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UGANDA: The Party System from 1963 to 2000, by Christina Nyström*

After the dictatorship of Idi Amin (1971-1979) ended, Uganda went through another period of terror under Milton Obote; the very same Obote that had been ousted by Amin in 1971. From 1962 to 1986 there were eight changes of government in Uganda, and four of them were carried out by military force. As in other African countries, politics in Uganda often fall along ethnoregional lines, and much of it is a legacy of colonialism. In the case of Uganda, the country is roughly divided between two major peoples, the Nilotic in the north and the Bantu in the south. Under British rule, much of their security force was recruited from the north, which resulted in military dominance by the north over the south. This dominance was to be in place until Yoweri Museveni entered the picture in 1986. (EIU, 2000: 5)

When Amin came to power in 1971, a period that would prove extremely destructive to Uganda began. Starting with the expulsion of the economically important Asian community in Uganda, the economy took a downward turn that would leave Uganda stripped of its relatively prosperous economy. Furthermore, political repression was extensive, with prevalent indiscriminate killings. The Amin regime ended in 1979 when the Tanzanian army intervened, backed by various factions of Ugandans in exile the largest of them being the Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA). A provisional government, the National Executive Council (NEC), was put in place in April 1979 led by President Yusufu Lule. (Europa Publications Limited, 1999: 3561) The NEC was made up of people from the Uganda National Liberation Front (UNLF), a coalition of former Ugandan exiles. However, when Lule tried to rearrange the composition of the NEC in June 1979, the UNLF forced Lule's resignation. Instead, Godfrey Binaisa was made President. He too was overthrown by the UNLF in May 1980. Binaisa had tried to rearrange the leadership of the UNLA and also only allow UNLF members to run for parliamentary elections. (Europa Publications Limited, 1999: 3561)

In general, the period following the ousting of Amin proved to be a time of intense competition and fighting for power among different groups made up of political and ethnic rivals. One of the main contenders was the Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA) who was intent on putting Milton Obote back in power. (EIU, 2000: 5) A transition period followed Binaisa's removal, and an election was held that brought Milton Obote and the Uganda People's Congress (UPC) back to power and Obote's second administration began (1980-1985). During Obote's second period competitive politics were allowed but the repressive machine worked all too well, and conditions were in essence not much better than under Amin's dictatorship.

During this time the Democratic Party (DP) decided to keep working within the system, while the Uganda Patriotic Movement (UPM) under Museveni and Lule refused to accept the Obote government and left the political scene for guerrilla warfare. The UPM later became the National Resistance Movement (NRM)--the political wing, and the National Resistance Army (NRA)--the military wing. Lule died in 1985 upon which Museveni became the sole leader for both the NRM and the NRA. During Obote's second time in office, dissatisfaction with the government grew in Uganda. Not only was there political persecution and instability, but the economy was also in shambles. This increased support for the NRA at the same time as support for the Obote regime dwindled. In 1985, a faction of Obote's own army seized power and ousted Obote who fled to Zambia. Obote's regime was replaced with a Military Council headed by General Tito Okello. There were some attempts during this time to negotiate a peace between Museveni's NRA and the Kampala government, but to no avail.

On January 26 1986, Yoweri Museveni entered the capitol city and dissolved the Military Council. Instead a National Resistance Council (NRC) was put in place and Museveni was sworn in as President. A period of relative prosperity and security ensued in Uganda, but it was a period under no-party rule. (Tordoff, 1997: 23) In 1989 the NRC was expanded from 98 appointed members to 278 elected representatives (68 of which were still nominated by the President) through the first national election since 1980 and became the Constituent Assembly. A new constitution was promulgated in September 1995, and implemented one month later. The first presidential election was held in May 1996, and the election to the legislature took place one month later, in June 1996. Now the parliament constituted 276 members, 214 elected and 62 nominated members. (Europa Publications Limited, 1999: 3564)

Under Museveni political parties were still allowed to exist, but were not allowed to be active. Because political parties were not allowed to operate actively, election candidates had to stand as independents, even though they might belong to a registered political party. Museveni argued that what Uganda needed was stability and peace, which could be best achieved through making the NRM part of a grass roots democracy through local resistance councils that were set up throughout the country. Museveni was also strongly opposed to official corruption. Most of the people of Uganda welcomed the peace and stability that Museveni brought with his new politics.

However, as in other parts of Africa, the 1990s brought about substantial changes also in Uganda. President Yoweri Museveni held a strong aversion to multi-party competition (supposedly because of the de-stabilizing effects it had had in the past), and with him so did the 284 (mostly elected) constituent assembly which had been established in 1994. "The Assembly had voted to extend for five years the system of broad-based no-party government which had been in place since 1986, under which political parties could exist but could not campaign or hold rallies." (Tordoff, 1997: 15-16) In 1996, Museveni won an easy victory in the presidential election held under this system, but voices started to be heard from the middle class about obtaining greater political liberty. (Tordoff, 1997: 16)

Continuity and Change in Political Parties, 1963-2000

During the second Obote administration, several movements of importance appeared. The Uganda Patriotic Front (UPF) was a left-wing movement that was formed primarily to contest the 1980 election. However, after the election it abandoned politics and started operation as a rebel movement under the rule of Museveni. The UPF thus became the National Resistance Army (NRA) which today is the Ugandan People's Defence Force (UPDF). Its political supporters formed the National Resistance Movement (NRM) which today is called "the Movement."

At the time, other rebel forces formed in opposition to Obote, like the Federal Democratic Movement (FEDEMO) and the Uganda National Resistance Front (UNRF), but both of them have today become part of NRM. In October 1995, a new constitution was adopted by the interim 284-member Constituent Assembly who had been charged with debating the draft constitution that had been proposed in May 1993. The Constituent Assembly was dissolved when the constitution was declared in October 1995. (CIA, 1997)

The President of the Republic of Uganda (who is both the chief of state and the head of government) is Lt. Gen. Yoweri Kaguta Museveni since seizing power 29 January 1986. The President is elected by popular vote. The last election was held 9 May 1996, one which Museveni won with a landslide victory (74.2%). Museveni's main rival, Paul Ssemogerere took 23.7% of the votes. A new parliament was elected in July 1996, a legislature that constitutes 274 members out of which 214 are elected and the 62 others represent different interest groups in Uganda. The next election is scheduled to take place 31 May 2001. The election in 1996 was the first popular election since independence in 1962. There is only one political organization in Uganda, the National Resistance Movement (NRM), which is recognized and this organization is the party of president Museveni. The president maintains that the NRM is not a political party, but a movement which has the loyalty of all Ugandans. (CIA, 1997)

Even though Museveni and the Movement has been able to stabilize Uganda, and control its borders, there are still certain areas of conflict. Northern Uganda has long been plagued by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a movement that operates out of southern Sudan and is supposedly supported by Khartoum. The rebellion rose in late 1986 under the name the "Holy Spirit" movement and fighting between the Holy Spirit and the NRA was intense with about 5000 Holy Spirit fighters killed. By December 1987 the Holy Spirit Movement had been suppressed, but the leader fled to Kenya were surviving member of the movement regrouped to become the Lord's Resistance Army. The LRA claims to be conducting a holy war against the government. It is primarily a Christian fundamentalist organization and is led by Joseph Kony (who is rumored ill). However, in December 1999 a peace agreement was struck between Uganda and Sudan and LRA activities are thus predicted to recede. The Allied Democratic Force (ADF) presents a greater threat at the moment positioned along the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where it has been operating since 1996. Mainly made up by Islamic groups, Hutu guerrillas from the DRC and Rwanda are also party of this group. The President of the ADF is Sheikh Jamil Mukulu.

Political parties are allowed to exist, but not allowed to campaign or function as a political party. Of the ones existing the most important are the Ugandan People's Congress (UPC) Milton Obote's old party, the Democratic Party (DP) headed by Paul Ssemogerere, and the Conservative Party (CP) which is led by Joshua S. Mayanja-Nkangi. The new constitution dictates that any political party activity is to be held off until a referendum was scheduled on the matter for June 2000. (CIA, 1997) There were no new parties created after 1962 that terminated before 2000.

One reason why the international community has not applied more pressure on Uganda and Museveni to reform and liberalize its political system is because of the progress being made in the economic realm by Uganda following western prescriptions of economic liberalization. This produces a reluctance in donors and other international actors, and a willingness to look the other way in the face of anti-democratic activity. In contrast, the case of Kenya clearly shows the power that the international community has to force change and reform, even though it might not be maintained in the long run.

On June 29 2000, the referendum was held regarding a return to a multi-party system or not. Support for the no-party "movement" system received an overwhelming 90 % of the votes. However, less than 50% of the electorate turned up to vote at all, and critics claim this is a sign of no support of the Museveni no-party system. Instead, the referendum should be seen, especially according to the UPC, as a rejection of the no-party system. (Keesings, 2000: 43610) The next presidential and legislative elections are both to be held in 2001. Recent charges of corruption directed at the Museveni government, and the subsequent resignation of his brother Salim Saleh, has tainted Museveni's image as a crusader against official corruption. Museveni will have to convince his opposition and his supporters that first of all, he still takes a strong stance against corruption, and second of all, that the no-party system is not a scheme to keep him in power. There are fears that with Museveni coming out victorious after the referendum, Uganda will move to become a single-party state. Even though the peace and stability that Uganda has enjoyed under Museveni's rule is appreciated, recent developments have left many people feeling anxious about the future development of Uganda. The electorate is becoming younger and with that the memories of the Amin and Obote regimes are fading. To them, a multi-party system no longer presents itself as destabilizing and destructive.

Original Parties, from 1950-1962, still continuing to 2000

982 Democratic Party. Even though in the 1980 text, the DP is listed as a party that terminated before 2000, it has reemerged and is still continuing. As Political Parties states, "The DP functioned as the opposition party until late 1969, when opposition parties were banned following an attempted assassination of President Obote."(Janda, 1980: 1003) Paul Kawanga Ssemogerere is the head of the DP, and he was Museveni's main contender in the 1996 elections. Founded in 1954, is a strong proponent for a return of multi-party democracy in Uganda and holds most of its support in southern Uganda.

981 Uganda People's Congress. The UPC was founded in 1960 and is also a party that was declared terminated in the 1980 volume of Political Parties. However, it has reemerged as a force to contend with in Ugandan politics. There are factions within the UPC that still maintain Obote as the sole leader of the party, whereas others see him as an embarrassment that belongs to the past. The support for the UPC comes primarily from the north. The national leader of the organization is Dr James Rwanyarare.

New Parties formed after 1962 and continuing to 2000

984 The Conservative Party. Founded in 1979, led by Jehoash Mayanja-Nkangi. Has adopted many of the royalists that previously supported the Kabaka Yekka.

985 The National Resistance Movement (NRM) or "the Movement". Founded in 1981 to oppose the UPC government then in power. Its former military wing, the National Resistance Army was led by Lieutenant General Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, and today he is the president of the country.

Original Parties, from 1950-1962, terminating before 2000

983 Only the King. "The Kabaka Yekka ended around 1966, when its members were absorbed by the governing People's Congress through defection. The Kabaka, who was elected president in 1963, found himself deposed in 1966, and his Buganda region lost its autonomous status. Confronted by an armed attack, he fled the country the same year." (Janda, 1980: 1003) Most of the Kabaka Yekka was Protestant and Bagandan, and even though the Kabaka Yekka has ceased to exist, much of the royalist Baganda appeal has moved into the Conservative Party.


Central Intelligence Agency, 1997. World Factbook. (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.)

Keesing's Record of World Events 2000 (London: Keesing's Limited).

The Economist Intelligence Unit, 2000. Country Profile 2000: Uganda (London, United Kingdom: The Economist Intelligence Unit)

Europa Publications Limited, 1999. The Europa World Year Book 1999: Volume 2 Kazakhstan-Zimbabwe (London, United Kingdom: The Gresham Press).

Tordoff, William 1997. Government and Politics in Africa (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press).

*Participant in Northwestern University's Summer Camp for Political Party Research, June-August, 2000