UPC Rules Uganda as Sole Party: 1966– 1971 - UPC Rules Uganda as Sole Party: 1966– 1971

Obote’s success in the face of adversity reclaimed for him the support of most members of the UPC, which then became the only legal political party. The original independence election of 1962, therefore, was the last one held in Uganda until December 1980. On the home front, Obote issued the “Common Man’s Charter,” echoed the call for African socialism by Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere, and proclaimed a “move to the left” to signal new efforts to consolidate power. His critics noted that he placed most control over economic nationalization in the hands of an Asian millionaire who was also a financial backer of the UPC. Obote created a system of secret police, the General Service Unit (GSU). Headed by a relative, Akena Adoko, the GSU reported on suspected subversives. The Special Force Units of paramilitary police, heavily recruited from Obote’s own region and ethnic group, supplemented the security forces within the army and police. Although Buganda had been defeated when the Kabaka`s Palace was overrun by Obote`s Army and occupied by the military, Obote was still concerned about security there. His concerns were well founded; in December 1969 he was wounded in an assassination attempt and narrowly escaped more serious injury when a grenade thrown near him failed to explode. He had retained power by relying on Idi Amin and the army, but it was not clear that he could continue to count on their loyalty. 

Rivalry with Commander Idi Amin

Meanwhile, Obote appeared particularly uncertain of the army after Amin’s sole rival among senior army officers, Brigadier Acap Okoya, was murdered early in 1970. (Amin later promoted the man rumored to have recruited Okoya’s killers.) A second attempt was made on Obote’s life when his motorcade was ambushed later that year, but the vice-president’s car was mistakenly riddled with bullets. Obote began to recruit more Acholi and Langi troops, and he accelerated their promotions to counter the large numbers of soldiers from Amin’s home, which was then known as West Nile District. Obote also enlarged the paramilitary Special Force as a counterweight to the army.

Amin, who at times inspected his troops wearing an outsized sport shirt with Obote’s face across the front and back, protested his loyalty. But in October 1970, Amin was placed under temporary house arrest while investigators looked into his army expenditures, that were reportedly several million dollars over budget. Another charge against Amin was that he had continued to aid southern Sudan’s Anyanya rebels in opposing the regime of Gaafar Nimeiry even after Milton Obote had shifted his support away from the Anyanya to Nimeiry. This foreign policy shift provoked an outcry from Israel, which had been supplying the Anyanya rebels. Amin was close friends with several Israeli military advisers who were in Uganda to help train the Ugandan Army, and their eventual role in Amin’s efforts to oust Obote remained the subject of continuing debate.

Despite the downsides of the Obote regime, his Presidency saw Uganda live through its best economic conditions to date. The industrial/ manufacturing sector was very stable and well supported, the country was earning adequate foreign currency to guarantee its continuous growth and the economy was stable growing at a stable rate of appx 5% pa.

From Uganda’s independence from Great Britain in 1962 to early 1971, Milton Obote’s regime had terrorized, harassed, and tortured people. Frequent food shortages had blasted food prices through the ceiling. Obote’s persecution of Indian traders had contributed to this. During Obote’s regime, flagrant and widespread corruption had emerged. The regime was disliked, particularly in Buganda where people had suffered the most.

By January 1971, Milton Obote, the then President of Uganda, was prepared to rid himself of the potential threat posed by Idi Amin. Departing for the 1971 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting at Singapore, he relayed orders to loyal Langi officers that Amin and his supporters in the army were to be arrested. Various versions emerged of the way this news was leaked to Amin. Also, the role of the foreign powers in the coup had been debated until recently. Documents declassified by the British Foreign Office reveal that, contrary to earlier speculations, it was not directly facilitated by Great Britain but benefited from covert support by Israel which saw Idi Amin as an agent to de-stabilise Islamic Sudan. The documents however unveil an out rightly positive assessment of Amin’s personality by the British authorities as well as recommendations of support and the sale of arms to the new regime

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