ARCHIVE: The day rebellious soldiers took control of Uganda, dismissed Parliament, suspended constitution and promised elections that never came!

Bazilio toppled the regime of President Milton Obote on July 27, more about 1985 in a coup following immense military pressure from the NRA guerillas under Museveni who had taken control of the better part of western and central region.

Bazilio toppled the regime of President Milton Obote on July 27, more about 1985 in a coup following immense military pressure from the NRA guerillas under Yoweri Museveni who had taken control of the better part of western and central region.

Military officers who seized power in Uganda, deposing President Milton Obote in 1971, dismissed Parliament and suspended the constitution but claimed would “hold free elections at an unspecified date in the future”

Brig. Basilio Olara Okello, who headed the rebellious army faction that carried out the coup, made a brief radio address to the Ugandan people from Kampala, the capital.

“I have arrived here in Kampala,” he said. “Stay at home. We took the step (the coup) because of unity. I pray to God to bless all the citizens of Uganda,” he was quoted by Associated Press as saying.

The army officer who introduced Okello referred to him only as the “leader.”

Heavy looting engulfed Kampala, but residents of the city, reached by telephone, said that violence had calmed somewhat by a day after the coup. They added that it still was not clear whether the coup leaders, who had proclaimed themselves the new rulers of the nation, were in full control.

Radio Uganda, which was seized by Okello’s troops stopped playing disco and popular music and broadcast martial music instead–among the selections “Anchors Aweigh” and the “March of the Toy Soldiers.”

Programming was interrupted from time to time with appeals that the people remain calm and stay indoors.

Not long after Okello spoke, an army spokesman identified only as Col. Maruru went on the air to announce the suspension of the constitution and the closing of Parliament.

He also said that Uganda’s borders and the international airport at Entebbe would remain closed until further notice and that all foreign-currency transactions were prohibited at the time.

Maruru assured the Ugandans that there would be “a government of their own choice in free and fair elections.” No date was mentioned.

The spokesman said no “innocent civilians or civil servants or ministers” of Obote’s government would be prosecuted, but he declared that the military had taken over to end “the despotic rule of Obote,” whom he accused of committing “heinous murders and assassinations” during his recent 4 1/2 years as president, his second stretch as the East African nation’s leader.

Obote’s whereabouts remained a mystery at the time. Most reports, all of them unconfirmed, said the then 60-year-old veteran political figure had fled to Kenya.

His first term as president came to an end in 1971, when he was toppled by his then-army chief of staff, Gen. Idi Amin.

Regional newspapers said that Obote spent night in the western Kenyan town of Kakamega, after fleeing Friday night or Saturday morning in a caravan of security agents.

One Western diplomat, however, said he had been assured by a ranking Kenyan official that Obote was not in Kenya but was probably in the Tanzanian capital, Dar es Salaam.

Looting’s Legacy

On Sunday morning, witnesses in Kampala said, the city’s downtown section looked as if it had been hit by a cyclone.

Shop windows were shot out. Empty merchandise crates, taken from stores and pried open in the streets, littered the pavement.

The number of casualties could not be confirmed, but a local reporter for United Press International counted four bullet-riddled bodies lying face down in the street.

Soldiers were seen sitting on the curbs, their rifles between their knees, drinking beer and breaking the bottles in the street.

It was assumed that the soldiers were loyal to Brig. Okello, but lines of authority remained unclear.

Some Kampala residents said that soldiers broke into their suburban homes and “stole whatever they could carry.”

The soldiers were reported to have taken many cars.

The then nation’s second city, Jinja, in the east, was reported to be calm and to have suffered little or no looting.

Steadman Howard, the then director of the U.S. Information Service in Kampala, spent the night in his office after being caught there Saturday morning when the coup began to develop.

“We’ve been hunkered down all day,” Howard told a reporter who telephoned his office. “We are not moving.”

In Washington, State Department spokesman Joe Reap announced:

“We’ve made preliminary contact with the military authorities in control of Kampala to seek protection for our personnel. All official (U.S. government) Americans are accounted for. We are urging private Americans in Uganda to remain in their residences and to keep in constant touch with the embassy. We are continuing to monitor events.”

An estimated 160 American citizens without government connections lived in Uganda at the time.

The Associated Press quoted Britain’s top diplomat in Uganda, the then acting High Commissioner Peter Penfold, as telling the British Broadcasting Corp. that some of the 1,100 Britons in Uganda had been assaulted.

None, he said, were seriously wounded. Uganda achieved independence from Britain in 1962.

The embassy also had reports that some British homes had been looted, Penfold said.

At one point during the phone interview, Penfold was quoted as saying he was ducking under his desk because of nearby gunfire.

The then Uganda’s Roman Catholic cardinal, Emmanuel Nsubuga, said shooting had quieted down by late Sunday afternoon.

“It has not been as bad as I thought it was going to be,” he said.

“There is no jubilation in the streets, as there was when Idi Amin seized power,” the prelate said.

“I think Ugandans have learned their lesson.”

From Libya, the radical regime of late Col. Moammar Kadafi announced recognition of the new Uganda authorities, citing the “new situation” in the country.

Question of control

Given the chaos described by most witnesses, however, it seemed unlikely that the leaders of the coup had gained full control.

The reports that Ugandan soldiers, generally notorious for lack of discipline, were running loose indicated that army commanders were busy sorting out their own lines of authority.

Speculation continued Sunday about the fate of Paul Muwanga, Obote’s vice president and defense minister.

First reports after the coup said he had fled across the border to Tanzania.

Reports Sunday, also impossible to confirm, said he remained at home in Kampala and was seeking to join his fortunes with the new military leaders.

As defense minister, Muwanga always had close ties with the military.

A number of other Cabinet ministers were reported to have been arrested, although the military made no immediate announcement on the subject.

Factionalism within the army, rooted in Uganda’s tribal conflicts, apparently led to the revolt against Obote.

Worsening relations between the Acholi–Brig. Okello’s tribe–and Obote’s Langi had, over the last few months, deteriorated to the point where the two tribes’ soldiers were engaging in gunfights in the capital.

Army’s Cohesion unravels

Diplomats quoted by the Reuters news agency in London said the conflict between the two tribes–both from the north and temporary allies under Amin’s persecution–resurged after the 1983 death in a helicopter crash of Maj. Gen. David Oyite-Ojok, the military chief of staff.

A Langi and an experienced combat veteran, he had achieved wide respect from Acholi officers and soldiers.

The next-ranking Acholi officer was not appointed to succeed him, apparently because of his advanced age, and the army’s leadership instead went to a Langi, Brig. Smith Opon Acak.

This was apparently resented by younger Acholi officers.

Brig. Okello, whose own military career goes back to the time before Amin took power, was described as “a young Turk” within the top-level factional rivalries.

An Acholi and a Catholic, he was described as about 6 feet tall, stocky with gray hair, and comfortable speaking Swahili, a pan-African language.

He had commanded troops in both the northern and southern regions of Uganda–another traditional tribal dividing line–and distinguished himself in the 1979 ouster of Amin.

“He’s a tremendous soldier, a really courageous fighter,” a Kenyan resident whose family long lived in Uganda told the Associated Press.


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