Kampala, Uganda — This beautiful and fertile equatorial country is struggling to find a way out of chaos. But lacking a single, unifying leader, it finds itself dominated by its past presidents and their conflicting views.
The return this week after a nine-year exile of one of those former presidents, Milton Obote, is unlikely to put a quick end to those differences.
Always a controversial leader before being ousted by Idi Amin in 1971, Dr. Obote has been hailed by his followers as the only man who can save Uganda from sliding further into chaos. His detractors, however, see him as the man who will only cause more chaos if he again wins power.
As for the other past presidents, no one seriously expects Idi Amin to attempt a return to the country he ruled so brutally for eight years. But two other former leaders could move again toward the presidency in the general election scheduled for later this year.
One is the first post-Amin President, Yusufu Lule, who was sacked by the Uganda National Liberation Front after just two months in office. He is living in London.
Mr. Lule is as popular in the crucial Buganda region of the south, of which Kampala is the center, as Dr. Obote is unpopular. (The Baganda people refuse to forgive Dr. Obote's destruction of their old kingdom and his use of the Army under then-Gen. Idi Amin to sack their Kabaka's [king] palace.)
Mr. Lule is being considered by the mainly Roman Catholic Democratic Party (DP) as its standard bearer. The DP is the principal rival to Dr. Obote's Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC).But there are those in the DP leadership who feel that while they could gain about 40 percent of Ugandan votes with a strong candidate, the academic Mr. Lule is too weak and inexperienced a politician.
Another former president is Godfrey Binaisa, who was overthrown by the six-man military commission nearly three weeks ago. He had announced before the coup his intention to stand as president under the umbrella of the Liberation Front (UNLF), the all-party coalition set up to reinstate democratic government in Uganda after the fall of Idi Amin last April.
But the UNLF now seems to be in the throes of disintegration as most of its members move off into UPC or DP party camps. And with Mr. Binaisa under house arrest at Entebbe, possibly to face criminal corruption charges, a large question mark hangs over his candidacy. In addition, the British trained barrister, who also is qualified to practice in New York State, has never had grass-roots support.
Clearly, if this country is to emerge from the chaos that has undermined its once-buoyant economy, the election must be seen as free and fair to the ever-politically-conscious Ugandan people, most of whom are well educated by the standards that prevail in much of Africa.
Another crucial question is that of insecurity. Kampala has been beset for almost a year by night-time killings, unexplained gunshots, and armed robbery of cars, cash, or consumer goods. Expatriates live with armed guards, guns, and dogs. No Kampalan travels after dusk if it can be avoided.
One thousand soldiers patrol the capital. But many of them are reportedly still underpaid and underfed. In addition, there is widespread private belief in the city that soldiers billeted there are northern supporters of Dr. Obote, under the charge of Army Chief of Staff Brig. David Oyite Ojok, a member of the military commission whose dismissal attempt led to the overthrow of Godfrey Binaisa.