At the start of the 1950s the colonial British government began to lay the groundwork for leaving Uganda and establishing an independent government headed by the leaders of the Buganda tribe, who accounted for 2 million of the 6 million residents of Uganda. The Buganda were granted partial autonomy at an early stage. Additionally, the first general elections in Uganda were arranged so that the tribe’s DP party won a relative majority in the legislative council despite the fact that the rest of the tribes united into a single opposition party (UPC), which actually received a larger number of votes (416,000 votes for the DP as opposed to 495,000 for the UPC). In 1961 Benedicto Kiwanuka was chosen as the first Prime Minister at the Constitution Conference of 1961; however, Uganda maintained its status as a member of the British Commonwealth.
A coalition of two parties won the pre-independence elections in 1963 and Milton Obote became Prime Minister. Uganda declared independence after the elections and joined the United Nations. In these years of growth the main argument in the parliament was between supporters of the centralized state and supporters of a loose federation, which would grant greater powers to the local tribal kingdoms. Obote was a partner in a coalition which forced him to give special autonomous rights to the Buganda. This led to similar demands by representatives of the other tribes, despite the fact that Obote’s chief attempt was to strengthen the central government, allowing Uganda to exist as one autonomous unit at the expense of local interests, including those of the Buganda.
Surprisingly, the first threat to the young country came from the army, not tribal divisions. In 1964 members of the military demanded quicker advancement and higher salaries. Following their kidnapping of the Defense Minister, Obote was forced to turn to British forces for help in order to restore peace and, after normalcy was returned, capitulated to the demands of the army. The role of the army in setting policy became increasingly central and, as part of an effort to strengthen the army’s loyalty to him, Obote began to promote Idi Amin, the Ugandan Deputy Chief of Staff.
In 1966, Prime Minister Milton Obote annulled the constitution, granted himself all governmental powers, and fired the President and Vice President. In September 1967, a new constitution defined Uganda as a republic, granted the President even more powers, and annulled the traditional monarchies. The government lost its stability, and on the 25th of January, 1971, a surprise attack by armed forces led by Idi Amin deposed Obote’s government. Amin declared himself President, dissolved the government, and changed the constitution to give him full control.
Idi Amin’s rule and the murder of the Acholi and Lango:
The murders started in the ranks of the army. In January 1972, Amin began to give orders to assemble and kill soldiers of the Acholi and Lango tribes. Obote was a member of the Lango, which in Amin’s view turned the entire tribe into his enemy. The Acholi made up the decisive majority of soldiers in the army, which also was seen by Amin as a threat to his rule. The highest ranking officers were killed first. Then orders were given to gather all of the other members of the two tribes into various army barracks, where they were murdered – either by bombing the barracks, or by stabbing them one by one. The bodies were either disposed of in nearby rivers, or buried with the remnants of the barracks by bulldozers. After such massacres, Amin would occasionally report to his cabinet ministers of the “cleansings” being carried out by the army.
Amin established three military units manned by southern Sudanese, Nubians, and members of his own tribe Kakwa, which were under his exclusive and direct command. These units established a reign of terror all across Uganda, and murdered members of the Ugandan elite: from ministers to judges to former government clerks. The message was clear: any opposition would be met by death.
Idi Amin’s eight year rule was characterized by economic deterioration, social disintegration, and massive violations of human rights. The Acholi and Lango ethnic groups were the main victims of Amin’s oppression, since they had supported Obote and comprised a large part of the army. In 1978 the International Commission of Jurists estimated that more than 100,000 Ugandans were murdered under Amin’s regime. Other agencies estimated the number to be as high as 300,000.
In October 1978 Ugandan’s capital city Kampala was captured after a failed attempt by Amin’s army to invade Tanzanian territory. Amin managed to escape with what remained of his army. In 1980, after Amin’s exile and several temporary governments, Milton Obote was reelected as President of Uganda.
Obote’s rule and the murder of the Buganda:
A short time after the establishment of the new regime, Yoweri Museveni declared the establishment of the National Resistance Army, and began a guerilla war against Obote, now known as the “Bush War”. The war took place mainly in central and western Buganda, and in western areas of Ankole and Bunyoro.
At the start of 1983 the government carried out mass expulsions from the Luweero Triangle, just north of Kampala, in order to prevent the strengthening of the guerrilla forces in the region. 750,000 people became refugees in camps ruled by the military (and exploited by the military). Civilians who lived in the area of the refugee camps were considered guerilla supporters, and were dealt with accordingly. Human skulls along roads in the region bore witness to the mass murders even years after the fall of Obote’s rule. The Western Nile region, Amin’s birthplace, also suffered many massacres. Both regions were plundered by the military. Everything was taken – food, resources, even doorposts. The hunger that followed killed many more. An Amnesty International report estimated that 500,000 people were killed under Obote’s rule from 1981 to 1985.
In the four years of struggle between the Obote government and the uprising against it in the Eastern regions of the country, more people were killed than during the eight years of Amin’s rule. During that time the Ugandan army was composed mainly of members of the Acholi and Lango tribe, people who survived Amin’s genocide and went on to commit similar acts themselves in Southern Uganda.