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Uganda, a creation of the major European powers in the late 19th Century, brought together various nationalities that neither shared a history nor had a collective desire to forge a new nation. Some, in fact, had had a long history of settling their disagreements with arrows and spears. Geography, convenience and outright carelessness dictated the boundaries, resulting in a forced marriage without adequate counseling of the new partners.

Parallel to this was vigorous competition for religious converts and influence by newly arrived Roman Catholic, Protestant and Muslim missionaries. Members of hitherto homogeneous ethnic communities were ripped apart by religious cleavages whose genesis they hardly understood. Marital and other social interactions within a community became a function of religious label, not traditional norms and customs.

These two factors – forced marriage of independent nationalities and religious conflicts – shaped the country we know as Uganda. These two factors have dominated Uganda’s political history and remain at the heart of the country’s struggle to become a nation.

Kabaka Mwanga of Buganda

Declared a British Protectorate in 1894, the Kingdom of Buganda became the nucleus around which a colony expanded to eventually include the hitherto independent kingdoms, chiefdoms and other loose arrangements that formed present day Uganda. Resistance by African rulers like Kabaka Mwanga of Buganda, Omukama Kabarega of Bunyoro and Omukama Katuregye of the Bakongwe ba Kigezi were easily put down.  In 1911, the district of Kigezi in the southwest became the last area to be coopted into the Uganda Protectorate.

British rule in Uganda was headed by a succession of colonial governors, at first ruling through Baganda agents in areas outside Buganda, before gradual transfer to local chiefs under British district commissioners.

The colonial period saw rapid growth and transition to a European-style economy and infrastructure. Hospitals and health centres were built all over the country. Schools and technical colleges were established, including Makerere College that became one of the finest universities in Africa, complete with a world-class medical school at Mulago.

Roads, public water works, town sewage systems, factories, an international airport and, above all, rail transport to the port at Mombasa were developed. A functioning and dependable justice system was established, and concerted efforts were made to establish institution-based governance. A professional police force and army were established.

This relatively rapid social-economic development was not accompanied by early political organization to prepare Ugandans for self-government. It was not until 1947 that serious formal political organization began, with the formation of the Uganda African Farmer’s Union (UAFU) under the leadership of Ignatius Kangave Musaazi, a teacher at Makerere College.

Musaazi, Ivan Kangave
Ivan Kangave Musaazi

The UAFU was banned following riots in 1949 triggered by unfulfilled Africans’ demands for economic and political justice. Musaazi then formed the Federation of Partnerships of Uganda African Farmers (FPUAF) before he led the formation of the Uganda National Congress on March 2, 1952.

The Democratic Party, with a predominantly Roman Catholic base, was formed on October 6,1954 by a group of young Baganda Catholics under the leadership of Joseph Kasolo.  It soon spread its presence to most parts of the country, with a view to taking power at independence. Led briefly by Matayo Mugwanya, the party gained momentum under its third leader, Benedicto Mugumba Kiwanuka.

Meanwhile, the Uganda National Congress was in crisis over disagreements over its pan-Africanist involvement. On January 12, 1959, Musaazi, the party leader, was expelled.  A new leader was elected. His name was Apollo Milton Obote.

The UNC under Obote merged with the Uganda People’s Union (UPU), which was led by William Wilberforce Rwetsiba, to form the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) on March 9, 1960.

Over the next 24 months, Uganda’s political elite, ill prepared to govern, engaged in fast-tracked negotiations with the Colonial Office in London in preparation for independence.

The first direct elections to the Uganda Legislative Council (LEGCO) were held on March 1, 1961. The  Democratic Party won and Kiwanuka became Chief Minister of Uganda. The Constitutional Conference in London agreed that Uganda would become self-governing on March 1, 1962. Kiwanuka was sworn in as Uganda’s first prime minister.

Obote & Walter Coutts
A. Milton & Governor Sir Walter Coutts, October 9, 1962

Another election was held just over a month later. The Uganda People’s Congress was declared the winner. Political independence came on October 9, 1962, with Obote as the country’s second prime minister. He inherited a country with social and economic development that was ahead that of Singapore and Malaysia.

The euphoria of freedom soon turned to tears as the country moved from crisis to crisis. Uganda’s post-independence history has been characterized by violent changes of government in 1966, 1971, 1979, 1985 and 1986 and general state terror against citizens.

The decade of the 1970s witnessed complete state collapse under the stewardship of Gen. Idi Amin Dada. Relief and hope came on the heels of an invasion and liberation by the Tanzania People’s Defence Forces (TPDF).  However, within days of Amin’s departure on April 11, 1979, the political elite was engaged in a power struggle.  The first post-Amin president was overthrown by the National Consultative Council after 69 days in office. Then there was a non-violent military coup in May 1980. A multiparty election was held in December 1980, but the results were contested. An armed rebellion led by Yoweri K. Museveni followed in February 1981. The war lasted 5 years, and claimed thousands of lives.

Uganda is yet to have a peaceful, democratic transition between two presidents. Protracted civil wars, especially in the central and northern provinces, have caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people and the displacement of millions more.

The worst hit areas in the country’s wars were Luweero in the central region, and West Nile and Acholi in the northern region. The war in Acholi ended in 2005 following the defeat of Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

The last 25 years have witnessed a concerted effort to rebuild the country’s economy, institutions and governance under a democratic system. These efforts have yielded mixed results. Macro-economic growth, rehabilitation of schools and universities, roads and telecommunications,and infrastructural investments have been very impressive. A real estate boom has transformed the cities and countryside.Tax revenues have grown to unprecedented levels. The properties of Ugandan Asians that Amin had confiscated in 1972 were returned to their owners. (This process had started during the Obote II administration of 1981-85.)

However, the country’s positive achievements have been undermined by simultaneous militarization of the state, runaway corruption, and failure of institutionalized rule.

The presidential election results in 2001 and 2006 were highly disputed. The February 2016 elections were chaotic, with a complete breakdown of the basic processes of holding a free and fair election. There were allegations of intimidation and ballot box stuffing with pre-ticked ballots.

Several candidates disputed the presidential election results that were announced by the Electoral Commission. Some internal and external election observers declared that the election was neither free nor fair. One candidate was placed under house arrest. Another candidate lodged a petition with the Supreme Court seeking that the results be overturned.

Uganda remains a dream unfulfilled. The political discourse and the competition for power remain dominated by the ethnic and religious tensions with which the country was born more than a century ago.

Uganda: Key Events

  • 1894 – Declared a British Protectorate
  • 1900- Buganda Agreement I
  • 1901 – Uganda Railway reaches Kisumu
  • 1902 – Eastern part of Uganda transferred to Kenya
  • 1907 – Nyangire rebellion in Bunyoro
  • 1947- I.K. Musaazi forms Uganda African Farmers Union
  • 1949- Uganda Farmers Union banned
  • 1949 – I.K. Musaazi forms Federation of Partnerships of Uganda African Farmers
  • 1952 – Sir Andrew Cohen becomes Governor
  • Cohen, Sir Andrew
    Sir Andrew Cohen, Governor of Uganda 1952-57
  • 1952- Uganda Development Corporation started
  • 1952 – IK Musaazi forms Uganda National Congress
  • 1953 – King Edward Mutesa II sent to exile in London.
  • 1953- Owen Falls Dam completed
  • 1954- Owen Falls Hydroelectric Power Generation begins
  • 1954- Joseph Kasolo and others form Democratic Party
  • 1955 – King Mutesa II returns from exile
  • 1955 – Buganda Agreement II
  • 1958- Uganda People’s Union formed
  • 1960 – Uganda People’s Congress formed
  • 1961- Lancaster House Conference on independence
  • 1961 – DP wins election and forms government
  • 1962 – UPC wins election and forms government. Milton Obote becomes Prime Minister.
  • 1962 – Independence on October 9.
  • 1963 – King Mutesa II of Buganda become state president
  • Mutesa and Obote
    Mutesa and Obote
  • 1964 – Army mutiny
  • 1965- Daudi Ocheng, MP (KY) moves mo
  • 1966 – Political-military coup by Prime Minister Milton Obote. Elects himself executive president.
  • 1966- Federal Constitution abolished. Second Constitution “passed” by parliament
  • 1966 – Military attack on King Mutesa. Escapes to exile
  • 1967 – Third Constitution passed by parliament. Uganda becomes a Republic on September 8th. Kingdoms abolished.
  • 1969 – King Mutesa II dies in London.
  • 1969 – Assassination attempt on President Obote.
  • 1971 – Military coup d’état. Idi Amin Dada becomes president
  • 1972 – Ugandan Asians expelled & their property seized.
  • 1972- Armed invasion from Tanzania, led by Ugandan rebels.
  • 1973 – Expelled Asians’ property given away to some African Ugandans
  • Ugandan Asians expelled by Amin
  • 1973 – 12 alleged guerrilla fighters executed by firing squad
  • 1974 – Military coup attempt led by Brig. Charles Arube
  • 1976 – Assassination attempt on President Amin
  • 1976 – Israeli Air Force invades Entebbe to rescue hostages
  • 1976 – Military invasion of Makerere University
  • 1977 – Anglican Archbishop Janani Luwum murdered, together with two cabinet ministers
  • 1977 – Collapse of East African Community
  • 1977 – Military coup attempt led by Maj. Patrick Balati Kimumwe.
  • 1977 – Second Public executions of alleged regime opponents
  • 1978 – Uganda Army invades Tanzania. War breaks out
  • 1979- Uganda conquered by Tanzania People’s Defence Forces. Amin flees to exile. Yusufu Kironde Lule becomes president.
  • 1979- Lule overthrown by National Consultative Council after 69 days in power. Godfrey Lukongwa Binaisa appointed president.
  • 1980 – Binaisa overthrown in a military coup d’état. Paulo Muwanga becomes de facto president.
  • 1980- Obote declared winner of the election in December. Results contested and rejected by some in the opposition.
  • 1981 – Yoweri Kaguta Museveni launches armed rebellion.
  • 1985- Military coup d’état. President Obote overthrown the second time. Tito Okello Lutwa becomes military head of state.
  • 1986 – Gen. Lutwa overthrown. Museveni becomes president
  • Museveni sworn in 1986
    Yoweri K. Museveni sworn in, January 29, 1986
  • 1990- Rwandan members of the Ugandan National Resistance Army invade Rwanda.
  • 1995 – Fourth Constitution passed by Constituent Assembly. Sets a two term limit to the presidency
  • 1996 – Museveni elected president
  • 1997 – Uganda army invades Congo. Supports Laurent Kabila to overthrow Congolese President Mobutu.
  • 1998 -Uganda army supports rebellion against new Congolese president Laurent Kabila
  • 2000– Uganda army fights with Rwandan army in Kisangani, Congo
  • 2001 – Museveni declared winner of presidential election. Results rejected by main opponent. Court upholds the results.
  • 2005 – Constitution amended. Presidential term limits lifted.
  • 2006 – Museveni declared winner of presidential election. Results rejected by main opponent. Court upholds the results.
  • 2011 – Museveni declared winner of presidential election. Results rejected by main opponent.
  • 2016 – Museveni declared winner of presidential election. Results rejected by opposition. Court petitioned to annul the results.


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