Power struggle in Uganda

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Turmoil once again has engulfed Uganda, this time as the result of a fierce power struggle between President Godfrey Binaisa and the Army. Some analysts felt the test of strength could lead to a military takeover or even civil war in the restive East African nation.

At any rate, pressure on the Binaisa government was continuing on May 12, adn reports from the Uganda capital city of Kampala indicated a military coup d'etat might be under way already.

Balancing such reports, however, a spokesman for the military officers holding Uganda's radio station in Kampala said the country's interim parliament, the Uganda National Liberation Front, would be convened as soon as possible to debate the crisis and thereby avert a civil war.

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Diplomats regarded this as an attempt to defuse the clash between President Binaisa and the Army.

Trouble first erupted when Mr. Binaisa announced the dismissal of the Army chief of staff, Brig. David Oyite Ojok, a close ally of former president Milton Obote, who long has been in exile in Tanzania.

Confusion reigned on May 11 when Uganda Radio, after the Ojok dismissal had been broadcast on the authority of President Binaisa, broadcast an Army statement that he was still chief of staff.

Later, the main radio station was taken over by the Army, flagrantly defying Mr. Binaisa, who is not only commander in chief of the Army, but also acting defense minister.

Brigadier Ojok is a hero of the successful campaign of Ugandan exiles and Tanzanian troops to oust former president Idi Amin. Mr. Binaisa apparently got wind of a coup, allegedly planned by Brigadier Ojok, to topple him and bring back Mr. Obote.

Mr. Obote, now in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, plans to return to Uganda on May 27 to fight the coming elections at the end of the year. He was the first president of Uganda and was overthrown by Idi Amin in a 1971 military coup.

According to reports from Uganda, as a reprisal against the firing of Brigadier Ojok, soldiers went to Nile Mansions, where many Cabinet minsters live and work, on May 10. They arrested Dr. Barnabas Kununka, the minister of the interior and head of the security police. They took him away but later returned him to his office. Mr. Kununka had threatened to use force against Obote party rallies. During this incident, two people reportedly were killed, one the young daughter of a Cabinet minister.

But, as is often the case in Uganda these days, confused reports take a long time to be verified.

President Binaisa announced on Uganda Radio that Brigadier Ojok had been dismissed because of the deteriorating security situation in Uganda and a "near breakdown of relations between the civilian government and the Army."

The President also announced that Lieut. Col. Matthias Anyumba would replace Brigadier Ojok as head of the Army. He added that Christopher Okoth would take the post of minister of state for defense, under himself as acting defense minister.

For some time there have been reports that Brigadier Ojok had turned part of the Uganda Liberation Army into his own private army, with a base in northern Uganda, the home area of Mr. Obote.

Events reached crisis proportions in Uganda when Mr. Obote announced that he was returning to fight the coming elections under the flag of his old party, the Uganda People's Congress. This was in clear defiance of the ruling of the powerful interim parliament, the National Consultative Council, that the elections would be fought under the umbrella of the Uganda National Liberation Front, and no individual parties would be allowed.

(The front is the coalition party formed in Tanzania to organize the overthrow of Idi Amin and represents all shades of Uganda opinion.)

Army problems have erupted in Uganda since the withdrawal of most of the Tanzanian armed forces that had kept law and order -- in a rather uncertain, brutal, and controversial manner -- since the overthrow of Idi Amin last year.

But the new Uganda Army, which took over from the Tanzanians, is not proving any better. Murders still take place every night. The police force is untrained and lacking in the numbers necessary to maintain order, especially in Kampala.

Political agitation on a big scale followed the announcement of Mr. Obote's impending return. Another key figure, Prof. Yusufu Lule, the first president after Idi Amin's ouster, is also due to return soon to fight the elections on behalf of the powerful Bagandans, who outnumber every other tribal group in the Kampala area.

President Binaisa, desperately trying to hold onto power, is besieged by troubles. There is serious famine in the semi-arid Karamoja area, and aid agencies say that half a million people could starve unless relief supplies are sent.

The aid organizations accuse the Binaisa government of seeming powerless to cooperate with them, and say that corruption is rife. Among the aid organizations trying to help in Uganda are the United Nations Development Program, the World Food Program, and Oxfam of Britain.

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