MYTHS AND REALITIES: OBOTE’S 1968 LETTER TO A LONDON FRIEND-part ten

 

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Dr. Apollo Milton Obote tightening his grip on power in 1966.

“It was clear to all that the Unit at Jinja, having failed to do something unconstitutional, had to be sent into the country and far from the capital. It so happened that according to our regulations a change of Barracks must be notified to the troops six months in advance and such a change be approved by the Chief Defense Staff Committee, which is composed of senior officers and chaired by the Minister responsible for Defense”.

 

“The scheme was to deny me, and other members who were absent, opportunity to speak on the debate and, although that happened, those who were in the plot were not sure of themselves and soon found out that the passing of the Motion could not help them to achieve their aims”.

 

UGANDA: Then in November 1965, Opolot arranged for two Units of the Army to change Barracks. It was clear to all that the Unit at Jinja, having failed to do something unconstitutional, had to be sent into the country and far from the capital. It so happened that according to our regulations a change of Barracks must be notified to the troops six months in advance and such a change be approved by the Chief Defense Staff Committee, which is composed of senior officers and chaired by the Minister responsible for Defense.

The notification for change of barracks was made on November 28, 1965, in a secret letter to the Commanders of the two Units, and the change-over was to be completed by the end of December 1965. The Chief Defense Staff Committee knew nothing about the change, and the Ministry was not informed, although the secret letter was said to have been copied to the Ministry. We now know that on the direct orders of Opolot the copy of the letter which was to go to the Ministry was deliberately not sent. The matter of the change of barracks leaked out and I ordered Opolot to follow proper procedure.

In December 1965, the then President placed orders for heavy weapons with a Kampala firm. The arms were to come from Britain. We have letters from a British firm which show that the firm was not happy with the orders on the ground that the weapons ordered were  too heavy for an individual and that the firm had always dealt with Governments only. One of the letters from the Kampala firm states that President Mutesa had placed the orders on behalf of the Uganda Army and that although the Kabaka’s Government, was to pay for the arms, that only meant that the President, in his as the Kabaka, was to have the first trial of the arms before handing them over to the Army.

That was the situation which had developed as we entered into 1966. Ted Jones must have known of some aspects of the situation.

Then February 1966 came and the Parliamentary debate on the 4th of that month was designed to make it easy for a change of Government. I had planned in November of the previous year a tour of the Northern Region in January or February of 1966. The date of the tour was finally fixed in January and a statement from my office was issued, published in the Press and broadcast on the radio. You will find from Sir Edward Mutesa’s book “The Desecration of my Kingdom” a statement that I mysteriously disappeared. It is also true that on January 31, 1966, I attended a meeting of the Party’s Parliamentary Group, at which meeting I specifically asked the Group whether I should postpone my tour, and the meeting unanimously rejected any idea of postponement of the tour.

When I left Entebbe on January 1, 1966, further attempts were made to reactivate the activities of October 1965. Those who were in the plot decided on supporting and using the Opposition motion to achieve their aims but saw a number of obstacles. One obstacle was whether or not the Backbenchers would fall into their line. That was resolved by putting the Motion on the order paper on a Friday and in the expectation that after about 4.00 pm Government Backbenchers from upcountry would have left the House to return to their constituencies.

The Government Parliamentary Group had considered the motion at their meeting of January 31, 1966 and resolved to reject it. The other obstacle was that the House would rise on that day at 6.30 pm and since the House was due to meet in the following week, there was no time to debate their Motion and bring it to a conclusion on the Friday, and that it would continue the following Monday. The possibility of the Motion being on the order paper the following Monday was a disturbing factor, but they found a way of resolving the difficulty. This was done through a Motion to the effect that the House had to sit that Friday until business on the order paper had been completed, and that at the end of the sitting the House was to adjourn indefinitely.

Then pressure was put on two Members to withdraw their Motions which were higher on the order paper than the Opposition Motion. These arrangements made it possible for the House to reach the Opposition Motion and to debate it until 9.00 pm when the House then adjourned indefinitely. The scheme was to deny me, and other members who were absent, opportunity to speak on the debate and, although that happened, those who were in the plot were not sure of themselves and soon found out that the passing of the Motion could not help them to achieve their aims.

In our next series we shall look at how Obote identified his enemies and how he foiled attempts to oust him using the army after attempts to use parliamentary debate had failed.

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