THE weekend coup that deposed President Milton Obote of Uganda is only the latest in a series of coups and countercoups that have troubled that nation during the past decade. It is vital that the new leaders establish order as quickly -- and peacefully -- as possible so that Uganda can begin to make progress in meeting its serious financial and social challenges. Uganda's problems are not unlike those of many other third-world nations: The landlocked country has a fast-growing population that is expected to double by the end of the century to 27 million people. Uganda is economically dependent on a number of export crops (coffee, tea, and peanuts, for example) that are particularly price sensitive to the ups and downs of world market conditions, resulting, in part, in a standard of living that is one of the poorest in the world. Moreover, the nation is torn by
conflicts between several dominant tribal units, especially the Lango, of which former President Obote is a member, and the Acholi, of which Brig. Basilio Olara Okello, who led the coup against President Obote, is a member.
This coup marks the second time that Mr. Obote has been deposed. The first overthrow occurred back in the early 1970s, when he was forced to flee the country when Idi Amin Dada seized power. Obote returned to Uganda in 1980, after the toppling of Mr. Amin.
For all his criticism of former President Amin, Obote did not set a particularly better record on human rights, according to the London-based Amnesty International. In addition to conflicts between the two northern tribal groupings, the Lango and Acholi, Obote's government has had to deal with a growing insurgency movement in the southern part of the nation. Charges of atrocities and harsh repression have continued to be leveled against Kampala under Obote, as was they were under Amin.
Will that unhappy state of affairs continue under the new regime? Surely, what Uganda most needs is a period of relative stability -- so that the people of that geographically lovely territory can begin to grapple with the tasks of nation building that are so urgently required.
Lt. Gen. Tito Okello, who is not related to Brigadier Okello, who led the coup, has now been sworn in as Uganda's new President. Both he and Brigadier Okello promise free elections. The international community should hold Uganda's new leadership to that pledge. In the meantime, international pressure should be maintained on the new regime to exercise as much restraint as possible as it goes about its difficult task of establishing immediate authority in the Ugandan countryside.