Uganda; Obote reins in spending, but can he control Army?

Like Humpty Dumpty who had a great fall, Uganda is trying to pull itself together again. How well the pieces are coming together depends on which sections of this tribally fractured, politically divided country come under scrutiny.

As a congressional source in Washington, D.C., put it, ''The signals are mixed.''

After the ravages of Idi Amin's ruthless dictatorship and the fall of three subsequent governments (one military and two civilian), a measure of political stability has returned under the shrewd and pragmatic leadership of President Milton Obote.

Economically, the country that was in a shambles with a flourishing black market, swollen debts, a sharp dip in productivity, and inflated currency is being whipped back into shape. The size of the deficit has been reduced from 75 percent of government expenditure down to about 20 percent.

The degree to which Uganda has pulled in the fiscal reins by introducing tough budgetary restraints and liberalizing price policies has impressed the world financial community. The World Bank and its sister organization, the International Monetary Fund, as well as Western donors say their money is well spent.

The IMF, whose representatives recently returned from a visit to Kampala, complimented the Obote government on its will and capacity to implement its austerity program. Another IMF financial package to help Uganda sustain its recovery seems assured as a result. The IMF so far has provided two separate 13 -month standby credits, both worth 112 special drawing rights or about $117 million.

Meanwhile Uganda, which has some of the richest soil in Africa, is regaining its former agricultural self-sufficiency. In 1980 Uganda imported food; in 1981 it just about broke even; and in 1982 it exported small quantities of food, principally to neighboring Tanzania. Coffee exports, one of the mainstays of the Ugandan economy, are sharply up over the previous year - from 40,000 metric tons in 1981 to 140,000 metric tons last year.

But for all these rays of economic sunshine, dark political clouds still hang over the troubled landscape.

Caught between the excesses of the Amin regime and the retributions carried out by its successors, Uganda has one of the most pressing refugee problems in Africa. The exodus has been so great and widely dispersed that Uganda has refugees on all its borders (Zaire, Rwanda, Sudan, and Kenya).

According to the soon-to-be-released 1983 World Refugee Survey published by the US Committee for Refugees, there are 230,000 Ugandan refugees. The number of internally displaced people is put at 35,000.

Some 30,000 of those outside Uganda were former Rwandans. They had lived in Uganda for more than 20 years but last October were pushed back into Rwanda because they have been viewed as being too closely allied to Idi Amin.

Displaced people are said by relief experts to be moving like waves across the interior of the country. In many instances they become victims of attacks from an array of guerrilla bands whose political identities are uncertain and from a loosely organized, ill-disciplined Army.

The discipline of the Army now is being viewed as the litmus test as to how well the Obote government is controlling the internal situation. A Commonwealth Army team is in the process of restoring the morale and rebuilding the ranks of Uganda's armed forces.

Yet the Commonwealth team has been put in a difficult position. While the training of the Uganda Army was proceeding, some 100,000 Baganda women and children were rounded up by the Army in the Luwero region just north of Kampala and put in ''protection camps.'' More than 500 civilians are reported to have been killed in recent months in the Luwero district. This includes 81 people who were massacred in June.

Frequent reports of internees being harassed and attacked by the Army at the Luwero camps prompted officials from the Australian and Canadian high commission to travel recently from Nairobi, Kenya, to investigate the circumstances. They were shaken by the overcrowding and the grim conditions they found there.

A source familiar with the camp said, ''Where legitimate military surveillance ends and where indiscriminate abuse of the human rights of the Baganda begins; where politically inspired suppression ends and brute soldiery begins I don't know.''

Tensions are running high because the government of President Obote, who draws his political support from the Lango and Acholi peoples in the north, has long been at odds with the more economically assertive Baganda, whose base is near Kampala. The Baganda felt cheated by the election that returned President Obote to power after his long exile in Tanzania, and some have taken to the bush as guerrilla fighters.

A recent returnee from the area said the Army's response appeared to be a deliberate campaign of repression against the ordinary Baganda civilian population. ''Their shambas are in a shambles. The coffee is untended, and the gardens are all overgrown. They (the Ugandan Army) are a drunken rabble Army abducting, looting, and raping.''

Although some Ugandans privately concede the Army does appear to be out of control, they are defensive about the security situation.

At a recent seminar in the United States a leading Ugandan representative pleading for understanding of his country's problems detailed the ''impossible situation'' that had been inherited from the Amin days: a ruined economy, a nonexistent police force, arms and ammunition scattered throughout the country. ''There is no doubt the situation has improved enormously,'' he said.

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