Uganda History


Africans of three main ethnic groups--Bantu, Nilotic, and Nilo-Hamitic constitute most of the population. The Bantu are the most numerous and include the Baganda, which, with about 3 million members (18% of the population), constitute the largest single ethnic group.

The people of the southwest comprise 30% of the population, divided into five major ethnic groups: the Banyankole and Bahima,10%; the Bakiga, 8%; the Banyarwanda, 6%; the Bunyoro, 3%; and the Batoro, 3%). Residents of the north, largely Nilotic, are the next largest group, including the Langi, 6% and the Acholi, 4%. In the northwest are the Lugbara, 4%, and the Karamojong, 2% occupy the considerably drier, largely pastoral territory in the northeast. Europeans, Asians, and Arabs make up about 1% of the population with other groups accounting for the remainder. Uganda's population is predominately rural, and its density is highest in the southern regions.

Until 1972, Asians constituted the largest nonindigenous ethnic group in Uganda. In that year, the Idi Amin regime expelled 50,000 Asians, who had been engaged in trade, industry, and various professions. In the years since Amin's overthrow in 1979, Asians have slowly returned. About 3,000 Arabs of various national origins and small numbers of Asians live in Uganda. Other nonindigenous people in Uganda include several hundred Western missionaries and a few diplomats and business people.

When Arab traders moved inland from their enclaves along the Indian Ocean coast of East Africa and reached the interior of Uganda in the 1830s, they found several African kingdoms with well-developed political institutions dating back several centuries. These traders were followed in the 1860s by British explorers searching for the source of the Nile River. Protestant missionaries entered the country in 1877, followed by Catholic missionaries in 1879.

In 1888, control of the emerging British "sphere of interest" in East Africa was assigned by royal charter to the Imperial British East Africa Company, an arrangement strengthened in 1890 by an Anglo-German agreement confirming British dominance over Kenya and Uganda. The high cost of occupying the territory caused the company to withdraw in 1893, and its administrative functions were taken over by a British commissioner. In 1894, the Kingdom of Buganda was placed under a formal British protectorate.

Britain granted internal self-government to Uganda in 1961, with the first elections held on March 1, 1961. Benedicto Kiwanuka of the Democratic Party became the first Chief Minister. Uganda maintained its Commonwealth membership.

In succeeding years, supporters of a centralized state vied with those in favor of a loose federation and a strong role for tribally based local kingdoms. Political maneuvering climaxed in February 1966, when Prime Minister Milton Obote suspended the constitution, assumed all government powers, and removed the president and vice president. In September 1967, a new constitution proclaimed Uganda a republic, gave the president even greater powers, and abolished the traditional kingdoms. On January 25, 1971, Obote's government was ousted in a military coup led by armed forces commander Idi Amin Dada. Amin declared himself president, dissolved the parliament, and amended the constitution to give himself absolute power.

Idi Amin's 8-year rule produced economic decline, social disintegration, and massive human rights violations. The Acholi and Langi tribes were particular objects of Amin's political persecution because Obote and many of his supporters belonged to those tribes and constituted the largest group in the army. In 1978, the International Commission of Jurists estimated that more than 100,000 Ugandans had been murdered during Amin's reign of terror; some authorities place the figure much higher.

In October 1978, Tanzanian armed forces repulsed an incursion of Amin's troops into Tanzanian territory. The Tanzanian force, backed by Ugandan exiles, waged a war of liberation against Amin's troops and Libyan soldiers sent to help him. On April 11, 1979, Kampala was captured, and Amin fled with his remaining forces.

After Amin's removal, the Uganda National Liberation Front formed an interim government with Yusuf Lule as president. This government adopted a ministerial system of administration and created a quasi-parliamentary organ known as the National Consultative Commission (NCC). The NCC and the Lule cabinet reflected widely differing political views. In June 1979, following a dispute over the extent of presidential powers, the NCC replaced President Lule with Godfrey Binaisa. In a continuing dispute over the powers of the interim presidency, Binaisa was removed in May 1980. Thereafter, Uganda was ruled by a military commission chaired by Paulo Muwanga. The December 1980 elections returned the UPC to power under the leadership of President Obote, with Muwanga serving as vice president. Under Obote, the security forces had one of the world's worst human rights records. In their efforts to stamp out an insurgency led by Yoweri Museveni's National Resistance Army (NRA), they lay waste to a substantial section of the country, especially in the Luwero area north of Kampala.

Obote ruled until July 27, 1985, when an army brigade, composed mostly of Acholi troops and commanded by Lt. Gen. Basilio Olara-Okello, took Kampala and proclaimed a military government. Obote fled to exile in Zambia. The new regime, headed by former defense force commander Gen. Tito Okello (no relation to Lt. Gen. Olara-Okello), opened negotiations with the insurgent forces of Yoweri Museveni and pledged to improve respect for human rights, end tribal rivalry, and conduct free and fair elections. In the meantime, massive human rights violations continued as the Okello government murdered civilians and ravaged the countryside in order to destroy the NRA's support.

Negotiations between the Okello government and the NRA were conducted in Nairobi in the fall of 1985, with Kenyan President Daniel Moi seeking a cease-fire and a coalition government in Uganda. Although agreeing in late 1985 to a cease-fire, the NRA continued fighting, seized Kampala in late January 1986, and assumed control of the country, forcing Okello to flee north into Sudan. Museveni's forces organized a government with Museveni as president.

Since assuming power, the government dominated by the political grouping created by Museveni and his followers, the National Resistance Movement (NRM), has largely put an end to the human rights abuses of earlier governments, overseen the successful efforts of a human rights commission established to investigate previous abuses, initiated substantial political liberalization and general press freedom, and instituted broad economic reforms after consultation with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, and donor governments. A constitutional commission was named to draft a new constitution, which was debated and ratified by a popularly elected constituent assembly on July 12, 1995 and promulgated by President Museveni on October 8, 1995.

Under the transitional provisions of the new constitution, the "movement system" will continue for five years, including explicit restrictions on activities of political parties, which are nonetheless active. The Constitution also calls for a referendum in the fourth year (the year 2000) to determine whether or not Uganda will adopt a multi-party system of democracy.

Insurgent groups, the largest of which--the Lord's Resistance Army--receives support from Sudan--harass government forces and murder and kidnap civilians in the north and west. They do not, however, threaten the stability of the government. Due to Sudanese support of various guerrilla movements, Uganda severed diplomatic relations with Sudan on April 22, 1995, and contacts between the Government of Uganda and the National Islamic Front-dominated Government of Sudan remain limited.

source: U.S. State Department Background Notes 1998

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