Uganda's new ruler vows to purge Army and renew economy
Uganda's new head of state, Yoweri Museveni, pledged Wednesday to purge the military and lead the strife-torn country back to prosperity. On the economic front, Museveni may succeed. Although civil unrest has hampered vital trade and there has been some slowdown in the economy, the country's overall economic prospects appear bright. Food production is good, in part because the country has not been hit by drought.
Mr. Museveni is expected to have a tougher time controlling the military. While the new leader seems to have broad-based support in the south of the country, he could face continuing resistance from the ousted regime's disgruntled troops, based in the north.
Mr. Museveni, whose troops took Kampala by force Saturday, was sworn in yesterday The ceremony took place in front of parliament, an institution that has fallen into disuse since Milton Obote was deposed last summer. Museveni assumes leadership in the place of Maj. Gen. Tito Okello, whose six-month rule began when he seized power from then-President Obote in a military coup July 27.
Previously, Museveni had announced on Radio Uganda that he had dissolved General Okello's ruling military council and that he would establish a broad-based government after consultation with Uganda's four political parties. In the meantime, Museveni's National Resistance Movement (NRM) has said it will administer the capital of Kampala through an interim regime that has already been running the western and southwestern regions since last October.
The sudden shift in power comes after several months of sporadic fighting between the National Resistance Army (NRA), the NRM's military wing made up predominantly of southern peoples of Bantu origin and the Ugandan Army, made up mostly of people of the northern Acholi and Langi tribes.
The NRM forces first launched a bush war against the Obote regime five years ago.
Obote, ousted by Idi Amin in 1971, was the first leader of Uganda after it gained independence in 1962. During his term in the '60s, he dismantled the federal system inherited from the British -- a factor that made him unpopular among many when he was elected once again in December of 1980.
Throughout the fall of 1985, the NRM -- after five years of bush war against Obote's forces -- had been negotiating with the newly installed Okello regime for status and a role within the government. But alleged human rights violations by government troops led the NRM to turn its forces on Okello's regime early this year.
The two days of heavy fighting that brought Kampala into submission marks the end of a fragile peace agreement concluded Dec. 17 between the two factions.
The fall peace negotiations were conducted under the auspices of Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi.
Museveni's soldiers, whose reputation for discipline is in stark contrast to the unbridled lawlessness of Okello's troops, have accused Okello forces of mass wanton killing, and the new leader has promised to punish the culprits.
There have been several reports of fleeing government soldiers looting shops and murdering civilians.
Perpetrators of crimes against the Ugandan people will not be included in the new government, said Museveni. Target No. 1 for retribution is likely to be Army Chief Lt. Gen. Basilio Okello (no relation to Tito Okello) and the defense minister, Col. Wilson Toko. The whereabouts of both men are unknown.
Western observers are hopeful that the turn of events will bring an end to decades of bloodshed that have beset this East African state since former dictator Idi Amin seized power in a military coup in 1971. But independent military sources are less sanguine. Within days of the December peace accord, Army chief Okello's forces began to amass arms in their northern strongholds. Eyewitnesses reported trucks of ammunition and artillery heading towards the northern towns near the Kenya border.
The town of Jinja, a government stronghold, fell to the NRM shortly after Museveni's forces seized Kampala and the airport at nearby Entebbe. NRM troops reportedly have also taken the eastern town of Tororo.
There are very real fears that, while Museveni may be able to maintain control of the southern half of the country, where the base of his support lies, Acholi soldiers will ally themselves with ethnically related troops once loyal to Amin and entrench themselves in northern bastions. This indicates that there may yet be a long period of military confrontation between the two sides.
Even so, prospects for Uganda's economic recovery have brightened considerably since the takeover. The NRM tends to be better educated than its northern counterparts. Many of the commanders in the NRM forces are professionals.
In addition, the NRM has already demonstrated a sound grasp of economics and some time ago put forward a detailed rescue package for the country that can now be enacted.
Museveni himself is a persistent man with considerable stamina who is noted for his socialist leanings.
But he has reassured diplomats that he plans to promulgate a mixed economy and has no plans for further nationalization of enterprise in Uganda. During the peace negotiations last year, Museveni enjoyed the tacit support of both Kenya's Mr. Moi and Western governments.
Although diplomats are cautious about endorsing new administrations, given the kaleidoscopic shifts of Ugandan politics, some have admitted privately that they believe Uganda's salvation lies with Museveni. He has already met with US Ambassador Robert Houdek.
The US cut back drastically on its aid assistance in the light of evidence of mass killings and human rights abuses under Obote. The Reagan administration reportedly has $12 million available for commitment to development as soon as internal security is assured.