MYTHS AND REALITIES: OBOTE’S 1968 LETTER TO A LONDON FRIEND-Part Thirteen

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Dr. Apollo Milton Obote-“I am not afraid of military takeover”.

“As regards the position of the Uganda Army, I am perhaps the only African leader who is not afraid of a military take-over”

“I do not accept the soldier-savior who misuses, unconstitutionally, national weapons in order to place himself into the job of a politician. I treat that kind of exercise and action, to say it mildly, as corruption”

 

UGANDA: Then there comes the “African Confidential” story of a division within the Northern group and with myself becoming more and more like what happened to my friend Kwame Nkrumah, in his last days, drawing to an inner circle of tribesmen. And yet, as everyone who wants to assess the position will find out, the number of my tribesmen in the Police and in the Army is negligible. They do not form a Company in the Army and they are too few in the Police—so much so that Parliamentarians have sometimes asserted that they are not there at all. Although they are Northerners and it is true that both in the Police and in the Army the Northerners are there in considerable numbers—my tribesmen are not in either organization in a number which would indicate strength.

As regards the position of the Uganda Army, I am perhaps the only African leader who is not afraid of a military take-over. I have already publicly accused and condemned military leaders as General Ankrah, Major Afrifa and the late General Ironsi for using national guns—not their own property in order to place themselves in position of authority and pretend to rule the country on the false propaganda of being the “savior” of their countries.

I do not accept the soldier-savior who misuses, unconstitutionally, national weapons in order to place himself into the job of a politician. I treat that kind of exercise and action, to say it mildly, as corruption. I have read with amusement various press reports on how military regimes have stopped other forms of corruption in some African countries. My view of this kind of report is that the whole thing is bad.

If a politician like Nkrumah or Nyerere or Kenyatta, who saw the possibilities of Africans being free in their own countries: worked for it, suffered, made sacrifices, and succeeded at least initially in realizing their vision, turn out to be Heads of corrupt Governments, how much so would a military man, who never went through those processes of imagination, formulation of policies , arousing of interest of the people towards the goal of independence, be when that soldier becomes the boss of the country?

The immediate thing to realize is that the soldier, if he was a true soldier all the time, did not know of the battles which were being fought, the issues at stake, the glory above the conquest of lowering the colonial flag, and it is my view that the military man will preside over a more corrupt State than the politician. If corruption is the issue for deposing an illustrious leader like Nkrumah, then the answer cannot be found in replacing him with General Ankrah. It is my view that there must have been more corruption in Ghana during the time of General Ankrah than there was in the time of Kwame Nkrumah.

I am, therefore, not afraid of military take-over in Africa. Indeed at some awkward times I entertained the idea that the armies of Africa should take over all the governments in Africa. We would then see how they would organize the O.A.U., what their policies would be towards problems like Rhodesia, Angola, Mozambique and South Africa. Then the people of Africa would see what becomes of them in the West/East conflict, and every citizen of Africa in his own home and in every State would be able to assess what the politicians promised and achieved on the one end, and what the military man promised and achieved on the other.

I am almost certain that in every country in Africa the citizens would come to realize that the politicians promised more and achieved less; and the military man promised the same things as the politicians and achieved much less than the politicians. To promise more and achieve less is not, in m y view, an exceptional phenomenon of politicians in Africa. In practically every country of the world, politicians, being great talkers, always say more than they are able to do. Wilson’s electoral slogan of “The Labor Party Works” is an instance in point.

It has not worked in the case of Rhodesia; it has not worked on the British economy: and may work, after having failed to work, in two or three years from now. It did not work on the Commonwealth Mission to North Vietnam. It did not work on the policy of joining the European Common Market; people like your correspondent would be advancing theories that it is a Government which may be replaced by the Army any day.

But because in the developed countries national image, unity and integrity are considered above every type of squabble, no-one will suggest what actions by the British Government are taken by the whole Cabinet merely to safeguard the position of the Prime Minister. That, however, was the view of your correspondent: namely, that the Uganda Government as a whole would arrest two persons, with clearly very limited influence in the internal politics of the country, merely to safeguard the position of the President.

We shall see how Obote prepares to conclude his missive in the next series.

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