Political History of Uganda – Kingdoms and Wars that helped shape Ugandan History

Keen History, 22.02.2017
Kim Scholtz

Kabaka Palace in Kampala

From the very start, much of Africa was inaccurately mapped out by European invaders. They proceeded to trade and negotiate tracts of land they had marked out for themselves, with no regard for the numerous chiefdoms and kingdoms that already existed on the African continent. This period during the early 19th century became known as “The Scramble for Africa”.

As a result, many cultures and ethnic groups found themselves sharing space with clans and groups they were warring with or did not even know. This led to much ongoing unrest and faction fighting through history, as was the case in Uganda.

This knowledge goes along way in understanding the complexities of many an African country’s political history. It also sheds light on the style of leadership that surfaces with regularity through the continent. Uganda is no exception.


The Kingdoms

Prior to the establishment of the British Protectorate in 1894, Uganda was comprised of many small kingdoms, chiefdoms and clans. The caste system, such as the one that developed within the Ankole kingdom, was non existent within these early clans. Therefore, clans with the strongest army yielded the most power and the power structure changed often, as one clan overruled another with their military prowess or strength in numbers. The style of leadership was autonomous and changeable as regular battles for territory ensued.

Buganda and Bunyoro eventually became the dominant kingdoms and slowly over time Buganda gained the upper hand. At a stage Buganda had 20 counties within it’s boundaries but each county was still individual and had its own chief.

Today there are 4 kingdoms in Uganda that are legally recognized but have no political sovereignty. They are Buganda, Bunyoro, Toro and Busoga. There are many smaller kingdoms or polities within these kingdoms that form part of the clan culture of Uganda. All are headed by a monarch but they hold neither legislative, executive or administrative authority.

When Milton Obote passed legislature in the form of the 1967 Constitution, the kingdoms became illegal and were renamed as districts. This was the end result of the 1966 Ugandan Crisis. When Yoweri Museveni came into power he gave the kingdoms within the Republic back their recognition and status, with the 1993 Act of Parliament.


The Wars

Men who have gained power within the political structures of Uganda have more often than not achieved this through warring. Military coups have seen both Idi Amin and Milton Obote overthrown. Obote enjoyed two tenures as president and both times his presidency ended with him being ousted by way of a coup and not through an electoral process.


The Battle of Mengo

In 1966 Uganda and Buganda fought in what came to be known as The Battle of Mengo. Sir Edward Muteesa II, first President of Uganda, was forced into exile and Obote went on to create the Republic of Uganda.


The Uganda-Tanzania War

In 1971, Idi Amin overthrew Obote’s government while Obote was out of the country. The coup was motivated by the fact that Idi Amin faced arrest. He became Uganda’s first true dictator and his 8 year reign of terror saw more than 300 000 lives lost while services and infrastructure fell into chaos and disrepair.

In 1972, FRONASA, the rebel group led by Yoweri Museveni, made a failed attempt to overthrow Amin. In 1979, The Front for National Salvation (FRONASA), Kikosi Maalum led by Milton Obote and other groups formed the UNLF (Uganda National Liberation Front). The UNLA (Uganda National Liberation Army) was the military branch of UNLF and, with backing from the Tanzanian government, a successful attack saw Idi Amin fall from power. This came to be known as the Uganda-Tanzania War.


The Uganda Bush War

The Uganda Bush War lasted from 1981-1986 during Milton Obote’s 2nd tenure. The UNLA led by General Tito Lutwa Okello was Obote’s army. He was fighting the NRA (National Resistance Army) led by Yoweri Museveni, as well as other groups.

The NRA was formed in 1981 when Yoweri and his PRA( People’s ResistanceArmy) joined forces with Yusuf Lule’s UFF (Uganda Freedom Fighters).

Meanwhile, Tito Okello grew weary of Obote’s human rights violations, carried out at the hands of the UNLA to create a false refugee situation in a futile attempt to eradicate support for the NRA in the outlying rural areas. Tito then overthrew Obote and became the next Ugandan president, ruling from July 1985 to January 1986.


The Lord’s Resistance Army

Another war that has brought much tragedy is that of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). For 31 years this militant movement has been led by Joseph Kony. Kony is a fanatical, religious extremist, claiming to have supernatural powers and the ability to receive messages from God. He is guilty of kidnapping hundreds of thousands of women and children, turning them into child-soldiers and supplying the sex slave industry. Over the years the LRA has shrunk in size and power yet Kony’s people still continue to carry out gross human rights violations. In January and February of 2016 the LRA kidnapped over 200 people, more than the figures of abductees from the whole of 2015.



The Politics


British Protectorate

Colonisation began in the 1860’s. By 1888 the British East Africa Company had powers vested by royal charter. They began signing agreements with various kingdoms and in 1891 Buganda was added. In 1894 the British or Ugandan Protectorate was established.

In 1902 an Order in Council was passed, beginning administrative processes. The role of Commissioner became the first filled position overseeing law, revenue and general keeping of the peace. This lasted until 1920 when legislative ordinances were introduced in the form of a new Order in Counci. The Legislative Council (LEGCO) formed with 7 members.

Thus ended personal decrees and in its place the Governor , with the help of officials on Council passed laws. In 1926 the first Asian member was added. In 1945 the first three African members joined the body. The members reached 60 in number by 1955.


Milton Obote

Pressure to gain independence was increasing and in 1961 the first general election was held. The Democratic Party led by Ben Kiwanuka won. In a strategic move Milton Apollo Obote, leader of the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC), formed a coalition with the Bugandan Kingdom’s Party, Kabaka Yekka (The King Only). Together they won the 1962 election, making Sir Edward Muteesa II, kabaka of Buganda, the first State President of an independent Uganda. Milton Obote became the first Prime Minister. The Independence Constitution of 1962 was formed.

In 1966 Obote came under inquiry, his response was to arrest certain cabinet ministers and promote Idi Amin to Commander. He then attacked the palace of Muteesa II, who then fled and remained in exile until his death.

In 1967 the Republic Constitution was formed, making Obote President and Prime Minister. Before the first elections were held Obote was overthrown by a military coup, led by his own Major General Idi Amin.


Idi Amin/ Yusuf Lule/ Godrey Binaisa

From 1971-1979 there was no political system in Uganda. Idi Amin was a ruthless dictator and his human rights violations overshadowed any good he did.

He was overthrown during the Uganda-Tanzania War and former Makere Universty principal Yusuf Lule was put into power. The National Consultative Council was put in place but Lule only lasted 68 days as president and was replaced by Godfrey Binaisa. Binaisa was president from June 1979 to May 1980. During this time an Interim Parliament carried out all governmental processes.


Tito Okello/ Milton Obote

Obote entered his 2nd tenure as President under allegations of a rigged election. His presidency lasted from December 1980 to July 1985 when he was again overthrown by the military. General Tito Okello became Uganda’s 7th president and Uganda entered it’s next brief period of parliamentary abeyance.


Yoweri Museveni

Tito was overthrown in January 1986 by the NRA and Yoweri Museveni’s party, the NRM (National Resistance Movement), was vested through the Legal Notice No.1 of 1986. Thus legalizing the National Resistance Council as interim parliament and its leader, as President.

In 1988 a Constitutional Commission Statute was passed. In 1989 elections were held to expand the members of the NRC and further expansion was made possible with the creation of new districts in 1991 and 1993.

In 1993 the NRC passed the Constituent Assembly Statute, a new Interim Electoral Commission was brought in and Uganda held its first Presidential election on 7th May 1996. Soon after, the 6th Parliament of Uganda was in play.

Yoweri Museveni won the 2001 election. In 2005 constitutional amendments allowed for the limitation on presidents terms to be dropped. A referendum was held and a multiparty government was voted in.

Yoweri Moseveni has since remained in power through four more elections. Uganda remains a Republic and the President retains position as Executive President.

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