The Birth of a Tyrant

Political Machinations
March 8, 2015
Exile and Tyranny
March 29, 2015

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (March 8th 2015)

One Party – One Leader

Uganda had been independent less than five years before its first Prime Minister, Milton Obote, overturned its fledgling democracy, but a one-party government was not enough for him. After defeating rival parties he eventually turned on internal dissenters in the Uganda Peopleʼs Congress. Obote relied on his muscle – the army and in particular his protégé Idi Amin, but being the sole leader of independent Uganda brought new problems.

His policies were disastrous. Oboteʼs ʻdictatorshipʼ began in 1966. It soon became associated with corruption, hunger, repression, brutality and torture. Racist persecution of Indian businesses disguised as economic policy was utilised too. The persecution of Indians would be taken a step further by Oboteʼs eventual successor, Idi Amin.

Plots and Counter-plots

There was nobody else to blame if things fell apart and how trustworthy were the army and Amin? Obote would discover the cost of abandoning popular support before long. He had to rely on repression and that made him dependent on the army and that would prove to be no solution. He did not know who he could trust.

In 1969 he survived an assassination attempt. Obote was shot while addressing a party conference in Kampala. Before long another attempt on his life failed – a grenade was thrown, but did not explode. Obote reacted by seeing plots and counter-plots everywhere.

The Fatal Rift

Obote had made many enemies during his ruthless climb to the top. He had seen off many threats and emerged the head of a one-party state. He had purged opponents and subjected his people to brutal repression. His power had come at price. He had alienated his original support base and become more dependent on the army and Amin, but the assassination attempts had taken their toll.

He banned opposition parties and became even more repressive than before.

But he had cause to suspect that his protégé the Army Commander Major-General Amin could not be trusted any more. In the immediate aftermath of the assassination attempt on Obote at the party conference Amin could not be located by Brigadier Pierino Okoya. This was extraordinary and outraged Okoya. Shortly afterwards he angrily denounced Amin.

A month later Brigadier Okoya and his wife were assassinated outside their home on January 25th 1970. The evidence pointed to Amin. The suspected assassins Captain Smuts Guwedeko and Warrant Officer Geoffrey Kasule were arrested, but never stood trial. They were subsequently released from prison and promoted after Amin seized power.

Many of those involved in the investigation were killed during Aminʼs reign of terror. 45 years on the murders of Pierino and Anna Okoya remain unsolved – almost certainly those crimes will never be resolved. Obote suspected Amin was responsible.

Too Little Too Late

Another assassination attempt failed as the Vice-Presidentʼs car was riddled with bullets by mistake. Obote reacted by promoting people from rival areas to Amin and creating a special paramilitary force. Amin insisted that he was loyal, but the writing was on the wall.

Obote had switched sides in the Sudanese wars away from South Sudanese rebels to the government of Gafaar Nimeiry. Amin friendly with Israel, who backed the rebels and trained Ugandaʼs military, continued to support the rebels, despite Oboteʼs change of policy.

Too late Obote discovered that he had adopted monstrous policies and nurtured a viper. It would not be long before he tasted the venom of his former protégé.

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