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Uganda: Conflict profile

Uganda has long been divided along national, religious and ethnic lines. British rule in Uganda exacerbated and played on these divisions in order to maintain control. While Uganda had a relatively peaceful move to becoming an independent state in 1962, this peace was not to last.

Uganda held its first post-independence elections in 1962, and Milton Obote of the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC), became Uganda’s first Prime Minister. The UPC’s main political platform was their opposition to the hegemony of the Southern Kingdom of Buganda, who had been given a preferential position by the British. Despite this platform, the UPC formed an alliance with the monarchy, an alliance that quickly became uneasy and unstable.

King Mutesa II from the Southern Kingdom of Buganda ordered an investigation into an alleged gold and ivory smuggling trade which implicated Milton Obote and his then ally (and future President of Uganda) Idi Amin.  In 1967 Obote changed the constitution and proclaimed Uganda a republic, thereby abolishing the system of traditional Kingdoms, removing the President and declaring himself Executive President.  With the support of the police and army (lead by Idi Amin), the UPC was able to suppress any political opposition and successfully remove King Mutesa II from power.

Soon after this overthrow, an increasingly large rift formed between Obote and Amin. Eventually Amin organised a military coup in 1970, in which he easily took over power, in a climate of political and economic unrest which already covered the country.  Obote fled into exile to Tanzania, along with 20,000 other Ugandans.

Amin ruled by oppressive control, using violence to terrorise the nation into compliance. He persecuted any group suspected of opposing him, which came to include, amongst others, other ethnic groups, religious leaders, journalists, intellectuals, judges, artists and minority groups. In this atmosphere of violence, many people were killed simply at will or for criminal motives. A suspected 300,000 to 500,000 people were murdered under Amin’s eight-year regime. He further ordered the expulsion of around 80,000 members of Uganda’s Asian community, many of whom ran major industries and businesses in Uganda.  He expropriated these businesses and gave them to his supporters, and they quickly fell into mis-management.  This crippled the economy, sending it into freefall.

When Amin attempted to invade Tanzania in 1979, Juluis Nyerere, the Tanzanian President, declared war and counterattacked, along with Obote toppled Amin’s now fragile regime.  This led to two interim governments being installed by returning Ugandan exiles. Amin fled to Libya and later to Saudi Arabia, where he remained until his death in 2003.

In 1980, Obote regained power under the UPC in a general election, which was contested by many and considered to be fraudulent. Obote installed an increasingly repressive regime, which led to Uganda having one of the worst human-rights records in the world.  Furthermore, in an effort to control the opposition led by current president Yoweri National Resistance Army guerrilla group, much of the north of the country was laid to waste and an estimated 100,000 people were killed. Despite these oppressive moves, by 1985 Obote was deposed again and overthrown by his army commanders in another military coup. In the chaos that occurred after, Museveni was able to seize control of the country. Museveni proclaimed a government of national unity and declared himself President. This was seen as a shift in Ugandan politics, with Museveni introducing some democratic reforms and improving its human rights record.

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Museveni, the LRA and Civil Wars

Since the 1990s Uganda has been involved in a civil war in the north against the Lord’s Resistance Army. The LRA is led by Joseph Kony, who wishes to, allegedly, establish a state based on the biblical Ten Commandments. Kony is accused of carrying out widespread abduction of children to serve as soldiers or sex slaves. It is estimated that the LRA have abducted around 30,000 children and that the civil war has led to the displacement of 1.6 million people from Northern Uganda and the death, mutilation and kidnapping of more than 100,000 people.

In the 23 years Museveni’s government has been in power, more than 20 other militant groups have attempted to displace the government both within and beyond the Ugandan borders.  The Allied Democratic Front (ADF) operates in the western parts of Uganda, in the districts of Kasese and Bundibunyo. With bases in the border mountains of Rwenzori in DR Congo, they launch occasional attacks on civilians in both countries. The People’s Redemption Army (PRA) is another rebel group operating in parts of DR Congo with alleged links to some opposition parties within Uganda. In the eastern parts of Uganda and the Karamoja region, armed rebellion has ended following a blanket amnesty to members of the Uganda Democratic Army (UDA), but armed cattle raids and a forceful disarmament programme being conducted by the government makes the region extremely violent and largely inaccessible. The West Nile region had two rebel groups; the West Nile Bank Front (WNBF) and Uganda National Liberation Front (UNLF II) both of whom operated in and out of DR Congo but which ceased hostilities following a peace deal with the government in 2001. Furthermore, Uganda has also been involved in a number of diplomatic incidents and armed incursions with their neighbours, most notably Rwanda, Sudan, DR Congo and Somalia.

image by CIAT - International Center for Tropical Agriculture, published under the Creative Commons License

Peace talks were initiated in Juba in 2008 between the LRA and government of Uganda which temporarily brought relative stability to the Northern region, but the LRA now continues with its atrocities. Joseph Kony and others in the LRA leadership have been indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court. They have spread their operations beyond Uganda and are now operating in Eastern DR Congo, parts of the Central African Republic, and Sudan. Kony has refused to sign any peace agreement unless the charges made against him by the ICC are dropped. In December 2008 Uganda, DR Congo and Sudan launched a joint military offensive backed by the US against the LRA, and by the beginning of 2009 the LRA appealed for a ceasefire. However, despite the offensive and the call for a ceasefire, Kony and the rest of the leadership remain elusive after 25 years.

Museveni, who was once a favourite of the international community for his policies on economic growth and HIV/AIDS response, has recently had presidential term limits abolished, leaving many concerned about his commitment to democracy. Additionally, there are questions over corruption and the distribution of natural resources.  However, the February 2011 elections led to his gaining another term, taking 68 per cent of the vote. The opposition parties have claimed electoral fraud and asserted that many voters were bribed. This along with the violence led by insurgent groups is leading many in the international community to fear greater violence and instability in the region.

Last updated: July 2010

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