Uganda’s Political Past
A brief history of Uganda’s checkered and bloody past
1962 – 1966: Independence, 1ts President, is Mutesa II
October 9, 1962 – Uganda gains independence from the United Kingdom.
In 1962, Uganda became independent from Britain under the leadership of Milton Obote. Under the country’s new constitution, the Kingdom of Buganda became a semi-autonomous part of a new Ugandan federation. The federal Prime Minister was Obote, the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) leader, which entered a governing coalition with the dominant Buganda regional party, Kabaka Yekka.
The post of Governor-General of Uganda was abolished with the attainment of republican status and replaced by a non-executive President.
Obote and the UPC reached a deal with Mutesa to support his election to the Presidency of Uganda. In a session of Parliament on 4 October 1963, Mutesa was elected President via secret ballot with over two-thirds of the members.
In 1964, the coalition between Mutesa and Obote’s parties collapsed over the imposition, against Mutesa’s will, of a referendum to decide the fate of two “lost counties”. Residents of the two counties voted overwhelmingly in favour of their return from Buganda to Bunyoro. In 1966, Mutesa’s estrangement from Obote merged with another crisis.
Obote faced possible removal from office by factional infighting within his own party. He had the other four leading members of his party arrested and detained, and then suspended the federal constitution and declared himself President of Uganda in February 1966, deposing Mutesa.
The Buganda regional Parliament passed a resolution in May 1966 declaring that de jure Buganda’s incorporation into Uganda had ended with the suspension of the constitution and requesting the federal government to vacate the capital city, which was in Buganda. Obote responded with an armed attack upon the Kabaka’s palace, sending Mutesa into exile in the United Kingdom via Burundi, and in 1967 a new constitution abolished all of Uganda’s kingdoms, including Buganda.
Wikipedia: Mutesa II of Buganda
1966 – 1971: 2nd Presiden Milton Obote
15 April 1966 – Prime Miniter Milton Obote becomes the second president of Uganda.
In 1969, there was an attempt on Obote’s life. In the attempt’s aftermath, all opposition political parties were banned, leaving Obote as an effectively absolute ruler. A state of emergency was in force for much of the time, and many political opponents were jailed without trial for life. Obote’s regime terrorised, harassed, and tortured people. His secret police, the General Service Unit, led by Obote’s cousin, was responsible for many cruelties.
In 1969–70, Obote published a series of pamphlets that outlined his political and economic policy. The Common Man’s Charter was a summary of his approach to socialism, which became known as the Move to the Left.
The government took over a 60% share in major private corporations and banks in 1970. During Obote’s regime, flagrant and widespread corruption emerged in the name of his version of “socialism”. Food shortages sent prices through the ceiling. Obote’s persecution of Indian traders contributed to this rise in prices.
The Israeli government was training the Ugandan police and military and providing arms to the Anyanya in Southern Sudan, engaged in a guerilla war with the Sudanese government. The Obote government withdrew support for the rebels, arrested a German mercenary called Steiner, and deported him to Sudan. The Israeli government was very unhappy with these events.
In January 1971, Obote was overthrown by the army while on a visit to Singapore to attend a Commonwealth conference, and Amin became President. In the two years before the coup, Obote’s relations with the West had become strained. Some have suggested that Western Governments were at least aware of and may have aided the coup.
The Israeli government certainly played an active role in planning and implementing the coup. They operated mechanised equipment and maintained a high profile in and around the capital, including manning roadblocks. According to one source, “They were to be seen everywhere.” Obote fled to Tanzania. The fall of Obote’s regime was welcomed and celebrated by many Ugandans.
Wikipedia: Milton Obote
1971 – 1979: 3rd President Idi Amin Dada
25 January 1971 – 11 April 1979, Idi Amin overthrows Obote in a military coup.
In 1962, following Uganda’s independence from the United Kingdom, Amin was promoted to captain and then, in 1963, to major. He was appointed Deputy Commander of the Army in 1964 and, the following year, to Commander of the Army. In 1970, he was promoted to commander of all the armed forces.
Having learned that Obote was planning to arrest him for misappropriating army funds, Amin seized power in a military coup on 25 January 1971. Obote was attending a Commonwealth summit meeting in Singapore. Troops loyal to Amin sealed off Entebbe International Airport and took Kampala. Soldiers surrounded Obote’s residence and blocked major roads.
A broadcast on Radio Uganda accused Obote’s government of corruption and preferential treatment of the Lango region. Cheering crowds were reported in the streets of Kampala after the radio broadcast. Amin announced that he was a soldier, not a politician. The military government would remain only as a caretaker regime until new elections, announced when the situation was normalised.
On 2 February 1971, one week after the coup, Amin declared himself President of Uganda, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Uganda Army Chief of Staff, and Chief of Air Staff. He announced that he was suspending specific provisions of the Ugandan constitution and soon instituted an Advisory Defence Council composed of military officers with himself as the chairman.
Amin placed military tribunals above civil law, appointed soldiers to top government posts and parastatal agencies, and informed the newly inducted civilian cabinet ministers that they would be subject to military courtesy. Amin ruled by decree, and throughout his rule, he issued approximately 30 decrees.
Wikipedia: Idi Amin
1980 – 1985: 4th President Milton Obote
In 1979, Idi Amin was ousted by Tanzanian forces aided by Ugandan exiles.
By 1980, Uganda was governed by an interim Presidential Commission. At the time of the 1980 elections, the commission’s chairman was a close associate of Obote, Paulo Muwanga. Muwanga had briefly been the de facto President of Uganda from 12–20 May 1980, as one of three presidents who served for short periods between Amin’s ousting and the setting up of the Presidential Commission. The other two presidents were Yusuf Lule and Godfrey Binaisa.
The elections in 1980 were won by Obote’s Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) party. However, the UPC’s opposition believed that the elections were rigged, which led to a guerrilla war by Yoweri Museveni’s National Resistance Army (NRA) and several other military groups. Obote held the additional title of Minister of Finance.
In 1983, the Obote government launched Operation Bonanza, a military expedition that claimed tens of thousands of lives and displaced a significant portion of the population. The brunt of the blame for this massacre was placed on the people of northern Uganda to support the prime minister’s action, which increased the existing regional tensions in the country. It has been estimated that approximately 100,000 to 500,000 people died due to fighting between Obote’s Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA) and the guerrillas.
On 27 July 1985, Obote was deposed again. As in 1971, he was overthrown by his own army commanders in a military coup d’état; this time, the commanders were Brigadier Bazilio Olara-Okello and General Tito Okello. The two men briefly ruled the country through a Military Council, but after a few months of near chaos, Museveni’s NRA seized control of the country.
By July 1985, Amnesty International estimated that the Obote regime had been responsible for more than 300,000 civilian deaths across Uganda. Abuses were particularly conspicuous in an area of central Uganda known as the Luweero Triangle.
1986 – Today: 5th President Yoweri Museveni
Museveni was involved in rebellions that toppled Ugandan leaders Idi Amin (1971–79) and Milton Obote (1980–85) before he captured power in 1986.
In the mid-to-late 1990s, Museveni was celebrated by the West as part of a new generation of African leaders. During Museveni’s presidency, Uganda has experienced relative peace and significant success.
On 16 January 2021, the electoral commission of Uganda announced that Museveni won re-election for a sixth term with 58.6% of the vote.
Wikipedia: Yoweri Museveni