Uganda: back to Milton Obote

The election in Uganda was hardly the model of democracy the nation's well-wishers would have liked for that long-suffering country. Milton Obote has returned to power ostensibly through the ballot box. But there is little doubt that he owes his "victory" to Tanzania, the occupying power, and to the Ugandan military. So many questions are raised about the legality of the election that the true feelings of the majority of the Ugandan people cannot be measured.

The opposition Democratic Party charges there was gerrymandering of districts , registration fraud, intimidation by election officials, and tampering with returns. Commonwealth observers left the country before the official results were announced, disturbed by the irregularities. Yet the election results are unlikely to be challenged legally, for even the Ugandan Supreme Court has been put in the hands of a chief justice sympathetic to Mr. Obote and the Uganda People's Congress.

In light both of Mr. Obote's high-handed use of power when he ruled in the late 1960s and of the dubious means used in returning to office, it may be difficult for him to build the needed confidence of Ugandans. The majority Badanda people from Kampala and the south of the country are especially resentful of him. Yet it can be said, perhaps, that Uganda at least now has a government after almost a decade of despotism under Idi Amin and then a chaotic interregnum period under Tanzanian tutelage. That is not saying much but it is something. Uganda, after so many years of savage oppression and turmoil, can only move up politically.

The tasks confronting the new President, a charismatic and skillful politician of the minority Langi tribe, are immense. Mr. Obote must restore the country's shattered economy and attack widespread corruption. He will have to work out the withdrawal of the 10,000 Tanzanian troops which have been sitting in Uganda since the invasion in 1979 and which now have no further excuse to remain. He must try to weld Ugandans into a people conscious primarily of national rather than tribal identity. Not least of all, he will have to try to build ties with neighboring pro-Western Kenya, which is vital to Uganda's economic survival but which has no love for either Tanzania or its socialistic policies.

On the face of it, Mr. Obote himself is a socialist. But, as we have seen in other countries of black Africa, everyday economic realities and the need for ties with the West tend to move leaders in pragmatic, capitalist directions. Even detractors seem to think Mr. Obote may prove to be a strong enough ruler to bring stability and progress to Uganda. We trust so. Few countries in modern times have endured such a long period of unrelenting brutality. For this reason alone Mr. Obote owes it to Ugandans not only to lift them out of economic misery -- but to kindle hope that the country will move in the direction of genuine freedom and democratic rule. Thereby he may be able to erase the bitter taste left by his questionable election.

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