Archive:  Uganda

Early History | The Age of exploration | Toro-Semliki Wildlife Reserve | Colonial times | Independence | The reign of Idi Amin | Expulsion of the Asians | Uganda-Tanzania War | Obote’s second presidency | Ugandan Bush War | Uganda under Museveni | HIV/AIDS in Uganda | Modern Uganda | Anti-Homosexuality Bill | Multilateral relations | Regional relations | Resources

Early History

Uganda (with zoom)

The territory known today as Uganda began as a collection of kingdoms that shared a common Bantu language base. These so-called Cwezi states reigned for many centuries until Nilotic-speaking people of modern South Sudan settled in the northern region and established the dynastic Buganda, Bunyoro and Ankole kingdoms. In the late 16th century, Alur and Acholi ethnic groups took over northern Uganda and were joined by the Lango and Iteso in the 17th century.

In that era, Bunyoro was the most prominent kingdom with a strongly religious political system. From the soil near the kingdom’s lakes, including Lake Albert, Bunyoro extracted the salt that spurred economic prosperity. Regional trading centersies developed into cities and the kingdom expanded, but its deep inland location became an increasing barrier.

Amidst the diversifying ethnic makeup of the region, the rival kingdom of Buganda aggressively pursued its own economic ventures. Taking advantage of its location along Lake Victoria, traders from the east African coast arrived and began exchanging goods for ivory and slaves. The complex and hierarchical political system centralised under a kabaka, or king, fostered the growth of the Bugandan economy and raised a navy for defense and mercantile. Buganda expanded its reach into modern Rwanda and Tanzania as well as into Bunyoro land to the north as its trade boundaries widened.

By the time Europeans landed in the Ugandan territory, they found the kingdom of Buganda impressive enough to eventually lend its name to the territory as a whole.

The age of exploration

Many well-known precolonial explorers visited Uganda in the 19th and 20th centuries, including:

  • John Hanning Speke [1862] – Sought to identify the source of the Nile River
  • James Augustus Grant [1862] – Accompanied Speke and led several independent excursions
  • Sir Samuel Baker [1864] – Lake Albert Identifier and Equatorial State Governor-General
  • Henry Morton Stanley [1875] – The New York Herald commissioned him to find the missing Dr. Livingstone and print a sensation piece; later returned to chart the Lualaba River
  • Carl Peters [1889] – Signed a friendship treaty with Buganda to expand German East Africa
  • Frederick Lugard [1890] – Arrived as a British Trading Company employee, but remained as the territory’s Military Administrator until 1892

British Indian Army officer John Hanning Speke, the first European to visit Uganda, did not arrive until 1862. He would make several trips to the African interior, write a book of his travels, and introduce the oft-criticised ‘Hamitic hypothesis.’ As other explorers arrived to Buganda, the reigning kabaka Mutesa I welcomed them, but in nearby Bunyoro, Omukama Kabalega staunchly defeated European troops led by Sir Samuel Baker. His role protecting the Bunyoro lands and people has been minimised, but not forgotten. His recent posthumous honours include the 1972 renaming of Murchison Falls to Kabalega Falls, his declaration as a national hero in 2009, and movements to establish a commemorative Kabalega Day.


Supposedly at Henry Morton Stanley’s suggestion, Kabaka Mutesa I agreed to allow Christian missionaries in his kingdom, believing they would provide military defence against the Egyptians to the North. Protestant missionaries (British) were soon followed by Roman Catholics (French) and each collected converts; meanwhile, Islam was also gaining popularity. The religious factions grew increasingly antagonistic toward one another. When Mutesa died in 1884, his successor faced a two-year battle for the throne as Christians and Muslims vied to gain control for their particular sect.

Kabaka Mwanga ultimately secured leadership and quickly attempted to solidify control. He began construction of Kabaka’s Lake on Mengo Hill, the site of the Bugandan palace, to serve as a channel within the kingdom. However, Mwanga is perhaps better remembered for his crackdown on religions that had weakened the rule of his predecessor and threatened his own claim to the throne. He oversaw dozens of Anglican and Catholic executions between 1885 and 1887. Pope Paul VI canonised the 22 Catholics as saints and many Ugandans celebrate Martyr’s Day each year on 3 June to commemorate the victims.

Meanwhile, European interest in the land and resource wealth of Africa was growing. At the Berlin Conference of the late 19th century, European powers agreed upon borders granting each of them sovereignty over a specific region. Britain and Germany, unhappy with their allotments, signed a new treaty in 1890 which granted Britain control over several new regions in eastern Africa, including the area of modern Uganda. Its first administrator, Frederick Lugard, cemented Britain’s role in the territory for years to come.


Colonial times

The Queen of England named Uganda a British protectorate in 1894, expanding the protectorate boundaries to roughly match those of modern Uganda in 1896. King Kabalega, who had already fended off several invasions, refused to passively subject himself to British rule. Only a military alliance between Buganda and the British was able to claim the Bunyoro lands. The full territory was renamed Uganda and retained Kampala – the traditional seat of Bugandan power – as the capital city, thereby honouring Britain’s partnership with Buganda. Furthermore, Bugandan administrators were granted governance of all kingdoms within the protectorate and southern Ugandans dominated civil service and other well-paying jobs in the rapidly expanding industry and cultivation of cash crops. In contrast, northern Ugandans served as cheap labourers or military personnel, which created tensions and led to the slow marginalisation of the northern region.

The increased Bugandan power, however, was Britain’s. In 1897 Kabaka Mwanga rebelled alongside his one-time arch-enemy King Kabalega of Bunyoro. Both kings were captured and exiled to the Seychelles. Their royal successors assumed thrones rapidly declining in independent authority as Britain wielded true power throughout their reigns. In the early 1900s, the British negotiated treaties to subdue the various kingdoms, applying force where necessary. Buganda’s treaty terms were the most generous, transforming Buganda into an autonomous constitutional monarchy largely controlled by its existing Protestant chiefs.

British protectorates throughout eastern Africa experienced upheaval as administrative changes in Britain took place. In 1902, Uganda’s entire Eastern Province transferred to the East Africa Protectorate (what would become Kenya). The British wanted to keep the Uganda Railway, which would connect the port city of Mombasa to the city of Kisumu on Lake Victoria, under a single colonial authority. Sudan also received Ugandan land as its leaders facilitated easier access to Lake Rudolf, now called Lake Turkana.

To finance its colonial administration, Britain relied on cash crops. Cotton production began in 1904 and the international price per bale rose exponentially each year. In the 1920s, coffee and sugar likewise turned profitable and became major exports. Uganda’s commercial success attracted many settlers from India, Pakistan, and Goa, but few permanent Europeans. Unlike in Kenya, the main producers of Ugandan wealth were Ugandans themselves on small farms as opposed to grand plantations.

As Europe entered World War I, the African colonies continued largely as they had – at least at first. When the war showed no signs of ending, Britain started recruiting for the King’s African Rifles (KAR) from among its colonies and protectorates. A call for volunteers offered decent wages. Still shorthanded, the KAR enlisted chiefs to persuade their communities to join. Both methods ended in forced conscription. The African fronts during WWI existed mainly in German East Africa, thus Britain mandated KAR enlistment for all males aged 18-45 in nearby territories, expanding compulsory service to Uganda in 1917. By the start of WWII, the KAR had expanded and reorganised, ideally positioning them to defend East Africa from invasion by the Axis Alliance.

The period between the two World Wars was marked by economic constraints and political restructuring. The colonial government continued strictly regulating the cash crop trade and also introduced Asians from its Indian colony as intermediaries. The new arrivals represented British policy and intentions in Uganda, repressing Ugandan efforts to gin their own cotton. Furthermore, Ugandan staff on Asian-owned sugar plantations typically originated from fringe areas within the country or even from abroad.

Britain, seeking more direct oversight of the passage of Bugandan governing laws, authorised the creation of a legislative council in 1920, which first met in 1921. The LEGCO, as it was called, consisted entirely of European members but official and unofficial membership would steadily increase over the next three decades. In 1926, the first Indian member was sworn in to represent the interests of the Asian population in Uganda, which then outnumbered the British by five to one. No African would be allowed membership, however, until 1945 when three member positions were approved. Appropriately, these three members represented three of the largest regions – Buganda, Eastern province, and Western province. Ethnic representation from the two provinces rotated, while the Bugandan member remained constant. In 1949, the Northern province was finally granted representation, and by 1955, council membership had grown to 60.


Toro-Semliki Wildlife Reserve

Under Uganda Protectorate General Notice 546 of 1929, the Toro Game Reserve became the first protected conservation area in Buganda.

This 548 km2 reserve was home to a high density of Uganda kob, which attracted larger game. The Toro Reserve would gain immense popularity in the 1960s, but decline under the reign of Idi Amin. Following the Uganda-Tanzania War in 1978-1979, the kob population was widely slaughtered and exported to Tanzanian markets until only one-tenth of the population remained.

In the 1990s, conservation of this area again became a priority. The park was renamed the Toro-Semliki Wildlife Reserve and a new lodge for tourists was constructed. Although it still faces many challenges, Toro-Semliki continues its conservation efforts today – most notably among the local chimpanzee population, which also enjoys the reserve’s protection.

In 1957, Britain organised Uganda’s first direct elections for representation on the LEGCO to take place the following year, and established a commission to prepare for eventual Ugandan independence. At the time, Uganda had two primary and opposed political parties: the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC), comprised mainly of non-Baganda, and the Democratic Party, of mostly Roman Catholic Baganda. The traditionally royalist Kabaka Yekka party, made up solely of Baganda, held sway only within Buganda province. At the 1961 Uganda Constitutional Conference, attendees discussed the commission’s report and accepted several significant terms: independent Uganda would have a centralised government with devolved powers, a bill of rights, and an opposition leader. Lastly, the date of internal self-government was set for 1 March 1962, elections for April, and independence to be granted in October.

In the April elections, the Democratic Party led by Benedicto Kiwanuka took the largest share of legislative seats, but the UPC-Kabaka Yekka coalition won the government. Thus when Uganda received its full independence on 9 October 1962, Bugandan Kabaka Mutsea II  held the largely ceremonial position of president, while UPC’s leader Milton Obote accepted the transition of authority and assumed the role of prime minister.


Shortly after the October independence of Uganda, Kabaka Mutesa attempted to gain separate independence for Buganda, fomenting strong anti-northern sentiment throughout his kingdom. In retaliation, Prime Minister Obote leveraged the standing kingdom rivalries and redistributed two Ugandan districts from Buganda to Buyona. It was to be the start of a list of grievances between the president and prime minister.

When opposition parties accused the UPC of complicity in gold smuggling from neighbouring Zaire (today the Democratic Republic of Congo), Obote suspended the constitution and assumed nearly all executive authority. As Mutesa and Obote publicly denounced each other, Obote managed to force Mutesa into exile in Britain on 2 March 1966, effectively deposing the kabaka and claiming the now authoritative presidency for himself. He imposed a new constitution in 1967, which made the authority transition permanent and included a measure abolishing all of Uganda’s tribal kingdoms.

Obote’s presidency was far from peaceful. Although he nationalised businesses and implemented several major development projects throughout the country, including 22 hospitals and 30 secondary schools, and served as the first Chancellor of newly-independent Makerere University, his attempts to create progress remained limited. Over time, Obote allied Uganda increasingly with eastern countries, snubbing traditional western supporters. By 1970, former allies such as Britain and Israel had become disillusioned with Uganda’s president.

On 25 January 1971, the Ugandan army’s Major General Idi Amin led a successful coup d’état while Obote was attending a Common Wealth Conference in Singapore. The deposed leader fled to Tanzania and immediately engaged in talks with regional heads to help him regain the presidency. Amin rapidly consolidated power further into the Executive branch and ruled with a brutality that overshadowed the worst offences of Obote’s years in office.

The Reign of Idi Amin

Perhaps the most notorious name in Ugandan political history, Idi Amin began his presidency with a step toward reconciliation, releasing political prisoners arrested by Obote’s government . He appointed a strong, professional cabinet to manage Uganda’s politics and relatively stable economy, and was heralded by the western states for disposing of Obote and his communist leanings. However, the public face of the Amin administration masked large-scale ethnic violence, principally targeting the northern Acholi and Lango tribes, even within his own military, and victimising prominent public figures.

Field Marshal Idi Amin Dada’s rule lasted eight years, during which time 300,000 are said to have died at the hands of his administration. By 1972, Uganda had fallen out of favour with western countries, Amin had adopted a personal religious fanaticism, and the economy was shrinking at an alarming rate.

Expulsion of the Asians

As the Ugandan economy slipped, Amin targeted the 80,000 Asians from the Indian subcontinent, who owned a large percentage of local business.

In a 4 August 1972 announcement, Amin proclaimed that in a dream God had commanded him to expel the Asians. He gave all Asians in Uganda 90 days to leave the country or face death; all their assets would be confiscated.

India and Kenya shut their borders to the threatening influx of refugees, pushing liability for the thousands of Asians onto Britain. Of the 80,000 Ugandan Asians, over 20,000 were legal citizens of Uganda. Thousands of others held UK passports, about 30,000 of which were granted refuge in Britain. As the business force left, Uganda’s economy slid into tumult and ethnic divisions became even more stark.


Milton Obote’s invasion attempt from Tanzania, with troops led by a young officer named Yoweri Museveni, was immediately crushed. Amin retaliated by bombing Tanzanian towns and detained ten of the Obote supporters, sentencing them to death by public firing squad. A number of unsuccessful coups would follow that first Tanzanian invasion; each was followed by public execution of the offenders.

Foreigners, too, found themselves victims of Amin’s targeting. Just one year after the expulsion of the Asians in Uganda, Amin publicly mocked US President Nixon for the Watergate scandal, for which the US refused entry to the Ugandan ambassador. Amin therefore detained and expelled 112 Peace Corps volunteers in July 1973. British author Denis Hills criticised Amin and was found guilty of treason. Amin allowed an Israeli airplane hijacked by Palestinians to land in Entebbe and demanded that Israel release 53 Palestinian political prisoners in exchange for the plane’s hostages. When Israel tried to free the hostages, 45 Ugandan soldiers were killed and Amin responded by organising the death of a British hostage who had been taken to a Kampala hospital.

In 1976, Idi Amin declared himself ‘President-for-Life’ and began to act upon his dream of a Ugandan empire, claiming parts of Kenya and Tanzania should rightfully belong to Uganda. Ugandan coffee, cotton, and copper were traded to the Soviet Union in exchange for arms and machinery. He planned first to reconquer the Tanzanian territory, commencing in October 1978 and igniting the Uganda-Tanzania War.

Uganda-Tanzania War

Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere had offered asylum to the ousted Ugandan president Milton Obote and the 20,000 Ugandan refugees who fled with him. Over the subsequent years, Nyerere provided significant support to his ally in trying to regain office. Relations between Tanzania and Uganda had been strained since Idi Amin took power, but when the President-for-Life justified a 1978 incursion as a reclamation of rightfully Ugandan territory , they finally reached a breaking point.

By 2 November, Amin’s troops had annexed a 710-mile strip along the southern Ugandan border. Tanzanian armed forces more than doubled in a matter of weeks and marched on Kampala in early 1979. For the month of March 1979, Tanzania and the new Ugandan National Liberation Army (UNLA) faced little resistance as they took control of major Ugandan cities. Idi Amin fled to his tribal homeland of Kakwa to escape the oncoming troops. The war ended on 11 April 1979 when Tanzania and the UNLA took Kampala, the capital, and Idi Amin fled to exile in Libya, later to Saudi Arabia.


At the Moshi Conference held in March 1979, Obote’s supporters and several other Ugandan groups exiled to Tanzania met to form an umbrella political party called the Ugandan National Liberation Front (UNLF) that also had a military wing, the UNLA. When Kampala fell to Tanzanian and UNLA forces and Idi Amin fled to Libya, thus ending the Uganda-Tanzania War, the UNLF appointed Yusufu Lule as interim president.

A leader with limited authority, Lule’s presidency lasted only until June when a coup replaced him with Godfrey Binaisa. Binaisa too had restricted power, and after making a staff appointment deemed unfavourable by UNLF, his presidency was likewise cut short on 12 May 1980. Paulo Muwanga, an ally of Milton Obote, held the presidency then for a matter of days before a Presidential Commission took control for the remainder of 1980 leading up to controversial national elections.

Obote’s second presidency

Milton Obote emerged victorious in the December 1980 elections and returned as Uganda’s president to a country struggling to cope with the effects of Amin’s governance. Immediately Obote devised measures to rehabilitate his country, aided by his allies in Kenya and Tanzania and significant international aid, particularly from the UK. However, his tendency to respond militarily to a series of popular uprisings caused many to view his second presidency more unfavourably than the first. This was especially true in southern Uganda as Obote did little to prevent northern soldiers – largely of the Acholi and Lango tribes – from repeatedly attacking these communities, which included Idi Amin’s home district.

Rebellions against Obote’s administration, notably from the Ugandan Freedom Movement (UFM), occurred periodically and each was eventually quelled, but not without loss of life on both sides. The most significant threat to Obote was the National Resistance Army (NRA) led by his former ally Yoweri Museveni. In February 1981, the NRA commenced an armed campaign against the new president. This sparked a civil war that would last for several decades and result in an estimated 300,000 dead during Obote’s second presidency alone.

Ugandan Bush War

Also known as the Luwero War, this five-year period of Ugandan history is characterised by armed groups, political factions, and large-scale human rights abuses. The most prominent players, however, were the national military of Uganda (UNLA) and Yoweri Museveni’s National Resistance Army (NRA).

Citing electoral fraud in the 1980 elections, Museveni initiated an insurgency against Milton Obote, beginning with an attack on an army base in central Uganda. The NRA drew support from numerous tribal groups in southern Uganda, particularly from the ethnic Baganda in Luwero district, and later from members of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), including future Rwandan president Paul Kagame.

From 1981 until 1986, the NRA staged operations against the UNLA from its support base in the area called ‘Luwero Triangle.’ Obote repeatedly failed to disrupt these attacks until the implementation of ‘Operation Bonanza’ in 1983 when the UNLA marched through the region destroying towns and farms, killing and displacing hundreds of thousands of civilians. Locals frequently referred to these troops as ‘the Acholis’ due to the strong Acholi representation in the UNLA, even though most of the commanding officers were Lango.

The incidents of ‘Luwero Triangle’ served to reinforce the ethnic divisions between northern and southern Uganda and continue to serve as a source of tension today.^

Ethnic divisions within the UNLA began to surface following the 1983 death of Major General David Oyite Ojok, who had helped lead the efforts to overthrow Idi Amin. Instead of appointing another experienced Acholi to replace Ojok, Obote installed a relatively untested Brigadier Smith Opon Acak. Many had expected Acholi Lieutenant General Basilio Olara-Okello to fill the post. On July 27th 1985, the slighted Olara-Okello led a military coup and overthrew Milton Obote, who fled to Zambia. General Tito Okello Lutwas, also an Acholi, took over as president and was sworn in on 29 July. Obote remained in Zambia until his death in 2005.

Tito Okello’s brief presidency lasted only until January 1986 when the NRA executed its own coup d’état and installed Yoweri Museveni as president.

Uganda under Museveni

President Museveni hastened to reduce threats to his power. While not discouraging opposition, he instituted a no-party political system, called ‘Movement,’ in which no party was allowed to organise. He argued that partisan politics had long exacerbated internal country tensions. Next Museveni curried favour with large financial institutions – primarily the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) – and embraced their proposed economic restructuring measures. The Ugandan economy slowly began to balance its budgets and recover from hyperinflation.

The National Resistance Army became the national army and incorporated several prominent Rwandan Tutsi fighters, including Paul Kagame, in ranking positions. In September 1990, several thousand Rwandan NRA troops left their barracks under the banner of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) and invaded Rwanda with aims to overthrow the government. Museveni’s alliance to the Rwandan Tutsis, whom he had fought alongside, was far stronger than with northern Ugandans, mainly Acholis and Lango, who had served in Obote’s UNLA. Thus a large portion of the Ugandan population felt friction with the government, giving rise to several local armed groups including the Holy Spirit Movement, which would later become the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

Eventually, Museveni began implementing drastic national changes. A 1993 constitutional amendment restored the traditional monarchies, including the Bunyoro and Buganda kingdoms. By 1994, Uganda began demobilising much of the national armed forces. In 1995, his administration formulated a new constitution that was largely accepted nationwide; the parliamentary and presidential elections of 1996 and 1997 ran smoothly. Throughout the 1990s, Uganda developed a dynamic national HIV/AIDS policy that spurred on the decline of cases throughout the country.

HIV/AIDS in Uganda

The first case of AIDS was identified in Uganda in 1982 and by the late 1980s, the country faced a worsening epidemic, reflected throughout much of sub-Saharan Africa at the time. Eventually, the health care system struggled to keep up with the rising number of cases and an estimated 2 million children had been partially or fully orphaned due to deaths from AIDS.

Yet Uganda soon stood out as a success story in worldwide efforts to combat HIV/AIDS. In 1986, Museveni publicly acknowledged the real threat of HIV/AIDS and established a national AIDS Control Programme (ACP) that included a large-scale education campaign with participation from the president himself. Attacking a highly-stigmatised health crisis was a daunting task for a new government, but the combination of a growing economy and heavy investment by international donors resulted in a dramatic decline in HIV/AIDS cases.

By the early 2000s, it had become apparent that Uganda’s public success relied strongly on poor quality data. The national HIV/AIDS policy was lacking in several critical areas, particularly in overall organisation, monitoring, and providing safety nets for marginalised populations. Today the success story seems to have stagnated, though not worsened. National efforts to combat the disease continue today, but recent reports cite a trend in purchasing fake negative HIV test results. The success in combatting HIV/AIDS may be more difficult now to measure.


Modern Uganda

Internally, Uganda has often faced pressure from its own armed groups. As the Lord’s Resistance Army moved unimpeded between northern Uganda and southern Sudan, the two nations agreed in 2002 to co-operate in containing the armed group along their common border. With the Uganda National Rescue Front (UNRF), Uganda had been negotiating peace terms for five years and signed the final agreement in December 2002. Several attempts to broker similar peace deals with the LRA all ended in failure, the last of these between 2006 and 2008 called the ‘Juba Peace Process.’ With logistical support from the US, the DRC, and South Sudan, Uganda then sought a military solution to the LRA in a longterm mission called ‘Operation Lightning Thunder.’ This, too, ended unsuccessfully.

In 2000, the East African Community came into force. Its member states Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya pledged co-operation on trade and adopted a common East African passport, flag, and integrated monetary system. Rwanda and Burundi would later join the EAC in 2007. The strengthened economic relations have also helped strengthen political ties among these countries.

Politically, President Museveni’s no-party system faced popular opposition and was put to a referendum in 2005. Voters backed a return to multi-party politics as the Ugandan Parliament simultaneously approved a constitutional amendment eliminating presidential term limits. As Kizza Besigiye, the leader of the principal opposition party, returned from exile in advance of the 2006 presidential elections, he was imprisoned and put on trial for various charges. Some questioned the motivation for the trial, protesting in the streets. He was released on bail in January 2006 in time to stand for election. Museveni won Uganda’s first multi-party elections as the leader of the National Resistance Movement (NRM), retaining the presidency for another term. The NRM won the elections again in 2011 after having been suspended the previous year due to ‘irregularities.’ Allegations of vote-rigging in 2011 were widespread and rumours of a Museveni dynasty began circling. In May 2013, the government temporarily shut down two prominent newspapers for publishing a letter that suggested Museveni was grooming his eldest son to take his place.

Anti-Homosexuality Bill

In recent years, Uganda has garnered significant international attention for what has been dubbed the ‘Anti-Homosexuality Bill’, ‘Anti-Gay Law’, or ‘Kill the Gays Bill.’ Introduced in 2009 by MP David Bahati, the bill intended to prohibit “the promotion or recognition of homosexuality and to protect children and the youth who are vulnerable to sexual abuse and deviation.” Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga vowed to pass the bill by December 2012 as a ‘Christmas gift to the people of Ugandan.’ Supporters of the bill both within Uganda and abroad applaud its harsh condemnation of homosexuality, which originally extended as far as the death penalty for those found guilty. Human rights groups and gay activists have staunchly opposed the bill for its blatant discrimination of a group of people based on sexual orientation alone.

President Museveni’s stance on the matter has flip-flopped over the years. In 2010, he distanced himself from the letter of the bill, stating that the MP who proposed the bill did so as an individual. His allies, the European Union and United States, had strongly opposed the bill around that same time.

David Kato, an openly gay Ugandan man and outspoken advocate for gay rights, was beaten to death in his home in early 2011. As a public figure, Kato’s death turned him into a martyr and dozens of likeminded activists have taken up his cause. Notably, Frank Mugisha has lobbied governments in North America and Europe to put pressure on Museveni that the bill be killed in Parliament and never become law.

Yet in December 2013, the Ugandan Parliament passed a draft of the bill that included life imprisonment as a punishment for homosexual acts. Museveni’s initial criticism of the bill quickly reversed when he signed the bill into law on 24 February 2014. Human rights groups around the world continue to vilify the new law and decry Museveni’s about-face.



Uganda has long been a source of natural resources with coffee and cotton topping the list. In January 2009, UK oil group Heritage Oil discovered oil deposits in western Uganda. A year later, Tullow Oil – also of the UK – bought all Heritage Oil assets and has since led developments of Ugandan petroleum drilling and export infrastructure. With more than 2 billion barrels of crude beneath its soil, Uganda has become a prize for international investment. Oil is also credited as the objective behind many humanitarian partnerships, including the joint counter-LRA efforts with the United States, though not all agree.

Opportunities for international business partnerships exist, but in the realm of direct donor aid countries have increasingly attached strings to their funds, often linking grants to good behaviour in regards to political corruption and human rights violations. The UK, Sweden, Norway, and Denmark halted aid through the Ugandan government in 2012 amid a scandal over alleged mismanagement of donor funds. Uganda had already opened corruption investigations against Vice-President Gilbert Bukenya, Foreign Minister Sam Kutesa, and other government officials in 2010 for the alleged theft of US$25 million, but embezzlement continues. The 2014 passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act resulted in a cumulative loss of $110 million as Netherlands, Norway Denmark, Sweden and the World Bank all suspended donor funding. Furthermore, the US, UK, and European Union have announced a reexamination of their relationships with Uganda.

Changing climate conditions and limited economic means have left Uganda unable to manage recent natural and health disasters, breeding public dissent atop hardship. In 2007, 0ver 1 million northern Ugandans were facing starvation and health crises in crowded camps where they had been displaced by local violence and government mandate. Outbreak of maladies such as ebola and cholera have also long plagued Uganda. In September 2007, severe floods created a state of emergency. The 2011 East Africa drought brought hunger and death and was followed by torrential rains, floods, and landslides. Recent moderate tremors have highlighted Uganda’s ill-preparedness for an earthquake of massive scale. Although local organisations and ministries attempted to provide support, international parties such as the World Food Programme and World Health Organisation have led the relief efforts in these crises. In light of rising surface temperatures and lowered water levels, Uganda received funding in 2014 for a broad climate change project that could help reduce some of the country’s susceptibility to environmental and health emergencies.

In March 2013, the body that regulates wildlife trade, commonly known by its acronym CITES, counted Uganda among the worst offenders in the illegal ivory trade, drawing attention to its notable elephant loss in 2011. Although it has only a small elephant population of its own, Uganda serves as an export or transport hub for smuggled ivory from neighbouring countries to the east African coast or directly to purchasers in China, Thailand, and other Asian nations. Uganda’s role in the ivory trade has had minimal impact on its foreign relations, but poaching and smuggling has increased as international aid cuts have repeatedly disrupted local economic stability.

Internal economic strife, currency inflation, and unemployment rates have fluctuated. In 2011 as the government set to purchase eight new fighter jets, seen as a lavish expense totalling US$740 million, rising fuel and food prices left many Ugandans struggling. Angered, a group called Activists for Change (A4C) formed and organised the Walk to Work protests, led by opposition head Kizza Besigye, who was arrested on charges of treason but was later acquitted by the Ugandan Constitutional Court. The violent crackdown against the protestors caused many to question Museveni’s increasingly heavy-handed tactics against his own people.

Museveni’s multi-decade rule has been praised by some for Uganda’s economic growth and its response to HIV/AIDS, yet the effectiveness of his leadership and even his right to lead remains heatedly controversial.

Multilateral relations

Beyond its borders, Uganda is also a member of several multinational organisations, including the United Nations (UN), International Criminal Court (ICC), and African Union (AU, formerly the Organisation for African Unity). Membership to these international bodies has strengthened political ties with many foreign nations and allowed Uganda significant regional leverage – due to its relatively strong national military and stable government. Uganda has frequently contributed to international peacekeeping efforts and referred the Lord’s Resistance Army to the ICC.

United Nations

Since independence, Uganda has been a member of the United Nations as well as a contributor to UN military peacekeeping efforts. In return, the UN has provided substantial resources in humanitarian aid to rebuilding much of the war-torn areas, particularly the northern districts. However, UN reports highlighting internal and external military operations  have cast Uganda in a more negative light over the past decade. The government rejected a 2006 report that accused the army of utilising ‘indiscriminate and excessive force’ in its campaign to disarm tribal warriors in Karamoja. Uganda has also repeatedly been accused of intervention and inhumane military practices in nearby DRC. These claims Uganda likewise refutes.

African Union

As an original member of the Organisation of African Unity, now the African Union, Uganda is a key participant in discussions for political strengthening, economic development, and civilian security across the African continent. Collaborative AU military operations promote pan-African peacekeeping, and Uganda is regularly called upon to contribute troops from its well-trained military.


Over 5,000 UPDF troops deployed to Somalia in 2007 as part of the United Nations-backed African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Kenya and Ethiopia have also provided troops to the mission. This has been viewed as a nod to western donors, which critics often cite when it appears the international community glosses over Ugandan political faux pas. Perhaps as a result of its military presence,  threats to Uganda by Somali armed groups remain high. In July 2010, the Somali group al-Shabaab claimed credit for two bombings during the final World Cup match in which dozens of Ugandans and several foreigners died.

Regional Task Force against the Lord’s Resistance Army

Comprising half of the Regional Task Force (RTF)’s fighting force and operational leadership, Uganda leads the international efforts to dismantle the Lord’s Resistance Army in the remote areas of central Africa. The mission began under a UN mandate but was later assumed by the AU. Foreign support for the RTF includes 100 US advisors, most of them based in Kampala providing logistical and intelligence support.


Regional relations

In recent years, Uganda’s positive standing among multilateral groups has taken a hit, owing in part to general dissatisfaction with Museveni’s grip on power and violent retaliation to opposition. The government’s bilateral foreign relations give greater insight into many of the longstanding regional tensions.


In 1995, Uganda cut off diplomatic relations with Sudan over Khartoum’s support for the LRA and Allied Democratic Force (ADF) destabilising northern Uganda. At the time Uganda was supporting the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), led by Museveni’s friend John Garang, operating in southern Sudan against the Khartoum government.

Relations between the two neighbouring countries remains testy. Yet recently, although Uganda still denounces Sudan’s involvement with the LRA, Presidents Museveni and Bashir have met and begun to smooth relations between the two countries. The objects of their discussions remain mysterious, but both leaders have claimed that their former animosity must be relegated to the past and that the time for progress has come.

Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)

Museveni sent military assistance to Laurent Désiré Kabila in his 1997 coup d’état, ultimately overthrowing the incumbent Mobutu Sese Seko. Ugandan troops remaining in eastern DRC took advantage of their easy access to valuable natural resources, including goldtin, and  timber before President Kabila ordered the withdrawal of foreign troops. Cooling relations between the presidents prompted Uganda to intervene one year later, this time supporting armed groups looking to overthrow its former ally. Museveni denied the accusations by the International Criminal Court regarding abuses during this invasion.

Not until March 2009 did Uganda officially begin to withdraw its troops from the DRC. However, the history of repeated Ugandan intervention in DRC has often caused speculation over its involvement in regional conflicts, including the recent support of the M23 armed group. Continued accusations from international parties such as the UN have provoked outrage from Museveni and announcements of his intention to withdraw from UN-backed international peacekeeping missions, such as the AU mission in Somalia. In February 2013, Uganda was one of eleven countries to sign a UN-mediated pledge not to interfere in the DRC. Covert Ugandan operations in the country are assumed to continue, however.

Uganda’s proximity to the conflict-riddled region of eastern DRC, and its own relative stability, has resulted in tens of thousands of refugees crossing into Uganda to flee fighting. Many try to return after a time, but repatriation has not always been successful as political tensions wax and wane between the two countries. Likewise, internal armed conflict, such as Operation Rwenzori against the group ADF-NALU which strives for a Ugandan Islamic state, have caused tens of thousands to flee into the North Kivu province of DRC.


Rwanda has long served the role of friend and ally to Uganda, with a strong partnership between the current presidents Museveni and Kagame. In the 1980s, Rwanda hosted a movement of Ugandan nationalists that would ultimately become the National Resistance Army led by Yoweri Museveni. Several thousand Rwandans still considered themselves NRA members by the NRA’s 1986 victory.

In turn, Uganda has often served as a harbour for Rwandan refugees, notably of the Rwandan Patriotic Front armed group, which Paul Kagame led to ultimate military and political victory in 1994. Since Rwanda’s social revolution, the diaspora of exiled Rwandan Tutsis and their offspring had grown to between five hundred thousand and one million people, nearly half of whom lived in Uganda. Former Rwandan President Habyarimana had long pretended to negotiate with refugee groups, but cited ‘overpopulation’ as his reason not to allow refugees to return home. Museveni’s ascension to power threatened these exclusionist policies. Habyarimana declared that Rwanda was full and outlawed contact with exiles.

Rwanda and Uganda jointly supported DRC’s Laurent Kabila, who eventually turned against both leaders due to tensions over resource exploitation. Relations with Kabila’s son and successor since 2001, Joseph, have been strained but Museveni and Kagame remain close allies, sometimes seen as a ploy to continue exploiting Congolese resources. UN condemnation of both countries on this point has produced outrage from the respective governments.


Follow Resolution:Possible’s board Uganda on Pinterest.