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Has Museveni fundamentally changed Uganda?

By Kavuma Kaggwa

Understanding NRM Liberation Day from the perspective of May 24, 1966 when tyranny started on under Milton Obote

This year, the national Liberation Day celebrations marked in Mayuge district in the kingdom of Busoga come at an auspicious time. This day marks the day when then-rebel army leader Yoweri Museveni’s forces captured power and declared a government in the capital Kampala although they continued to fight to liberate the rest of the country.

On this day Gen. Yoweri Kaguta Museveni became the ninth president of Uganda.

He is also so far the longest serving president as he has ruled for 28 years.

Museveni’s forces captured Kampala city from the forces of then-president Gen. Tito Okello on January 25, 1986. But this date was officially changed to be January 26, 1986 because January 25 coincided with the day then-disgraced former president, Gen. Idi Amin Dada’s overthrow of

Obote’s first government on January 25, 1971. Amin himself was overthrown eight years later by a joint force of Ugandans in exile backed by President Julius Nyerere’s Tanzanian forces in events that culminated in the return of Obote to power and Museveni launching of the liberation war in Luwero that ended, officially, on January 26, 1986.

This day is, therefore, important because it marked the end of the tyrannical regimes which started on May 24, 1966 under then-president Apollo Milton Obote.

Origins of tyranny

It is important to the young generation in Uganda to know that it is actually the events of May 1966, the dismantling of the 1962 independence constitution, and breaking the political and economic power of the Baganda, which have shaped our country into what it is today.

During the period before May 24, 1966, an extremely bitter disagreement developed between Sir Edward Mutesa II who was a ceremonial President of Uganda and Kabaka (King) of Buganda and Milton Obote who was an Executive Prime Minister.

The bitter disagreement mainly came about because of two reasons; first Milton Obote, who had since April 25, 1962 been appointed prime minister by the colonial government, wanted to consolidate his political power and influence in Buganda after parliament elected Kabaka Edward Mutesa as ceremonial president of Uganda.

As part of the plan, in 1964, Obote married a beautiful Muganda lady, Miria Kalule, a move seen by some as an effort to penetrate into the heart of the Baganda.

Then in the same year, our history turned when Obote supported Buganda’s rival kingdom of Bunyoro in 1964 during the referendum in Buyaga and Bugangayizi when the people in those counties (which were part of Buganda) voted to be part of Bunyoro.

The people in those two counties were predominantly Banyoro but Buganda had acquired the territories after defeating the Banyoro in the kingdom wars of Buganda extension before the 1900 Uganda Agreement, which entrenched colonial British hegemony over this country.

When the 1900 Agreement was signed between Buganda and Britain, those two counties were part of the 20 counties of Buganda.

The 1964 referendum was agreed upon at the London Conference to approve the 1962 Independence Constitution. It stipulated that a referendum will be held in 1964; two years after Uganda achieving Independence.

With the vote imminent, the Kabaka of Buganda settled thousands of Baganda to add on those who were there already so that Buganda might win the vote. But Obote, as Executive Prime Minister, refused to allow the new entrants to vote.

He announced that only those people who were on the Voter’s Register of 1962 would be allowed to vote in the 1964 referendum.

The Banyoro won the referendum vote and, although Sir Edward Mutesa II as president was required by law to sign the papers transferring the two counties from Buganda to Bunyoro, he refused. The Kabaka clearly said that he could not give away Buganda territory to another country. Obote, as was catered for under the law, signed the transfer of territories to Bunyoro.

As a result, Buganda today has 18 counties and Bunyoro now has oil in those two counties!  When the disagreements started to emerge between then ceremonial president Sir Edward Mutesa and then-executive Prime Minister Milton Obote resulting in Mutesa being forced to vacate State House Entebbe, the Buganda Lukiiko took a drastic move and passed a strong resolution ordering Obote to “remove forthwith his Government from Buganda land and take it to Lango”. Many people saw this as a big blunder, because even back then Kampala was the unrivalled capital and commercial city of Uganda.   The anti-Buganda elements in Kampala gave Obote wrong and misleading information that the Kabaka had assembled a big cache of weapons to fight Obote.

Obote ordered his “Special Force” to attack the palace early in the morning of May 24, 1966. Mutesa using his military tactics reportedly wiped out the entire “Special Forces” of 2000 men.

Obote then ordered his Chief of Staff, Gen. Idi Amin to send in troops and invade the palace forcing the Kabaka to flee into exile in London where he died.

After forcing the Kabaka into exile, Obote with the backing of Parliament and his party UPC, declared himself President of Uganda. That was the actual beginning of the tyrannical regimes in Uganda.

Era of political instability

Obote ruled for five years and he was overthrown by his own army on January 25, 1971, led by Gen. Amin.

Gen. Amin ruled for nine years and he was overthrown by the combined forces of the Tanzanian Army and Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA) which was formed by Ugandan exiles in Tanzania, Kenya and other countries.

Prof. Yusuf Kironde Lule replaced Amin and he ruled for just 68 days and was removed by the post-liberation war interim parliament; the National Consultative Council (NCC) which comprised 28 representatives of the fighting groups joined under the Uganda National Liberation Front/Army. The UNLA had prominent groups like Kikosi Maalum of Milton Obote, Fronasa of Museveni, the Uganda Freedom Movement of Godfrey Binaisa, Andrew Kayiira, and Olara Otunnu. Godfrey Lukongwa Binaisa was named by the NCC to replace Prof. Lule.

In April 1980 Binaisa ordered political parties to resume their activities in the country. Binaisa was removed in May 1980 by the UNLF/UNLA because he tried to remove Obote’s main commander; Maj. Gen. David Oyite Ojok from the leadership of the UNLA. Oyite Ojok was the face of the Ugandan arm of the liberation army.

The Government of the Military Commission led by Paul Muwanga came in and Yoweri Museveni (now President) was the deputy Chairman of the Military Commission.

Milton Obote returned from exile in Tanzania on May 17, 1980.

The Military Commission organised general elections on December 10, 1980. The Democratic Party is said to have won those elections with 75 seats but Paul Muwanga as Chairman of the Military Commission changed all the results and he awarded victory to UPC/Milton Obote.

Yoweri Museveni, Dr Andrew Kayira, and George Nkwanga `went to the bush’ i.e. started fighting the Obote II government between January and February 1981.  In July 1981 Museveni negotiated with Prof. Lule in Nairobi and they formed National Resistance Movement and Army (NRM/A) to fight Obote.

On July 27, 1985, while fighting was raging and the whole country was engulfed in terrible suffering socially, educationally and economically, two generals of the then-government army, the UNLA, Gen. Tito Okello Lutwa and Gen. Bazilio Olara Okello, overthrew the Milton Obote government. Tito Okello was declared president and Obote fled into exile in Zambia where he died in 2005.  Late in 1985, the late Cardinal Emmanuel Nsubuga and former President Daniel arap Moi of Kenya organised peace talks in Nairobi between General Okello Lutwa and Yoweri Museveni under the theme “Give Peace a Chance in Uganda”.

The talks ended in signing a “peace Agreement” which was never implemented. The NRA and other fighting forces intensified the fighting in Western Buganda.  The NRA recruited thousands of young Baganda to fight the war and the Sabataka (now Sabasajja Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II) went on the frontline in various parts of Western Buganda assisted by Moses Kigongo, the Vice-Chairman of NRM, to encourage the NRA fighters to fight to victory.

The NRA quickly advanced to Kampala and they captured the city on January 25, 1986.

President Museveni while swearing in at Parliament for the first time declared: “This is not a mere change of guard but it is a fundamental change”.

Gains and challenges

Since then Museveni has maintained peace and political stability in the country. This is very important in the day to day life of the citizens, because they develop themselves. People cannot develop themselves if there is no peace and political stability in the country.

President Yoweri Museveni moved quickly to restore the Buganda Kingdom on July 31, 1993 fulfilling the agreements he made with the Baganda Elders (Abataka) during negotiations before the war, that “as soon as victory is achieved, Buganda Kingdom will be restored”.

The Mengo Palace, the Bulange and the Kabaka’s land, 350 sq. miles, were handed back to Buganda. Sabasajja Kabaka Muwenda Mutebi II is now the 36th Kabaka of Buganda.  The restoration of the Buganda Kingdom enabled the Baganda to rebuild their political power and economic power, which they had lost in the 1966 revolution.  Museveni also oversaw the making of the 1995 Constitution. The Judicial system is functioning fairly well and, although it occasionally faces challenges, there appears to be a genuine attempt to entrench the rule of law.

In 2005 he organised a national referendum in which Ugandans voted overwhelmingly to return to multi-party system of government.

Today, people elect the leaders of their own choice. In an interesting addition, any citizen of Uganda can now contest for a Parliamentary seat without being a member of any political party.

President Museveni has modernised our armed forces and on several occasions, they have been sent on peace keeping missions in other African countries and currently, they are in Somalia, Central Africa Republic, and South Sudan.

Museveni’s 28 years in power have been marked by people developing themselves economically and generally, the infrastructure of Uganda is developing. Although the national carrier was dismantled, many foreign airlines fly in and out Entebbe International Airport.

Museveni’s policy of liberalisation and a free-market economy has attracted several investors into the country. This policy, however, requires some changes so that the local Africans will benefit more.

The mobile telephone system has improved tremendously and there has been financial deepening as people can now receive money wherever they are in the country. The banking sector has also grown and many banks, most of them foreign, enjoy very good profit margins in the country. If as announced, the Church of Uganda opens its own commercial bank in the country soon, it will be the third indigenous bank after Centenary Bank and Crane Bank.

On the international scene, Uganda has acquired “a good name” as a result of holding many international conferences in Kampala, in the recent past. These conferences are a good promotion for our tourism.

The economy needs to concentrate more aggressively on promoting tourism.

It is extremely shameful to drive all the way to and from Entebbe Airport without seeing a big or small billboard advertising the Murchison Falls, River Nile at Jinja, Rwenzori National Park, and Lake Victoria, Bwindi Gorillas, the birds, Mt. Elgon, Lake Kyoga, Lake George and Edward and Namugongo Shrine. Instead, one only sees adverts of foreign owned companies.

After 28 years in power, Museveni still has to build an economy controlled by the indigenous people. He needs to change the economic policy and spread industrialization everywhere in Uganda instead of cramping all industries in Buganda and more so around Kampala.


Kavuma-Kaggwa is an elder from Kyaggwe, Mukono District  – Tel: 0772-584423

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