I Wrote to Obote about the army in 1981- George Okello


I think if UPC was incompetent, it because it was slow to follow the advice that people like myself gave, I am afraid my advice was to take drastic and ruthless action against dissidents in the army, to professionalise the army itself, to get rid of uneducated serving officers and soldiers in the army and to improve civil-military relationships.

In 1981, I was the President of Students at the Law Development Centre. Before that, I was Chairman of Livingstone Hall, at Makerere University and a leading member of the UPC Youth League, therefore one of the most influential student leaders at that time. This was a
very difficult time for the country and for the party. The NRA had launched its terrorist activities in Luwero and I spent most of my time defending the UPC policy while at the same time criticising it.

The UPC government listened to advice and sent some army and intelligence officers to attend the 9 month law course at the LDC. But not all of these, I think 10, were well disciplined.

One night, one of these soldiers got into a quarrel with another student, in fact a very petty quarrel over a woman. The other student ran into his room and locked the door. This soldier, an Acholi man, had a pistol and he started to shoot at the door so as to open it.

Frightened students run to the warden’s residence and then began to knock frantically on my door. I went out and confronted this man, told him he must stop shooting and he must hand over his pistol to me. I was alone with him on the corridor, unarmed, the rest of the students were cowering in the corridors in terror. After 10 tense minutes, he finally agreed to hand over his gun to me, on the promise that no legal action would be taken against him. About 30 minutes later, military intelligence officers arrived, and they took the gun away from me and arrested the man. When I met with them the following day,
I explained to them what had happened, the promise I made to the man to give up his gun, so they agreed to let him continue with his studies but that any further action would be taken within military rules of discipline.

I tell you this story to address this specific question of so-called Acholi nationalism. I met David Oyite Ojok in Lira Hotel and spent almost the whole day with him. I met him with a full agenda, of the students, of whom I was one of the top leaders, as well as the UPC Youth League. He was a very patient man, listened carefully to what I
had to say. Obviously I was very young then, at about 20 years of age and he needed all the patience in the world to digest the diatribe or “rantings” of a fiery Socialist.

Be that as it may, I gave him an analysis of the Ugandan situation and especially of the Ugandan security forces. I cited this incident at the LDC. He said the army and security services are dealing with these incidents, but admitted that they hurt the image of the UPC as a party and government.

I am not ashamed to admit this, but I advised him to have Bazilio Okello arrested or eliminated altoghter and for Tito Okello to be retired. I strongly advised him to professionalise the army and to get rid of all of the uneducated foot soldiers, a majority of whom happened to be Acholi. I told him there were a lot of high school and
even University graduates who were unemployed who could be drafted into the army and police and security services.

The army had built up a very bad image in Buganda particularly, so it needed to change. The army needed to remove all Acholi soldiers from Buganda and replace them with soldiers from Lango, Teso, Eastern Uganda and most specifically from Buganda itself.

He agreed with me and asked me to put my points in a letter that he would deliver to President Obote. I wrote a 15 page letter to President Obote through David Oyite Ojok. He acknowledged my letter and said he would pass it on to President Obote, but I never got a response from the President’s office.

George Okello



2 Comments so far. Leave a comment below.
  1. Bongomin Morris,

    GO, I read your piece but found it to be having a lot of tribal undertone. Much as there were indeed many illiterate Acholis in the UNLA and some at the top ranks the same was with the Langi, Teso and any other tribes in Uganda by that time. To portray that it was entirely the Acholis who were the illiterate and brutal is outrageous. Instead it was Obote who did not want the literate Acholis anywhere near him.

  2. George Okello, Your letter to President Obote through Gen. David Oyite Ojok was indeed with good intentions for Uganda. However, there was not much that could be done by D. Oyite Ojok, or President Obote himself. The troops were recruited in big numbers from the South to the North of Uganda when they were still fighting the remnants of the Uganda Army of former President Amin. The innitial idea was to outnumber the Uganda Army, so as to defeat it. The other problem at the time, was that the President was unsober from alcohol most of the time and the rebels (NRA) were gaining ground. There was no time to correct the formation of the Defence Forces.

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