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The First Obote Regime: The Growth of the Military

After Uganda achieved independence in October 1962, British officers retained most high-level military commands. Ugandans in the rank and file claimed this policy blocked promotions and kept their salaries disproportionately low. These complaints eventually destabilized the armed forces, already weakened by ethnic divisions. Each post-independence regime expanded the size of the army, usually by recruiting from among people of one region or ethnic group, and each government employed military force to subdue political unrest. These trends often alienated local populations where nationalist sentiment was already low.

In the first year of independence, the KAR was again known as the Uganda Rifles. The armed forces more than doubled, from 700 to 1,500, and the government created a second battalion, stationed at the northeastern town of Moroto. The traditional leader of the Baganda, Edward Mutesa, became president of Uganda and commander in chief of the army. Milton Obote, a northerner and longtime opponent of autonomy for the southern kingdoms including Buganda, was prime minister. Mutesa recognized the seriousness of the rank-and-file demands for Africanizing the officer corps, but he was more concerned about potential northern domination of the military, a concern that reflected the power struggle between Mutesa and Obote. Mutesa used his political power to protect the interests of his Baganda constituency, and he refused to support demands for Africanization of the officer ranks.

In January 1964, following a mutiny by Tanzanian (then Tanganyikan) soldiers in protest over their own Africanization crisis, unrest spread throughout the Ugandan armed forces. On January 22, 1964, soldiers in Jinja mutinied to press their demands for a pay raise and a Ugandan officer corps. They also detained their British officers, several noncommissioned officers, and the minister of interior, Felix Onama, who had arrived in Jinja to represent government views to the rank and file.

Obote appealed for British military support, hoping to prevent the mutiny from spreading to other parts of the country. About 450 British soldiers from the Scots Guards and Staffordshire Regiment responded, surrounded the military barracks atJinja, seized the armory, and quelled the mutiny. The government responded two days later by dismissing several hundred soldiers from the army, several of whom were subsequently detained.

Although the authorities later released many of the detained soldiers and reinstated some in the army, the mutiny marked a turning point in civil-military relations. The mutiny reinforced the army's political strength. Within weeks of the mutiny, the president's cabinet also approved a military pay raise retroactive to January 1, 1964, more than doubling the salaries of those in private to staff sergeant ranks. Additionally, the government raised defense allocations by 400 percent. The number of Ugandan officers increased from eighteen to fifty-five. Two northerners, Shaban Opolot and Idi Amin Dada, assumed command positions in the Uganda Rifles and later received promotions to commander in chief and army chief of staff, respectively.

Following the 1964 mutiny, the government remained fearful of internal opposition. Obote moved the army headquarters from Jinja to Kampala and created a secret police force, the General Service Unit (GSU), to bolster security. Most GSU employees guarded government offices in and around Kampala, but some also served in overseas embassies and other locations throughout Uganda.

When British training programs ended, Israel started training Uganda's army, air force, and GSU personnel. Several other countries also provided military assistance to Uganda.

When Zairian (then Congolese) aircraft bombed the West Nile villages of Paidha and Goli on February 13, 1965, President Obote again increased military recruitment and doubled the army's size to more than 4,500. Further reorganizations included the creation of a third battalion at Mubende, a signals squadron at Jinja, brigade reconnaissance units, an anti-aircraft detachment, an army ordnance depot, a brigade signals squadron training wing, a records office, a pay and pensions office, and a Uganda army workshop.

Tensions rose in the power struggle over control of the government and the army and over the relationship between the army and the Baganda people. On May 24, 1966, Obote ousted Mutesa, assumed his offices of president and commander in chief, suspended the 1962 constitution, and consolidated his control over the military by eliminating several rivals.

After Mutesa fled to Britain, Obote dismissed twenty-five Baganda officers for disloyalty and again increased recruiting in the north. In July 1967, to further consolidate support within the army, Obote created the Military Police Force under Major General Idi Amin Dada's command. Amin, in turn, recruited forces from his home region of West Nile among Lugbara, Madi, Kakwa, and people of Sudanese descent, who were known by the ethnic label "Nubian." Obote's rivalry with Amin toward the end of the 1960s replaced his earlier power struggle with Mutesa. These tensions helped polarize the rank and file in the military.

Throughout most of the 1960s, military expeditions often contributed to regional antipathy toward centralized control. Army patrols in northeastern Uganda often responded to accusations of cattle rustling and other problems, which, in earlier decades, would have been dealt with locally. Then when the government allowed Sudanese rebels of the Anya Nya movement to operate from bases in the northwest, army detachments deployed to that region to prevent an incursion by Sudanese government troops. Many Ugandans in the area who were of Sudanese descent remained skeptical about Ugandan nationhood and viewed the army presence as a military occupation rather than a security measure.





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