Uganda tense as Obote rivals turn to Libya for arms; But nation slowly rebuilds after the long nightmare of the Idi Amin years
Uganda military authorities seem convinced that Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi is supplying arms to opponents of President Milton Obote.Skip to next paragraph
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Arms captured after a Feb. 23 attack on the Lubiri barracks in Kampala bear Arabic inscriptions.
The only Arab leader known to be hostile to President Obote is Qaddafi, who was one of the principal backers of Idi Amin, Uganda's dictator from 1971 until his overthrow in April 1979. In a last-minute attempt to thwart the coup against Amin, 1,500 Libyan soldiers were sent to Uganda. Many of them were killed or taken prisoner.
Amin was given asylum in Tripoli, but when his bodyguards were linked to the murders of several Libyans, Qaddafi arranged for his removal to Saudi Arabia.
Qaddafi has in recent months received a number of Obote's opponents: Among them are Andrew Kayiira, a supporter of Yusuf Lule, Uganda's interim president for a few months after Amin's ouster; and Yoweri Museveni, leader of the so-called Uganda Patriotic Movement.
Both Kayiira and Museveni are committed to overthrowing Obote, whom they accuse of rigging the December 1980 election that restored him to the presidency; it was Obote whom Amin ousted in 1970. Museveni lost his deposit when he was a candidate in those same 1980 elections.
A self-styled Marxist (though not regarded as such by other Ugandans who call themselves Marxists), Museveni fought with Mozambique Liberation Front (Frelimo) forces in Mozambique. After Obote's victory, Museveni turned for support to President Samora Machel, but the Mozambican leader angrily rejected his overtures.
Museveni appears to have had more success in Tripoli, where Qaddafi is still smarting from his Uganda ventures.
Qaddafi is undoubtedly angry because President Obote is among the African leaders who have announced they will stay away from next year's summit meeting of the Organization of African Unity in Tripoli.
Political observers expect President Obote to lodge a formal complaint with the OAU concerning the Libyan leader's alleged involvement in violence in Uganda. The OAU charter forbids African heads of state from interfering in the internal affairs of the organization's member-states.
Although Obote's opponents describe their operations as ''a guerrilla campaign,'' their operating tactics more closely resemble the maneuvers of the Provisional wing of the illegal Irish Republican Army in North Ireland. Until the recent mass attack on the Lubiri barracks, they had engaged mainly in laying ambushes and making hit-and-run attacks.
Although these strikes have produced little success, they have helped to feed a sense of insecurity and violence in the country.
But the government forces' own recent actions - rounding up an estimated 1, 000 young men in house-to-house searches for guerrillas - can hardly build a sense of security.
This writer's visits to areas outside Kampala showed that people are trying to restore a sense of normality to their lives after the long nightmare of Amin's rule.
There is a marked upturn in the economy, with exports of coffee, the main foreign-exchange earner, almost restored to normal. Goods are again finding their way into stores. Public transport is beginning to function regularly. And prices, though still very high, have begun to drop.
The troubles are primarily in three of the country's 52 districts. But even the area that has been the worst affected, the Arua district of West Nile, has not seen a serious recurrence of the troubles of nine months ago.
Most recent trouble is in two of Baganda's eight districts, where dissidents have offered some support to the violent opposition.
Following the abortive attack on the barracks, the Army swooped into these two areas. Almost all of the hundreds of villagers arrested in the search for arms and rebels have since been released.
However, searches occasionally produce a very high level of anger among villagers when soldiers exceed their authority.
Restoring discipline in the Army and in the reorganized police force is said to be a top government priority. It is for this reason that President Obote has enlisted the help of his fellow members in the Commonwealth of Nations. The Canadians and British are helping to train senior police officers, while a five-member Commonwealth military training team is established in the Jinja barracks to work with recruits.
In addition, Ugandan Army officers have been sent for training to Tanzania, Kenya, Sudan, India, and Britain.
The new training would have been easier but for the disruption caused by the isolated attacks of violence, which normally get much more attention in the foreign press than do the continuing efforts at reconstruction.
One measure of Obote's success in restoring confidence is that 22,000 former supporters of the opposition Democratic Party reportedly have recently changed sides, joining the ruling Uganda People's Congress.
Although Obote welcomes this support, he would no doubt be even more encouraged if more of the recruits were Baganda.