Uganda’s post-independence political challenges

Radio Munansi English program February 17, 2013

This is Eric Kashambuzi communicating from New York.

Greetings fellow Ugandans at home and abroad, friends and well wishers and welcome to the program. We look forward to your active participation in this interactive session.

We have been requested to spend some time discussing Uganda’s political challenges since independence. There is hunger for knowledge as Ugandans get more engaged than ever before in affairs affecting their lives.

We study history to understand what happened in the past and what lessons we have learned and how we have applied them to make life better by discarding bad practices and building on good ones. There are those who think we should move on and not look backward because we may discover things that should not be disclosed to the public. However, many Ugandans are demanding to know the history of their country as far back as possible. For this program we shall examine the circumstances surrounding the birth of Uganda as an independent state and how those circumstances have shaped the last 50 years of independent Uganda.

Uganda’s birth as an independent nation took place in a very difficult environment and many important issues were rushed through or delayed as negotiators had to meet a deadline of October 9, 1962. In this session we shall consider the period immediately before independence and up to 1970. In the next session we shall discuss political developments from 1971 to the present.

There are commentators who argue that Uganda rushed into independence and negotiators made commitments and omissions that have complicated the post independence period. We shall examine the most salient ones. But before doing that let us note that by and large British policy was to create federation of territories or keep nations intact at independence, leaving no room for secession as happened in Belgian Congo. Thus, Nigeria was retained as a federal state. Sudan – whose northern and southern parts had virtually nothing in common – was retained as one nation. And in Uganda a constitution of convenience was agreed upon largely to keep Uganda as one country. Here are the principal challenges inherited at independence.

1. The first challenge was the bitterness created by Protestants apparently with help of the Church of England that formed a coalition between Protestant-based UPC and Protestant-based KY for the sole purpose of defeating Catholic-based DP. Catholics believe that the 1962 elections were designed to rob DP of victory in the 1961 elections. This religious defeat of Catholics in 1962 reminded them of the religious defeat prior to colonization. Captain Lugard and his troops helped Protestants of the Church Missionary Society to defeat Catholics of the White Fathers Mission. During the colonial days the administration relied on Protestants to run Uganda at the expense of Catholics. Catholics had hoped to end Protestant domination by defeating them in pre-independence elections. Mengo establishment that was predominantly Protestant boycotted the 1961elections. A small percentage of voters in Buganda registered and voted for DP giving it majority in national elections. These results were accepted by the colonial authorities. Ben Kiwanuka, leader of DP, was appointed chief minister and later prime minister when Uganda attained self-government status. Catholic victory was not acceptable to the Protestant establishment in Uganda and in Britain. UPC and KY pushed for fresh elections in 1962 arguing that the 1961 elections in Buganda had been boycotted by overwhelming majority of voters and the results did not represent the will of the people of Buganda. Fresh elections were conducted in 1962 for the whole country to elect members of parliament. In the case of Buganda it was agreed that elections should be held for Lukiko that in turn would elect members of parliament. KY overwhelmingly defeated DP (UPC did not contest in Buganda). The Lukiko elected 21 members to parliament excluding DP and its leader Ben Kiwanuka. Obote became prime minister replacing Kiwanuka and UPC/KY coalition formed the first post independence government replacing DP. We shall show how the defeat of Catholic DP by Protestant UPC in the 1980 elections resulted in Catholic and DP support and participation in the destructive 1981-85 guerrilla war that paradoxically brought Museveni a Protestant rather than a Catholic to power thereby continuing pre-colonial bitterness to this day albeit suppressed under the anti-sectarian law. Catholics have been appointed to fill the post of vice president but have yet to put a Catholic in state house.

2. The desire to defeat Kiwanuka a Catholic and commoner and his party created strange bedfellows. Monarchist and conservative right wing representatives from Buganda joined hands with radical and left wing representatives from the rest of the country led by Obote, a northerner and commoner. This was a marriage of convenience that broke down in 1964 perhaps sooner than was expected.

3. The post-independence political turmoil in Sudan; Mau Mau insurgency in Kenya; the social revolution in Rwanda that sent many refugees and cattle into Uganda; the assassination of Burundi prime minister designate by a Greek hired assassin and the post-independence political chaos in former Belgian Congo and Katanga secession caused Britain to rush Uganda independence to avoid being caught up in a difficult political situation. In December 1960, Buganda seceded from Uganda but had no enforcement mechanism to carry it out. Because of political and financial implications in accommodating Rwanda Tutsi refugees and their cattle British authorities decided that Tutsi refugees that had relatives and friends in Uganda stay with them instead of going to camps. Others were allowed to move to where they could find space. Refugees were expected to return to Rwanda when conditions improved. They chose to stay and have contributed to demographic, political, economic, ecological and social problems to this day. As we shall show in the next session the coming to power of Museveni and Tutsi-led NRM government have origins in the settlement of Tutsi refugees in Uganda.

4. An unworkable constitution was rushed through in which Buganda gained a federal status; Ankole, Bunyoro and Toro semi-federal status and the rest a unitary status. Until late in the game, Britain had insisted on a unitary constitution. The Munster Commission on Relationship between Buganda and the rest of Uganda changed that position. The Commission considered many factors in and around Uganda. The political chaos in Congo influenced the final recommendation. The Commission observed that “The prospect that the country might disintegrate and suffer miseries like the Congo had suddenly become a real source of anxiety. … Against this background the hypothesis of a unitary state could no longer be taken for granted”. The Commission then recommended some form of federalism. There was a shift from complete unitarism to a combination of federalism for Buganda, semi-federalism for Ankole, Bunyoro and Toro and unitarism for the rest of the country. This fragile compromise shaped the independence constitution.

5. The imbalances in federal, semi-federal and unitary systems soon became felt and districts governed under a unitary system realized they were missing out on the benefits of power sharing under federal and semi-federal arrangements. They demanded constitutional changes to level the playing field the consequence of which was the creation of constitutional heads. It is believed that this unworkable constitution contributed to the 1966/67 political and constitutional crisis and the revolution that occurred including the overthrow of the independence constitution and abolition of kingdoms that introduced new problems the country still faces to this moment including the demand for federalism.

6. Uganda entered independence without agreeing on what to call the new nation. It was neither a monarchy nor a republic; neither a federation nor a unitary state. So it was simply called “The sovereign state of Uganda”. This matter was resolved in 1967 when kingdoms were abolished and the republic of Uganda established. Under NRM government the kingdoms were restored in Buganda, Bunyoro and Toro but Uganda is still officially a republic.

7. Because the negotiators were in a hurry, they couldn’t agree on who should become the head of state. In the interim it was agreed that the Queen should continue as head of state represented by the Governor-General. In 1963, the Kabaka of Buganda was elected president and the Kyabazinga of Busoga vice president. There was discomfort as to why monarchical leaders should be elected president and vice president. This conflict may have contributed to the changes in the 1967 constitution that created the post of executive president that Obote occupied and deletion of post of vice president.

8. Before independence, Amin had committed war crimes and crimes against humanity as a soldier in Uganda King’s Rifles operating in Kenya. The Kenyan authorities wanted Amin face criminal charges. The Governor of Uganda “vetoed any criminal proceedings against him [Amin] on the grounds that he was one of the only two black officers in the Ugandan army and a prosecution would be politically undesirable just before independence” (Robert Garsony August 1997). Amin with a criminal record was let off the hook and his brutality surfaced again in independent Uganda as we shall discuss in the next session.

Then there was the hot issue of “Lost Counties” of Buyaga and Bugangaizi. The matter couldn’t be resolved before independence. Buganda was unhappy about a referendum to resolve it. The British insisted on it. In 1964 a referendum was conducted and the majority of people in the two counties chose to rejoin Bunyoro, a decision that badly dented UPC/KY relations contributing to the 1966/67 political and constitutional crisis.

There were other issues that were not resolved.

1. Batutsi/Bahororo of Ankole who had kept a low profile since their short-lived Mpororo kingdom disintegrated in mid 18th century, sprang up during independence negotiations and demanded a separate district out of Ankole kingdom. The Ankole government rejected the idea but it was not forgotten by the losers. It is believed that one of the reasons that Museveni entered into military training was to solve this problem. Some believe that the kingdom of Ankole wasn’t restored under the NRM government to settle scores. There are stories that kingdom supporters secretly crowned their king but the government wouldn’t allow it to stand. And when you add on that Banyankole refused Museveni to lead DP into the 1980 elections and was defeated in his bid to become a member of parliament in one of Ankole constituencies you begin to understand why Ankole kingdom wasn’t restored. Some believe that if Museveni wanted it nobody would have stood in the way.

2. The Rwenzururu problem was not resolved. Bakonjo and Baamba who were incorporated into Toro kingdom at the time of colonization against their will claimed they were underdeveloped while heavily taxed. They further claimed that they were virtually excluded from the administration. In the negotiations for independence Bakonjo and Baamba demanded full recognition as equals in the kingdom. When that failed, they demanded a separate district. The Toro government arrested Bakonjo and Bamba leaders including Isaya Mukirane, Yeremiya Kawamara and Petero Mupalya and charged them with violating customary law and insulting the king. A Rwenzururu liberation movement and other groups were formed creating problems for independent Uganda. In 1972 Amin created Rwenzori district for Bakonjo and Bwaamba district for Baamba.

3. The Mbale controversy was also left unresolved. A commission of inquiry suggested altering boundaries to give the people of Bukedi direct access to Mbale, while giving nominal title to the town to Bugisu. Under the scheme, Bukedi district administration would be transferred to Tororo located within Bukedi district. These changes were not incorporated into the constitution. The matter was resolved in the 1967 constitution.

Let us briefly review political difficulties that emerged between 1962 and 1970 during Obote I regime. As we noted earlier, the UPC/KY coalition brought together strange bed fellows. There was a monarchist/conservative or capitalist group and a radical/socialist and commoner group. The post-independence conflicts between these two groups within the UPC/KY government resulted in the formation of two opposing groups: the monarchist or Ibingira group and the socialist or Obote group (Prosser Gifford and WM. Roger Louis 1982). The two groups at the central government level were extended to some districts within the UPC, splitting it into two opposing groups. In Kigezi district there was Bikangaga group and Rwamafwa group. In Ankole there was Kahigiriza group and Bananuka group. Toro and other districts split in support of the two groups, weakening the party in the process and making it difficult to agree on development programs.

The struggle for political power between these two groups introduced the military into Uganda politics. Shaban Opolot the army commander sided with the Ibingira group and Idi Amin the deputy army commander with the Obote group.

Meanwhile, within UPC executive Obote and Ibingira worked together to get rid of Kakonge who was a threat to both Obote and Ibingira. As they say an enemy’s enemy is a friend. Obote and Ibingira got rid of Kakonge as Secretary General of UPC at the Gulu Party conference in 1964. Ibingira became secretary general and second only to Obote, party president.

Ibingira then got rid of radicals including Kakonge. It was this expelled group that eventually formed Uganda Patriotic Movement led by Museveni in the 1980 elections and later the NRM that captured power in 1986. We shall show in the next session how NRM created FDC by getting rid of undesirables thus not learning a lesson from the 1964 UPC Gulu conference and the consequences.

Once Kakonge the common enemy to Ibingira and Obote was gone, Ibingira and Obote turned on each other: Ibingira with support of Opolot and Obote with backing of Amin. The allegation that Amin and Obote were involved in gold and coffee scandal sparked the showdown. Amin moved faster than Opolot and Ibingira and his group was defeated and members of Ibingira group arrested including Ibingira himself and detained. It is important to note that the two groups were led by two Nilotic people: Ibingira a Nilotic Tutsi from Ankole in south Uganda and Obote a Nilotic from Lango in north Uganda. It is equally important to note that the conflict wasn’t simply north versus south. Ibingira, a southerner had supporters from east and north such as ShabanOpolot and Daudi Ocheng. Thus there wasn’t a clear North/South divide and Bantu/non-Bantu split.

These developments contributed to the political and constitutional crisis and the subsequent promulgation of the republic constitution that replaced the independence one. UPC became unpopular especially in Buganda and contributed to Amin’s coming to power in January 1971. We shall discuss Amin’s record in the next session.

Looking back we can say with a high degree of certainty that the challenges inherited at independence especially religious, Tutsi refugees and lost counties have contributed significantly to the challenges Uganda is grappling with today. We shall elaborate on these challenges in the next session.

A study of Uganda’s history is therefore important to understand what happened in the past and how it is influencing the present. We shall show that brushing problems under the rag in order to please some people or groups of people and hoping that they will disappear on their own or passing laws such as the anti-sectarian law to prevent Ugandans from discussing sectarianism and religion in Uganda politics will only postpone the date when they will resurface with a vengeance. The earlier we tackle them, the better. And that is what UDU is doing in its civic education program.

Thank you for your attention.