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The Interim Period after Amin, 1979-80

A month before the liberation of Kampala, representatives of twenty-two Ugandan civilian and military groups were hastily called together at Moshi, Tanzania, to try to agree on an interim civilian government once Amin was removed. Called the Unity Conference in the hope that unity might prevail, it managed to establish the Uganda National Liberation Front (UNLF) as the political representative of the UNLA.

Dr. Yusuf Lule, former principal of Makerere University, became head of the UNLF executive committee. As an academic rather than a politician, Lule was not regarded as a threat to any of the contending factions. Shortly after Amin's departure, Lule and the UNLF moved to Kampala, where they established an interim government. Lule became president, advised by a temporary parliament, the National Consultative Council (NCC). The NCC, in turn, was composed of representatives from the Unity Conference.

Conflict surfaced immediately between Lule and some of the more radical of the council members who saw him as too conservative, too autocratic, and too willing as a Muganda to listen to advice from other Baganda. Lule called for law and order and outlined a strategy to rehabilitate Uganda. To improve the military's reputation, he set new standards of literacy and political education for army and police recruits. To reduce the army's political role and build a truly national force, he proclaimed his intention to draw military recruits from all ethnic groups in proportion to their population. In achieving this goal, Lule hoped to authorize increased military recruitment among the Baganda, Uganda's largest ethnic group.

Non-Baganda government officials opposed this policy. The National Consultative Council (NCC), which became the new legislature, and the Military Commission, which oversaw the army's operation, refused to support Lule's policies, and they voted him out of office after only sixty-eight days as president. With the apparent approval of Nyerere, whose troops still controlled Kampala, Lule was forcibly removed from office and exiled. He was replaced by Godfrey Binaisa, a Muganda like Lule, but one who had previously served as a high-ranking member of Obote's UPC.

It was not an auspicious start to the rebuilding of a new Uganda, which required political and economic stability. Indeed, the quarrels within the NCC, which Binaisa enlarged to 127 members, revealed that many rival and would-be politicians who had returned from exile were resuming their self-interested operating styles. Ugandans who endured the deprivations of the Amin era became even more disillusioned with their leaders. Binaisa, an ineffective president, failed to consolidate support within the military. His failure to do so allowed senior army officers to operate almost independently of the government. Binaisa managed to stay in office longer than Lule, but his inability to gain control over a burgeoning new military presence proved to be his downfall.

When Binaisa sought to curb the use of these militias, which were harassing and detaining political opponents, he was overthrown in a military coup on May 10, 1980. The coup was engineered by Ojok, Museveni, and others acting under the general direction of Paulo Muwanga, Obote's right-hand man and chair of the Military Commission.

The TPDF was still providing necessary security while Uganda's police force - which had been decimated by Amin - was rebuilt, but Nyerere refused to help Binaisa retain power. Many Ugandans claimed that although Nyerere did not impose his own choice on Uganda, he indirectly facilitated the return to power of his old friend and ally, Milton Obote. In any case, the Military Commission headed by Muwanga effectively governed Uganda during the six months leading up to the national elections of December 1980.

Further evidence of the militarization of Ugandan politics was provided by the proposed expenditures of the newly empowered Military Commission. Security and defense were to be allotted more than 30 percent of the national revenues. For a country desperately seeking funds for economic recovery from the excesses of the previous military regime, this allocation seemed unreasonable to civilian leaders.

The use of regional and ethnic affiliation as a political lever prompted a power struggle with Chief of Staff David Oyite Ojok, a northerner. Binaisa tried to resolve this dispute by dismissing Ojok. The Military Commission rejected this action, ousted Binaisa and the NCC, assumed control of the government, and called for national elections in December 1980. Milton Obote, who had been ousted by Amin's 1971 military coup, returned to the presidency. Obote called on the army to restore peace, but instead several ethnic-based military forces emerged to challenge his authority.

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