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Daily Monitor | 30 years of NRM; The real spirit of the struggle is still buried in Luweero By Charles Onyango-Obbo

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Posted January 27, 2016 by Ugandan Diaspora News Team in Today in Uganda's History ~ 1,431 views

     

In Summary — The NRM’s Luweero struggle was important. But now we can conclude that the people who took power in its name were not the representatives of its spirit. They were the survivors. The real spirit of Luweero, is still buried in its grounds with the bones of those who paid the ultimate price.

Yesterday, President Yoweri Museveni’s National Resistance Movement (NRM) marked its 30th year in power. But I have always found the story of January 26, 1986 fascinating as a moment in Uganda’s age. We were, really, young journalists then. The day before Augustine Ruzindana, Wafula Oguttu (now Leader of the Opposition in Parliament), and I went to several places to meet the freshly victorious NRM/NRA figures, and to wrap our heads around the events that were to follow.  Wafula and I then worked with the then recently-restarted Weekly Topic, which had been banned in 1981. Ruzindana knew people in NRM/NRA, he himself and other people who were “above ground” in Kampala having dabbled secretly in subversive activities in support of the rebels.

We went to Lubiri Palace. There were soldiers all over, and we chatted with a couple of commanders. Then we headed to the Uganda Club. There were more senior soldiers there. In the compound now – General Salim Saleh, with a handful of others, lying on the grass. Saleh really has changed much in character, although his circumstances have altered dramatically.

That week, we had covered a very different type of military victory in Uganda, and it’s important to reflect a little about it. Files upon file of young men and women, many barefoot, in tattered clothes from the long tough life in the bush, had walked into Kampala. The crowds gathered to cheer them, but many just looked at them in wonderment – and even in awe. They were nothing the men of uniform and guns whom Ugandans had seen before. Just looking at them, there was a sense that they had pulled off something extraordinary – conjured victory from very meagre means.

29 Jan 1986, Kampala, Uganda --- Yoweri Museveni has seized power. He commanded the National Resistance Army (NRA) in a rebellion against President Milton Obote and the military regime that succeeded him. He finally captured the capital city, Kampala, in January 1986. --- Image by © William Campbell/CORBIS

29 Jan 1986, Kampala, Uganda — Yoweri Museveni has seized power. He commanded the National Resistance Army (NRA) in a rebellion against President Milton Obote and the military regime that succeeded him. He finally captured the capital city, Kampala, in January 1986. — Image by © William Campbell/CORBIS

At that point, if you went back 100 years (i.e. to 1886) into the corpus of arms and politics of Uganda, there were four broad trends. And they are very apt metaphors of Ugandan politics. The first group of people who took power by force of arms and imposed political domination over what became modern day Uganda were the British colonialists.

They came from the East, having alighted mostly at Mombasa port in Kenya. If you take 1894 as the formal beginning of the British rule, it took 78 years before guns resulted in another regime change in Uganda, with the 1971 Idi Amin coup that ousted the first Milton Obote and UPC government. Amin was the first man of arms who took power in Kampala without having to cross a river. His coup erupted mostly from the military barracks of Kampala.

His rule ended eight years later in 1979, when he was ousted by a combined force of the Tanzanian army and Ugandan dissident groups.
The British colonialists and their forces were in neat khakis. So were Amin’s soldiers, complete with shiny vehicles and guns. The Tanzanians were also in proper camouflage, so were most of the Ugandan dissidents with them, though there was a small rag tag element to the latter.

The Tanzania and the Uganda rebel coalition, the Uganda National Liberation Front (UNLF), came from the direction of the west. The fall of the UNLF’s first president Yusuf Lule, and its second, Godfrey Binaisa, were largely internal power struggles, so we won’t count them. Then Obote came to power in that controversial December 1980 election, and five years later in July 1985, a faction of the army led by the Okello generals, kicked him out.  But first, they withdrew to the north, and returned from the same north, crossing the River Nile at Karuma, to take power. But they were properly kitted out, with big guns and vehicles. Barely a year later, they were defeated by Museveni’s National Resistance Army/Movement.

The NRM was the first force to take power from two directions. It too crossed rivers from the west and fought its way to Kampala. But its forces also came from the south. And of all the armies of the previous nearly 100 years, it was the most ragged, giving it a salt of the earth quality and authenticity the others never had. But despite that, and a generally fruitful first few years, it too has in the end become a cropper – burdening Uganda with a corrupt oligarchy, and a president for life. There is a lesson right here in what it will take to make Uganda a free, prosperous country. It will need a movement or force that takes power to come from the west, the east, the north, the south, and to also erupt in Kampala’s streets.

The NRM’s Luweero struggle was important. But now we can conclude that the people who took power in its name were not the representatives of its spirit. They were the survivors. The real spirit of Luweero, is still buried in its grounds with the bones of those who paid the ultimate price.

Mr Onyango-Obbo is editor of Mail & Guardian AFRICA (mgafrica.com). Twitter:@cobbo3


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.

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