The History of Uganda

by Claire Marblestone

December 1, 2005

for Prof. Marcuse's lecture course
Interdisciplinary Perspectives on the Holocaust

UC Santa Barbara, Fall 2005
(course homepage, web projects index page,
Uganda project main page)


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The current conflict in Uganda is a result of decades of political corruption and unrest within the region. Knowing the history of Uganda is key to being able to fully understand the reasons behind current conflict. Although there is not a lot of written history of Uganda before British colonization, what has been documented since reveals a pattern of cultural disputes between different ethnic groups in the region which contribute to the current problem.

Before British colonization in 1890, the area now known as Uganda was a collection of different ethnic and religious groups. The Bugandans, who lived in the southern part of modern Uganda, were the largest group in this area. Northern Nilotic and Sudanic tribes and the Bugandans had always had tension between them. In 1890 the British signed a treaty with Buganda establishing colonial rule, which was followed by a 1984 declaration of a British protectorate over Uganda. Eventually Britain set up an indirect government which favored the Bugandans, and upset the northern tribes. While the Bugandan people were being treated well, many northerners were forced to join the Ugandan army. The army was predominately northern and was seen as a position for uneducated people.

Beginning in the late 1940s, the Ugandan people began to rebel against British colonial power. Ugandans wanted a more representative government, and less British control. The British were beginning to withdrawal from India, and soon began working with Ugandans to encourage independence. At the London Conference of 1960, the British decided to allow elections in 1961, which would ensure Ugandan independence afterward. Two prominent parties in Uganda, the Uganda Peopleís Congress (UPC), and the Kabaka Yekka (KY) competed for leadership positions. The British favored the KY government, and when the election results were in favor of the UPC party, the British announced a new plan for Uganda. The KY was predominantly Bugandan, and the British government declared that Buganda would be allowed internal autonomy if they participated in the national government as well. The peace between these two parties led to the Independence Constitution of 1962, and a separate Ugandan government.

In October 1962, the leader of the UPC, Milton Obote, was elected prime minister of Uganda. The formal leader of Uganda was the Kabaka (King), but Obote made great attempts to seize power. Although he worked with the Kabaka Yekka in the beginning of his reign, in 1964 he began to attempt to consolidate his power. There was significant tension between the various regions in Uganda, reluctance to obey the new form of government, and a sense of disunity within the UPC party. In 1964, members of the UPC party blamed Obote for an ivory scandal, and attempted to overthrow him. Obote responded by suspending the Constitution, and arresting the plotters. In 1966, the national assembly was instructed to create a new republican constitution which would create a strong executive presidency and minimize power of other leaders. When the Buganda legislature rejected the constitution, Obote declared a state of emergency and ordered the army to attack Kabaka (King) Mutesa IIís palace. In 1967, Obote introduced a new constitution which strengthened executive powers even more, and in 1969 he created a one party state by banning all groups opposed to the UPC.

On January 25,1971, army chief of staff Idi Amin staged a military coup and seized power from Obote. In the beginning of his reign, many Ugandans supported Amin because they had grown to resent Obote. However, through a series of violent actions, Amin became feared throughout Uganda. Amin forced the Acholi and Langi divisions of the army into barracks, and eventually killed many of them because he feared they were conspiring against him. He also created new "security" offices within the government, which Ugandan citizens became very fearful of. Amin was paranoid that Obote would attempt to regain power, and these new security agencies would investigate Obote spies or anyone against the government. These investigations were highly publicized, and state lead terrorism was well known, so many Ugandans lived in fear of the government. In 1972, Amin ordered the expulsion of approximately 60,000 citizens of Asian origin from Uganda, and seized their property. Aminís rule came to an end when he annexed a section of Tanzania and a force of Tanzanian, and former Ugandan citizens fought off Aminís small army, and Amin fled the country.

After Aminís rule there was a series of interim governments between 1979 and 1980. In 1980 there was an election, and Obote was controversially reelected. In 1981, one of Oboteís opponents in the 1980 election, Yoweri Museveni, created the National Resistance Army, and vowed to overthrow Obote. The four year "war in the bushes" resulted in an enormous loss of life, and perpetuated the Ugandan citizensí state of constant fear. In 1985, the Uganda National Liberation Army lead by General Tito Lutwa Okello staged another military coup, forcing Obote out of power. Okello urged all political and insurgent groups to support the new government, but the large NRA group refused to join. Peace talks occurred between the government and the NRA, but no agreement was ever reached. The NRA continued to be against the Okello government, and on Jan 26, 1986, they seized power and Museveni became president.

Museveni claimed that he would only rule temporarily until another government was put into place but, he is still in power today. During his reign, Museveni outlawed other political parties, and severely restricted political activities. When Ugandan citizens threatened to protest, Museveni declared that anyone caught protesting would be killed. Ugandan citizens fear Museveni, and cannot voice their political opinions, which has prevented them from effectively changing the status quo.

Museveni faced pressure from the international community and Ugandan citizens to create a constitution. In 1989 the Odoki Commission was appointed by Musevini to draft a constitution. This selected group conducted a campaign to reach out to the public about what they wanted in a Ugandan constitution. The commission reported that the people wanted a single party system, which was later adopted in the constitution. In 1993 the Constituent Assembly Election Act was issued, which stated that public officials could only be voted for upon personal merit, and were not allowed to associate themselves with political parties. Additionally, the act allowed campaigns to be organized only by the government. On September 22, 1995 the constitution with the ban on political parties was adopted.


About the Author (back to top)

Claire Marblestone
I am a sophomore history major and have always been interested in studying the Holocaust in order to learn how to prevent it from happening again. I was introduced to the topic of Uganda by a friend, and was very interested in the history of Uganda, and how the current conflict is similar to Nazi Germany. Now that I have learned about what is going on in Uganda, I hope to spread my knowledge to others.


prepared for web by Harold Marcuse on12/6/05; last updated: 12/14/05
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