Uganda at 59: Can there be a peaceful transition?

By Our Reporters.

Sir Edward Frederick Muteesa
Apollo Milton Obote

Uganda turns 59 on October 9 2021, but is still dogged by the question of a peaceful transfer of power, having exchanged eight Presidents all through violent regime change.

Former colonial power Britain granted independence to Uganda at the Kololo historical airstrip more than five decades ago. The British colonial  union flag was lowered and the Cranes of independent Uganda was raised.

The overnight “ngalabe” dancing by Baganda dancers celebrating the occasion marked the historic event, with power handed over to President Edward Frederick Mutesa and Prime MiinisterApollo Milton Obote.

But the Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) and Kabaka Yekka (KY) alliance of Obote and Mutesa which had won the 1961 general elections through a coalition did not last. A bitter power struggle  erupted in 1966 with a furious Baganda king “inviting” foreign troops and attempting to kick “Obote’s government” out of Kampala.

Obote reacted decisively warning that “Sir Edward” had abused his powers inviting foreign troops “without authority”. Colonel Idi Amin then led a seige by government troops to subdue the King at the Mengo palace where guards put up a six hour fierce resistance. Hundreds were killed and scores injured as the palace was overrun..

It would take almost two decades for another election to be held in Kampala after the Idi Amin’s Janaury 25 1971 bloody military coup against Obote who was in Singapore attending a common-wealth summit.

The Baganda danced themselves lame at Obote’s overthrow showering the heavily built Idi Amin with all manner of gifts including giving him a “third wife” and hard cash equivalent to his weight. Amin allowed the body of Mutesa who had died in London where he had fled to be returned  to Kampala for state funeral.

But they later lived to regret after Amin unleashed one of Africa’s most brutal dictatorships, butchering the respected Chief Justice Benedicto Kiwanuka for “defying” Amin’s 72 hour order to all Asians to leave Uganda at once.

The Asian families many descendants of coolies who built the Uganda railway from Mombasa to Kasese, knew no other home and were badly displaced as Idi Amin grabbed their houses and properties and handed them to his henchemen.

It took a combined force of Tanzanian troops and Uganda rebels to dislodge the dictator from Kampala waging a fierce cross border  nine month battle.

The war that Amin had wrongly assumed to be a walkover, turned into his worst nightmare forcing his soldiers to flee  precision guided Laser missiles pounding Masaka, Kampala, Soroti and Arua. Amin had unwisely tried to annex Kagera salient in the border town of Mutukula where he hoisted a Uganda flag and kidnapped women for wives. His troops had killed, raped and brutalised Tanzanians in Kagera, a crime Tanzania President Julius Kambarage Nyerere promised  Amin to pay heavily.

By April 1979 the curtain fell on Idi Amin ending nearly nine years of nightmarish fascist misrule.  Enter Professor Yusuf Kironde Lule. The soft spoken 68 – year academician was sworn in but only lasted 68 days before being replaced by former Attorney General under Obote 1 Godfrey Lukongwa Binaisa.QC.

In May 1980 exiled Obote who had spent eight and half years in neighbouring Tanzania returned to Uganda landing in Bushenyi May 27 where mammoth crowds of UPC supporters welcome  him.

In the  hotly contested December 1980 General Elections, the Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) carried the day, making history by returning Obote to power becoming the first African civilian President overthrown by the military to regain power through elections.

But Yoweri Museveni who also contested the poll under his Uganda Patriotic Movement(UPM) party dismsissed the 1980 election results claiming results were rigged to favour Obote and dashed to the bush. Museveni’s Uganda Patriotic Movement (UPM) came a distant fourth with one seat won by Dr Crispus Kiyonga, after UPC (75 seats), DP(50 seats), and CP.(no seat).

On July 27,   1985, rebel government soldiers under Gen Tito Okello Lutwa and Bazilio Olara Okello overthrew Obote. The Okellos claimed they were ‘fed up” with the Luwero bush war against Museveni’s NRA guerrillas that was waging a bitter five year war that claimed over 400,000 lives.

A Kenya brokered peace treaty was signed in December 1985 overseen by President Daniel Moi who expected Okellos and Museveni to lay down their arms in unconditional ceasefire. A cunning” NRA duped and surprised government troops who had ceased fire and NRA captured Kampala. January 25 1986.  Museveni who did not want the Jauanry 25, to coincide with Idi Amin’s January 25, 1071 coup against Milton Obote, opted for January 26, 1986 as his takeover date, was sworn in as the country’s eight President. He has been in power since then for a record 36 years and is not showing any signs of handing over power.

Museveni, 78, is one of Africa’s longest serving strongmen and has made no plans for either retiring the way Nyerere did in Tanzania or Moi in Kenya. He has not groomed any successor  and has denied grooming his son to take over power. But  His son heads the army land forces while his wife and First Lady Hon Janet Kataha Museveni, is Education and Sports  Minister.

Is there any hope that the landlocked country once described by British second world war hero Winston Churchill as the “Pearl of Africa”, can produce its ninth President through peaceful means? Only time will tell ■

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