Liberation Day 1986 | Revisiting President Museveni’s Inaugural Fundamental Change Speech 31 Years Later!



On January 26th 1986 President Yoweri Museveni was sworn in on the steps of Parliament as the 9th President of the Republic of Uganda after overthrowing the Government of General Tito Okello Lutwa. Twenty-nine years later we recap the speech he made that was carried in the New York Times on the swearing in ceremony. 

“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. In Africa, we have seen so many changes that change, as such, is nothing short of mere turmoil. We have had one group getting rid of another one, only for it to turn out to be worse than the group it displaced. Please do not count us in that group of people.” – President Museveni 1986

Inauguration of Yoweri Museveni

New York Times 1986 article — KAMPALA, Uganda, Jan. 29— Yoweri Museveni, whose National Resistance Army descended on this battered capital city last week and overthrew the military Government of Gen. Tito Okello, was sworn in today as the new President of Uganda.

The ceremony, witnessed by thousands of jubilant Ugandans, was held on the steps of the Parliament building, where some of the fiercest fighting erupted in the battle for Kampala.

The installation of Mr. Museveni, who arrived in a gleaming black Mercedes-Benz and wore jungle-green military fatigues and polished combat boots, came five years after he took his followers into the bush in his quest to overthrow the Government of President Milton Obote. No ‘Mere Change of Guards’

”Nobody is to think that what is happening today, what has been happening in the last few days is a mere change of guards,” said Mr. Museveni, 40 years old, who is the ninth head of state since this East African nation gained independence from Britain in 1962. ”This is not a mere change of guards. I think this is a fundamental change in the politics of our government.”

”Any individual, any group or person who threatens the security of our people must be smashed without mercy,” Mr. Museveni said. ”The people of Uganda should only die from natural causes which are not under our control,” he said, ”but not from fellow human beings.”

Mr. Museveni, who appeared confident and jocular as he spoke at length without notes, touched on several subjects, including the aborted peace accord he signed last month with General Okello, the failure of other African leaders to address the needs of their people and the need for unity and regional cooperation.

He said his first priorities would be the restoration of democracy and the protection of the security of individuals and their property. He Promises Elections

Mr. Museveni said there would eventually be parliamentary elections, but he gave no date. His promises were cheered by the crowd of Ugandans, who have survived years of dictatorship, army lawlessness, tribal and political strife and brutal violations of human rights.

As Mr. Museveni spoke, reminders of the most recent fighting were evident around this once beautiful city. Beside the the road leading from Entebbe Airport, a soldier lay dead, his shoeless feet bound by wire.

In the distance, Mr. Museveni’s troops hauled other bodies into a dump truck. Others had been buried along the road, with combat boots and spent shells serving as tombstones.

Bits and pieces of blood-stained uniforms were scattered nearby. On a hill where a fierce battle was fought, there were boxes carrying the words ”Farm Implements.” Inside was ammunition. Routines of Life Returning

Yet in many ways life appeared to be moving back into its natural rhythm. Kampala’s streets were alive with people going about the routines of life in a country that the young Winston Churchill called ”the pearl of Africa.” Women sat sewing garments outside the Lifebad general store, and the local market was filled with fresh fruits and vegetables, testimony to the rich Ugandan soil.

Mr. Museveni, who rested a hand on a Bible as he spoke, said that democracy was ”the right of the people of Africa” and that government must not be ”the masters but the servers of the population.”

He suggested that democracy would be built from the ground up, with village committees that would serve as the ”watchdogs” for society against misuse of authority. A Very Young Army

Mr. Museveni said his army, noted for being highly disciplined and politicized, had executed five of its own for killing civilians. Judging from the faces of many of the rebels who came to the swearing-in ceremony, his army is also very young. One boy, asked how old he was, rested his rifle against his leg and held up 10 fingers.

Mr. Museveni, who signed a peace accord last month in Nairobi with General Okello in an effort to end years of bloodshed, characterized his participation in the peace talks as ”very painful” because he was sitting there ”with the criminals across the table.”

He said he agreed to the accord because of pressure from other nations, which he criticized as being more interested in opening roads for trade than in the future of Uganda. He said his followers had made it clear they would not take part in any government in which ”criminals” were involved. The accord was never put into effect, and Mr. Museveni moved on Kampala a month after it was signed.

Mr. Museveni spoke of pressure from his rebels to assassinate such people as Mr. Obote and Basilio Okello, the army commander under General Okello. But he refused, saying that if ”you kill Basilio, there are other Basilios who are also there.”

”The solution is to have enough strength to ship the whole garbage and put it where it belongs, on the garbage heap of history,” he told the cheering crowd. He called on soldiers of the former Government who had not surrended to do so. Some will be included in a new national army, he said, and others will be rehabilitated in order to make a living in their villages. New Leader a Nationalist

Mr. Museveni, an avowed nationalist who says he strongly opposes tribalism, has called for a broadly based government and unity.

Symbolic of his intention was the presence on the platform of Godfrey L. Binaisa, a former President; Abraham Waligo, a former Prime Minister; Paul Ssemogerere, the Interior Minister under General Okello, and other officials who served in the administration of the overthrown leader.

Unlike many heads of state in Africa, the new leader voiced contempt for African governments for what he has said is their corruption and failure to meet the needs of their citizens.

He called African countries ”very backward” and said that, with all their resources and potential, they lagged far behind the developed world in such areas as health care, life expectancy and industry. With all of Uganda’s ”professors, with our excellencies, with our honorable ministers,” he said, the country cannot ”make a needle.”

”His excellence is going to the United Nations,” he said, apparently in reference to African leaders, ”and he is there for meetings with Reagan and Gorbachev, and 90 percent of his people have no shoes. They are walking on bare feet.”

Article above has been lifted from the New york Times Archives.


Full Speech.

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. In Africa, we have seen so many changes that change, as such, is nothing short of mere turmoil. We have had one group getting rid of another one, only for it to turn out to be worse than the group it displaced. Please do not count us in that group of people: the National Resistance Movement is a clear-headed movement with clear objectives and a good membership.

Of course, we may have some bad elements amongst us – this is because we are part and parcel to Ugandan society as it is, and we may, therefore, not be able completely to guard against infiltration by wrong elements.

It is, however, our deliberate policy to ensure that we uplift the quality of politics in our country. We are quite different from the previous people in power who encouraged evil instead of trying to fight it.

You may not be familiar with our programme, since you did not have access to it while we were in the bush so I shall outline a few of its salient points;

The first point in our programme is the restoration of democracy. 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. The sovereign power in the land must be the population, not the government. The government should not be the master, but the servant of the people.

In our liberated zones, the first thing we started with was the election of village Resistance Committees. My mother, for instance, cannot go to parliament; but she can, surely, become a member of a committee so that she, too, can make her views heard. We have, therefore, set up village, muluka, gombolola and district committees.

Later we shall set up a national parliament directly elected by the people. This way we shall have both committee and parliamentary democracy. We don’t want to elect people who will change sides once they are in parliament. If you want to change sides, you must go back and seek the mandate of the people who elected you.

Some of these points are for the future, but right now I want to emphasise that the first point in our political programme is democracy for the people of Uganda. It is a birthright to which all the people of Uganda are entitled.
The committees we have set up in these zones have a lot of power. You cannot, for instance, join the army or the police without being cleared by the village committee.

You must get a recommendation from the people in your village to say that you are not a rogue. Hence, the soldiers who are joining us from other armies will have to be referred back to their villages for recommendation. The same applies to the police.

Suppose, for instance, that we want to recruit some 500 soldiers from the District of Rakai and say 10,000 youths in the area apply to join. If 5,000 of those are cleared by their area committees as people of good character, the selecting military team will choose the most physically fit from among those, and we shall end up with an army that is both of good character and in good physical condition. This is an example of some of the work to be done by the village committees.

Another important aspect of the committees is that they should serve as a citizens’ intelligence system. If I go to address a rally in Semuto, Rape-ka or Nakaseke, I shall first meet the muluka and gombolola committees in the area. They will tell me whether the muluka chiefs are thieves, or the hospital personnel are selling drugs, or whether there are soldiers in the area who are misbehaving. They are thus able to act as watchdogs for the population and guard against the misuse of power.

The second point in our programme is the security of person and property. Every person in Uganda must be absolutely secure to live wherever he or she wishes. Any individual or any group of persons who threatens the security of our people must be smashed without mercy.

The people of Uganda should only die from natural causes that are beyond our control, but not at the hands of fellow citizens who continue to walk the length and breadth of our land freely. When we were in Nairobi during the peace talks, it was a very painful experience sitting in a room with criminals across the table. 1 was advised that being a leader, you have to be diplomatic.

This prompted me to ask: “But does diplomacy apply to criminals as well?” to which the answer was, “Yes”. I saw then that the whole process was a farce. We tried peacefully to push the case that the Amin elements, and people like Bazilio Okello, who had killed people in broad daylight, must be excluded from government.

Our voice, however, was a lonely one because there were so many pressures from the International community which is interested only in trade. They do not care how many skeletons we have in Uganda: all they care about is for the road to be opened so that their goods can have free passage. We, therefore, made our position very clear: we were not going to take part in any government which included and Involved criminals. Unfortunately these people believed they had tricked us. Tito Okello, for instance, came back saying that my signing the agreement showed that they had removed the teeth from the salambwa (poisonous snake).

Our position, however, has always been very clear. If you play tricks with us, we shall play tricks with you; if you are honest with us, we shall be honest with you; if you are violent against us, we shall be violent against you. We are people who pay others in their own currency and we never use cowardly tactics. When I was in the bush, I had a lot of pressure from people who said that we should assassinate people like Obote, Muwanga and Bazilio.

Against assassination
I disagreed because I argued that when you assassinate people like that, you turn them into martyrs and heroes. What you need is to develop enough strength to enable you to sweep that kind of garbage to where it belongs: on the dungheap of history. Why should anybody bother to kill small people like Bazilio? You may kill Bazilio Okello but you will be left with many other Bazilios.

Therefore, the security of the people of Uganda is their right and not a favour bestowed by any regime. No regime has a right to kill any citizen of this country, or to beat any citizen at a road block. We make it clear to our soldiers that if they abuse any citizen, the punishment they will receive will teach them a lesson. As for killing people – if you kill a citizen, you yourself will be killed.

During our struggle, we executed five soldiers of the National Resistance Army for killing people in Bulemezi, Ngoma and Fort Portal. One of these soldiers had killed a doctor in order to steal his money.

What, on the other hand, has been happening in Kampala? Recently, people were massacred in Luwero and a high-powered delegation was sent there: you know these so-called high-powered delegations led by Excellencies and honourables, etc. Personally, I do not like being called ‘Excellency’.

People in Bulemezi call me Yoweri or Mzee wa Kazi. Now, these Excellencies, and honourable ministers and high-ranking military personnel, and what-have-you went to Luwero. Can you imagine what they did? We were told that they had transferred the person who had killed the people in Luwero to another station! Can you imagine? Someone kills 100, 50 or even two people and you say you have transferred him to another area? It was suggested that the solution to some of our problems would be for Kampala to be completely demilitarized.

Disciplining soldiers
So I asked: “Where are you going to take these criminal soldiers? Even if you take them to a national park they will kill the animals there!” The solution, therefore, is to put criminal soldiers where they belong: in prison.

The third point in our programme is the question of the unity of our country. Past regimes have used sectarianism to divide people along religious and tribal lines. But why should religion be considered a political matter? Religious matters are between you and your god. Politics is about the provision of roads, water, drugs, in hospitals and schools for children.

Case for unity
Take the road from here, Parliament Buildings, to Republic House. This road is so bad that if a pregnant woman travels on it, I am sure she will have a miscarriage! Now, does that road harm only Catholics and spare Protestants? Is it a bad road only for Moslems and not for Christians, or for Acholis and not for Baganda? That road is bad and it is bad for everyone.

All the users of that road should have one common aspiration: to have it repaired. How do you become divided on the basis of religion or tribe if your interests, problems and aspirations are similar? Don’t you see that people who divide you are only using you for their own interests not connected with that road? They are simply opportunists who have no programme and all they do is work on cheap platforms of division because they have nothing constructive to offer the people.

Our Movement is strong because it has solved the problem of division: we do not tolerate religious and tribal divisions in our Movement, or divisions along party lines such as UPC, DP, UPM and the like. Everyone is welcome on an equal basis. That is why you find that when our army goes to Buganda, the people there call it amagye gaffe, abaana baffe. When it goes to the West, it Is amahe gaitu, abaana baitu: which means that wherever the NRA goes, it is called ‘our army, our children’. Recently, Buloba was captured by our army, and the commander in charge of the group was an officer called Okecho. He comes from Pakwach in West Nile.

Therefore, the so-called division between the north and south is only in people’s heads. Those who are still hoping to use it are going to be disappointed. They ought to dig a large grave for such aspirations and bury them. Ma-sindi was captured by our soldiers led by Peter Kerim: he, too, is from West Nile. Dr. Ronald Batta here, who is from Madi, has been our Director of Medical Services for all these years in the bush.

‘Angry’ Obote
Obote tried to propagate the idea that there was a division between the Bantus and the Nilotics and that if the Bantus took over, the Nilotics would be wiped out. We have, however exposed him. Whenever, we captured soldiers from Ac noli, Lango and elsewhere, we would treat them well and then release them.

Obote would be surprised and he would ask: “Were you really captured? Did you see Museveni? Were you really not beaten?” Once we captured the police commander of Masindi, a man called Gala.

I talked to him and another man called Epigo, also from Masindi. When we released them and Epigo got back to Obote, Obote did not like what Epigo had to say: that the National Resistance Army was not a tribal army as the Obote government had been trying to make out. So Obote locked Epigo up in Luzira Maximum Security Prison because he did not want to hear the truth about our Movement and Army.

There is, in philosophy, something called obscurantism, a phenomenon where ideas are deliberately obscured so that what is false appears to be true and vice versa. We in the NRM are not interested in the politics of obscurantism: we want to get to the heart of the matter and find out what the problem is. Being a leader is like being a medical doctor. A medical doctor must diagnose his patient’s disease before he can prescribe treatment.

Similarly, a political leader must diagnose correctly the ills of society. A doctor who does not diagnose his patient’s disease adequately is nothing but a quack.

In politics we have also got quacks – and Uganda has had a lot of political quacks over the past two decades or so. I also want to talk about co-operation with other countries, especially in our region. One of our weaknesses in Africa is a small market because we don’t have enough people to consume what we produce.

Regional cooperation
Originally we had an East African market but it was messed up by the Excellencies and Honorable ministers. It will be a cardinal point in our programme to ensure that we encourage co-operation in economic matters, especially in transport and communication within the East African region.

This will enable us to develop this area. We want our people to be able to afford shoes. The Honorable Excellency who is going to the United Nations in executive jets, but has a population at home of 90 per cent walking barefoot, is nothing but a pathetic spectacle.
Yet this Excellency may be busy trying to compete with Reagan and Gorbachev to show them that he, too, is an Excellency. These are some of the points in our political programme. As time goes on, we shall expand more on them.

Last appeal
To conclude, I am appealing to those people who are trying to resist us to come and join us because they will be integrated. They should not waste their time trying to fight us because they cannot defeat us.

If they could not defeat us when there were just 27 of us with 27 guns, how can they defeat this army which you saw here?
They cannot defeat us, first of all, because we have a correct line in politics which attracts everyone. Secondly, we have a correct line of organisation. Thirdly, our tactics are correct.

We have never made a mistake either in strategy or tactical calculation. I am, therefore, appealing to these people not to spill more blood, especially of the young men who are being misled by older people who should know better.

Speech By President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni — As delivered on January 26th 1986 on the steps of Uganda Parliament.

About the Author

Ugandan Diaspora News Team

Ugandan Diaspora News Online is an independent, non political news portal primarily aimed at serving Ugandans who work and reside outside Uganda. Our aim is to be a one stop shop for everything Ugandan and the celebration of our Ugandan heritage.


    Charles Okure

    “We have had one group getting rid of another one, only for it to turn out to be worse than the group it displaced” YKM 1986. While it is true that this group has done some sizable improvement in the country, it is also true that a lot of damage has been caused to democratic governance and the rule of law. There is a clear gap between the rich and the poor, there is no separation of power and institutions of governance like the judiciary and the parliament are not that independent per se. We have an excecutive arm of government that takes only from one man. Any contrary views from an MP of the ruling party are considered to rebel MPs. The voices for the most marginalised people are vehemently crushed by state operatives. Corruption is at its highest in the history of Uganda with many corruption scandles have fingers pointing at the cream leadership of the country.

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