The military commission that ousted President Godfrey Binaisa in 1980 set up a cabinet to tighten its hold on Uganda. The 24-member cabinet and 6-member commission were both headed by Paulo Muwanga, commission chairman who was labor minister at the time.
The commission assumed all effective executive, legislative, and constitutional powers.
The commission cabinet eliminated all those who were close to Mr. Binaisa or hostile to Milton Obote’s Uganda People’s Congress — as Mr. Obote, in exile for nine years after being toppled by president Idi Amin, planned to return.
“A six-member military commission formed a new Ugandan government today and accused ousted president Godfrey Binaisa of corruption, tribalism, and incompetence,” the Washington Post reported.
All cable lines out of the country were cut by the government and the local press ignored the takeover.
Ugandan troops, mainly armed with Chinese AK47 rifles, patrolled key installations in downtown Kampala.
Tanzanian soldiers, who overthrew dictator Idi Amin had remained in control of Entebbe, site of the country’s international airport, and the presidential residence where Binaisa was reportedly remained.
Reporters trying to see Binaisa were turned away by a Tanzanian captain who said with a grin, “They have a problem and no one is allowed to enter.”
Three leaders within the UNLF/UNLA – Paul Muwanga, Yoweri Museveni, and Brig. Oyite Ojok – took over the leadership of Uganda.
They formed a `Military Commission,’ which ruled Uganda until December 12, 1980.
The commission was the de facto president of Uganda for a few days until the establishment of the Presidential Commission of Uganda.
That commission, with Muwanga as chairman and current President Yoweri Museveni as his deputy, held the powers of the president of Uganda between 22 May and 15 December 1980.
Following the elections held on 10 December 1980, Muwanga installed himself as the head of the Electoral Commission and declared Milton Obote’s Uganda People’s Congress the winner.
The election results were contested, leading Yoweri Museveni to undertake a guerilla war in protest.
The 1980 election, meant as a return to democratic civilian rule, was marred by widespread irregularities and, although it brought Obote back to power, it led to the country’s most devastating civil war led by Museveni.
Situation in Kampala
Downtown Kampala was virtually deserted and most government offices were closed as workers remained home.
But on the outskirts of the capital, markets were open and one bar was overflowing with patrons, Washington Post described the state of Uganda at the time.
As is customary, occasional gunfire was heard as the 10 p.m. curfew approached, according to information in the UBC National Archive.
The announcement of a new government did not seem to stir Kampala.
One Ugandan quoted by BBC, referring to the eight years of Amin’s brutality followed by a year of chaos since his overthrow, shrugged off the latest confusing scenario saying, “We’ve gone through so much, one more event does not make any difference.”
The radio Uganda announcement later said the commission had “assumed the powers of the presidency.”
It said the situation was normal and called on the public to remain calm but left a number of questions unanswered.
The key question was the fate of Binaisa, who had not made any public statement since when he precipitated the crisis by firing David Oyite Ojok, the ex-Army chief of staff, for reasons of “national security and unity.”
Ojok, who was also on the military commission, resisted and the military stripped Binaisa of power.
The radio broadcast made no mention of former president Milton Obote, who was scheduled to return to Uganda from exile in Tanzania to run in the December elections.
Although Ojok supported Obote, the former president disclaimed any responsibility for the takeover.
The position of the Tanzanian military also remained unclear, Tanzania, had 10,000 troops in the country as a remnant of the overthrow of Amin.
The Tanzanians had trained the fledgling 5,000-man Ugandan Army.
Ex-Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere, a firm opponent of military coups in Africa, had said nothing publicly, but Washington Post quoting sources close to him reported that he was “extremely distressed” that a takeover had occurred.
Diplomatic sources said he had been working to bring the warring factions together.
In its original announcement of Binaisa’s ouster, the military commission tried to gloss over fears of a return to power of the Army as happened under Amin.
“This is an action by the commission, not by the Army. Repeat: this is an action by the commission, not by the Army,” the broadcast said.
Muwanga, the head of the military commission, was himself the focus of an earlier government shakeup when he was fired from the position of interior minister.
On that occasion, Nyerere influenced Binaisa to appoint Muwanga labor minister.
The radio broadcast marked the first time that Binaisa had been attacked personally by the military commission.
“Corruption is the hallmark of the Binaisa government,” the radio said.
“He has been playing tribe against tribe. He has failed to give direction to his government, and, in effect, the country has had no government and no leadership.”