Uganda gained her independence on October 9th 1962. Since 1894 she was a British protectorate that was put together from some very organized kingdoms and chieftaincies that inhabited the lake regions of central Africa. At independence, Dr. Milton Apollo Obote, also leader of the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) became the first Prime Minister and head of the government.
The Republican leaning UPC came into power through an “unholy” alliance with a pro-mornarchy party called the Kabaka Yekka (KY), which had a stated aim of protecting the institution and power of the kingdom of Buganda. The UPC had earlier on, one year before independence, lost the first ever general election to the Democratic Party(DP) and now needed the strategic partnership of allies to avoid another defeat.
In November 1963, Kabaka Mutesa II King of Buganda was elected ceremonial President of Uganda thus seemingly sealing the political alliance of UPC and KY. However, this marriage of political convenience was short lived since both Obote and Mutesa and their following had differing agendas.
In 1964, Obote championed a bill in Parliament providing for a referendum on the belonging of the counties of Buyaga, Bugangaizi and Buwekula then of Buganda but claimed by the neigbouring kingdom of Bunyoro. This culminated in two of the counties opting to secede from Buganda and revert back to the Bunyoro Kingdom. As Kabaka of Buganda and President of Uganda, Sir Edward Mutesa II, was placed in an invidious position of signing the two acts pertaining to the “lost counties”. It was upon accusations of dereliction of duty by the President, not to mention other fabricated reasons, that Obote suspended the 1962 constitution on 22nd February 1966 and took over all powers of State, thus giving rise to what came to be known as the 1966 Crisis.
On 15 April 1966, in a Parliament surrounded by troops, Obote introduced without notice a new constitution to be voted upon that very day. It was passed without debate and the Prime Minister informed Members of Parliament (MPs) that they would find their copies in their pigeonholes. This constitution came to be known as the Pigeonhole Constitution. Amongst other things, the federal constitutional status of kingdoms was abolished and the office of Prime Minister merged with that of the President and all executive powers became vested in Obote. Uganda was declared a Republic.
The Kabaka and his kingdom establishment at Mengo refused to recognize the supremacy of the pigeonhole constitution, insisting on the 1962 version. This culminated in the 24th May 1966 storming of Kabaka’s palace by the Uganda army under the command of General Idi Amin but on the orders of Obote. Although the Kabaka managed to escape, he was exiled in Britain where he later died.
In 1967 Obote abolished all monarchs. Parliament became the constituent assembly and later all political parties were outlawed, except UPC. In a move to the left, Uganda became a one-party-state.
It was against this background that Idi Amin led a disgruntled section of the army to overthrow Obote on 25th January 1971. This coup was met with great jubilation but was to begin an era of terror and enormous tribulation for the people of Uganda. This dark period would last 8 long years. It was also during this period that all Asians, mainly Indians, were expelled from Uganda.
As a result the economy of Uganda suffered tremendously. The fiscal mismanagement and insecurity that followed dint help the situation.
An estimated 300,000 Ugandans lost their lives through indiscriminate extra judicial killings during Idi Amin’s regime.
The Fall of Idi Amin, the UNLF and Obote II
In April 1979, a combined force of Ugandan exiles, under the umbrella of Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLF), and the Tanzania Peoples Defense Force (TPDF) overthrew Amin’s regime.
The UNLF was created through the patronage of President Nyerere of Tanzania at the Moshi Conference. It brought together a disparate group of Ugandan organizations and individuals with a common goal of ousting the Amin regime. The first UNLF government was led by Prof. Yusuf Lule as President and though well liked only lasted 68 days.
President Lule was followed by President Godfrey Binaisa, and then Paulo Muwanga whoc chaired the ruling Military Commission which organised the December 1980 general elections. UPC was declared winner of those elections though they were marred by multiple irregularities and generally considered rigged. For a second time, Obote became President of Uganda.
During Obote’s second tenure as president, Ugandans went through a very trying period. Insecurity, fuelled by the government’s own security organs as well as an ongoing liberation struggle devastated the country. An estimated 500,000 Ugandans lost their lives in just 5 years of Obote’s reign. The economy was shattered and so was the people’s faith in government.
NRA liberation struggle
In direct protest against the marred elections of 1980, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, then Vice Chairman of the Military Commission and President of the Uganda Patriotic Movement, launched a liberation struggle. It was on February 6th, 1981 and with only 26 compatriots organized under the banner of the National Resistance Army (NRA) that the war of liberation started.
As the NRA made staggering advances towards Kampala, having already cut the country off into two different administrative zones, elements of the UNLA on July 26th 1985 ousted Obote in a bid to find better negotiating ground. The Military Junta of Generals Bazilio and Tito Okello replaced Obote II’s government.
By February 26th 1986 the “Okellos Junta” had fallen and shortly after the entire country was under control of the NRA.
The NRA’s struggle was unique in that, for the first time in post-colonial Africa, a home grown insurgency, with no rear bases in a neighboring country and little external support, was ultimately successful. It was essentially an uprising of oppressed Ugandan citizens.
Yoweri Kaguta Museveni was sworn in as the President of the Republic of Uganda. The audious task of rebuilding the entire country and its human fabric from scratch began. To enable this task, political parties were suspended and Uganda was governed by an all-inclusive Movement system. A lot was to be achieved over the next eight to ten years.
The NRA/M however continued to face the challenge of reactionary UNLA forces especially in the northern part of the country.
The Movement System of Government
In 1995, a new constitution was promulgated creating a non-party all inclusive Movement System of government. Under this system, political parties remained in abeyance. Elections to most political offices was by universal suffrage. Marginalised groups like the women, the disabled, the youth and workers were given special slots on all administrative units of Government. The military was also given representation in parliament. The aspect of keeping this system was to be reviewed by referendum every 4 years.
General elections were held in 1996 under the Movement System and Yoweri Museveni was returned as President of Uganda. By this election, he became the very first Ugandan to be directly elected to the post by universal suffrage. In 2001, he was again returned by popular mandate to the Office of President
Return to Multi Party Politics
In July 2005 a national referendum was held in which the people of Uganda resolved to return to multi-party politics. The result of the referendum in effect marked an end to the Movement System of government. On February 23rd 2006, multi-party elections were held for both the office of president and for parliament. President Yoweri Museveni of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) won the presidential elections and the NRM took the highest number of seats in parliament.