In a speech presented at the Lango Conference held in lira on December 27 – 29, 2012,
Henry Makmot, former Deputy Finance Minister in the Obote II government shared historical wrongs done by / to the Lango as a community and more…
The History of Uganda cannot be complete without mentioning the role played by the Langi as a community.
The participation of the pre-independence Langi politicians in agitating for self rule and self-determination of Uganda’s destiny as a nation was championed by the following personalities, among others, namely: Mr. Yekosafati Engur, Dr. Apollo Milton Obote, Hon. Zephaniah Mark Okae, Hon. Samwiri Okelo Olong, Mr. Benedict Olwit, Olyec Ogwal Akwel, and Mr. Ben Otim Etura.
By 1958, all the four major political parties had a Lango as its Vice President, while a Muganda was, respectively, the President! Dr. A M Obote was Vice President of the Uganda National Congress (UNC), a Party then led by Ignatius Kangave Musaazi, Hon. J M Okae assumed the Vice Presidency of the Uganda Progressive Party (UPP), Hon. Samwiri Okelo Olong took the Vice Presidency of the United Congress Party (UCP), while Mr. Benedicto Olwit deputised the late Benedicto Kagimu Kiwanuka, as Democratic Party (DP) Vice President.
It was therefore of no wonder that one of the four Political Party Vice Presidents edged his way to the top leadership of his Party, the Uganda People’s Union (UPU), which broke away from the UNC, and subsequently received the Instruments of Independence on the 9th Day of October, 1962; in his capacity as the President of the Uganda People’s Congress Party (UPC) – a union of UNC and UPU; after forming an alliance with the Kabaka Yekka (KY). (By some curious coincidence, Dr. Apollo Milton Obote sadly passed on a day later, in 2005). As expected Parliament elected a Muganda, Sir Edward Mutesa, on October 4, 1963 to become the first Non-Executive President of Uganda, and was sworn in on the First Anniversary of Uganda’s Independence – i.e. October 9, 1963.
At independence, Uganda was faced with three immediate problems to deal with, namely: the demand by the Baganda for autonomy, the issues regarding the lost counties of Buyaga and Bugangaizi, and neo-colonialists who wanted to use the back door to control our economy, then dominated by foreigners.
The first two problems were effectively dealt with within the initial two years after Independence. The Kabaka of Buganda, Sir Edward Mutesa II, was sworn in as the Ceremonial President of Uganda and, for a while seemed contented with this new position. The lost counties were transferred from Buganda Kingdom to Bunyoro Kingdom, after the inhabitants overwhelmingly voted in a referendum held in 1964, to decide as to which of the two Kingdoms they wished to belong.
It may be of interest to note here that the first ever attempt to rig elections in Uganda was made by the Kabaka of Buganda, Sir Edward Mutesa II, when he ferried lorry-loads of voters from the neighbouring districts to influence the outcome of the referendum.
When he failed, Kabaka Mutesa went to one of the counties on a market day and personally shot at the people, randomly, killing two and injuring scores more. Unfortunately, due to the immunity he enjoyed as Uganda’s Head of State, the matter was not pursued further. He later boasted to his aides and chiefs that he shot at the people to vent his anger!
Later, when the Kabaka was asked to append his signature onto the document transferring the two counties from his Kingdom to Bunyoro Kingdom, in his capacity as the Head of State, he declined. Dr. A. Milton Obote signed as the Executive Prime Minister, and that concluded the lost counties chapter. Naturally, the Kabaka was not amused and the rift between him and the Prime Minister began.
But, time heals. By 1965, the Kabaka had virtually forgotten about the lost counties, save for his Kingdom’s relations with the rest of Uganda. This was to be the cause of the oft talked about 1966 Crisis, which led to the Kabaka escaping to the United Kingdom and subsequently dying in London in 1969.
The 1966 Crisis came as a bad joke. According to H.E. Ambassador Eric Otema Alimadi, it was because of Kabaka’s birthday arrangement gone sour, that led to the infamous Crisis. Briefly, the Kabaka wanted the Army Band to play music at his Birthday party at State House, Entebbe. Unfortunately, the British High Commissioner had already booked and paid for the Army Band to play music on the UK National Day. When the Prime Minister drew the President’s attention to this fact, and proposed the Police Band instead, to avoid a diplomatic hitch and embarrassment, that did it and the Kabaka decided enough was enough. “Obote”, the Lukiiko resolved, “must remove his government from Buganda soil”. The rest, though grossly biased in favour of the Kabaka, is history.
The third problem the nascent UPC Government had to contend with was that of the neo-colonial interests in Uganda. The struggle to put the economy of Uganda in the hands of its indigenous citizens met with stiff resistance from the leaders of Western Europe and North America. The Move to the Left policy, which led to the Nakivubo Pronouncements codenamed “The Common Man’s Charter” was seen by the western leaders as a betrayal of their cherished capitalist ideology, and placed Obote on a direct collision path with them, and subsequently in the line for imminent ouster. This scenario undoubtedly manifested itself into the Coup de Tat of January 25, 1971, with the attendant atrocities that were to be visited onto the people of Uganda by the military regime led by General Idi Amin, from 1971 to 1979.
But, “Politics is a dirty game”, reads a time tested adage. Therefore, in playing the game of politics, one cannot avoid getting messed up and becoming dirty or, for that matter, being smeared with political dirt. Such is the gist of my topic in this paper – to attempt to wade my way through the waters of historical wrongs done by or to us as a community.
The Wrongs Done By The Langi As A Community To Ugandans
Dr. Apollo Milton Obote took over the reigns of the Sovereign State of Uganda as the Executive Prime Minister at a tender age of 36 years. (He turned 37 on December 28, 1962). At that age, though exceptionally brilliant, he lacked most of the attributes of leadership that only come with age. The Kabaka of Buganda, Maj. Gen. Sir Edward Fredrick William David Walugembe Mutebi Luwangula Mutesa II, was equally young at 37 years; turning 38 on November 19, 1962. The two were, according to Ambassador Eric Otema Alimadi, “young and restless”.
The Nakulabye incident in which 6 (six) people were killed by the police marked the first wrong the UPC government, under A. M. Obote meted to the people of Buganda. That there were no investigations carried out to establish the identities of the culpable police officers, so as to get them punished, showed the weakness of the Prime Minister in enforcing the rule of law. This was to be followed by countless number of police and army impunities and indiscipline, which culminated in eroding the UPC support amongst the Buganda and the Busoga plebiscite, which erosion the Baganda and the Basoga liberally expressed through the ballots during the 1980 elections.
The indiscipline of the army personnel under the late Major General David Oyite Ojok, and later the late Brig. Smith Opon Achak, both Chiefs of Staff of the Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA), in succession, was unprecedented in our recent history. The late Captain Ageta led the indiscipline score to the extent that he practiced a Lango legend which states that there once lived a man called Mzee Odyek Awidi, who used to escort his visitors for some distance from his home and if a visitor did not branch off the road into the jungle to ease himself / herself, Mzee Odyek would order him / her to go back and eat more food…! On his part Captain Ageta used bottles of whisky and brandy to execute his whims. In other words, as a community, we failed as leaders, both of the Government and the peace-keeping institutions thereof.
The other wrong was gross indecision by Dr. A M Obote which led to two coup de tats against his two UPC governments in a span of 14 years; the first in 1971, the second in 1985. In both coups, perpetrated and executed by the army commanders, appointed and decorated by him, Dr. Obote precariously omitted or neglected to carry out his duties as the Commander-in-Chief of the Uganda Army. This omission and neglect was to cost the Country very, very dearly.
Let us start with the first Coup de Tat of January 25, 1971. All indications were that the Army Commander, General Idi Amin Dada was planning to overthrow the Government. A few army officers were mysteriously killed and investigations about the cause of their death revealed that the Army Commander was involved. Instead of arresting Amin before leaving the Country, Milton left for Singapore leaving instructions to have Amin arrested before he returns. General Idi Amin was never arrested and Milton did not return to Uganda till May 27, 1980! The loss of life and property that followed the failure to get Idi Amin arrested in good time was such that nearly every family in Lango and Acholi lost at least one dear member. Besides, the omission ensured that an illiterate Army Commander became the President of Uganda!
The rest of Uganda equally suffered loses of life and property. Most notable was the expulsion of the Indian Community, who left Uganda in such an economic mess, the aftermath of which has besieged the country up to this day. Given that at the time of the Coup of 1971 the economy of Uganda was almost at par with those of Singapore and South Korea, the loss suffered by our Country’s economy as a result of that Coup de Tat is immeasurable.
A war of liberation erupted in 1972, and a number of fighters lost their lives at Mutukula when the Amin’s forces overpowered the ill-equipped Dr. Milton Obote led Kikosi Maalum and the Yoweri Museveni led FORONASA forces. Later in 1978, over 100 combatants (111 to be exact) drowned in Lake Victoria, and never returned home to hug their family members. Yet a large number died as they fought their way to capture Kampala, and to liberate the entire country from the claws of dictatorship. Reports from Tanzania People’s Defence Forces (TPDF) indicate that 496 Tanzanian soldiers died in action, while several others died from non-combat causes, long after the fall of the Idi Amin regime.
There were also the people who were killed inside Uganda upon suspicion that they were collaborating with the exile forces in Tanzania. Notable among them were Archbishop of the Church of Uganda, the Most Rev. Janani Lowum, Hon. Alex Ojera, Minister of Information, Hon. Basil Bataringaya, Minister of Internal Affairs, Hon. William Kalema, Minister of Commerce, Hon Benedicto Kiwanuka, the Chief Justice of Uganda, Major Emmanuel Ogwal, Commander of the Air Force, Dr. George Ebine, Mr. Ben Ongom Ogati, Michael Kaggwa, a Kampala business mogul, to mention but a few. A number of pro-UPC Government army officers and men were lured to return to their duty stations and slaughtered like chicken. Notable among them were Captain Agona, a U.K. trained Electrical Engineer, then installing a radar for the Air Force at Entebbe, Captain Atyang, an ace Fighter Pilot, Captain Winifred Ogwal, an Air Force Ground Crew wizard, and Corporal Nelson Opio, who was rebuked by Mr. Naphlin Akena Adoko for reporting a clandestine training grounds at Bamunanika, where, his ‘friend‘
General Idi Amin was training the Anyanya mercenaries, in their own dialect, long before he staged the Coup. Also brutally murdered was one, Captain Charles
Arube, Amin’s own kinsman, who dared talk to him against the wanton killings of the Langi and Acholi army officers and men in cold blood.
Finally, a group of fighters escaping through Lokung and Owiny Kibul, in the now Southern Sudan, to proceed to Tanzania and join their colleagues were mowed down by the Amin’s army, and the owners of the Lorries that were ferrying them across the Uganda-Sudan border never lived to tell their story after the fall of the dictator. One of the lucky owners was Mzee Nathan Achol, the erstwhile UPC Lango Central Constituency Chairman, who survived by living in perpetual hiding from 1972 till 1979!
All the loss of life enumerated above was as a result of Milton’s failure to take corrective actions in good time to stave off the chain reactions that normally follow any delayed activity. As the old adage goes, “a stitch in time saves nine”. By postponing the arrest of Idi Amin to a later date the Ugandan population ended up losing more than can be imagined, both in terms of life and property, and in terms of the national economy as a whole.
Let me turn to the July 27, 1985 Coup de Tat, aka the Okelos Coup. This Coup was the most unfortunate in that everybody saw it coming. But perhaps the events that led to the 1980 elections being disputed and regarded as rigged in favour of the UPC need be addressed as a precursor.
Dr. Apollo Milton Obote landed in Mbarara Airfield on May 27, 1980, kissed the soil, and proceeded to address a huge rally at Ishaka grounds in Bushenyi District. He then travelled to Kampala the following day to a tumultuous welcome by all and sundry. All looked bright and well till February 6, 1981.
The general elections of 1980 were slated to be held on the 10th Day of December, 1980. But due to the late arrival of voting materials to most Polling Stations, the elections were extended to the 11th Day of December, 1980, implying that few or no results would be forthcoming until late that evening, or even the following day.
At about 2 p.m. on December 11, 1980, one former Lango UPC, then turned a DP member, arrogated to himself the duty of announcing imaginary results of an election which was still on-going. A large group of DP supporters immediately collected right in the middle of Kampala Road, opposite the DP Party Headquarters, then located at the junction of Johnson Street and Kampala Road, near the present day Pioneer Mall Shopping Arcade, and opposite Shell Capital Petrol Station Flats, where I was living with my late wife Edna. I had just returned from Lwampanga, where I had been sent by my Party President, Dr. A Milton Obote, to monitor the presence or absence of voting materials in the Luwero electoral area. I was, therefore, feeling very tired, having left my bed at 4 a.m. that morning, and so decided to take a nap for a while before reporting my findings to him.
When ululations intensified, I woke up and, through the window, saw a tall, dark skinned man in the middle of a quickly swelling crowd, all chanting the DP slogan of “egumire” at every announcement of the DP purported victories. “In Tororo District, all constituencies were taken by our candidates”, the man bellowed. “DP egumire”, the crowd cried in response. “In the West Nile Region, we have won all the constituencies except the one robbed from us by Dr. Moses Apiliga”, he boasted. “DP egumire”, the now charged and apparently very, very happy crowd yelled, amidst deafening ululations from the female stock.
I cut short my rest, came down from the Flat, stealthily entered my Land Rover vehicle, lavishly decorated with UPC Party colours, and, before they could see me, drove off to Impala Road. I heard shouts of “baabo, baabo” as I sped off.
At Impala I first reported my findings about voter materials along Kampala – Gulu Road, all the way to Lwampanga. Then upon seeing the map of Uganda heavily covered with UPC colours to signify the constituencies the party had won, and thick coating of DP party colours mainly in Buganda and Busoga, signifying the same for the DP, I whispered to Dr. Moses Apiliga to tell me the numbers as they stood on the UPC map. With a wide smile, Moses said “we are well ahead of the DP”. “But, the DP is already celebrating on Kampala Road, opposite their headquarters”, I whispered again.
The Party President overheard me and asked me to repeat what I had just said to Dr. Moses Apiliga. I did just that and all the calm and joy in his face varnished. He telephoned H.E. Paulo Muwanga and asked him to liaise with Mrs Rose Akora, who was monitoring the results at the main Post Office, in the company of her colleagues from the DP, the UPM and the CP, to confirm the results they had received as at that time, and then join us at Impala Avenue. Meantime, Rose confirmed the results to us with her characteristic hearty laugh, assuring us and the Party President that the UPC was well ahead of its nearest rival, the DP.
What surprised me most was that when H.E. Paulo Muwanga arrived at Impala Road to confirm the results as we knew them to be, Dr. Obote asked him to call Hon. Stephen Ariko, then the Minister of Justice and Attorney General under the Military Commission Government led by Paulo, to come over and join us so as to draft what was to become the undoing of the otherwise very free and fair elections to date. I advised Paulo Muwanga against issuing and publishing the promulgation, but I was deemed, in Milton Obote’s own words, “too young in politics to envisage the aftermath of making the DP supporters believe that their Party has won only to be told later that the Party has lost”. Although at 34 I was not so young in politics, I conceded, and the promulgation was issued and aired on Radio Uganda, reaching far and wide.
The consequence of the tall black skinned man announcing incorrect results, coupled with an ill-conceived promulgation, drawn and issued in panic, was to not only discredit the UPC Party worldwide, but also to create a stage for the NRF / NRA protracted 5-year ‘liberation’ war which led to the short-lived Coup de Tat of July 27, 1985. The loss of life and property, both in the Luwero triangle and elsewhere in Uganda, caused by the war and the HIV / Aids, may be attributed to that irresponsible behaviour of that Lango man and hence to all of us as a community. Fortunately for him, he took off to exile and lived happily in a white man’s land till he came back to, among others, a juicy ministerial post before falling out with the appointing authority. That he bounced back to the UPC as a leading member of that Party is risible at best.
The UPC won the 1980 election freely and fairly; and no one in his right mind should doubt that fact. In their Report, the Commonwealth Observer Team had this to say, “At no time did we lend credence to claims made by the DP that they had won a clear majority. Rather we contacted the DP to advise it of the position as we understood it to be, and subsequently the DP confirmed that some of the information from the outlying districts had been incorrect”.
Earlier on, when the Team met Dr. A. Milton Obote on his campaign trail in Hoima, one of the observers, who had met the leaders of the DP, the UPM, and the CP in the comfort of the Parliamentary Buildings at Kampala, asked a rhetoric question, viz., “How does any of the three presidential candidates expect to win these elections without campaigning?”
On his part, Dr. Apollo Milton Obote made one unfortunate mistake when forming his Cabinet of December, 1980. He ignored the advice given to him by senior UPC members, led by Shaffique Arain and Gurdial Singh, to form a Government of National Unity and left out of the Cabinet all the leaders and supporters of the rest of the political parties and organisations that also participated in the liberation wars of 1972, and of 1979, the latter of which wars led to the ouster of General Idi Amin Dada from power. By so doing Dr. Obote’s actions led to a further loss of life and property as a result of the NRF / NRA war which ensued from that unfortunate mistake.
The NRF / NRA launched their bush war by an attack on Kabamba barracks on February 6, 1981. Up till January 26, 1986 numerous lives were lost on both the Government army side and the NRA side. The skulls that were displayed along the Kampala – Gulu Road bear testimony to this. Besides, the map depicting the HIV / Aids scourge in Uganda correlates very closely with the path traversed by the NRA combatants as they fought their way around the Country, all the way to Koboko. The death toll from the war and the HIV / Aids can comfortably be blamed on the activities of the UPC leadership immediately following its victory in the December 1980 elections. The leader of the UPC was one of our own and as such we do, and indeed should bear the blame as a community.
The Wrongs Done To The Langi As A Community By Other Ugandans
Besides the atrocities visited on the Langi by General Idi Amin’s regime from January 25, 1971 through to April 11, 1979, the most gruesome wrong suffered by our community is the loss of our livestock in 1987, where many lives were lost and hundreds of thousands of our cattle rustled away by the Karimojong. That to date no commensurate compensation has been made to most of our people who lost their relatives, livelihoods and property during the rebel activities in the area compounds the wrongs that our community has suffered and continue to suffer up to this day.
The Kony bush war has also gravely inflicted loss of life and property in our community. The Barlonyo massacre, the abduction of our children and able bodied adults, mostly males, and the spread of HIV / Aids in our towns, townships, and villages have all caused untold sufferance amongst the Lango community.
Added to the above wrongs, the Lango Community has suffered from government job droughts to the extent that of all the numerous permanent secretaries and under secretaries, the Lango community boasts of only one, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Water and Environment. As if that is not bad enough, Northern Uganda is now synonymous with the Acholi Sub-region, leaving our Sub-region hanging, with very little or no social amenities directed to the Sub-region by the International Aid Agencies.
The Lira Campus of the Gulu University, which should have been in full operation by now, has met with stiff resistance from the managers of the ‘parent’ Gulu University. This has led to the majority of our people calling upon the Government to consider establishing a separate and fully fledged University for the Sub-region; a call which is yet to be heeded to by the powers that be.
For the Langi aspiring to become leaders in our country, please always bear in mind that as a leader you must be able to lead at all times. If a leader does not lead at each and every stage the sycophants, of whom nearly 90% are pretenders and opportunists, take over and begin to lead the leader.
Obote was a genius and, therefore, a leader of a very unique calibre. He led at all times and in all aspects that needed his leadership acumen. He was immensely gifted with exceptional reasoning capacity; with immeasurable memory capacity; with admirable analytical ability; with an outstanding perception capability; and with awesome oratory ability, enforced by a rich English vocabulary and a spicy choice of words. Therefore, it is of little wonder that Hon. Wafula Ogutu once referred to him as “a word smith”.
When asked whether in case he returned to Uganda alive his supporters would not pressurise him to run for the presidency again, Dr. Obote had this to say in reply, “I am a leader”. Sadly, Dr. Obote did not return to Uganda alive, but even in his coffin Milton radiated unprecedented leadership synergy to the delight of his admirers and the chagrin of his foes.
However, because of the collective responsibility stance of the Cabinet, and his avowed principle not to take decisions that are not blessed by most of his political and other colleagues, coupled with his benevolence, some of the wrongs attributed to Dr. A Milton Obote in this Paper are mainly due to his role as a leader. Tasked to lead on his own, and knowing him as I do, I can comfortable aver that Milton would have acted differently. As matters now stand we as a community find ourselves culpable and do take full responsibility for all the wrongs that Dr. Apollo Milton Obote’s leadership incurred upon the people of Uganda, and upon Uganda as a country.
I thank you all for your kind attention.
I say all these, For God and My Country.