Life in Uganda returning to normal after coup

Kampala is recovering from its second coup in six years with an aplomb that comes only from practice. One week after the looting carried out by victorious and drunken soldiers, life in the capital was returning to normal -- by Ugandan standards at any rate.

Debris from gutted shops had been carried to burning piles of garbage by men pushing wooden wheel barrows (Uganda has no foreign exchange to spare for importing metal ones).

As people returned to their jobs they commuted past dingy, faded buildings.

At least half the shop fronts have been destroyed during one coup or another. The only way to tell the difference is that those destroyed when Idi Amin was chased out of the capital in 1979 are now festooned with moss and tress have grown up in the gutters.

If nothing else, the chaotic politics that have seen the rise and fall of seven governments, have taught Ugandans to view the world from the perspective of an Alice in Wonderland: things are not always what they seem -- and they change frequently.

Prices for staple foods have always been prohibitively high, but they actually dropped in the days following the coup when banks were closed and no money could be drawn.

Meanwhile, at government headquarters, behind an incongruous combination of antiaircraft guns and beer-bottle roadblocks manned by lolling soldiers, little or no progress has been made toward forming a coalition government to fill the vacuum created by the ouster of President Milton Obote almost two weeks ago.

The head of state, and chairman of the military council, Lt. Gen. Tito Okello, has invited this east African nation's four political parties and various guerrilla groups to form a civilian cabinet that would pave the way to elections a year from now.

Dr. Obote is, for the second time, in exile.

But he has left behind him the majority of government players on the political stage. These holdovers from the previous administration are partially responsible for having slowed progress toward solving Uganda's considerable problems.

These include deep-seated tribalism, a battered economy, and an unwieldy and ill-discplined Army that must somehow be integrated back into civilian life.

Since the July 27 coup by Army troops made up largely of Acholi tribesmen, Radio Uganda has laid at Obote's door the blame for 300,000 deaths and the displacement of some 4 million people.

Ever since independence in 1962, political parties and dissident groups have been maneuvering for a foothold in the government. The question now is whether these factions, whose alliances change with kaleidoscopic rapidity, can put past rivalries aside.

The main stumbling block may very well be the man charged with achieving this goal. General Okello, who speaks little English, has a background which is essentially military. It is beginning to look as though his chief responsibility will be to instill discipline into the Army. To Uganda's civilian prime minister, Paulo Muwanga, is bequeathed the task of forming a caretaker government.

Mr. Muwanga was once Obote's aide. As defense minister, his critics say, he must have sanctioned the often brutal punitive raids against guerrilla groups. He has also been accused of rigging the l980 elections that returned Obote to power.

His mandate for the job is not clearly apparent.

Efforts to form a coalition Cabinet are dogged by memories of Muwanga's ruthless harassment of the opposition under Obote.

Nor does Muwanga appear to have any kind of grassroots support. He did not stand for election in his own constituency in 1980, feeling that he lacked the necessary backing. When elections were over, however, he was brought into the Cabinet as a nominated member of the assembly.

Now Muwanga must establish a friendship not only with the politicans that he has in the past jailed, but also with various guerrilla factions which were fighting against the previous regime.

Linchpin in the reconciliation equation is National Resistance Army (NRA) leader Yoweri Museveni. He is said to commmand some 5,000 rebels.

[According to reports from Reuters, Radio Uganda has reported that Moses Ali, the leader of the National Rescue Front, a small force operating in the remote West Nile region, had promised to lay down arms and had appealed to the NRA to do likewise. An NRA statement issued in Nairobi, Kenya, indicated that NRA would not comply.]

Mr. Museveni has gone on record as demanding half the seats in the ruling military council formed just after the coup. It is unlikely this will be met.

Museveni has also called for the integration of his men into the Ugandan Army. While the government has granted this request, implementation could be difficult were the integration to take place.

The Army already has about 20,000 troops -- no one, including the minister of defense, seems to know the exact number.

Some experts question the ability of the Army to feed and pay additional troops.

Meanwhile, down at Entebbe on the shores of Lake Victoria, the official presidential residence continues to run as if Obote were still at home.

Well-groomed staff daily polish the glasses, clean the fountain outside the porticoed entrance and arrange fresh flowers in the vases.

Languishing on the top floor of State House is Obote's seven-year-old son, the youngest of four boys. He was left behind in the former leader's rush to get away.

``That man is so careless,'' observed a politician.

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