FOR OUR ARCHIVES: BBC Panorama Programme: From Tyranny to Disaster, By Jeremy Paxman (1981)

Paxman: In a lakeside village outside the capital Kampala…the evidence of what the Ugandan army can do when it finally takers over from the Tanzanians. Because this waterworks was a potential guerilla target, the government deployed soldiers and within two weeks these twelve soldiers shot their own corporal, raped a 12-year-old girl and turned the place into an interrogation centre. It is a direct result of bureaucratic incompetence, indiscipline and poor control. The ill-trained and poorly equipped army is becoming a big problem to Ugandans wishing for better things after Amin.

Paxman: Are you being paid?

UNLA Soldier: We are being paid, yes.

Paxman: How much?

UNLA Soldier: Six hundred shillings.

Paxman: What does that buy you?

UNLA Soldier: That one does no work. Let’s say if you want to buy food you can get two kilos of meat and a bunch of bananas.

Paxman: So you can buy two kilos of meat and a bunch of bananas on a month’s pay?

UNLA Soldier: What are you talking about?…That is a day’s meal!

Paxman: So when that runs out what do you do? You go and get from civilians?

UNLA Soldier: We may go there but they will say that we are going for robbery.

Paxman: There has been a lot of trouble here recently, ugh?

UNLA Soldier: (cue, blank stare, smokes cigarettes).

Paxman: It all went wrong from the very beginning at independence two decades ago. Uganda was then the richest country in East Africa but within a decade Obote had turned dictator and banned political parties and created tensions within the country. There was little regret when he was overthrown in 1971. (Cue in audio of WOI Sam Wilfred Aswa and images of people celebrating coup on Parliament Avenue).

Aswa: “We members of Uganda Armed Forces have today taken power from Obote and handed it over to our fellow soldier, Major General Idi Amin Dada”.

Paxman: The world actually welcomed this apparent buffoon who splattered his chest with medals and called himself the world’s strongest leader.

ECU Idi Amin: “The Defence Council and the entire people of Uganda consider me I am the Conqueror of the British Empire”

Paxman: But Amin was no ordinary braggart and within a few years had murdered hundreds of thousands of his own people (cue: Image from firing squad). Millions were terrorized into submission and many forced to flee into exile. With the country falling around him, Amin invaded Tanzania and was eventually overthrown by Tanzanian troops and a force of Uganda exiles. There was apparent relief that things will improve, especially when Obote returned from exile and became president again.

But the elections that brought him to power last December bordered on the farcical. The army and the interim government were fully in sport of Obote. In no less than 17 seats the opposition candidates were barred from standing and some stopped from registering their candidature through intimidation. Still, when results started coming out, the main opposition candidate started to celebrate an apparent victory (ECU: Ssemogerere at rally).

With results showing a likely win for the opposition candidate the government canceled the declaration of results and later announced Obote as winner. The man who cancelled the results is now Vice President and is said to be the most hated man in the country.

Paxman: Doesn’t it seem a little hollow to disqualify a university professor on the flimsy claim that he does not provide a literacy certificate?

Paulo Muwanga: That would happen in other place but not here. If you are university graduate and you don’t provide proof that you have been to university, surely you are disqualified.

Paxman: Despite their protestations, the opposition now cooperates and sits in parliament which operates on a Westminster model. (Cue in parliament). But in recent weeks government officials have been shot at, attacks against the army and police have occurred and there is now a fear of a fully fledged guerrilla war. What seems to hold the country together at the moment is the presence of the Tanzanian troops but when president Nyerere withdraws his troops, Obote might well find that he too, has been replaced by disaster. For the man himself, it has been a harrowing experience, says.

Obote: As I was travelling from Dar es Salaam coming back to Uganda in May last year, I was really afraid. I was afraid of meeting two types of people; widows and orphans: widows of people I knew and orphans whose parents I knew and I usually don’t cry but believe me I cried.

Secondly, much as I had been very well informed about the state of affairs in Uganda for the last ten years, I found that the situation was much worse. Ten years ago we had four sources of foreign exchange. Today, we have just one. Ten years ago our national social service was working well; today it is almost dead and three; the national debt is very big.

But there is money to pay for armored Mercedes and luxury for the Vice President and his group. He and many senior officers had commandeered a luxury hotel one the reserve of Uganda’s rich elite and tourist. In room 221 sits the Vice President. In room 211 enters a British arms dealer selling arms in exchange for coffee.

Paxman: But it seems like you are not making things any better. People are being killed all over the place and their bodies dumped around the city or in Namanve and Mabira Forests.

Obote: I admit that people are being killed and some people have arrested who have not been in the army, known to be doing that and who have, actually left the army. But the situation is not as bad as under Amin! The mere fact that the bodies are being discovered means that it is not as bad as under Amin. In the past the bodies were not even found or discovered!

Paxman: (Narrative) But Obote’s reaction has been tough and just like under Amin, there are now no independent media operating in the country.

Obote: I don’t understand! Gangsters are shooting at the police and I have got journalists, representing reputable newspapers, giving them a heroes treatment…I don’t understand.

Paxman: Does that justify closing the Weekly Topic newspaper?

Obote: Yes!


Paxman: People are now too terrified to talk openly as a climate of insecurity engulfs parts of the country but Obote maintains that he can turn this country around.

Obote: I propose to use the power of poverty. I propose that much as things are very bad, we must pull ourselves up, and using our human strength, grow the crops that we used to grow and start changing our economy again.

Paxman: Wherever Obote travels inside the country he is in the conspicuous presence of the Tanzanian general who appears nearly everywhere with him (Mwita Kambale Marwa, ECU). At the moment he appears to be the only one that stands between Obote and chaos and when he and his troops leave later this year, there is no saying what will follow.



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