|Uganda Table of ContentsTHE CENTRAL QUESTION facing Uganda after the National Resistance Movement (NRM) led by Yoweri Kaguta Museveni came to power in January 1986 was whether or not this new government could break the cycle of insecurity and decay that had afflicted the country since independence in 1962. Each new government had made that goal more difficult to achieve. Despite Ugandans’ hopes for improvement after the war that ended President Idi Amin Dada’s rule in April 1979, national political and economic difficulties worsened in the seven years that followed. A new guerrilla war began in 1981. The National Resistance Army (NRA), military wing of the NRM, seized Kampala and control of the national government in January 1986. The NRM pledged it would establish legitimate and effective political institutions within the next four years. It failed to achieve this goal, however, partly because new civil wars broke out in the north and the east, and in October 1989 the NRM extended its interim rule until 1995.Few of the basic political questions that confronted Uganda at independence had been settled when the NRM seized power in 1986. Under protectorate rule after 1894, Uganda’s various regions had developed along different paths and at different rates. As a result, at independence the most politically divisive issue was the difference in accumulated wealth among these regions. Political tensions centered around the relatively wealthy region of Buganda, which also formed the most cohesive political unit in Uganda, and its relationship to the rest of the country. Adding to these tensions by the late 1960s, northern military domination had been abruptly translated into political domination. Moreover, some political leaders represented the interests of Protestant church organizations in a country that had a Catholic majority and a small but growing Islamic minority. Ugandan officials increasingly harassed citizens, often for their own economic gain, while imprisonment, torture, and violence, although universally deplored as a means of settling political disputes, had become commonplace. All of these factors contributed to political fragmentation.The NRM government promised fundamental change to establish peace and democracy, to rebuild the economy, and, above all, to end military indiscipline. The new government’s political manifesto, the Ten-Point Program, written during the guerrilla war of the 1980s, traced Uganda’s problems to the fact that previous political leaders had relied on ethnicity and religion in decision making at the expense of development concerns. The Ten-Point Program argued that resolving these problems required the creation of grass-roots democracy, a politically educated army and police force, and greater national economic independence. It also insisted that the success of Uganda’s new political institutions would depend on public servants who would forego self-enrichment at the nation’s expense. Political education would be provided to explain the reasons for altering institutions and policies Uganda had used since independence. The new institutions and policies which the NRM announced it intended to put in their place involved drastic changes from the practices of earlier regimes.At the time that the NRA seized power, however, its organizational life had been brief, its personnel were few, and its political base was narrow. It had few resources to achieve its ambitious proposals for reform. The NRA had been formed in 1981, but its political wing, the NRM, had not been organized as a government until 1985. And because the NRA had been confined primarily to Buganda and western Uganda when it ousted the northern-based Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA), many Ugandans believed it had simply substituted southern political control for northern domination. Separate civil wars resumed in the north and east only a few months later, and many people in those areas remained deeply skeptical about NRM promises.
In addition, as soon as it came to power, the NRM implemented the policy of broad-based government that Museveni had adopted during the guerrilla war. He appointed leaders of rival political parties and armies to high-level military and cabinet offices. These new leaders generally did not share the NRM’s approach to reforms, however. Furthermore, as a government, the NRM had to rely on existing state institutions, particularly government ministries, local administrative offices, and the court system. Government procedures had enjoined public servants working within these institutions from any political activity. Many officials were neither sympathetic to the objectives of the NRM nor convinced that political education for public servants was a legitimate means to accomplish those goals. As a result, Museveni’s government was partly led and predominantly staffed by officials who preferred to restore the policies pursued by the Ugandan government in the 1960s. They shared power with a few NRM officials who were committed to radical changes.
Nonetheless, NRM leaders made the most important policy decisions in the regime’s first four years, relying on the wave of popular support that accompanied their rise to power and their control over the national army. They introduced several new political bodies, including an inner circle of NRM and NRA officials who had risen to leadership positions during the guerrilla war, a hierarchy of popular assemblies known as resistance councils (RCs), the NRM secretariat, and schools for political education. But the NRM had too few trained cadres or detailed plans to implement the Ten-Point Program during this period. As Museveni himself conceded, the NRM came to power before it was ready to govern.
For these reasons–lack of a nationwide political base, creation of a broad-based government, the absence of sufficient trained cadres of its own, and the necessity of relying on existing government ministries–the new government’s leaders chose a path of compromise, blending ideas they had developed during the guerrilla war with existing government institutions on a pragmatic, ad-hoc, day-to-day basis. As a result, during its first four years, the government maintained an uneasy and ambiguous reliance on both old and new procedures and policies. And it was often difficult to determine which official in the government, the NRM, or the NRA possessed either formal or actual responsibility for a particular policy decision.
New civil wars and ill-chosen economic policies diverted the government’s energies from many of its ambitious political and economic reforms, but others were begun. In frequent public statements, Museveni returned to the basic themes of the TenPoint Program, indicating that they had not been abandoned
Source: U.S. Library of Congress
|When the NRM took power in 1986, it added a new element to the unsolved political issues that had bedeviled Uganda since independence. It promised new and fundamental changes, but it also brought old fears to the surface. If this government demonstrated magnanimity toward its opponents and innovative solutions to Uganda’s political difficulties, it also contributed significantly to the country’s political tensions. This paradox appeared in one political issue after another through the first four years of the interim period. The most serious political question was the deepening division between the north and the south, even though these units were neither administrative regions nor socially or even geographically coherent entities. The relationship of Buganda to the rest of Uganda, an issue forcibly kept off the public agenda for twenty years, re-emerged in public debate. Tension between the NRM and the political parties that had competed for power since independence became a new anxiety. In addition, the government’s resort to political maneuvers and surprise tactics in two of its most important initiatives in 1989, national elections and the extension of the interim period of government, illustrated the NRM’s difficulties in holding the nation to its political agenda.
Fears of Regional Domination
For the first time since the protectorate was founded, the NRA victory in 1986 gave a predominantly southern cast to both the new political and the new military rulers of Uganda. For reasons of climate, population, and colonial economic policy, parts of the south, particularly Buganda, had developed economically more rapidly than the north. Until the railroad was extended from the south, cotton could not become an established cash crop in the north. Instead, early in the colonial period, northerners established a pattern of earning a cash income through labor on southern farms or through military service. Although there had never been a political coalition that consisted exclusively, or even predominantly, of southerners or northerners, the head of the government had come from the north for all but one of the preceding twenty-three years of independence, and each succeeding army’s officers and recruits were predominantly northerners. Northerners feared southern economic domination, while southerners chafed under what they considered northern political and military control. Thus, the military victory of the NRA posed a sobering political question to both northerners and southerners: was the objective of its guerrilla struggle to end sectarianism, as the Ten-Point Program insisted, or to end northern political domination?
In the first few days following the NRA takeover of Kampala in January 1986, there were reports of incidents of mob action against individual northerners in the south, but the new government took decisive steps to prevent their repetition. By the end of March, NRA troops had taken military control of the north. A period of uneasy calm followed, during which northerners considered their options. Incidents of looting and rape of northern civilians by recently recruited southern NRA soldiers, who had replaced better disciplined but battle-weary troops, intensified northerners’ belief that southerners would take revenge for earlier atrocities and that the government would not stop them. In this atmosphere, the NRA order in early August 1986 for all soldiers in the former army, the Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA), to report to local police stations gave rise to panic. These soldiers knew that during the Obote and Amin governments such an order was likely to have been a prelude to execution. Instead of reporting, many soldiers joined rebel movements, and a new round of civil wars began in earnest.
Although the civil wars occurred in parts of the east as well, they sharpened the sense of political cleavage between north and south and substantiated the perception that the NRM was intent on consolidating southern domination. Rebels killed some local RC officials because they were the most vulnerable representatives of the NRM government. Because war made northern economic recovery impossible, new development projects were started only in the south. And because cash crop production in the north was also impossible, the income gap between the two areas widened. Most government officials sent north were southerners because the NRA officer corps and the public service were mostly southern. By mid-1990, the NRA had gained the upper hand in the wars in the north, but the political damage had been done. The NRM government had become embroiled in war because it had failed to persuade northerners that it had a political program that would end regional domination. And its military success meant that for some time to come its response to all political issues would carry that extra burden of suspicion.
Facts about Uganda
|World Facts IndexThe colonial boundaries created by Britain to delimit Uganda grouped together a wide range of ethnic groups with different political systems and cultures. These differences prevented the establishment of a working political community after independence was achieved in 1962. The dictatorial regime of Idi AMIN (1971-79) was responsible for the deaths of some 300,000 opponents; guerrilla war and human rights abuses under Milton OBOTE (1980-85) claimed at least another 100,000 lives. The rule of Yoweri MUSEVENI since 1986 has brought relative stability and economic growth to Uganda. During the 1990s, the government promulgated non-party presidential and legislative elections.
|Uganda Table of ContentsUganda is landlocked and depends on foreign imports for most of its consumer goods and energy requirements. Even before independence, maintaining an open trade route to the Indian Ocean was the primary foreign policy objective of all governments. For this reason, once the railroad from Mombasa to Kampala was completed early in the protectorate period, relations with Kenya became the government’s most significant foreign concern. During much of the period of British rule, the most worrying foreign issue for politically conscious Ugandans was the possibility that Kenyan white settlers would gain control over all of East Africa. During the 1950s, when African nationalism gained the upper hand in the four East African territories, the achievement of closer relations among the four also became an important foreign policy objective. Later, however, economic differences eroded initiatives toward federation and eventually led to hostilities between Uganda and Kenya in the 1980s that would have been unimaginable two decades earlier. After independence, political issues erupting into violence within Uganda or its neighbors also caused serious strains in their bilateral relations, frequently involving rebels, refugees, and even military incursions. Because of its former colonial rule, Britain maintained a close and special relationship with Uganda. But over time, this role slowly diminished as Uganda cultivated new links with other industrialized countries. And, despite its protestations of nonalignment, Uganda remained far more closely linked, both economically and politically, to the capitalist than to the socialist bloc.Ugandan foreign policy objectives changed considerably after Idi Amin’s coup d’état in 1971. For the first decade after independence, policymakers had emphasized cooperation with Uganda’s neighbors and the superpowers, participation in international organizations, and nonalignment in order to protect the state’s sovereignty and support the African bloc as much as possible without losing opportunities for expanding trade or gaining assistance for development. When Amin seized power, he followed a far more aggressive, though unpredictable, foreign policy. Uganda threatened its neighbors both verbally and militarily. The gratuitous verbal attacks that Amin launched on foreign powers served mainly to isolate Uganda.The NRM government introduced new radical foreign policy objectives when it first came to power and consequently brought new complications into Uganda’s foreign relations. At the outset, President Museveni enthusiastically supported international and especially African cooperation but conditioned it on an ideological evaluation of whether or not other regimes were racist, dictatorial, or corrupt, or violated human rights. On this basis, shortly after taking power the government went to great lengths to enter trade agreements with other developing countries based on barter rather than cash, in order to publicize Uganda’s autonomy, even though most of its exports continued to consist of coffee purchased by the United States or by European states, and most of its imports came from Europe. In response, Uganda’s neighbors were suspicious of Museveni’s radical pronouncements and felt that he was attacking their rule through his denunciations of their human rights policies. They also avoided close ties to Uganda because they suspected that the NRM government, having come to power through a guerrilla struggle, might assist dissidents intending to overthrow them.During its first four years in power, the NRM government moderated its foreign policy stance to one that more closely reflected the conventional positions of preceding Ugandan governments than the changes proposed in its Ten-Point Program. Uganda maintained friendly relations with Libya, the Soviet Union, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), and Cuba, although most of its trade and development assistance came from the West. In addition, though it consistently maintained its stance of geopolitical nonalignment, the fact that the NRM government accepted an IMF structural adjustment plan made it more politically acceptable to Western leaders. During this period, many African leaders overcame their suspicion of Museveni and the NRM and elected him chair of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in July 1990.
Postindependence heads of government in Uganda made almost all significant foreign policy-making decisions themselves, leaving their foreign ministers to carry them out or explain them away. In order to shore up their domestic power bases, Obote, Amin, and Museveni often introduced new foreign policies that broke sharply with existing relations. They also used foreign policy symbolically to signal the international posture they wished to cultivate. Amin’s pronouncements were the most puzzling because they frequently incurred enormous costs for Uganda’s relations with other states. Foreign ministry officials never knew when it was safe to ignore his orders or when they had to take them seriously. All three presidents often used foreign policy as a public gesture in an effort to give the government more autonomy in international affairs, improve its public standing with radical states, or satisfy vocal militants in the government. In such cases, the government usually gave public support to radical states and causes, while continuing privately to maintain its more conservative foreign relationships. Foreign relations with radical countries, however much they irritated United States and British officials, did not play a significant role in shaping Ugandan foreign policy.
Rita M. Byrnes, ed. Uganda: A Country Study. Washington: GPO for the Library of Congress.