I wish to start the discussion by posing the questions;
My careful observation of the development of the political trend of Uganda since 1966 enables me to come to the irresistible view that the crucial political problem facing Uganda today is lack of serious trust among the people of Uganda themselves. I do not want to be hypothetical about this point. It is difficult for the various ethnic groups of Uganda to work together in harmony. The country is lamentably torn into two major ethnic groupings distrusting each other. These are the Bantu and the non-Bantu (now contemptuously referred to by the other group as Banyanya). These groups are suspicious of each other, without either of them genuinely looking at the other as fellow Ugandans. Take any institution, for example, say Makerere University. If the Vice-Chancellor, his Deputy and the Academic Registrar, though able Ugandans for those posts, were say from the west of Uganda, no doubt, fingers of complaints would be raised against their appointments on ethnic grounds. This is due to the mistrust that the other group has. The mistrust may be said to have originated from the various incidences of abuses of power by the previous Presidents.
(1) The Lubiri Incident of 1966
The crisis between the Central Government and the Kabaka's Government in 1966 was probably the beginning of this bitterness between the two ethnic groups in Uganda. In this crisis, the Acholi and Langi were viewed by the Baganda as having carried out the Lubiri (Kabaka's Palace) operation and those that followed it immediately for ethnic malice and jealousy aimed at the destruction of their (Baganda) cultural institution (Kingdom) and eventually the prosperity of that community. The non-Bantu, particularly the Acholi and Langi, on their part, interpreted the Lubiri up-rising as engineered and geared to destroy them. They had, therefore, to handle the crisis with the zeal that followed.
(2) The Lugogo Assassination Attempt
Three years later, came the Lugogo incident in which the most unfortunate act of an attempt on the life of the then President was made. Here again the government armed soldiers went out and were blamed for the several losses of life that followed. The non-Bantu, particularly the Acholi and Langi, were then the majority in the armed forces as inherited from the Colonial Administrations. Naturally, this added salt to the wound already inflicted on the Baganda in 1966. The Baganda viewed suffering that followed the incident as deliberate and excessive, based on ethnic hatred and malice.
The other non-Bantu group, on the other hand, felt that the Baganda were all out to revenge on the non-Bantu for what took place in 1966. Watching out and suspecting every move of one another became the order of the day.
(3) The Emergency of Amin
As if those two incidents were not enough to propagate ethnic fear, hatred and suspicion among the people of Uganda, Amin seized power in 1971 only to aggravate the situation. Immediately after he seized power, Amin tactfully played on the national sentiment to marshal support of the people by blaming all that was wrong in the country on the Acholi and Langi tribes, who were already hated nation-wide. Idi Amin went further and set on massacring the Acholi and Langi tribesmen; first those in the armed forces, then even those occupying civil posts. Those acts were the beginning of the vendetta between the Acholi and Langi on the one end and the West Nilers on the other end.
But Amin was a man with no sense of enough or too much. He rounded up by setting all the other tribes against the West Nilers through wide-spread random massacre from all the other tribes in the country. As a result, the West Nilers were dreadfully feared and hated by the time the Liberation War of 1979 came in Uganda. The ordeal under Amin left a scar of fear among the Acholi and Langi that power out of their hand is power against them.
(4) The Liberation War of 1979
During the Liberation War, the then liberators likewise played on the national sentiment then raging against Amin and the West Nilers in order to gain support to overthrow Amin. At that time, all the other tribes in the country were generally united against Amin and his kith and kin, the West Nilers. There were revengeful acts against the West Nile tribes throughout out the country. Several thousands of those people were uprooted from their permanent residences outside West Nile, losing property and in many cases, lives as well.
After the fall of Kampala, there was a delay in liberating the northern part of Uganda. The Acholi and Langi, particularly, had their misgiving for the delay of about two months and viewed it as a manipulation on the part of the Government of Late Professor Yusuf Lule in pursuit of ethnic vendetta. Further, the late Professor Lule's proposal to disband the National Liberation Army and to replace it with a newly created National Army, was viewed as a malicious move at the non-Bantu who then formed the bulk of the Uganda fighting force from Tanzania. The non-Bantu consequently did not shed tears for the overthrow of Professor Lule as he was already suspected of harbouring ethnic bias.
(5) The overthrow of Professor Lule 1979
The overthrow of the late Professor Lule, after only sixty days in power, marked the re-opening of the old ethnic mistrust and hatred which otherwise had been temporarily buried during the rule of Idi Amin and the liberation period except against the West Nilers. In this incident, the Baganda, particularly, became strongly suspicious of the liberators, more so the non-Bantu who formed the majority of that fighting force which came from Tanzania, as trying to re-instate their kith and kin, Obote, to power. The non-Bantu on their part felt relieved by the departure of Professor Lule from power as stated earlier. It was a narrow survival from their victims of ethnic vendetta, so considered the non-Bantu, as late Professor Lule disappeared from power.
(6) The Overthrow of Binaisa, 1980
Although the Baganda hated and suspected the ascendance of Binaisa to power immediately after the late Professor Lule as transit tactics to eventually delivering power back to Obote, they were bewildered by the overthrow of Binaisa and particularly his replacement by Paulo Muwanga who was a known close supporter of Obote. This time, it was not the Baganda only but most Ugandans were suspicious of the events bedeviling the country after the liberation. It was disheartedly and widely believed by the Bantu and the West Nilers that the rapid events taking place in the seat of power were the work of dexterous hands geared at setting Obote back to power. Hatred for the Acholi and Langi again mushroomed.
Meanwhile, the removal of Binaisa of the late Chief of Staff Oyite Ojok from the post and appointing him an ambassador and replacing him with a member of the Bantu ethnic group, received a contrary view from the non-Bantu groups. They interpreted it as an act done for nothing else but ethnic reason. The fall of Binaisa was, therefore, considered by this group as a salvation.
(7) The West Nile Armed Incursion 1980
During the registration of voters for the 1980 general elections, an armed group, basically from the former Uganda Army ex-soldiers, invaded West Nile district. Their first victims were Acholi and Langi in the army and their wives and children in the barracks. This act sent the sentiments of the two tribes wild. They felt that the act was aimed at them and that it was a sheer repetition of the Amin time West Nilers' acts against them. The consequence was that what did not happen during the Liberation War did happen in the suppression of that incursion. So the bitterness between the West Nilers on one hand and Acholi on the other hand became high again.
(8) The Controversial General Elections of 1980
Whereas the General Elections of 1980 were organised to constitute the first popularly elected Government after the Liberation, its very conduct turned out to be a struggle for power between the two mutually suspecting groups. As a result, the non-Bantu who rejoiced at the outcome of that election, were left isolated from the rest of the nation, particularly the section of the Bantu who felt maliciously manipulated out of sheer ethnic reasons. Hence, the birth of the National Resistance Struggle in Luwero triangle.
Those few incidents quoted above tend to justify the fear, mistrust, and hatred that exist among the stated ethnic groups. However, it is to be emphasised here that in each of those incidents cited above, one cannot say positively that each of those relevant tribes had at any one moment met as a tribe to conspire the destruction of the other tribes. For example:
(a) When the Lubiri was destroyed in 1966 by the army, the bulk of which were non-Bantu as left by the Colonial Administrators, it cannot be positively said that the non-Bantu tribes met as such and conspired to destroy the Baganda Cultural Institution and kill them. The plain truth is that, that operation was directed by the then Government which coincidently was led by a member of a non-Bantu ethnic group.
(b) Binaisa's dismissal of the late Chief of Staff Oyite Ojok was a government action and not that the Baganda had met as a tribe and decided to have Oyite Ojok replaced by a Muntu person as a Chief of Staff.
(c) Similarly, when Amin came to power and killed the Acholi and Langi and other tribes, it was not the West Nilers who met as such and decided on those destructions.
The ethnic mistrust is therefore clearly misconceived. The plain truth is that these are cases of abuse of power by the then incumbent President endowed with near absolute power under the Constitution.
It is my considered opinion that the root cause of the ethnic fears, mistrust and hatred rests with the absolutism of the 1967 National Constitution. This Constitution gives to one person - the President - near absolute power. It legally justifies the nation to be at the mercy of that one man - the President.
Article 24: Chapter IV Clause (1) of that Constitution provides as follows:
There shall be a President of Uganda who shall be
The Head of State
Head of Government
Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Uganda.
Article 65, Clause (1) of the same Constitution vests in President the executive powers of Uganda.
Articles 33 Clause (1) of the same Constitution gives the President the absolute power to appoint, reshuffle and dismiss Ministers.
These examples clearly illustrate that the 1967 Constitution vests in the President massive power of governing the Nation. The circumstances under which that Revolutionary Constitution came into existence are well known to us. It was born under The Winner Takes All theory which justified the cardinal rule of the jungle law - Might is right.
The fact of life is that man is by nature weak, selfish and corrupt, with a general lack of sense of public duty and responsibility. Once given, absolute power leads to abuse, dictatorship or tyranny.
When Amin seized power in 1971, he found the 1967 Constitution very handy and convenient as it gave him all the powers he wanted for his evil mission. In misusing those powers the Constitution vested in him as President, Amin became the world known Dictator.
Now, how can it be guaranteed that those Presidential powers, as contained in that Constitution, shall ever cease to be abused? How can it be guaranteed that there shall never again emerge into the Uganda seat of power a dictator? It has to be remembered that power in the hands of a fool is poison to society.
The crucial political problem of this country has already been identified and its source found. It is necessary, therefore, to consider possible remedies. It is submitted that some form of constitutional reform is a necessity and a mandatory remedy in this situation. It is strongly suggested that the constitutional reform should be geared to dividing those Presidential powers under the 1967 Constitution between at least two offices, namely, the President and the Prime Minister, with power of Parliament to sanction the exercise of those powers. This will provide checks and control by the electorate through their representatives in Parliament over abuses of those powers.
It is further suggested that in view of the given back-ground, the constitutional reform should create greater regional autonomy by setting up a form of a federal system of government with a two-tier Parliamentary System. That Parliament would consist of a House composed of an equal number of elected members representing each Federal State.
It is hoped that with good arrangement and good intention on the part of all Ugandans, the suggested constitutional framework will help to defuse power into suitable persons from various ethnic groups. This will help to eliminate the current wild fears and hatred existing among the different ethnic groups.
The federal system with proper and adequate planning power in the State Governments, properly co-ordinated with the Federal Ministry of Planning, is likely to provide more competitive and well-spread out developments around the country than has hitherto been the case.
As for the National Army, which is considered a touchy issue, it is submitted that, for the avoidance of fear and suspicion among the various ethnic groups of Uganda as it is the case now, there should be a provision for an equal representation of manpower from each State. It is hoped that this constitutional reform will go a long way in annihilating the contemporary political problems of this country, particularly those based on ethnic fears, hatred and vendetta as herein analysed. It is important that the cake and/or poison of power is equitably shared first before any cake of prosperity of the nation can be shared in peace.