May 3, 2010

KIV: Impact of Symbols in Political and Social Movement Mobilization

Impact of Symbols in Political and Social Movement Mobilization

A case Study of Uganda

Submitted By Machrine Birungi


European University Center for Peace Studies

Schlaining – Austria

Supervisor: Johansen Jorgen


Table of Content

Acronyms and Abbreviations

Chapter 1


Chapter 2: Political Movements in Uganda

2.1 Background to Political Movements in Uganda

2.2 Major Political Parties in Uganda

2.3 Registration Process of Political Parties

2:4 Impotance of Political Parties

Chapter 3: The Power of Symbols in Political Mobilization

3.1 Definition of symbols

3.2 The Culture of Symbols in Uganda

3.3 List of Political Party Symbols in Uganda

3.4 Features of Symbols

3.5 Role of Symbols in Political and Social Mobilization

3.6 List of Symbols used by Political Parties in Uganda

Chapter 4: Symbols and Mobilization

4.1 Critical Analysis of Symbols as Tools for Mobilization

4.3 Conclusions

Chapter 5

Way Forward

Acronyms & Abbreviations

AP Action Party

BP Brigade Party

COSEVO Congress Service Volunteers Organization

CP Conservative Party

DP Democratic Party

FPU Farmers’ Party of Uganda

FDC Forum for Democratic Change

FIL Forum for Integrity in Leadership

JEEMA Justice Forum

KY Kabaka Yeka

LDT Liberal Democratic Transparency

MDC Movement for Democratic Change

NRM National Resistance Movement

NPP National Peasants Party

NAPO National People's Organization

NRP National Redemption Party

NURP National Unity and Reconciliation Party

NYRO National Youth Revolutionary Organization

NOD National Order Democracy

PAP Progressive Alliance Party

PDP People's Development Party

PIP People's Independent Party

PUM People's United Movement

PPD Popular People's Democracy

UEP Uganda Economic Party

UMP Uganda Mandate Party

UNLA Uganda National Liberation Army

UNLF Uganda National Liberation Front

UPM Uganda Patriotic Party

UPC Uganda People's Congress

UPP Uganda People's Party

Chapter 1


Political support is not seen in words but the number of people that rally support for a particular candidate. Recent politics in Uganda dictate that politicians seek support through active mobilization. Mobilization takes the form of applying any means possible to get the support of the people. Many times Mobilization strategies have put to the fore the importance and significance of political communication tools like images, signs, Gestures and symbols.

In a country where the literacy rates stand at ….and where the majority of voters are semi-literates, the politicians have a big task to communicate to their electorates in a simple and easily comprehensible language. The use of symbols comes in as a big tool for political and social communication.

Sydney Arrow in his book "Social Movement, collective action and politics" says "the catholic symbols that surrounded the polish workers movement when it burst out on the Baltic coast in 1980 shows that symbolism must be culturally resonant to fire the people's minds"[1].

During a political rally in 2001, presidential aspirant Kiiza Besigye flashed a hammer in his hand and a nail in another signaling to his supporters that he had come to pull out the nail from the regime. He however lost the election but came back to contest in 2006 under the Forum for democratic change with a Key as his symbol. The key symbolized assured entry to the state house.

In Nambole stadium, the ruling National movement party (NRM) convened a party delegates conference where all the party supporters wore yellow t-shirts with the Bus symbol showing that the ruling party was still strong and on the move, and not even a hammer would pull it out of its way.

Earlier in 1996, the NRM party president Yoweri Kaguta Museveni used a grinding stone popularly known as "Olubengo" to show that he had a big task ahead of him and was ready to take it on. The grinding stone in many cultures is a heavy stone found in many rural homes used to grind cereals.

All the above scenarios portray the use of symbols to attract support and mobilize the masses into action. This paper will seek to analyze the Nature and influence of the symbol as tools for communication and mobilization in Uganda. The paper will also look at some abstract and rather controversial symbols that have worked negatively as tools of mass mobilization.

Anthony Smith describes symbols as "part of a “quartet” of “myths, memories, values, and symbols” that is crucial to the survival of such identities across time".[2]

While John Gillis asserts that if identity and memory go hand in hand, then symbols are the medium to evoke the shared understandings of such group memories.[3]

Symbols are important as tools of communication and mass mobilization partly because they provide a shared podium for communication, elicit strong emotions and also provide easy means of branding a political or social movement. Symbols have also been found effective tools for evoking emotions and Nostalgia which often times works on the minds of the people to make their political decisions.

Symbols have been actively invoked by politicians from various points of views ranging from student riots, violent protests, and war.

But as Alexander Motyl, “Inventing Invention: The Limits of National Identity Formation,” elites cannot simply invent any symbols that they wish and have them accepted by the population; instead, elites are tightly constrained by the life world and experiences of the masses. For example, decades of government efforts to force the resonance of socialist symbols in Romania and other countries were not enough — the acceptance of symbols cannot simply be imposed from above, but requires a complex process of grassroots interactions over time".[4]

With close to 30 political parties in Uganda the quest for support becomes more competitive and pushes politicians into a strong urge to mobilize the support of the masses with as much ease as possible.

The electoral commission –EC Act stipulates that every political party should submit a symbol to the EC which must not be identical to the already existing symbols.

The paper therefore seeks to find out the Nature and Choice of symbols used by the different political parties, and their influence on public discourse and debate and the overall mobilization efforts.

Chapter 2: Political Movement and Mobilization in Uganda

Brief Background to Political Activity

Political Map of Uganda adapted from www.mapsoftheworld.com

Definition of Political Party

A political party is a formally constituted political group, which provides a way for citizens to organize themselves to contest elections, participates in Mass action movements and promotion of ideologies.

The ideological vision of a party is given concrete form in its proposals for how some of the major issues facing a country should be dealt with, such as mass unemployment, Low health coverage, poor infrastructure and education. Parties in Uganda have always built their power base through grassroots mobilization and recruitment.

The strength of a political party is often seen in numbers that’s why its news for the journalists when members defect from one party to another. "The Forum for Democratic Change party has denied media reports that over 6000 of its supporters in Arua district defected to the National Resistance Movement recently during a tour by President Yoweri Museveni".[5] Its also important to not that defection of party members doesn’t necessarily show that the strength of the party is weakening.

History of Political Parties in Uganda

A proper understanding of political parties in Uganda dates back to 1963 shortly after UgandaUganda fall under ethno regional demarcations which were a creation of the colonial power. gained its independence from the British colonialists in 1962. Like any African country the politics of

Towards the end of the 1940's people in Uganda started rebelling against the British colonialists. They demanded for a more representative government, and less British control resulting into the Journey towards independence.

In 1960 at the London Conference, the British colonialists unanimously agreed to allow elections in 1961 which would ultimately pave way to Independence. The elections in 1961 were contested by only two parties- The Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) and the Kabaka Yeka (KY).

Kabaka Yeka which was predominantly a party for the Baganda in the central region of the country was the British favorite but the election results instead showed the UPC had won the elections forcing the British to announce a new plan for Uganda. The British colonialists then declared that Buganda would be allowed internal autonomy if they participated in the national government as well. A peace Pact between KY party and the UPC party were reached resulting into the 1962 independence constitution.

The peace between these two parties led to the Independence Constitution of 1962, and a separate Ugandan government.

According to Marblestone in October 1962, the leader of the UPC, Milton Obote, was elected prime minister of Uganda. The formal leader of Uganda was the Kabaka (King), but Obote made great attempts to seize power. Although he worked with the Kabaka Yekka in the beginning of his reign, in 1964 he began to attempt to consolidate his power. There was significant tension between the various regions in Uganda, reluctance to obey the new form of government, and a sense of disunity within the UPC party. In 1964, members of the UPC party blamed Obote for an ivory scandal, and attempted to overthrow him. Obote responded by suspending the Constitution, and arresting the plotters. In 1966, the national assembly was instructed to create a new republican constitution which would create a strong executive presidency and minimize power of other leaders. When the Buganda legislature rejected the constitution, Obote declared a state of emergency and ordered the army to attack Kabaka (King) Mutesa II’s palace. In 1967, Obote introduced a new constitution which strengthened executive powers even more, and in 1969 he created a one party state by banning all groups opposed to the UPC.[6]

This could be referred to as the turning point in the History of Uganda a rather turbulent period that instigated the formation of several political movements in Uganda.

On January 25,1971, Iddi Amin the then army chief of staff staged a military coup and seized power from Obote. He garnered mass support from many Ugandans who resented Obote's short reign in power.

But Amin's reign turned out to be one of the greatest bloody reign of terror in Uganda's History." through a series of violent actions, Amin became feared throughout Uganda. Amin forced the Acholi and Langi divisions of the army into barracks, and eventually killed many of them because he feared they were conspiring against him. He also created new "security" offices within the government, which Ugandan citizens became very fearful of".[7]

In 1972, Amin ordered the expulsion of about 60,000 citizens of Asian origin from Uganda, and seized their property. Amin’s rule came to an end in 1979 when he annexed a section of Tanzania and a force of Tanzanian, backed by various factions of Ugandans in exile the largest of them being the Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA) threw him out of power.

A provisional government, the National Executive Council (NEC), was put in place in April 1979 led by President Yusufu Lule.[8] The NEC was made up of people from the Uganda National Liberation Front (UNLF), a coalition of former Ugandan exiles. But when prof. Yusuf Lule tried to rearrange the composition of the NEC in June 1979, the UNLF forced him to resign instead. Instead, Godfrey Binaisa was made President but was also overthrown by the UNLF in May 1980.

Binaisa had tried to rearrange the leadership of the UNLA and also only allow UNLF members to run for parliamentary elections.[9].

The period following the overthrow of Idi Amin proved so tense with competitive politics taking center stage. The Uganda National Liberation Army-UNLA a leading contender worked harder to bring Obote who had been deposed from Power Amin back into power. A transition period followed Binaisa's removal, and an election was held that brought Milton Obote and the Uganda People's Congress (UPC) back to power and Obote's second administration began (1980-1985). [10] Obote Two regime was less popular by any means. The regime was characterized by dissatisfaction, political persecution and instability. The economy further declined into total shambles, but the economy was also in shambles.

Despite the fact that the Obote two regime ushered in an era of competitive politics, The Democratic Party accepted to work under the UPC party president but the Uganda Patriotic Movement –UPM led by Museveni and Lule refused to work with the UPC party and launched a Guerilla movement which wedged a protracted warfare against the Obote regime from 1982 to 1986.

In 1985, a faction of Obote's own army seized power and ousted Obote forcing him to flee to Zambia. Obote's regime came to an abrupt end and a Military Council headed by General Tito Okello was set up and an attempt was made by Tito to negotiate a peace deal with Museveni's UPM but this was also unsuccessful after Tito died in an air crash.

Museveni's UPM took over power in what has remained known as a major liberation struggle against repressive regimes in Uganda. UPM was then transformed into the National Resistance Movement the political wing, and the National Resistance Army (NRA)--the military wing. Unfortunately Lule died and Museveni became the leader of both the NRM and the NRA.

On January 26 1986, Yoweri Museveni entered Uganda's Capital City and dissolved Tito Okello's Military Council. The Military council was replaced by the National Resistance Council (NRC) and Museveni was sworn in as president.

As Tordoff puts it: "A period of relative prosperity and security ensued in Uganda, but it was a period under no-party rule[11].

In 1989 the NRC was expanded from 98 appointed members to 278 elected representatives (68 of which were still nominated by the President) through the first national election since 1980 and became the Constituent Assembly. A new constitution was promulgated in September 1995, and implemented one month later. The first presidential election was held in May 1996, and the election to the legislature took place one month later, in June 1996. Now the parliament constituted 276 members, 214 elected and 62 nominated members.[12]

During the early days of Museveni's regime, political parties were allowed to exist, but not allowed to participate actively. They were known by names but not allowed to mobilize, hold rallies they were actually rendered docile. The 1995 constitution stipulated that any political party activity is to be held off until a referendum would be held in 2000.

Museveni maintained that what Ugandan's needed were not active Political Party participation but rather stability and peace.

Museveni argued that peace and stability could best be achieved by making the NRM part of a grass roots democracy through local resistance councils-LC's that were set up throughout the country. People were impressed by this ideology.

However, as in other parts of Africa, the 1990s brought about substantial changes also in Uganda. President Yoweri Museveni held a strong aversion to multi-party competition (supposedly because of the de-stabilizing effects it had had in the past), and with him so did the 284 (mostly elected) constituent assembly which had been established in 1994. "The Assembly had voted to extend for five years the system of broad-based no-party government which had been in place since 1986, under which political parties could exist but could not campaign or hold rallies."[13]

Political parties were allowed to exist, but not allowed to campaign or function as a political party. Of the prominent parties prior to the referendum were the Ugandan People's Congress (UPC) Milton Obote's old party, the Democratic Party (DP) headed by Sebana Kizito, and the Conservative Party (CP) which is led by John Ken Lukyamuzi, Nkangi.

On June 29 2000, the referendum was held regarding a return to a multi-party system or not. Support for the no-party "movement" system received an overwhelming 90 % of the votes. However, less than 50% of the electorate turned up to vote at all, and critics claim this is a sign of no support of the Museveni no-party system. Instead, the referendum should be seen, especially according to the UPC, as a rejection of the no-party system[14]. After the referendum, fears were rife that with Museveni's victory would transform Uganda into a one party state. But prior to the 2006 presidential and parliamentary election the political space was opened and political parties allowed active participation in the countries' political arena.

Summary of Major Political Parties in Uganda until 2004

Democratic Party: the DP party was founded in 1954 and functioned as the opposition party until late 1969, when opposition parties were banned following an attempted assassination of President Obote. But its power was rekindled in 1996 when the then Party President Kawanga Semogerere stood as the main contender for the presidential seat in 1996 but lost to Museveni's NRM party. The DP Party still stands strong with more support from the central and southern Uganda.

Uganda People's Congress: The UPC was founded in 1960 and is also a party that was declared terminated in the 1980's but reemerged recently shortly after the death of its party president Obote. Obote's wife Miria Kalule Obote took over the leadership of the party and led it to the 2006 presidential elections as the only woman contender.

The Conservative Party: was 1979, led by Jehoash Mayanja-Nkangi. It adopted support from the Kabaka Yeka Party royalists.

The National Resistance Movement was founded in 1981 to oppose the UPC government then in power. Its former military wing, the National Resistance Army was led by Lieutenant General Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, and today he is the president of the country.

Forum for Democratic Change: formed in 2004 as the biggest challenger party to the ruling NRM party. Several more parties were formed shortly after a court ruling on 16 November 2004 nullified Sections 18 and 19 of the Political Parties Organizations Act. The two Sections prohibited parties from sponsoring, providing a platform or campaigning for or against any candidate in any election. The Political Parties Organizations Act also made it illegal for any political party or system to exist other than the incumbent Movement system.

Following the court ruling, Existing and New parties were allowed to open party branches throughout the country, Nominate candidates for offices and also organize meetings and rallies.

How Political Parties Are Registered In Uganda

The registration of political parties in Uganda is regulated by the Political Parties and Organizations Act (PPOA), as amended in 2005.

To qualify for registration as a political party in Uganda, a party is required to apply to the Registrar General’s office. The registration application must be signed by at least 50 registered voters in at least two-thirds of the districts in Uganda. In addition, the party must submit to the Registrar general's office a copy of the party constitution, a list of its officers, party program and party symbol. After registration the party is also expected to provide an audited financial report six months after registration.

The table below, shows a list of political Parties which had registered as of July 2005


Name of Political Party Date of Registration


National Resistance Movement

31 /10/03


National Progressive Movement



Peoples Independent Party



Forum For Integrity in Leadership



Republican Women And Youth Party



National Peasants Party



Movement for Democratic Change



Action Party



Uganda Economic Party



Forum For Democratic Change



National Unity, Reconciliation and Development Party



Liberal Democratic Transparency Party



National Peoples’ Organization



National Convention For Democracy



Farmers Party Of Uganda



Uganda Peoples Congress



Justice Forum



Movement volunteer mobilizes organization



Uganda Peoples’ Party



Uganda Mandate Party



Uganda Patriotic Party



Social Democrats of Uganda



Reform Party



Conservative party



Progressive Alliance Party



Democratic party


Source: office of the assistant Registrar general-Uganda

Role of Political Parties in Uganda

The presence of political parties and their importance can be looked at from two different dimensions. Firstly, political parties are crucial in the creation of government institutions and secondly, they provide the citizens a choice and alternatives for representation.

In Uganda political parties have been seen to play major roles ranging from the political to the social end economic roles.

Most importantly, political parties have played a significant role in the nominations of candidates for political office in relation to the needs of the particular group of people. In 2005, the Forum for Democratic change Nominated Kiiza Besigye as its torch bearer in the 2006 presidential elections. The nomination of the candidates is usually based on how strong the candidate is to articulate the aspirations of his supporters. The FDC was able to provide practical support to these candidates at election time by helping to mobilize voters. The party leaders traversed far and wide soliciting for votes

Political parties in Uganda have also been important as tools for policy options for the citizenry. In a country where the ruling National Movement Party had dominated the political game field in the one party rule, the opening up of the political space to allow more political parties and their ideologies has provided a platform for more varied views and opinions. During elections the citizens of Uganda are usually able to make their choices based on what each of the political parties has to offer.

In addition, political parties have been seen as a strong tool for holding the ruling party accountable for its activities. With more than 200 members of parliament from the ruling NRM party, the opposition parties in parliament have been able to keep track on the progress of policies suggested and challenging what they think are not worthy policies for the people they represent.

Through party slogans, symbols and other insignia the political parties are seen as important tools for shaping the citizens identity. For many people, their choice of political party is one of the clearest ways of defining their identity. Some choose to become active members of a party and thus experience a strong sense of belonging. Others simply vote for a party, but its overall philosophies help to determine how they see themselves and the society around them. By paying attention to the views of different parties, citizens are called to look beyond themselves and to participate in public life.[15]

But above the presence of political parties provide a platform for nation building. In Uganda the extra 25 political parties with their broad defined programs have attracted the attention of some citizens who use such issues to put pressure on the ruling parties. For example the nepotism and corruption have been the harp songs of most political party leaders and this has forced the ruling National Resistance Movement party to devise programs intended to fight corruption. In addition political parties in Uganda have gone into coalitions intended to focus their energies on ways to create a better society.

Chapter 3: Symbols as Tools of Communication in Politics

Definition of Symbols

The Webster dictionary defines a symbol as “something that stands for or suggests something else by reason of relationship, association, convention, or accidental resemblance; a visible sign of something invisible (the lion is a symbol of courage).”[16]

Symbols usually adopted by the Cultural, religious, social and political groups usually manifest themselves as actions, sounds, or objects which are not important in themselves, but which direct attention to something that is considered important by the group.

Many cultural, Religious, and political groups in Uganda as elsewhere in the world use symbols to show belonging and membership. Each group therefore adopts symbols that depict the concepts and perceptions within the groups. Such symbols often stem from reactions to certain situations.

The situations range from rejection by the powers that be to discrimination and dejection. For example in 1999 retired col. Kiiza Besigye formerly a personal Doctor and friend to president Museveni decided enough was enough and started echoing his political decent against the NRM party through the media. He actually fell out with the government he served as an army officer and professional doctor wrote an article that almost got him court marshaled and at that point he decided to retire and sought to stand against President Museveni.

During the 2001 elections Kiiza Besigye emerged as the major contender against President Museveni's candidacy. Besigye came with the Hammer as his support rallying symbol. The hammer was adopted shortly after the people of Rakai in South Western Uganda named him "Senyondo" meaning the Chief Hammer.

president Museveni had earlier declared himself the cotter pin, that cant be removed from Power, Besigye with a new name assured his supporters that there was no way a chief hammer could fail to remove the cotter pin from its political comfort zone.

For Besigye and supporters of the Reform Agenda, the Hammer was a strong symbol for strength and Vigor. It was also seen as a tool for solidarity, mobilization of groups of people that were tired of the regime and wanted a change. It was a symbol of Identity for the group rallying support behind Besigye.

I do agree entirely with Another Masonic writer, Carl Claudy, who mentions that there are secrets inside secrets in symbolism. He "cut through the outer she;; and find a meaning; cut through that meaning and find another; under it if you dig deep enough you may find a third, a fourth - who shall say how many teachings?"

This is again particularly of the hammer symbol used by the reform agenda. While for the leader was a chief hammer, this symbol drew pessimism among pedal cyclists where the bicycle is the only means of transport. The hammer in this community is used to remove the piece of metal that holds the pedals together. Though semi-literate, some could be heard arguing that the piece that holds the pedals together is difficult to dislodge using a hammer and in this sense it would be difficult for the chief Hammer (Besigye) to dislodge the cotter pin (Museveni) from the seat. And when Besigye failed to win the election, this symbolic interpretation by the pedal cyclists made sense.

Another occult book writes: "A symbol is a figure of something intellectual, moral or spiritual, a visible object, REPRESENTING to the mind the semblance of SOMETHING WHICH IS NOT SHOWN but realized by association with it."

Culture of Symbols in Uganda

Several tribes and cultures in Uganda have a system of symbols which are used for identity and communication purposes.

The symbols are more distinct in the cultural Kingdoms of Buganda, Bunyoro, Busoga and Tooro kingdoms. The symbols also appear in the more than 50 tribes found in Uganda. Each tribe has a particular set of symbols that provide qualitative messages and Identity, Knowledge, Values and feelings. For example one of the most distinct symbols across many Ugandan Tribes and cultures is the Drum.

The drum is both a symbol of power and identity and also an important tool of communication. When the head of a family dies, a ceremony is held to get an heir and the new heir is handed down a spear and a drum.

Because of the confusion that arises when the sound of the drum is made, many cultures in Uganda have adopted different drumming styles that communicate different messages. For example in many communities in Uganda, there is a drumming style that is used to call people for community work like cleaning the spring water wells, and the small village roads.

There is also a drumming style that alerts the community of danger like invasion by an enemy, thieves or robbers. Likewise there is also a distinct drumming style that alerts the people that it's Sunday and time for a church service and the "Kaddoodi" drums which sound a circumcision ceremony in a village. In all this the symbol is a drum which turns out to be an important tool of communication.

Below are some examples of symbols common in many Ugandan Cultures

Spear: Symbol of Power and strength used mainly by people in power and authority. When the head of family, ceremonies are usually held to get an heir and the heir is always given a spear as one of the symbols of power and authority over the family.

Lion: Symbol of Loyalty, danger. In fact the lion is the official emblem of uganda's official kingdoms.

Sheep: the sheep is the symbol of Humility, while the ram is a symbol of power and strength used in conciliatory disposition. But in some cultures the sheep is a symbol of stupidity. Impotent men are usually said to have been "knocked" by a sheep.

Snake: symbol of evil

Rat: a rat symbolizes bad luck. When a rat crosses a pathway, many people in Uganda believe its foretelling bad luck.

Owl: symbolizes a bad omen or foretells something bad that is bound to happen in the near future

Woman: in many cultures the woman is a symbol of life, productivity, peace of growth.

Another distinct system of symbols is found in the nomenclature. Several tribes give names to symbolize the season, regime, month or moment when the baby was born. Below are some of the few distinct nomenclature symbols

Mutegyeki: symbolizes a person who has the qualities of leadership. Such a person could have been born at a time when a family was recovering from some turmoil and the birth of the baby at the time brings stability, hence the name Mutegyeki- he who puts to order.

Karungi: Symbolizes the Good moments or a person of good quality and good stature.

Musinguzi: the name means winner. Therefore a person named after Musinguzi will be looked at as a victor or winner.

Bahemuka: the name means shamed. Such a name is symbolic to the family there is always a possibility that one of the parents or both could have done something dubious, or some people had misgivings about the couple and the baby is named Bahemuka.

Overall these are just a few of the numerous symbols that bind many people across the cultures. Its however worth noting that the adaptability and suitability of a symbol is crucial in determine whether or not it can be used as a tool of communication or identity. For example water is a symbol of life because of its ability to quench thirst and its numerous functions in the production process, but Water can also be looked at as a symbol of destruction by residents of a fishing island, many of whose relatives and children have drowned and died in the water.

List of Political Party Symbols in Uganda

Every Political party in Uganda is by the Electoral Commission act supposed to have a symbol or an icon which sets them apart from each other. Selection of symbols is usually based on the assumption that when a person looks at a particular symbol, he or she instantly gets a grasp of the ideologies and goals that a particular party stands for.

The symbols, colours used and the direction and posture of the objects usually demonstrate what a party stands for.

According to Edelman political symbols may be defined as social constructions (phrases, images, rules, norms) that "evoke an attitude, a set or a pattern of events associated through time, through space, through logic or through imagination.[17]

The symbol of the Action Party represents a big star at the center surrounded by twelve small stars.

According to the action party, the bigger star represents bigger and brighter leadership while the twelve stars represent the people that are receiving the light from the big bright star. Therefore the big bright star is a symbol of hope for the people. The ideology of the party is to lift people from the seemingly dark period of poverty, unemployment, inequalities and injustice. The shining stars are the results of the struggle to attain a fair society.

This is the symbol of Love in the American Sign Language. Well it could have been used to mobilize supporters on the basis of Love. But for the meaning could change and affect the mobilization strategy significantly. For example the same sign used in the Italian culture means a curse.

Fortunately this party seeks to mobilize support of Ugandans and not Italians.

The symbol of the Brigade Party is the eagle seemingly landing and holding its claws onto a branch. In Christianity, The eagle is a symbol of the resurrection or ascension of Christ.

But By extension, the eagle also symbolizes baptized Christians, who have symbolically died and risen with Christ.

By adopting this symbol, the brigade party comprised mainly of the youths attempted to advance a strong ideology based on the new beginning for Ugandans. "The eagle has landed" the old is gone and the new has come.

The eagle also represents freedom and indeed restoration of the basic freedoms and rights for the people were the rallying points for the brigade party.

The Congress service volunteers Party has a series of symbols. There is the hand that is holding a sword emerging from the grass, perhaps symbolizing power of the people, by the people and for the people. In addition there is the sun symbol shining just at the point where the hand straightens up. A symbol of light and hope and off course there are also the two pan African flags with the red, yellow and green stripes. 1900 was the beginning of the Pan Africa-Movement; which emphasized the commons of all people with black skin.

The pan-Africans' ideology focuses on the political unity of Africa. The red symbolizes the blood of black people shed through the years of slavery and their suffering, the yellow is for the stolen gold and riches from Africa, and the green is for the beautiful nature and the lost lands of Africa. The ideology of the Congress service volunteer's party is best summed up by the words below the symbols-Aluta Continua-The struggle continues.

The conservative Party symbol is of an ordinary man dressed in a bark cloth which is a traditional symbol of culture and latching onto a shield.

This is all symbolic of the conservative's ideology- the preservation of culture and the national heritage.

The conservatives strongly support the right to property and the Purple color symbolizes the royal majesty, sovereignty and justice. The party has been able to draw a minority support from the Baganda royalists.

The Hand Held Hoe - Democratic Party Symbol

The Democratic Party originally had a fist as its symbol. The fist symbolized the strength of the party and this strength could be manifested through its strong political, economic and social policies.

But in 2006 the party decided to change its symbol to a hand held hoe which is the most important tool of agriculture production for many people in Uganda. The Hoe symbol was strategically adopted by the Democratic Party to woo votes from the farmers and the rural folk. But the hoe in a country whose economy depends on Agriculture, was rather shady especially in the eyes of the elites who are currently advocating for the modernization of agriculture through mechanization. So while it could be used to mobilize people in the country side the perception of the hoe in the urban areas was distorted and therefore not worthy a symbol of mass mobilization.

The symbol of the Forum for Democratic change is a key cutting through the Map of Uganda. The Party also uses the V –sign as a symbol of victory. The Key according to the Party President symbolized a sure entry into state house after the 2006 presidential and parliamentary elections. It was a beacon of hope that power would be attained through peaceful entry and not by force. The key according to the party officials was used as a symbol for guardianship and dominion.

The Forum for Integrity in Leadership –FIL Party presented quite a unique symbol of the family. The party's ideology is that integrity must begin from the family. A good leader must not only be a national leader but must be able to exhibit his potential right from the family level.

Secondly this picture was symbolic of the quest for smaller families in a country that has recently been rocked by a sudden population explosion. Initiatives by the family planning association of Uganda have been underway to raise awareness about the need to raise small and manageable families. In a way the symbol used by the forum for integrity party was intended to reiterate the need to control the population growth which on the contrary the incumbent president encourages on grounds that a high population growth is good for development

Farmers Party Union Symbol

The farmers Union Party symbol is a bulls head with rounded horns symbolizing bravery, valor and generosity. The rounded horns symbolize the strength and fortitude. Again depending on the situation In my view this symbol was a little complicated and therefore using it to mobilize people would be rather a task. People are able to rally behind something they understand, believe in and cherish as their own. The bull could work in western Uganda with a high population of cattle keepers but the story could be a little different in eastern or southern Uganda.

JEEMA Party Symbol

During the 2006 presidential and parliamentary elections, JEEMA party stood for Justice, Education, Economic revitalization and Moral integrity. According to the above sign each of the bent fingers represents a core value that must be achieved for the people of Uganda. The fifth pointed finger basically reflected the party's determination to attain the values they stand for.

Symbol of the LDT Party

The Liberal Democratic Transparency –LDT Party shows the map of Uganda with a Glass cutting across the map. The symbol was effective in trying to mobilize support for the need to fight corruption, nepotism and other injustices which the party founders believed were the major setbacks to the country's development. But the symbol of a Glass also raises question marks especially related to the fragility. So when the glass breaks the country is plunged into chaos. Those are the dilemmas that could be faced by anyone using the glass as a symbol of transparency.

MDC Party Symbol

The MDC symbol –Raising the thumb, index and Middle fingers was initially used by the nationalist Serbs as a sign of victory representing the Christian trinity during the Bosnian war.

In the United States, the same gesture was independently adopted by students at Vanderbilt University and other supporters of the school's athletic teams. In this case, the three fingers are interpreted as forming the letters "V-U".[18] use of the gesture at a time when the political space was being opened up after almost 20-years of limbo could have been seen as appropriate. But the shortfall again raises on whether or not the people actually understand the sign and whether it does make any sense to them.

The symbol of the New Order Democracy – NOD part is a Rainbow set in a white background with the bottom of the rainbow in sky blue, and the entire flag edged in sky blue. On the right hand corner is inserted in a vertical position, the abbreviations: NOD. N is in black, O is in yellow, and D is in red, representing the National Flag.

The Rainbow and the white flag in the background symbolize universal Peace, while the sky blue symbolizes our universality.

The NCD party registered the dove carrying an olive branch as its symbol. The Dove is universally accepted as a symbol of peace. In a country that's Northern Part has experienced more than two decades of insurgency, this symbol was appropriate in giving hope to the people who so much need peace in their communities.

The Ruling National Movement –NRM party chose the yellow as its symbol. The bus symbolize the country on the move and ready to take whoever is willing to take a ride on it. The driver of the bus is the NRM party president Yoweri Kaguta Museveni. Indeed this symbol has worked effectively especially among the rural countryside where the means of transport are skewed up and also among the youths who have witnessed no other regime apart from the NRM regime in Uganda. But the bus as a symbol for collective struggle could also be abused by the people who could take a ride on it but don’t share the same ideologies as the driver does. So its not that everybody on the bus actually shares the same ideology. So the numbers on the bus can be deceptive.

This is the symbol of the Uganda People's Congress Party. The raised palm was and remains a trademark of the UPC party one of the oldest parties in Uganda. The raised palm signaled that everything is good and no problem.

Overall the above are some of the major symbols used by some political parties in Uganda. They are both a tool of political communication to the masses and also a symbol of identity for those who share the values of the parties.

Chapter 4: Symbols as Tools of Political Mobilization

Features of Symbols

According to Kertzer in Ritual, Politics and Power there are three key features of symbolic forms-

  • The ability of a symbol to Condense a message
  • The Multi-Vocallity Feature
  • The Ambiguity

Symbols tend to condense information into a unified form that must not be acceptable by everybody because there is likelihood is likely to be acceptable to every body. For example the Flag of Uganda can be looked at as just an object of identity to Ugandans, but the six stripes of colors black, yellow and Red are symbolic of the African identity, the sunshine and the blood.

Another important feature of a symbol is Multi-Vocality. This refers to the ability of the symbol to communicate different meanings to different groups of people. For example, the symbol raised straight palm is a symbol of the Uganda people's congress –UPC. Yet this symbol can be interpreted as a waving goodbye by some people and also a warning of an impending slap depending on the different world views.

Symbols are generally ambiguous because as already seen from the list of the political party symbols above, symbols allow for multiple interpretations. For example the Hammer used by the Reform Agenda Party was at the time seen a symbol of power, but for a carpenter the hammer is just a simple tool that can be used to help him clip timber together but not use it to remove a president from power. Both individuals have a positive view about the hammer despite the fact that there is a disagreement over the meaning.

The ambiguity character of symbols can be reflected through this article which was published on the Uganda Radio network-URN website:

Political Symbols tricky for Lira Priest

Effective communication without political bias may be a problem since political parties adopted hand gestures as their symbols.

A priest at St. Augustine Anglican Church in Lira on Sunday found problems after he realized that all the common gestures he used were attached to political parties.

Rev. Alfred Acur asked the congregation not to associate the gestures with the political party symbols.

Rev. Acur stopped using a pointed index finger for emphasis or open palm to wish people peace, and instead bowed, which drew laughter from the congregation.

Independent presidential candidate, Abed Bwanika used a pointed index finger as his symbol while an open palm is UPC party symbol.

Other symbols are a clenched fist for the DP party and a thumb up for the NRM.[19]

In another incident, during a political rally in Kasambya sub-county Mubende District, in 2006, the UPC party president Miria Obote Kalule took a swipe at the symbols that were being used by some politicians to mobilize support.

Miria was quoted by the National New Vision Newspaper of January 21st 2006 saying " Miria took off the gloves and indiscriminately pulled a few punches at her opponents' credentials to repair the damage and to prove she could hit as hard as the big boys. Below are some of the quotes related to her perceptions of the symbols used by her political opponents to rally support.

NRM party sign of the Thumb which shows support or everything is fine. But Miria Obote said:

"What I know about the thumb is that it is used for killing fleas, bedbugs and lice. You cannot use the thumb to reconcile with anybody you wronged. Because it is a symbol for war, that is why the northern war has not ended,"

Obote took another straight swipe at the V-Sign of the Forum for Democratic Change.

The V-Symbol that took the masses by a storm was also seen by some people as symbolic of the fangs of a snake waiting to devour Ugandans. But for Miria Obote the V-Sign is a symbol of a pair of scissor only good for destroying but not mending.

"That is just a makansi (a pair of scissors). A makansi can only cut, kata kata kata, but it cannot sew back the cloth".


And while the Democratic Party felt strong with its closed fist, Miria felt this was also a symbol of war and not peace.

Some people come waving a fist at you. We are not interested in fighting each other.”

Miria was convinced that it's only the raised and open hand of the UPC party which is not only a wave but rather a hand that is capable of sewing and mending a broken nation.

Factors That Determine the suitability of Symbols

From the list of symbols listed above its evident that each of the political parties seeks to communicate a message through its symbol, signs and emblem. Edelman in his book constructing the Political Spectacle says "the process by which political actors define themselves and their worlds are defined by others and attempt to get their own preferred meanings accepted as the basis for allocation of values."[20]

Theorists like Charles Pierce and Kenneth Burke state that symbols are significant elements in the meaning making process. "Individuals perceive and understand their environment through symbols that attach meaning to experiences".[21]

I do agree that political actors define who they are through their symbols, but these symbols don’t remain static actually as soon as a symbol gets out into the public then it stands to be used, abused or misused. But its also worthy noting that whenever the masses derive their own interpretation of the symbol, its not always based on the values they hold and cherish but rather could be a vice they dread and loathe.

This is true of the Hammer symbol which was adopted by the reform Agenda prior to the 2001 Presidential elections. While the hammer was seen as a tool for effective removal of the cotter pin from state house, people opposed to the Reform Agenda looked at the hammer as symbol of Brutality. This was so mainly because of the court Brokers who usually storm residences breaking down houses and destabilizing communities. The Brokers are locally called "Banyondo" –the men with the hammers. Therefore for people who have suffered the brutality of the Banyondo, the hammer symbol was a constant reminder of the Banyondo and therefore chose to de-campaign the party on these grounds.

The most important factor that determines the suitability of a symbol is meaning. The meaning must be simple and clear and close all room for multiple meanings and interpretations. The meaning in my view must be one that touches on the aspirations and values of the people. For example soliciting support using a glass of milk as a symbol in the cattle keeping areas of UgandaNorthern Uganda would be a total success. Because the glass of milk makes no sense to the cattle keepers who have the ability to get milk from their cows, but not for the malnourished children mothers and children in the internally displaced people's camps. would be a total waste of time. But using a glass of wine as a symbol of mobilization in the internally displaced people's camps of

Again Edelman puts it rightly when he says that the critical element in political maneuver for advantage is the creation of meaning: the construction of beliefs about events, policies, Leaders, problems and crises that rationalize or challenge existing inequalities.[22]

Edelman adds that the strategic need is to immobilize opposition and mobilize support….therefore the crucial tactic is to select a symbol that evoke meanings and legitimize favored causes and actions and also symbols that re-assure people and mobilize them into supporting the party's cause.

Symbols energize collective action therefore another key aspect to consider is the simplicity and clarity of the symbol being used to mobilize people across cultures. The symbol of the Hoe was a good for mobilizing collective action among the rural farming populations, but was not strategically symbolic considering that people have been waiting for more advanced means of agriculture production.

The suitability of a symbol will also depend on its ability to empathize with the people to which it is targeted. A good symbol for political communication and mobilization must relate to the peoples ideologies and beliefs: a symbol for social or political mobilization must be one that relates to the people's beliefs and ideologies. For example the Democratic Party's symbol of the hoe was greatly appreciated by the greater population of the farmers who see and appreciate the hoe as a tool of production. Most farmers were convinced that the Democratic Party was out to help them increase production and pull them out of poverty.

Inaugurating the DP party symbol, the DP national chairman Joseph Mukiibi was quoted saying that:

"The founders of DP chose a hand hoe as its symbol because it was the commonest and most important tool in the lives of Ugandans. It was the basis of all livelihoods at that time. Despite the passage of time, the hoe is still the primary tool of all rural people who comprise more than 90 percent of all Ugandans. The other 10 percent depend on the food produced by peasants using the hoe. Properly articulated this symbol can carry a very powerful political message. Therefore DP is retaining the hand hoe as the party’s main symbol".

In addition the empathy need not only be for the potential supporters. But empathy can also be looked from the originators point of view. Can the people empathize with you because of your symbol?

The point am trying to draw can be reflected through the example of the grinding stone symbol that was used by president Museveni in 1996. At least many people in Uganda know how heavy the grinding stone is and what a task it is to grind grains ready for meals. This perception was enough for the president to garner support from the people who sympathized with him and felt he needed more support to fulfill his promises for the people of Uganda.

Overall a good symbol is one that draws a sense of common purpose, attracts solidarity and enforces sustained interactions.

Analysis of symbols as Tools of Mobilization

The fundamental concept describing the role of symbols in human culture and society can be traced to the philosophical movement called "symbolic interactionists, a philosophy founded by Herbert Blumer based on writings of George Mead. The symbolic interactionists said that symbols originally framed to describe events or reality eventually defines reality.[23]

This means that symbols must define the reality within the communities to which they are going to be used. For example a symbol of a star though symbolic of light and bright moments to come, is rather abstract for a rural community in Uganda. Its kind of a fantasy for the people because no one comes into touch with the stars. A stray night is beautiful to look at but that’s where it ends. So the star symbol may have a rather abstract meaning to this community compared to a symbol of a granary.

The Grannary is real because food is stored in a granary for future use in case of famine and emergencies. The granary is an appropriate symbol because people are able to perceive the reality of the granary much faster compared to the symbol of the star.

Therefore The introduction of popular, recognizable symbols can be described as the first step towards the creation of a viable social network around which political parties can base their mobilization efforts. The power of symbol as a tool of mobilization can be traced in the fact that symbols have the power to transmit messages, and and understanding to a greater majority of people.

Therefore for politicians and leaders of social movements the onus upon them is to select the symbols used from an area which is common to the frames of reference. This is partly due to the fact that symbols by nature transmit messages necessary for thought. Using a symbol outside the common frame tends to render abstract meanings and understanding and therefore mobilization would become a rather hazardous task.

Symbols have the power to convey messages to people from diverse background.

Symbols are usually visible. This characteristic allows for easy accessibility by the many people. But visibility alone is not enough, the symbol must also hold meaning, relate to the values and aspirations of the people that the party may want to woo. Therefore it is important that any symbol selected for use in mobilization must be a stand alone and not cluttered by so many other sub-symbols which tend to open door for multiplicity of interpretations.

Symbols have the potential to draw crowds as long as they are knit together in a clear and understandable way. In a country like Uganda where the Literacy rates are low the use of symbols would be a viable alternative for reaching out to the hundreds of people especially in the rural areas who can not read and write.


Symbols can be effective tools of communication and mobilization if well manipulated to fit into the people's understanding and perception of the world views and events around them. I agree with Tarrow (Power in Movements) arguments that cultural symbols are not automatically available as mobilizing symbols but require concrete agents to turn them into frames of contention.[24]

The symbol for mobilization must be one that fans the flames of actions, for example Tarrow again says that the catholic symbols that surrounded the polish workers movement when it burst out on the Baltic Coast in 1980 shows that symbolism must be customary resonant to fire people's minds.

The hammer used by the Reform Agenda in 2001 was chosen by the people and fanned a lot of fire because it was resonant with the people's aspirations for a new Uganda.

As in the case of the American civil rights movement, it wasn’t a symbol inherited from the past that took the movement into the most radical phase but a new one –the symbol of workers solidarity that emerged in the course of the struggle and served as a strategic purpose for militants locked in combat with powerful opponents.[25]

The power of the symbols lies in their magical ability to demonstrate a mood around the social or political situation. The symbols unite people into one identity. The media has been awash with stories about people demonstrating against the burning and destruction of flags. When the group's symbol is insulted the whole group is insulted like was the case in the reaction of the Danish cartoons.

The same was witnessed in one scenario in Uganda when the NRM party decided to use the dry banana leaves –"esanja" meaning another term in power. The campaign rallies witnessed thousands of NRM supporters adorned in dry banana leaves. But while the dry banana leaves were being supported as symbols for a third term, farmers in some areas felt this was a blasphemy because their banana plants were destroyed by the banana wilt disease and movement of dry banana leaves had been prohibited.

Way Forward

From the discussion above, it is worth noting that symbols have the power to either attract crowds to a social or political cause or repel people away. This is particularly so in countries with low literacy rates and where the production costs of campaign materials like posters, banners and fliers are high.

The ability of a symbol to attract or repel will also depend on the choice and selection of the symbol for use. It is there fore to bear in mind the following factors when choosing a symbol for use.

Research about the composition of the target community: this is crucial to understand the people to who the proposed symbol is aimed at. This is important in selecting the appropriate symbol for them. If the target population for mobilization is the youths it would be an absolute blunder to use a symbol of a smoking pipe to woo there support over a cause. But the symbol of a smoking pipe would be appropriate for the rather an older population perhaps creating a sense of nostalgia about the old good times. Studying the composition of the community should also look at the education levels, the gender aspect, and political, social and economic activities. The information gathered will be crucial at the design phase of the symbol in defining the message of the symbol and the target. It's also important to involve people in suggesting or even deciding on an appropriate symbol for the cause. The collective struggle should not be limited at seeking their support but rather in all stages.

Secondly it is also important to pre-test the symbol at the design phase. This could be done through the media or even interviews. The purpose of the symbol pretest is to test the perceptions and interpretation of the symbol at design stage. This gives a clear picture on whether or not the symbol is acceptable and appropriate. This also helps control the multiplicity of interpretations of a particular symbol.

Choose a simple symbol which has the ability to transmit a simple but concrete message. Unfortunately most of the symbols used by political parties seem to create a lot of room for explanation especially when the symbol is also cluttered by a lot more sub-symbols. The DP party symbol of the Hoe is rather simple and straight forward compared to the COSEVO party symbol. The more concrete a symbol is the easier it becomes to communicate to people without the need to explain.

Visibility is also very important in deciding the choice of symbol for use in communication and mobilization. For example the FDC party symbol of the key which is the main symbol of the party is rather overshadowed by the map and the hand signs making the main symbol invisible. The main symbol must be visible enough to make them recognizable, acceptable and a fan to flame a successful struggle.

[1] Sydney Tarrow: Power in movement

[2] Anthony Smith, The Ethnic Origins of Nations (Cambridge: Blackwell, 1986, 1994), pp. 15-16

[3] John R. Gillis, Commemorations: The Politics of National Identity (Princeton: Princeton

University Press, 1994), introduction.

[4] Alexander Motyl, “Inventing Invention: The Limits of National Identity Formation,” in Ronald

Grigor Suny and Michael Kennedy, eds., Intellectuals and the Articulation of the Nation (Ann
Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1999), pp. 57-75.

[5] http://www.ugpulse.com/articles/daily/news.asp?about=FDC

[6] Clair Marblestone: The History of Uganda http://www.history.ucsb.edu/faculty/marcuse/classes/33d/projects/genocides/uganda/UgandaHistoryClaire.

[7] ibid

[8] Europa Publications Limited, 1999: 3561

[9] Europa Publications Limited, 1999: 3561

[10] EIU, 2000: 5

[11] Tordoff, 1997: 23

[12] Europa Publications Limited, 1999: 3564

[13] Tordoff, 1997: 15-16

[14] Keesings, 2000: 43610

[15] Tordoff, William 1997. Government and Politics in Africa (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press).

[16] Websters Dictionary

[17] Murray Edelman, constructing the political spectacle Chicago: University of Chicago Press 1988 pp 6

[18] www.wikipeadia.org/wiki/hand_gesture

[20] Murray Edelman, Constructing the Political Spectacle (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988) p 1-

[21] Kenneth Burke, The symbol as Formative in Kenneth Burke on Symbols and Society (University of Chicago press, 1989) p 107-13

[24] Sydney Tarrow, Power In Movements: social movements and Contentious Politics, 2nd edition : Cambridge University Press

[25] Ibid

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