The area that today makes up Uganda has been inhabited for at least 5000 years, and immigration of different peoples has created an ethnically and linguistically composed people in a relatively small rural area. From the 1300s, several kingdoms emerged in the area, and from the 19th century the state of Buganda dominated. From the 1890s, Britain began its expansion, and Uganda eventually became its own province.
In 1961 Uganda became an independent republic. Both President Milton Obote and Idi Amin’s regimes were highly authoritarian and characterized by violent conflicts. In 1986, Yoweri Museveni came to power in a military coup, and despite opening the country to the outside world and occasionally making Uganda a showcase for international development assistance, Museveni has also made the country increasingly authoritarian throughout the 2000s.
Already from the 3rd millennium BCE. was the northernmost Uganda inhabited by Kushite- speaking people from Nubia, later other Sudanese settled down further south. From about 500 BCE. a Nilotic immigration took place from the north, including atheists and luo, followed by Bantu- speaking people from the west at the beginning of our era. From the northeast, people of Hamitic descent immigrated. This created a significant cultural divide between people southwest of the Nile and those living in the north. Uganda’s earliest population (batwa, pygmies) were hunters and collectors; with immigration, agriculture and iron implements were introduced. The same became gradually social organization. See abbreviationfinder for geography, history, society, politics, and economy of Uganda.
While the communities in the north were mostly organized by clan structure, the organization in the south took the form of state formation. Especially from the 1300s, several kingdoms of centralized power emerged, with the Kitara kingdom (also known as Chwezi, after the bachwezi people) in the west as probably the first. This included Bunyoro, who from the end of the 1400s became the most powerful state until Buganda took over as the dominant state formation in the 19th century. Several traditional kingdoms exist in modern Uganda, with kings without constitutional power. Next to Buganda and Bunyoro, these are Ankole (Nkole), Toro and Busoga. The latter, at the beginning of the colonial era, was mostly an association of chief judges, with no centralized power.
From about 1840 the country was visited by trade interests from the East Africa coast, who were looking for ivory and slaves. From the 1860s the areas of the Acholi in the north were attacked by slave traders from Sudan and Egypt. The first European explorer, John H. Speke, was received in 1856; then came missionaries.
Britain feared that German expansion from Tanganyika in the south would threaten Uganda and thus control over Nile sources. However, through an Anglo-German agreement of 1890, the area north of the 1st longitude was declared a British sphere of interest, and a colonial expansion began under the auspices of the Imperial British East Africa Company (IBEA). In many places, Britain faced armed resistance in the 1890s, including Bunyoro, but this was turned down. Agreements with the kingdoms of Buganda, Bunyoro, Toro, Ankole and Busoga were made in the late 1800s. Behind them was the IBEA, led by Frederick Lugard, which administered the region on behalf of the British government. The Ugandan kingdoms were given the status of protectorate, but each royal and chiefdom retained its autonomy and existed as independent entities. In 1894, the British government took control of Buganda as a protectorate, and Buganda exploited the British expansion to promote its own interests. After an agreement with Buganda in 1890, this kingdom gained a special status, and the king – kabaka – was recognized as its ruler. Despite resistance, including armed uprisings in Acholi in 1911 and from the Mumbo cult in 1913, new territories were laid under British rule, and the protectorate Uganda took its final form in 1918, with Buganda as its own province.
In addition to protecting the Nile sources, of great importance to the British possessions in Egypt and Sudan, the UK intended to exploit Uganda’s agricultural potential. The British led different policies in their two major East African possessions: Kenya became a settler colony, where a significant number of British citizens established large farms, while agricultural production in Uganda was left to African farmers. However, both places were set up for export; in Uganda especially cotton. A railway was built from the coast of Kenya to Uganda.
A legislative assembly was established in 1921, but without African participation. Buganda had its own national assembly, lukiko. Only with the rise of nationalism after World War II were Africans elected. In 1921, the Bataka Association was also formed in protest against the Asian monopoly on cotton processing and marketing, and against the oligarchic regime in Buganda. Several political parties emerged in the 1950s. The Uganda National Congress (UNC) was formed in 1952 as a radical, nationalist party. It split in 1959 when Milton Obote stepped down and later formed the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) party in 1960. Other parties were the Democratic Party(DP) from 1956 and the Bugandan Nationalist Party Kabaka Yekka (KY) from 1960.
Elections to a legislative council were held in 1961. The election was won by DP, and its leader Benedicto Kiwanuka became Uganda’s first prime minister in March 1962. Before independence was achieved in October of that year, an alliance of UPC and KY had won the election at national assembly. This alliance formed government under the leadership of Milton Obote, who became prime minister and the country’s true leader, although the Buganda king Edward Mutasa was formally head of state. In 1966, Mutasa was deposed by Obote. The following year, the constitution was changed, self-government abolished and all power centralized with Obote, who became the executive president.
Independent Uganda was politically fragmented and financially weak. The political contradictions continued under Obote, which sought to effect a social change in the socialist direction. This caused unrest, and in January 1971 Obote was deposed in a coup, led by the defense chief, Colonel Idi Amin. Amin soon led Uganda as dictator, and with a reign of growing terror until he himself was forced to flee in 1979. By then, thousands had been killed and even more driven from their homes, and western countries turned Uganda’s backs. The mismanagement also led to economic collapse, not least the expulsion of about 50,000 Asians in 1972, which drove much of the trading business. Several attempts to control Amin failed. Only after Uganda attacked Tanzania 1978-1979, and the Tanzanian army made joint case with Obote’s exile army, succeeded in overthrowing Amin’s regime. 18 exile groups then came together to discuss Uganda’s future, and compromise candidate Yusufu Lule became the country’s new leader. He was replaced in June with Godfrey Binaisa, who was in turn deposed in March 1980, when Paulo Muwanga, supported by General Tito Okello, took over and prepared elections. Four parties participated, and the election was won by Milton Obote and UPC; Obote was inaugurated as Uganda’s president for the second time in December. The election results were contested, including by Yoweri Museveni, who resorted to weapons against Obote; so did several other groups. Musevenis National Resistance Army(NRA) started a civil war that probably required far more human lives than Amin’s regime.
Heavily pushed by the war, Obote was overthrown for the second time in 1985. But Uganda’s new head of state, General Tito Okello, failed to settle the civil war either. In 1986, the NRA occupied the capital, and Museveni was inducted as Uganda’s new president on January 29. His organization, the National Resistance Movement (NRM), built a political system based on grassroots committees, so-called Resistance Councils, with a supreme council such as the National Assembly, the National Resistance Council (NRC). Political parties were not banned, but were not allowed to stand in elections; in elections, only individuals could vote – and supporters of the NRM secured Museveni a solid majority in the National Assembly. The so-called “zero party system”, which lasted until 2005, was considered an African attempt to find a new form of participatory democracy that was neither built on Western models nor the one-party state often sought in Africa. As Museveni remained in power, it became more viewed as a mechanism to prevent democratic challenge through free elections.
Uganda, through a referendum in 2005, chose to introduce a multi-party system, after two decades of banning political parties. In a referendum on the same issue in 2000, a majority voted against. The opposition boycotted the vote in 2005. One purpose of the change was to remove the restriction on how long a president can sit, and opened for Museveni to take part in the presidential election in 2006. The decision helped countries like Norway freeze part of its assistance to Uganda. Museveni was criticized the same year for the arrest of opposition leader Kizza Besigye, when he returned to Uganda after four years in exile. The arrest led to riots in the capital, Kampala. In 2003, seven opposition parties, known as the G7, established a collaboration with a view to the election in 2006, following a model of the opposition alliance that in 2002 won the election in neighboring Kenya. In the 2006 parliamentary and presidential elections, Museveni was re-elected with 59.3 percent of the vote in front of Besigye from the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) with 37.4 percent; the latter disputed the result and there was a clash between supporters of the two parties. In the parallel parliamentary elections, the NRM reached 205 out of a total of 319 seats, against the FDC’s 37. There are reserved seats for various groups such as women, youth and disabled people in the national assembly.
In 1993, the government allowed the traditional kingdoms of Ankole, Buganda, Bunyoro and Toro to be restored and their rulers inaugurated. There were riots in and around Kampala in 2009 after part of the Buganda kingdom called for separation, and Buganda King Ronald Mutebi’s planned visit to the disputed area.
In 2009, Uganda banned women circumcision. A proposal by a member of parliament from the ruling party that year on the death penalty for practicing homosexuality sparked international protests.
Local and regional war
From the second half of the 1980s several rebel groups have been active in Uganda, substantially north and northwest of the country. They have taken military action to weaken the government, but first and foremost they have been targeting civilian targets, and have led to widespread terror against the civilian population – which has also contributed to the government’s apparatus of power. The most important of the rebel groups have been the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), established in 1987 and led by Joseph Kony, who continued the opposition to a former group, Holy Spirit Mobile Forces (HSMF) led by Alice Lakwena, as well as Uganda People’s Democratic Army (UPDA). All three have their origins in Acholiland in the north, and have been fighting for the Acholi people’s culture and rights towards a central government that has in various ways suppressed and marginalized this culture. Idi Amin carried out the purifications – including physical ones – of the government’s Acholies when he came to power; his predecessor Milton Obote was acholi. HSMF and LRA rely more on mysticism, a mixture of Christian and traditional beliefs, than ideology. HSMF was formed in 1986, but disbanded after failing in a campaign to take the capital of Kampala.
The LRA, which operated under different names, was built up from parts of HSMF from 1987, and developed into a security threat both in Northern Uganda and in the region. The group gained particular importance from 1991 when the Sudanese government began its support for it – in response to the Ugandan government supporting the rebel movement in South Sudan. The LRA then established bases in South Sudan and waged its terror against the civilian population there as well. The group has also operated in the Central African Republic and DR Congo. The LRA is particularly notorious for kidnapping children who are then used as child soldiers or sex slaves. In the early 2000s, the situation in Northern Uganda was characterized by the UN as one of the world’s most serious humanitarian crises. About one and a half million people in northern Uganda fled their homes during the war, which waned from the mid-2000s, after the LRA was forced out of Uganda into Sudan, then to Congo from 2006 – but still persisted as a military conflict. Several years of peace negotiations have not progressed, nor has the so-called Juba process of 2006, led by the government in South Sudan. This manages to negotiate a peace agreement, but Kony repeatedly failed to meet for signature. A dispute has been his fate: In 2005, the International Court of Justice issuedarrest warrant on him and several close associates; In 2008, the Ugandan government established a war crimes tribunal to bring the LRA leadership to justice. The LRA is accused of supporting a genocide in Northern Uganda; the government is accused of the same by its abuses especially against the Acholi people. As a result of the regionalization of the conflict, Ugandan units have operated in Sudan, the Central African Republic and DR Congo, in agreement with the authorities there. Uganda, Sudan and Congo agreed in 2008 to fight against the LRA; Uganda has requested an international force. In northeastern Congo, other rebel groups have also sought arrest: People’s Redemption Army (PRA), Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) and National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (Nalu).
Uganda has been involved, partly indirectly and partly, in wars in neighboring countries Sudan, Rwanda and DR Congo. Uganda supported the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) in South Sudan, which led the Sudanese government to support the Ugandan rebel group LRA. Ugandan forces have pursued the LRA into Sudan, and – following the Sudan Peace Agreement – have had the Sudanese government’s acceptance to operate inland. Indirectly, Uganda was also involved in the war in Rwanda in the early 1990s. The Rwandan rebel movement Front patriotique Rwandais(FPR) entered Rwanda from Uganda in 1990; both the leadership and soldiers of the FPR served in the Ugandan government, but formally deserted from this as they moved into their home country. Uganda refused to be aware of the invasion and did not support it militarily but gave its political support to the FPR. The FPR’s takeover of power in Rwanda in 1994 established a close cooperation between the two countries, which then had consequences for the development in Zaire (later DR Congo): Rwanda and Uganda supported the Congolese rebel movement Alliance des forces democratiques pour la liberation du Congo-Kinshasa (AFDL), which in 1997 took over power in the country. However, in the fall of 1998, Rwanda, supported by Uganda, chose to support a new militia in eastern Congo, which fought Kabilas regime. Both countries sent troops to the Kivu provinces, officially to secure their own security, as several of the Ugandan rebel groups, as well as the remnants of the former Rwandan government, were detained in eastern Congo. After a split in the Congolese resistance front, Rwanda and Uganda – who had disagreed on goals and strategy for the engagement in Congo – each chose sides in the conflict, and in 1999 fighting between Rwandan and Ugandan forces in and around the Congolese city of Kisangani, after which Uganda withdrew its troops. Uganda continued to engage militarily in eastern Congo, especially Ituri Province.