Shortly after independence, military officers overthrew elected civilian governments and established military regimes. The ousted governments were accused of a wide range of wrong doing including ideological shifts; excessive involvement in the economy including nationalization of private enterprises, accumulation of external debts and budget deficits; rampant corruption, sectarianism and cronyism; violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms and changing or amending constitutions to accumulate power and govern for life without checks and balances. These abuses had resulted, inter alia, in increased absolute poverty and its offshoots of hunger, disease and ignorance. Therefore removing such failed governments from power by military means was legitimate.
When Obote government was overthrown in 1971, the soldiers led by Amin gave 18 reasons for their action including widespread corruption, regressive taxes, high unemployment, high inflation, income inequality, sectarianism, failure to organize elections, detention without trial and frequent loss of life, creation of a second army, developing Obote’s home area of Akokoro at the expense of the rest of Uganda, breakdown of security and overall violation of human rights as well as overreliance on the army. Against this backdrop, the soldiers believe acted legitimately to prevent a bad situation from getting worse.
There was jubilation especially in the capital city of Kampala. Amin promised that once the situation had improved in a short period he would organize elections and return to the barracks and serve the government as a professional soldier. However, Amin not only failed to organize elections but declared himself president for life. He hired mercenaries who assisted him to rule with brutal force. By the time he was overthrown in 1979, up to 500,000 Ugandans and non-Ugandans had lost their lives and some 70,000 Asians had been expelled from Uganda. The environment had been extensively damaged beyond recognition in some places as in Kabale district where wetlands were converted into ranches and the local climate became warmer and attracted disease vectors like mosquitoes with serious health consequences. The economy was in ruins and many Ugandans had reverted to subsistence activities.
In January 1966 Jean-Bedel Bokassa overthrew his cousin Dacko and became president of the Central African Republic. He pledged to end corruption and improve the economy and welfare of the people. However, he soon showed his true character. He murdered Alexander Banza with whom he organized the coup and descended on politicians that served under Dacko with brutal force.
In 1977 Bokassa became emperor at a cost of $30 million, the equivalent of 20 percent of Gross National Income, which he borrowed to entertain 3,500 guests that were served with 24,000 bottles of champagne.
The emperor accumulated wealth as the leading businessman. One of the activities he engaged in was the sale of ivory leading to the slaughter of 5000 elephants a year. He also sold diamonds and timber (Clive Foss 2006). Like Amin, Bokassa damaged the environment extensively.
In 1978 Bokassa ordered that all primary and secondary school children wear uniforms made in his factories and sold in his shops. When the students protested Bokassa led troops against them and some 100 of them were killed. He then descended on university students; many of them were imprisoned and executed. In 1979 Bokassa like Amin was deposed, having made a bad situation worse.
In 1960 Belgian Congo became independent under Lumumba as prime minister with Mobutu as defense minister. In 1965 Mobutu seized power, became president and promised elections in five years. Before doing so in 1971, Mobutu abolished parliament, post of prime minister and assumed all powers of state and ruled by decree. He then hunted down opponents many of whom were jailed or killed. He remained in power for more than 30 years during which time he drained the country of its wealth for his family and cronies making the people of Zaire among the poorest on earth.
Beginning in the second half of the 1980s a new breed of military officers led by Museveni emerged. Museveni who became their dean in preaching democracy and neoliberal economics said at his first inauguration in January 1986 that his government was not a mere change of guards. It was a fundamental change. He condemned African leaders who stayed in power too long, emphasizing that he was not that kind of leader. He promised that as soon as security returned to the country hopefully by 1990, he would step down. He never did. Elections were not held until ten years later in 1996 under international pressure which were rigged.
Museveni had promised he would end the suffering of the people of Uganda, industrialize the economy, launch science and technology programs to make Ugandans technologically skilled to compete anywhere in the world, balance agricultural production for domestic consumption and export to end hunger at home and generate more foreign exchange for development purposes.
None of what he promised has been satisfactorily fulfilled. Multiparty politics has been suffocated. There is a poor record on rule of law, good governance and respect for human rights and freedoms. Instead Ugandans are experiencing arbitrary arrest and detention. And Museveni is still in power and counting since 1986.
African military rulers like their counterparts in Latin America have failed to deliver on peace, security and development. Consequently, Africans and their development partners are rejecting military governments as experienced recently in Mali, Central African Republic and Burkina Faso. Therefore Ugandans who wish to end NRM’s failed regime need to adopt non-military strategies which are more effective in regime change than the barrel of the gun (R. Guha2014).