and Kintu Musoke  were expelled from UPC. In the 1966 crisis he and Nabudere were accused of subversion against government and capitalists. It was alleged  that Chango Machyo was inciting peasants to line up capitalists and  shoot them, in an insurrection. When the commission of inquiry into gold allegations was conducted, Chango Machyo was exonerated.

The offending words were a mere figure of speech  at Mbale Symposium where he worked  as a resident tutor in the Extra Mural department, currently known as Centre for Continuing Education, of Makerere University,  to express the anger peasants harboured against the elite.

The other Marxist, Dani Nabudere, was accused of recruiting a guerrilla force in Elgon mountains so as to overthrow the government of Uganda and install a Marxist regime. Nabudere’s home was searched. I worked closely with Prof Nabudere at the Africa Study Centre, and Marcus Garvey Pan African University in Mbale Uganda.  From his own mouth and findings of The Commission of Inquiry into Gold Allegations, the Elgon guerrilla story was a hoax – or possibly a consequence of hysteria similar to McCarthyism in USA.

Chango Machyo remained a simple man in his deeds and practised what he preached.  Although he studied property management, and hence had the potential to become a money magnate, he chose to join the adult study programme at the Centre for Continuing Education, of Makerere University, Mbale branch, to advocate his views and ideology.

In 1980, after the 1979 Liberation War, he joined UPM. After President Museveni came to power in 1986 he became a minister, later CA delegate; he also served as National Political Commissar of NRM. The last position he held until his death on October 12, 2013 was that of senior Presidential Advisor (Political Affairs). In 1987 he addressed the Masaka district team when I was the area chief magistrate.

He declined the ministerial seat reserved for him at the meeting out of modesty. He spoke calmly, simply, modestly, but passionately.  NRM was only one year into government. He addressed practical problems facing civil servants as well as his pet subject, political economy. Every one left the meeting wiser than they were before the deliberations. By then many members of the Radical Left, especially the Gang of  Four, Prof Dani Nabudere, Prof Yash Tandon, Prof Omwony Ojwok (RIP) and Prof  Edward Rugumayo).were still in exile.

However, the divergence of opinion between him and the rest of orthodox Marxists never led to personal animosity. They became adversaries in ideas but not enemies. Some ten years back, Prof Nabudere envisaged a university for promoting Pan African ideas. Mzee Chango Machyo attended the first meeting that brainstormed the ideas that eventually matured into Marcus Garvey Pan African University, based at Mbale. I have no idea why Chango Machyo missed subsequent meetings.

So, what is Chango Machyo’s legacy?  Integrity, incorruptibility, simplicity in style, modesty in conduct and total commitment to the African liberation ideals were his hallmarks. He was an atheist and not a believer in the supernatural but, nevertheless, one may still be permitted to conclude that his contribution to Uganda’s intellectual life shall live for ever.

After he left the Cabinet, he always objected to being addressed as honourable.   He preferred Mzee a term of endearment for senior citizen, or Comrade if being addressed by fellow Marxists.

Adios Comrade Chango Machyo!

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