MYTHS AN D REALITIES: OBOTE’S 1968 LETTER TO A LONDON FRIEND- Part seven

Below: Dr. Apollo Milton Obote, writing to a London friend in 1968, explains the cause of 1966 revolution which housted President Mutesa from leadership in Uganda.

obote“I know of no person in Uganda who has been arrested or victimized because of criticizing the Government or because of having written something (not otherwise openly criminal) during the State of Emergency”.

“This was the omission of the words “unless it is otherwise provided” which occurs between the words “shall” and “act””.

UGANDA: Having dismissed the Minister, the Party Executive also dismissed him from the party. He was the only person who, during the whole period of discussion of the Constitutional Proposal, had any action taken against him by me as leader of Government and by the Party Executive Committee. I should add that the Party Executive Committee decided on his dismissal from the Party mainly on the same grounds as I had dismissed man from the Cabinet.

The Party Executive Committee had, however, an additional reason-namely that the man was the Leader of the House and in that position he was the Chairman, appointed by me, of the Government Parliamentary Group. The Group discussed the Proposal for days and the Chairman was one of the Ministers who defended specific proposals in Group meetings. The Back-benchers, in particular, were very much annoyed that a person who had defended certain Proposals, indeed supported all the Proposals in meetings of the Government Parliamentary Group, should have changed so violently as to express in the House the opposite views; this behavior was reported by the Chief Whip to the Party Executive.

There were two other persons who were Members of the Cabinet (Nekyon and Binaisa) and who resigned before the Proposals were published. Neither of them informed me in his letter of resignation that he was resigning because of the Constitutional Proposals as a whole or any part of the Proposal. It is still a Cabinet secret but records are available of the strong position each of these two took, when they were still in Cabinet, regarding the Constitutional proposals. The items of the proposal agreed to by the Cabinet when both were still members of the Cabinet were not changed after they left. It is not for me to discuss herein how a man would say one thing today and say the exact opposite tomorrow, but history of Uganda, when it comes to be written in full, will tell the whole story.

A considerable number of Back-benchers, particularly in the Parliamentary Group meetings and even in the National Assembly, spoke strongly against certain provisions, but none of them was either disciplined by the Party or considered to e a disloyal member of the Party. Even civil servants, who discussed the Proposals with me, expressed various views in opposition to some of the Proposals, and again, none of them was victimized for having done so. I know of no person in Uganda who has been arrested or victimized because of criticizing the Government or because of having written something (not otherwise openly criminal) during the State of Emergency. We have had only one person prosecuted for publishing a seditious article and the person was tried and convicted- not detained under emergency Regulations.

As regards “Transition” the first thing that can be said is that we have known of its existence throughout all these years. The magazine published articles and letters on the Constitution, and most of them were highly critical. If we had wanted to take action against “Transition” or its Editor because of anything published, we would not have done so at this stage. Action should have been taken some time back. You must have read an article by Abu Mayanja published in “Transition” No 32. That article was not only critical but included a deliberate misquotation on an important item in the Constitutional Proposals. That is, for instance, that part of the article reading as follows: “The Proposals expressly provide (Article 64) that “in the performance of ant function conferred upon him by this Constitution or any other law, the President shall act in his own discretion and shall not be obliged to follow the advice tendered by any other person or authority”.

In this passage Mayanja sought to quote directly from the Constitutional Proposals, but the quotation published omitted a vital part of the section. This was the omission of the words “unless it is otherwise provided” which occurs between the words “shall” and “act”. It was on that false basis that Mayanja’s article was framed, and carried the meaning that the Proposals gave to the President alone the full executive powers and that the President was not to act in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution but only on his own discretion. If the words which were omitted are included, the Article would have given a contrary meaning, namely that the President was to act in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution and that only where the Constitution is silent, he had to act on his own discretion.

In view of the overwhelming publicity that has been given to the allegation that I or the Government proposed a curious Constitution which gave power to one man alone, and knowing that this is not the case, we would have taken some action against “Transition”, but we did not. You will also find a passage in “Transition” No. 34, reading as follows: “And if Adoko thinks that the Detention Act is needed to protect the victims of this colossus and his agents, where is the Detention Act to deal with those gunmen who shot and killed many innocent people (no doubt unrecorded in official statistics) and destroyed property of others?” An then “The other two reasons cannot deceive even a child of six; if the people regard the Central Government as a hostile, alien body, they will regard it even more so now that it has made itself potentially the enemy of any single individual in the country (by virtue of the Detention Act), and filled each one’s life with fear and uncertainty”.

I am advised that the attention of the Editor of “Transition” was drawn to the above passage before publication and that he was advised that within the context of the whole letter those passages could be seditious. Although it is strongly maintained here that the Editor himself believed that the passages could be seditious, he did nothing about it. Again, we took no action.

In our next series, we shall see how Obote continued to blast “Transition” and the deportation of a newspaper correspondent.

 

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