Uganda at 60: Ten key events since independence in 1962

By Musinguzi Blanshe

Posted on Friday, 7 October 2022 06:23, updated on Monday, 10 October 2022 15:01
Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni arrives at the UK-Africa Investment Summit in London. 20 January 2020. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

Uganda celebrates its 60th independence on Sunday 9 October, enjoying the tranquility brought by the Yoweri Museveni regime that has been in power since 1986. However, some critics now argue that peace has turned into stagnation.

Peace in all corners of the country was achieved in the first decade of the 21st century after the defeat of the lethal Lords Resistance Army (LRA) rebel movement, led by Joseph Kony, was preceded by decades of political instability and economic stagnation.

We list the events and factors that have shaped Uganda’s six decades of independence.

1. Post-independence government that didn’t hold up

The British governed Uganda through divide and rule, thus there were no opportunities that would have left the country’s tribal groupings to build synergies for post-independence unity. However, at independence, the colonialists desired to bequeath Ugandans a strong and united country. The British crafted a constitution that brought monarchical leaders and politicians together, with the former holding ceremonial positions.

Uganda’s first independence president, Sir Edward Mutesa II, was the king of Buganda kingdom, the country’s most influential kingdom, while Dr. Milton Obote became the country’s first prime minister. It was a coalition government of sorts, between Kabaka Yekka – the king’s political party – and Obote’s Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC).

Obote was alive to the need for unity. In his maiden speech on 9 October 1962, he said: “One of our first needs must be national unity. The narrow ambitions of a tribe, a sect, or a party must be subordinated to the greater needs of one complete Uganda.”

However, unity eluded the newly independent Uganda. The struggle for power between Obote and Kabaka Mutesa quickly followed. In 1966, Obote deposed Kabaka, abolished kingdoms and assumed the presidency.

2. Enter Idi Amin

Obote was overthrown by Idi Amin in January 1971 while attending the commonwealth heads of state meeting in Singapore, ushering in the dark days of brutal dictatorship. Idi Amin who joined the King’s African Rifle (KAR), the British colonial army, in 1946 was a key ally of Obote during the 1966 crisis against then president Edward Mutesa. It was because of the role that Amin played in the crisis that Obote rewarded him with the position of army chief.

Many Ugandans welcomed Amin as he promised democracy, and released hundreds of political prisoners incarcerated by Obote. In Buganda, there was euphoria as Amin promised to restore abolished kingdoms and allow the return of Kabaka Mutesa’s body from England (where he had died in exile) for  a state burial.

3. Expulsion of Asians, reign of terror

Within months, the euphoria and hope that Amin had brought started withering as he started to crack down on those he deemed a threat. His first major action was in September 1972 when he expelled Asians, who were a backbone of Uganda’s economy. Amin argued that he was delivering economic independence to Ugandans. About 50,000 Asians departed Uganda and their properties were seized by the government.

This was followed by what has been described as reign of terror, a brutal crackdown of Amin’s perceived elements in Uganda’s political circle. Among those murdered were Ben Kiwanuka, the country’s first prime minister – shortly before independence – and Janani Luwum, an Anglican archbishop who courageously spoke against the regime brutality.

4. Obote’s return to power

Rebel movements against Amin started before he settled in office. They were offered sanctuary and were supported by Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere, who was also hosting Milton Obote. It was during this period that Museveni started engaging in rebel activities. The future head of state formed his first rebel group, Front for National Salvation (FRONASA), in 1973 and fought alongside other groups leading to the overthrow of Amin in 1979.

Amin’s was succeeded by short-lived coalition governments of Prof. Yusuf Lule, who ruled for 68 days; Godfrey Binaisa; and Paulo Muwanga, an ally of Obote, who organised 1980 general elections that ushered in the Obote II government. Museveni was a presidential candidate in the parliamentary system election. His political party, the Uganda Peoples Movement (UPM), did not win a single parliamentary seat.

5. Museveni’s guerrilla war, capture power:

During the electioneering period, Museveni argued that Obote’s group were planning to rig the 1980 election. “During the 1980 campaigns, the UPC line was that whether the people voted or not, UPC would  win. The answer was obvious, they would either cheat or use force,” Museveni says in his book, Sowing the Mustard Seed. He says they let the Obote group, “mistake makers to play out their farce” and thereafter, “we would give our own answer”.

The answer was the launch of a guerilla war in February 1981. The war led by Museveni started with 41 fighters armed and 27 guns. Its membership included Rwandan refugees like Paul Kagame (current president) and Fred Gisa Rwigyema. It would take five years before the group captured power in January 1986. Obote had been overthrown in 1985 by his army chief and it’s this same army chief that Museveni overthrew.

The problem of Africa in general and Uganda in particular is not the people, but leaders who want to overstay in power

Upon assumption of power on 29 January 1986, Museveni made his most famous speech, promising fundamental change. “No one should think that what is happening today is a mere change of guard: it is a fundamental change in the politics of our country,” he said.  “The people of Africa-the people of Uganda-are entitled to democratic government. It is not a favour from any government: it is the right of the people of Africa to have democratic government,” he said.

It’s a speech that Museveni’s critics reference in arguing that he has not delivered the promised fundamental change and democracy. He had promised to stay in power for only four years, but he is now on a march to the completion of the third decade, yet in another speech soon after taking power, he said: “The problem of Africa in general and Uganda in particular is not the people, but leaders who want to overstay in power.”

6. LRA and the wars in the north

Though Museveni’s presidency ushered peace in central and western Uganda, new rebel groups fighting him emerged in northern Uganda. Prominent among them was the short-lived Holy Spirit Movement led by Alice Lakwena and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) of Joseph Kony, which was formed in 1987. It was not until 2005 that LRA were pushed off Uganda soil. They established bases in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, but the Ugandan army followed them and pushed them to the Central Africa Republic.

7. Economic liberalisation

Soon after taking over power, Museveni espoused marxism-socialism tendencies. but he quickly embraced the IMF and World Bank’s structural adjustment programmes that championed privatisation of government enterprise in the late 1980s and 1990s. Museveni has come to regret the privatisation overdrive, such as the sale of Uganda Commercial Bank (UCD) to South Africa’s Standard Group. Renamed Stanbic Bank, it’s the largest bank in Uganda. Uganda Airline, which was also closed at the turn of the century, has been revived.

8. Tinkering with the constitution, overstay

Museveni should have constitutionally retired in 2006 having served two-five years terms as a constitutionally president. “Gaddafi to attend Museveni retirement,” an April 2004 headline of Uganda’s state run newspaper said, referring to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, a close friend of Museveni. However, the head of state had different plans: Amending the constitution to remove the term limits clause. Indeed, the amendment was done in 2005 and he remained in power. The constitution was amended again in 2017 to remove the 75 years age limit clause that would have barred Museveni from contesting in the 2021 election.


9. The 2010 Kampala bombing

In July 2010, Al-Shabaab terrorists bombed two locations in Kampala, killing 74 people who were watching the World Cup finals. It was a revenge on Uganda, whose army had been in Somalia, fighting Al-Shabaab since 2007 under the Africa Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM). The mission is still ongoing albeit under a different name: African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS).

For the years he has been in power, Museveni has been a key player in regional stability, critics say, and instability. From Rwanda, to Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, South Sudan, Central Africa Republic and Equatorial Guinea, Museveni’s army has had a hand in the security setup.

10. Rise of Bobi Wine and a youthful population

Born a year after Museveni launched the 1981 bush war, Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine is now Uganda’s generational opposition political leader. The 40 year old was the main opposition leader in the 2021 presidential election. He is the first youthful politician to take centre stage in Uganda’s politics post 1986. In previous elections, Museveni’s main challenger was Dr. Kizza Besigye, a fellow bush-war comrade.

Bobi Wine has come to represent Uganda’s youthful population that is tired of Museveni’s decades rule, which has neither let democracy thrive, nor created jobs or economic opportunities. Contestations over what Uganda’s future should look like are not fought in the bushes across Uganda anymore, but in the digital space. The state, however, continues to use its monopoly over instruments of violence to intimidate and arrest the youthful generation that is dissatisfied with what it sees as a failed government.

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