There are many floating questions out there trying to analyze and understand the events prior to and subsequently leading to the July 1985 Coup d’etat against the then sitting UPC government.My brother Billie Kadameri has tried to shed some light but for some reason he concentrated on the effects and not the cause which were numerous as to why the UPC government fell.What I am presenting here are my views as perceived by me and are open to correction by anybody else who has better information than I do. My views are as follows:
1) Most people do not appreciate what a precarious situation the Obote II government inherited after the elections; the country was broke, there was rampant insecurity and non of the key sectors of the economy were functioning.The reason it is important to note this is because some people have given the impression that insecurity and mayhem began only when UPC came back to power. We quickly forget that Nile Mansions had become the place of residence for ministers, NCC legislators and their family’s for security reasons-It was mostly Senior Army officers of UNLA who lived in their residences;
2) Security at the time was maintained by the 40,000 strong TPDF, Tanzanian Police which was not only better armed, trained and disciplined than their Ugandan counterparts but had a better sense of mission. So if security was problem with TPDF how about a young UNLA on it’s own? Would have DP done a better job if they had ascended to power?
UNLA on the hand was originally built by hurriedly amalgamating 22 fighting groups that were working cross purpose with each other into one one ‘National Army.” The truth of the matter was that other than ‘Kikosi Maalum(KM) and Fronansa, the rest were briefcase “fighting groups.”
At the event of the Obote II, it’s (UNLA) numerical strength was about anywhere between 10,000-15,000. For all intent and purpose it was ill trained, under manned, underfunded and under armed for protecting the country’s borders.
For an internal rebellion to happen a few months after the elections within the precincts of the Capitol city was most unwelcome. National armies are usually professionalized during peace times because the setting up of effective chains of command and training requires it so.
3) Due to economic and political pressures at home Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, decided to withdraw the remaining 20,000 TPDF troops. This could have not come at a more inopportune time for the newly installed Obote II government which viewed the rebellion launched by remnants of Fronansa as an existential threat. As a reaction; a massive drive to recruit any willing bodies into the army was launched and that may partially explain the dominance of the Acholi and Langi and to a lessor extent a number of tribes from the East. This rush to recruit also meant that a lot of unsuitable rabble were also absorbed.
With only a few weeks of training many were thrown into the battle field or areas of insurgency and anyone who knows about the time period needed to train a foot soldier, that was a recipe for disaster.
The regrettable events at Ombachi and Luwero could partially be explained away by ill trained and poorly disciplined soldiers at work. I will acknowledge the fact that revenge may have driven some of the soldiers due to Idi Amin’s misrule-It had not happened earlier due to the presence of TPDF;
4) With all the bad cards dealt to the Obote II government, the task of painstakingly creating a National Army could not have fallen to a better person than then Brigadier David Oyite Ojok. The fellow was charismatic and dynamic to say the least, who executed his duties with the required ruthless efficiency.
Two of his known attributes was his respect for his elders and affable character. The secret to his being able to turn the administrative wheels of UNLA was his relationship with Tito Okello. He publicly and privately deferred to Tito Okello even though he was much better educated than he was. Most decisions in the Army were made by Oyite Ojok, who tacitly gave the credit to his Commander who did not contradict him.
Unfortunately his (Oyite’s) successor for whatever reason never saw value in treating the old man with the same respect as his predecessor. Acholi soldiers were dying even under the command of Oyite Ojok, so there was nothing new. So those deaths were used as an excuse to split the Army.
5) During the first year (1981) or thereabouts, three Colonels, Ndaherikire, Peter Oboma (who was Oyite’s neigbor) and someone else were arrested for carrying out treasonous activities. The first two gentlemen for less of a better word were “smoked,” while the third survived because his cousin saved his neck by personally interceding on his behalf.
The third gentleman was none other than Lt. Colonel Bazilio Olara Okello, then Commander of the Central Brigade. This arrest was one of two or so of Bazilio Okello, whose loyalty to the then sitting was questionable from the very beginning on religious and political affiliation grounds.
Tito Okello, who was Bazilio Okello’s cousin using his good rapport with Oyite Ojok, continuously interceded to save his neck. One of the mistakes self admitted by AMO was he did not forcibly retire Bazilio Okello, as the price for not at least charging him with treason. So please ignore what the buffon-in-residnce up in Canda is saying about Bazilio Okello and Oyite Ojok being friends.
Why is all this important to note? Whatever the ethnic imbalances in UNLA Oyite Ojok’s authority was unchallenged. Many of his key Lieutenants were Acholi officers and if one is doubting me, please try and find out about the events around the killing of Oyite Ojok’s younger brother after a freak accident involving a tractor by a Major in UNLA;
6) By 1983 with a lot of of organization and training, UNLA had got its act together and had started scoring major victories against NRA. The running of battle field operations were now under young and educated officers who had returned from Military Academies in Tanzania, UK and India.
Please do not take my word for it but read the accounts of one Dr Warren Kiiza Besigye, who narrates that NRA had been pushed into a corner and had only been protected by the River Kafu as a natural barrier. That changed in 1983, when UNLA crossed with a huge contingent and was preparing for a massive assault which was viewed by many as one that could have been a game changer for both sides with the Obote II government reaping positively.
While on a State visit to India, AMO received a call in the dead of the night that changed his political fortunes from then on. Chris Rwakasisi, then Minister of State for Security, informed AMO that David Oyite Ojok and a number of Senior Army officers had perished in a helicopter crash.
To say that AMO was never the same after that would be an understatement- it was now not a matter if but when. I have heard from some intimate sources that from then on most National Security decisions were actually made by Peter Otai, Chris Rwakasis and John Luwuliza-Kirunda, with Rwakasisi as first among equals. The problem was none of the three held the title ‘President of the Republic.’
7) The killing of Acholi soldiers in Luwero and the succession for the post of Chief of Staff cannot be separated because they were used as an excuse to erode AMO’s authority.
Bazilio Okello, felt that he was the right person to be appointed to the position. Problem was he did not have management skills nor the pedigree to be appointed. What most people do not know was Bazilio Okello was kicked out of the Monduli Military Academy in Tanzania for poor academic performance.
When the new Chief of Staff decided to move against Bazilio Okello, for now reviving his treasonous activities, he did not have the same leeway as Oyite Ojok and thus the down spiral into the events of July 1985.
The falling of Fort Portal and Masindi were due to secret pacts that were sealed by turncoat officers working with Bazilio Okello and company in collaboration with NRA.Proof of UNLA’s improved fighting proficiency can be seen in the fact that the Mbarara and Masaka Garrisons only surrendered to NRA after the fall of the Tito Okello Junta;
8) An uncle of mine by marriage who helped finance NRA during the war told me two fascinating things:
a) at the time of the July 1985 Coup, for every 3 NRA soldiers, one had a gun. By December of that year for every NRA soldier, each had 3 guns, which sounds to high but it explains a total reverse of fortunes within only six months;
b) After capturing power; the NRA Military planners were totally shocked by how much accurate Military and Political intelligence, the UPC government had on them. The only plausible explanation they could come up as to why it was not used against it(NRA) was internal intrigue prevented or undermined effective use by the Obote II government ;
9) As for Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, a man I still highly regard was not blameless at all and actually deserves much of the blame although AMO played his part.
I have had long talks with two of Mwalimu’s Nyerere’s nephews who are very close friends of mine and also a former Prime Minister of Tanzania.
The picture that emerges is a very sad and bitter fallout between two long personal friends and its instructive that the close associates of the two gentlemen have NEVER publicly criticized the other.The reason is that they have been sworn by the two men not to do so and to their credit they have kept their word. That is a story for another day.
10) On hindsight; is there regret by the planners of the 1985? Let me put it this way, if the complaint then that the burden of fighting the NRA was shared unequally and used as a reason to remove a sitting government,it did not take long for the prime actors to realize they had made a huge mistake.
What came next made the complaints against AMO seem mundane.There is a lot I have left out because of time and space.The difference between Obote and M7 is that Obote did not know how to fight his political friends, while M7 does it with gusto.When it comes to power, you do what you have to do to maintain it.The Obote of pre-1969 was psychologically a different person from the one after 1969.
The historical between tension the Acholi and Langi was not unique to the two tribes, all neighboring tribes have issues over land, grazing ground and cultural supremacy. You need to look around most African countries to see what I am saying in practice and I will give the Luo and Luhya in particular as an example.They have their tensions which later translated themselves into the Football arena when AFC Leopards played Gor Mahia but politically especially lately they have the same voting patterns.
Who made the decision to move Bazilio Okello? All I can say it was made in the name of the C-In-C.
I do not know about Lt. Col Peter Obama’s detention in Moroto although it may have been as a result of his treasonous activities which had been found out.
I had never heard of Justine Odongo Latek, until he was appointed to the Military Council.
The fallout between AMO and Mwalimu Nyerere has its roots in the death of the 150 men of Kikosi Maalum in Lake Victoria, Moshi. Conference and haggling over War reparations;
The regrettable activities in Luwero was the political convenient way of explaining away the fallout.
Moses Ocen Nekyon
UAH in USA