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Museveni's task: bridging Uganda's historic divisions

The most serious risk facing Uganda is what has come to be known as ``Lebanization'': the division of a country into regions dominated by different armies. Although Uganda's new military ruler, Yoweri Museveni, has won control over the capital, Kampala, and perhaps half the country, he has yet to show that he can extend his rule to the other half of the country, and that he can convert his limited military power into effective political power.

The area now under the control of President Museveni's irregular forces is almost entirely inhabited by the Bantu communities, while the area that remains to be subdued in the north is composed entirely of Nilotic-speaking peoples.

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This division between the Bantu-speaking and Nilotic-speaking communities pre-dates colonial rule, and, has been one of a number of divisive factors that has made it so difficult to rule Uganda.

The Nilotic north is itself divided into four military-political regions.

The region of the dominant Acholi peoples, whose leader Lt. Gen. Tito Okello was driven out of the nation's capital to the Acholi capital of Gulu.

The Lango region, the home territory of the deposed President Milton Obote. In recent years the Langi and Acholi peoples have been political allies but this alliance was sundered when General Okello participated in President Obote's overthrow in July of 1985.

The west Nile province, which is itself roughly divided between supporters of two rival armed groups. Some of the Nubian (southern Sudanese) elements in this region still see Idi Amin (ruler from 1971 to 1979) as their leader, but the majority have rejected him.

The Karamoja region, which has become a place for armed bands who operate outside the law and ignore the writ of Kampala.

Uganda's future therefore depends on whether Museveni's political skill can match his military daring. The key challenge he faces is one that has defeated every Ugandan leader since the country's independence from Britain in 1962: balancing the conflicting interests and demands of the Baganda (the dominant Bantu community) and the Nilotes.

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The Baganda, themselves divided into at least three rival groups, are certain to want to join Museveni's proffered coalition government.

It seems possible, however, that, once inside the coalition, they may maneuver to achieve the political ascendancy which many Baganda, especially the diehard traditionalists, feel they are entitled to.

One of their conditions for full support of Museveni is likely to be the restoration of the ``Kabakaship'' -- the king of Buganda -- a small Ugandan kingdom which was abolished with the three other kingdoms in the country by Obote in 1966.

Whether a modernizing young leader like Museveni can be persuaded to restore the monarchies to Uganda is an importunate question. ON the other side of the political balance is the hostility felt by all non-Baganda to any hint of Buganda hegemony.

The difficult task of reconciling the rival political and tribal groups in Uganda is bound to be made even more difficult if Museveni carries out his repeated threats to purge the military of those he claims are responsible for killings and human rights abuses under former presidents Amin and Obote. And, Museveni will be challenged to be sure his own, reportedly well disciplined, troops stay in line.

Museveni's critics insist that his decision to carry on the struggle for political power by resorting to weapons was primarily responsible for creating the violent situation that existed during Obote's second period in office. Museveni's own record of violence, they say, hardly entitles him to point a finger at others.

Retribution, if it occurred, could perpetuate the cycle of violence that began in this country with Amin in 1971 and has troubled it ever since.


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