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Uganda: resilient nation stays two steps ahead of chaos

Uganda's President Milton Obote has weathered his first year back in office.

After eight years of Idi Amin's brutality followed by another 11/2 years of near-anarchy, that in itself is quite an achievement.

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His potentially rich nation - squeezed into an area the size of Oregon between the cloud-capped Mountains of the Moon and the lakes at the headwaters of the White Nile - remains in desperate straits.

Had it not been for a resilient subsistence economy that enables Ugandans to feed themselves, the country's 11 million people would not have survived the years when Idi Amin was plundering its cash economy.

But today modest outside help is coming in, intended at least in part to strengthen Mr. Obote's hand. For, despite allegations against Mr. Obote's own forces of undisciplined violence against civilians and opponents, he is seen by influential members of the international aid and financial communities as offering Uganda its best hope of recovery.

il12l,0,25l,7p In this view, President Obote's most urgent task is to restore the atmosphere of security and to proceed vigorously with an overall policy of national reconciliation.

This is proving far from easy. Obote is a man with an abrasive intensity of feeling - which does not help. He still has bitter foes at home. They persist in acts of violence intended at least to keep him off balance and to damage his credibility abroad.

RecentlyUgandan security officers arrested 2,000 people in sections of Kampala, the capital, from which guerrillas had launched attacks. Police asked to see people's tax receipts, saying those who were unable to produce may be guerrillas.

Officials expected the roundup would turn up perpetrators of a particularly spectacular attack with mortars on Malire Army barracks in Kampala, which took place Feb. 23. The anti-Obote Uganda Freedom Movement claimed responsibility. Another blast went off March 3 in a processing plant of the Coffee Marketing Board. Coffee is the country's most valuable export.

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Mr. Obote ran Uganda first as prime minister, then as President, from indepenir12l,0,25l,7pdence in 1962 until his ouster by Idi Amin in 1971. His return to power after a bitterly contested election in December 1980 was made possible through the military intervention in Uganda of his friend and neighbor, President Julius Nyerere of Tanzania - an intervention that still rankles with many of Mr. Obote's domestic foes.

Still, he has managed to stabilize the country enough for aid to start flowing in. In 1981, loans from outside were being disbursed at a rate of $130 to $150 million a year, and grants at the rate of $70 to $80 million.

The biggest multilateral donors are the European Community, the International Development Association of the World Bank, and the African Development Bank. Bilateral aid agreements have been made by the United States, Britain, West Germany, France, the Netherlands, India, and Kenya.

Before the Amin years, coffee, cotton, tea, and tobacco were the country's main exports. Last year, coffee made up 97 percent of those commodities sold abroad: cotton, tea, and tobacco are not yet back in competition on the world markets. But there are those who believe that it il12l,0,25l,7phas a future as a food producer.

Uganda also has some hope of becoming an exporter of minerals. It has reserves of cobalt and phosphate, and may be able to revive the copper mining and exporting.

Uganda is connected with the Indian Ocean port of Mombasa by a railroad and truck routes across Kenya.These should facilitate exports to the world.

Kenya has balked at the prospect of cooperating with Uganda but this situation reportedly is improving.

The first steps have therefore been taken toward recovery from the Amin years , but there is still a long way to go to get the country back on its feet.

Before the Idi Amin coup, Obote alienated the Baganda people, the single biggest ethnic group in Uganda.

The Baganda believed they should run Uganda after the British left. But Obote forced their king into exile in Britain.

The Baganda are still basically anti-Obote and support the Democratic Party - the party the still thinks the 1980 election that put Obote into power may have been rigged. Observers believe that the Democrats have been law-abiding.

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