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The Marriage of Convenience That Led to the Demise of Apollo Milton Obote's Presidency

Updated on October 15, 2017


The purpose of this article is neither to exhaustively discuss the history of Uganda, nor to draw parallels or similarities and differences between Apollo Milton Obote's presidency (1962-1971; 1980-1985) and Yoweri Museveni's presidency (1986-2017). This article focuses almost exclusively on the "marriage of convenience" between two political parties, Kabaka Yekka (KY) and Uganda National Congress (UNC).Therefore, I leave future researchers and students of history to document a chronology of Ugandan history and arrive at comparing and contrasting the two presidencies and be able to draw their own conclusions. Further still, students of history will argue that the quietus of Apollo Milton Obote's presidency could have been due to a combination of social, political and economic factors. Again, I will leave our brilliant and wonderful students of history to delve into details of those factors. Herein, I posit that the alliance that Obote forged between his party, Uganda National Congress and Kabaka Yekka (only the king) in the run up to Uganda's independence in 1962, arguably was one of the boomerangs that led to the demise of his presidency.

The run up to Uganda's independence

In the run up to Uganda's independence in 1962, general elections were held and the Democratic Party (DP) scored a landslide victory against its rival political parties, UNC and KY. Knowing that he could not be elected prime minister without parliamentary majority, Obote clandestinely arranged an alliance between UNC and KY (widely known as "marriage of convenience" or "unholy alliance"). Although DP as a single party under the headship of Benedicto Kiwanuka had won the majority parliamentary seats, Obote's political maneuver to create an alliance with KY caught DP by surprise as the alliance gave Obote the majority seats he needed in parliament to be elected first prime minister and King Mutesa II first president of the Republic of Uganda respectively. After the alliance was formed, UNC changed its name to what is currently known as Uganda People's Congress (UPC).

Marriage of convenience

The alliance between KY and UNC was considered a marriage of convenience due to the fact that it was not predicated on the true principles of a true coalition such as operating or working in open air with alliance partners; respectful communication that does not undermine the integrity of the alliance; adhering to professional and ethical values that desist from engaging in activities that are deceitful and misleading; focusing attention on issues that are important to the citizens; and avoiding intentional creation of ambiguities that create uncertainty for the alliance partners. Unfortunately, Obote went against all those common-sense principles of alliance. The pigeon-hole constitution and the republican constitution he introduced in 1966 and 1967 respectively without the input of Kabaka and his Lukiko (parliament) constituted a fragrant betrayal of the alliance leading to the impairment of his relationship with the Kabaka (king) and his subjects.

Pigeon-Hole Constitution

The marriage between UNC and KY was short lived. In 1966 in one of parliamentary sessions, while the parliament was being heavily guarded by the Ugandan army, Obote introduced the new constitution which members of parliament had not seen or given a chance to debate on and contribute ideas to--the constitution was approved without debate. Copies of the constitution were left in the pigeon holes of members of parliament and members asked to read it at their earliest convenience, hence the name "pigeon-hole constitution." The new constitution also was referred to as the "revolutionary constitution" which provided for the abolition of the posts of president and vice-president and gave unlimited executive powers to Obote. The Pigeon-Hole Constitution was followed by the Republican Constitution in 1967 that provided for the abolition of kingdoms in Uganda.

Obote's false consciousness

Although it can be argued that the alliance between KY an UNC led to Obote's rise to power, it could also be postulated that it led to his downfall. Obote's false consciousness that led him to believe that he was politically savvy enough to create an alliance that he knew was based on ulterior motives boomeranged on him. For instance, the introduction of the pigeon-hole constitution to gain absolute executive powers to run the country without consultations with his alliance partners damaged his relationship with KY loyalists. This tarnished relationship led to the dwindling of his support in the Buganda region and subsequently across the entire nation. His continued assault on, and betrayal of the alliance galvanized King Mutesa's popularity. To undermine the kings popularity, Obote connived with some DP members of parliament from Bunyoro Kingdom to lure them into his coalition in order to organize a referendum that would restore the "lost counties" of Buyaga, Bugangaizi and Buwekula--the referendum was opposed by the Kabaka. As expected, the referendum received overwhelming support from the people of Bunyoro and two of the lost counties reverted to Bunyoro Kingdom. Obote's goal of organizing a referendum was to have it passed so as to put Kabaka Mutesa in a bind or uncomfortable position of signing it so as to antagonize himself with his subjects hence creating divisions in the kingdom.

Dearth of scandals

The demons of the betrayed alliance continued to haunt Obote further leading to the gold and ivory corruption scandal. In 1965, Obote and his army commander Idi Amin were implicated in the gold and ivory smuggling plot by General Makanga, a rebel leader in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The gold and ivory were in exchange for ammunition to aid the Congolese rebels fighting the British rule. When some members of parliament tabled a motion to investigate the scandal,Obote introduced another bill in parliament that abolished kingdoms and gave him complete executive powers, before the Kabaka exercised his powers as the chief executive of the country to sanction the investigation. Consequently, the parliamentarians who were championing the investigation were arrested and imprisoned. After abolishing kingdoms, Obote ordered his army commander Idi Amin to stage an assault on Kabaka's palace; however, Kabaka Mutesa managed to escape into exile in England where he died of apparent alcohol poisoning in 1969.

Common Man's Charter

Obote was arguably one of the most brilliant and eloquent speakers of his generation gleaned from his ability to attain honorary doctorate degrees for his oratorical skills from England and India respectively. Nonetheless, his brilliance was inundated with questionable motives. In an effort to introduce socialism in Uganda, he crafted the "Common Man's Charter" pamphlets in which he outlined his political and economic policies. His policies included the proposal to disburse 60% shares of cooperatives and banks to the government to put the government in control of the economy. This move led to the slowing down of the economy and businesses of the Indian traders in Uganda, hence leading to shortages of food, hiking food prices, devaluing of the currency, and rampant civil unrest and mutinies across the country.

Attempted assassination

Arguably, the attempted assassination of Obote in 1969 was the culmination of a disgruntled public because of his social, political and economic policies. Following the attempt on his life, all political parties were banned and UPC became the only party in Uganda operating under martial laws: political rivals were imprisoned without trial; public descent was met with military fury; and police brutality intensified.The downward spiral of his presidency was accelerated by disgruntlement within his own party. For instance in 1966 members of his own party led by Grace Ibingira, UPC Secretary General, and George Magezi, UPC representative from Bunyoro and others, passed a vote of "no confidence" against Obote with only one UPC die-hard, John Kakonge, voting to oppose the motion. Furthermore, his estranged army commander did not make things any easier for him. When he learned that Obote was planning to arrest him for embezzlement of military funds, Idi Amin organized his army royalists for a military coup, and when Obote was attending a commonwealth meeting in Singapore, Amin overthrew him in 1971.

Obote II

Nonetheless, Obote bounced back into power in 1980 during the period known as "Obote II," (1980-1985).The 1980 presidential election that Obote purported to have won was vehemently refuted for it was believed to have been fragrantly rigged by the Uganda People's Congress.This led to President Museveni staging a revolutionary war that saw Obote's presidency overthrown again by his army generals in 1985. Obote was forced into exile again until his death from a kidney failure in 2005. Following his death, his body was return to Uganda for a state burial according to his wishes.

I conclude my submission on the same premise from which I started that the alliance between Kabaka Yekka (only the king) and Uganda National Congress (UNC) was the boomerang that led to the demise of Obote's presidency. The alliance is referred to as the "marriage of convenience" owing to the fact the alliance was disingenuous because Obote had ulterior motives of using the alliance as a precursor for gaining absolute power to run a one-man government. No sooner had he been elected as the first prime minister of Uganda through the alliance than he turned his back on the coalition and introduced his own constitutions that gave him outright executive powers to run the affairs of the country without the input of the alliance and the parliament. This in the end damaged his relationship with his coalition partners and the entire national public; the dwindling of his public support; the dearth of corruption scandals; the deterioration of the economy; the rampant civic upheavals and mutinies across the country; an attempt on his life; and finally, his overthrow and exile.


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