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Diplomacy in Action

Uganda (06/03)


For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.


Republic of Uganda

Area: 241,040 sq. km. (93,070 sq. mi.); about the size of Oregon.
Cities: Capital--Kampala (1991 pop. 774,214). Other cities--Jinja, Mbale, Mbarara.
Terrain: 18% inland water and swamp; 12% national parks, forest, and game reserves; 70% forest, woodland, grassland.
Climate: In the northeast, semi-arid--rainfall less than 50 cm. (20 in.); in southwest, rainfall 130 cm. (50 in.) or more. Two dry seasons: Dec.-Feb. and June-July.

Nationality: Noun and adjective--Ugandan(s).
Population (2000): 23 million.
Annual growth rate (1999): 2.7%.
Ethnic groups: African 99%, European, Asian, Arab 1%.
Religions: Christian 66%, Muslim 16%, traditional and other 18%.
Languages: English (official); Luganda and Swahili widely used; other Bantu and Nilotic languages.
Education: Attendance (1995, primary school enrollment, public and private) --56%. Literacy (1993)--62%.
Health: Infant mortality rate--81/1,000. Life expectancy--37 yrs.

Type: No-party "Movement" system.
Constitution: The new Constitution was ratified on July 12, 1995, and promulgated on October 8, 1995. Uganda held its first presidential election under the 1995 Constitution on May 9, 1996, followed by parliamentary elections on June 27, 1996. President Yoweri Museveni was reelected to the presidency in March 2001; parliamentary elections in June 2001 returned fewer than half the incumbents. The Constitution provides for an executive president, to be elected every 5 years but with significant requirements for parliamentary approval of presidential actions.
Independence: October 9, 1962.
Branches: Executive--president, vice president, prime minister, cabinet. Legislative--parliament. There are 214 directly elected representatives and special indirectly elected seats for representatives of women 56, youth 5, workers 5, disabled 5, and the army 10. Judicial--magistrates courts, High Court, Court of Appeals, Supreme Court.
Administrative subdivisions: 56 districts (six recently authorized).
Political parties (political party activity is largely suspended): Uganda People's Congress (UPC), Democratic Party (DP), Conservative Party (CP).
Suffrage: Universal adult.
National holiday: Independence Day, Oct. 9.
Flag: Six horizontal stripes-black, yellow, red, black, yellow, red with the national emblem, the crested crane, in a centered white circle.

GDP (purchasing power parity, 2000): $26.2 billion.
Inflation rate (2000): 6.5%
Natural resources: Copper, cobalt, limestone.
Agriculture: Cash crops--coffee, tea, cotton, tobacco, sugarcane, cut flowers, vanilla. Food crops--bananas, corn, cassava, potatoes, millet, pulses (largely self-sufficient in food). Livestock and fisheries--beef, goat meat, milk, nile perch, tilapia.
Industry: Types--processing of agricultural products (cotton ginning, coffee curing), cement production, light consumer goods, textiles.
Trade (1999): Exports-- $500.13 million: coffee, fish and fish products, tea, electricity, iron and steel. Major markets-- EU, Hungary, Kenya. Imports (1999)--$1.1 billion: vehicles, petroleum, medical supplies, cereals. Major suppliers--OPEC countries, Kenya, U.S., France, U.K., India.
Fiscal year: July 1-June 30

Africans of three main ethnic groups--Bantu, Nilotic, and Nilo-Hamitic--constitute most of the population. The Bantu are the most numerous and include the Baganda, which, with about 3 million members (18% of the population), constitute the largest-single ethnic group.

The people of the southwest comprise 30% of the population, divided into five major ethnic groups: the Banyankole and Bahima,10%; the Bakiga, 8%; the Banyarwanda, 6%; the Bunyoro, 3%; and the Batoro, 3%). Residents of the north, largely Nilotic, are the next largest group, including the Langi, 6% and the Acholi, 4%. In the northwest are the Lugbara, 4%, and the Karamojong, 2% occupy the considerably drier, largely pastoral territory in the northeast. Europeans, Asians, and Arabs make up about 1% of the population with other groups accounting for the remainder.

Uganda's population is predominately rural, and its density is highest in the southern regions. Until 1972, Asians constituted the largest nonindigenous ethnic group in Uganda. In that year, the Idi Amin regime expelled 50,000 Asians, who had been engaged in trade, industry, and various professions. In the years since Amin's overthrow in 1979, Asians have slowly returned. About 3,000 Arabs of various national origins and small numbers of Asians live in Uganda. Other nonindigenous people in Uganda include several hundred Western missionaries and a few diplomats and businesspeople.

When Arab traders moved inland from their enclaves along the Indian Ocean coast of East Africa and reached the interior of Uganda in the 1830s, they found several African kingdoms with well-developed political institutions dating back several centuries. These traders were followed in the 1860s by British explorers searching for the source of the Nile River. Protestant missionaries entered the country in 1877, followed by Catholic missionaries in 1879.

In 1888, control of the emerging British "sphere of interest" in East Africa was assigned by royal charter to the Imperial British East Africa Company, an arrangement strengthened in 1890 by an Anglo-German agreement confirming British dominance over Kenya and Uganda. The high cost of occupying the territory caused the company to withdraw in 1893, and its administrative functions were taken over by a British commissioner. In 1894, the Kingdom of Buganda was placed under a formal British protectorate.

Britain granted internal self-government to Uganda in 1961, with the first elections held on March 1, 1961. Benedicto Kiwanuka of the Democratic Party became the first Chief Minister. Uganda maintained its Commonwealth membership.

In succeeding years, supporters of a centralized state vied with those in favor of a loose federation and a strong role for tribally based local kingdoms. Political maneuvering climaxed in February 1966, when Prime Minister Milton Obote suspended the constitution, assumed all government powers, and removed the president and vice president. In September 1967, a new constitution proclaimed Uganda a republic, gave the president even greater powers, and abolished the traditional kingdoms. On January 25, 1971, Obote's government was ousted in a military coup led by armed forces commander Idi Amin Dada. Amin declared himself president, dissolved the parliament, and amended the constitution to give himself absolute power.

Idi Amin's 8-year rule produced economic decline, social disintegration, and massive human rights violations. The Acholi and Langi tribes were particular objects of Amin's political persecution because Obote and many of his supporters belonged to those tribes and constituted the largest group in the army. In 1978, the International Commission of Jurists estimated that more than 100,000 Ugandans had been murdered during Amin's reign of terror; some authorities place the figure much higher.

In October 1978, Tanzanian armed forces repulsed an incursion of Amin's troops into Tanzanian territory. The Tanzanian force, backed by Ugandan exiles, waged a war of liberation against Amin's troops and Libyan soldiers sent to help him. On April 11, 1979, Kampala was captured, and Amin fled with his remaining forces.

After Amin's removal, the Uganda National Liberation Front formed an interim government with Yusuf Lule as president. This government adopted a ministerial system of administration and created a quasi-parliamentary organ known as the National Consultative Commission (NCC). The NCC and the Lule cabinet reflected widely differing political views. In June 1979, following a dispute over the extent of presidential powers, the NCC replaced President Lule with Godfrey Binaisa. In a continuing dispute over the powers of the interim presidency, Binaisa was removed in May 1980. Thereafter, Uganda was ruled by a military commission chaired by Paulo Muwanga. The December 1980 elections returned the UPC to power under the leadership of President Obote, with Muwanga serving as vice president. Under Obote, the security forces had one of the world's worst human rights records. In their efforts to stamp out an insurgency led by Yoweri Museveni's National Resistance Army (NRA), they lay waste to a substantial section of the country, especially in the Luwero area north of Kampala.

Obote ruled until July 27, 1985, when an army brigade, composed mostly of Acholi troops and commanded by Lt. Gen. Basilio Olara-Okello, took Kampala and proclaimed a military government. Obote fled to exile in Zambia. The new regime, headed by former defense force commander Gen. Tito Okello (no relation to Lt. Gen. Olara-Okello), opened negotiations with the insurgent forces of Yoweri Museveni and pledged to improve respect for human rights, end tribal rivalry, and conduct free and fair elections. In the meantime, massive human rights violations continued as the Okello government murdered civilians and ravaged the countryside in order to destroy the NRA's support.

Negotiations between the Okello government and the NRA were conducted in Nairobi in the fall of 1985, with Kenyan President Daniel Moi seeking a cease-fire and a coalition government in Uganda. Although agreeing in late 1985 to a cease-fire, the NRA continued fighting, seized Kampala in late January 1986, and assumed control of the country, forcing Okello to flee north into Sudan. Museveni's forces organized a government with Museveni as president.

Since assuming power, the government dominated by the political grouping created by Museveni and his followers, the National Resistance Movement (NRM), has largely put an end to the human rights abuses of earlier governments, overseen the successful efforts of a human rights commission established to investigate previous abuses, initiated substantial political liberalization and general press freedom, and instituted broad economic reforms after consultation with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, and donor governments. A constitutional commission was named to draft a new constitution, which was debated and ratified by a popularly elected constituent assembly on July 12, 1995, and promulgated by President Museveni on October 8, 1995.

Under the transitional provisions of the new constitution, the "movement system" will continue for 5 years, including explicit restrictions on activities of political parties, which are nonetheless active. The Constitution also called for a referendum in 2000 to determine whether or not Uganda will adopt a multi-party system of democracy. The referendum was held in March 2000 and by a margin of 70% voters asked to keep the Movement system; the referendum was widely criticized for its low voter turnout and lack of a level playing field.

Insurgent groups--the largest (Lord's Resistance Army) of which used to receive support from Sudan--harass government forces and murder and kidnap civilians in the north and west. They do not, however, threaten the stability of the government. Uganda resumed diplomatic relations with Sudan in 2001, agreeing to reopen missions and exchange diplomats up to the Charge level. The two countries are now planning to resume full diplomatic relations and exchange ambassadors.

In 1998, Uganda deployed a sizable military force to eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), ostensibly to prevent attacks from Ugandan rebel groups operating from bases in eastern DRC, the treat from which has largely been contained..

The executive consists of officials who predominantly espouse movement political views. Yoweri Museveni is the President and the Commander in Chief, Dr. Specioza Wandira Kazibwe is the Vice President, and Apollo Nsibambi is the Prime Minister. The Minister of Foreign Affairs is James Wapakhabulo and the Minister for Defense is Amama Mbabazi .

Legislative responsibility is vested in the 308-person parliament, whose members were elected in June 2001. The Ugandan judiciary operates as an independent branch of government and consists of magistrates courts, the high court, the court of appeals, which also hears constitutional cases as the "constitutional court," and the Supreme Court.

Principal Government Officials
President and Commander in Chief--Yoweri Kaguta Museveni
Vice President--Dr. Gilbert Bukenya
Prime Minister--Apollo Nsibambi
Foreign Minister--James Wapakhabulo
Minister of Defense--Amama Mbabazi
Ambassador to the United States--Edith G. Ssempala

Uganda maintains an embassy in the United States at 5909 16th Street NW, Washington, DC 20011 (tel. 202-726-7100).

Uganda's economy has great potential. Endowed with significant natural resources, including ample fertile land, regular rainfall, and mineral deposits, it appeared poised for rapid economic growth and development at independence. Yet, chronic political instability and erratic economic management produced a record of persistent economic decline that left Uganda among the world's poorest and least-developed countries.

After the turmoil of the Amin era, the country began a program of economic recovery in 1981 that received considerable foreign assistance. From mid-1984 on, however, overly expansionist fiscal and monetary policies and the renewed outbreak of civil strife led to a setback in economic performance.

Since assuming power in early 1986, the government of President Museveni has taken important steps toward economic rehabilitation. The country's infrastructure--notably its transportation and communications systems which were destroyed by war and neglect--is being rebuilt. Recognizing the need for increased external support, Uganda negotiated a policy framework paper with the IMF and the World Bank in 1987. It subsequently began implementing economic policies designed to restore price stability and sustainable balance of payments, improve capacity utilization, rehabilitate infrastructure, restore producer incentives through proper price policies, and improve resource mobilization and allocation in the public sector. By 1990, these policies were beginning to produce results. Inflation, which ran at 240% in 1987 and 42% in June 1992, was 3.4% in 1994-95, 5.4% for fiscal year 1995-96 and 4.6% for 2000-2001.

Investment as a percentage of GDP is estimated at 13.7% in 1999 compared to 18.3% in 1995-96 and 17.9% in 1994-95. Private sector investment, largely financed by private transfers from abroad, was 11.7% of GDP in 1999. Gross National Savings as a percentage of GDP was estimated at 10.5% in 1999. The Ugandan Government also has worked with donor countries to reschedule or cancel substantial portions of the country's external debts.

Agricultural products supply nearly all of Uganda's foreign exchange earnings, with coffee alone (of which Uganda is Africa's leading producer) accounting for about 21% of the country's exports in 2001. Exports of apparel, hides, skins, vegetables, fruits, cut flowers, and fish are growing, and cotton, tea, and tobacco continue to be mainstays.

Most industry is related to agriculture. The industrial sector is being rehabilitated to resume production of building and construction materials, such as cement, reinforcing rods, corrugated roofing sheets, and paint. Domestically produced consumer goods include plastics, soap, cork, beer, and soft drinks.

Uganda has about 30,000 kilometers (18,750 mi.), of roads; some 2,800 kilometers (1,750 mi.) are paved. Most radiate from Kampala. The country has about 1,350 kilometers (800 mi.) of rail lines. A railroad originating at Mombasa on the Indian Ocean connects with Tororo, where it branches westward to Jinja, Kampala, and Kasese and northward to Mbale, Soroti, Lira, Gulu, and Kapwach. Uganda's important road and rail links to Mombasa serve its transport needs and also those of its neighbors--Rwanda, Burundi, and parts of Zaire and Sudan. An international airport is at Entebbe on the shore of Lake Victoria, some 32 kilometers (20 mi.) south of Kampala.

The Ugandan Government seeks good relations with all nations and welcomes contacts without reference to ideological orientation. Relations with Kenya and Rwanda have been periodically strained because of security concerns and/or occasional disagreements on trade.

In the past, neighbors were concerned about Uganda's relationship with Libya, which had supplied military equipment and bartered fuel to Uganda. In addition to its friendly ties to Western nations, Uganda has maintained ties with North Korea. Uganda's strained relations with Sudan have improved since Sudan discontinued support to the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) and other rebel groups. Uganda and Sudan have reestablished diplomatic relations at the Charg´┐Ż level and plan to upgrade them to the ambassadorial level, but relations are likely to continue to be tense. The LRA seeks to overthrow the Uganda Government and has inflicted brutal violence on the population in northern Uganda, including rape, kidnapping, torture, and murder. The Uganda and Sudan recently signed a Protocol permitting the UPDF to enter southern Sudan and engage the LRA.

Another rebel group operating in western Uganda and eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, near the Rwenzori Mountains, the Allied Democratic Forces, emerged as a localized threat in 1996 and has inflicted substantial suffering on the population in the area. It has largely been defeated by the UPDF and the areas secured.

The Uganda Peoples Defense Force (UPDF)--previously the National Resistance Army--constitutes the armed forces of Uganda. Due to the Sudanese-backed insurgencies, the Ministry of Defense increased defense spending in 1995, 1996, and 1997. U.S. military forces in the past have participated with the UPDF in training activities for the African Crisis Response Initiative. U.S. military assistance was terminated in 2000 as a result of the Ugandan incursion into the DRC and engagement with Rwandan forces.

U.S.-Ugandan relations were strained and ultimately all but broken during Idi Amin's rule. In 1973, persistent security problems and increasingly difficult operating circumstances forced withdrawal of U.S. Peace Corps volunteers and the termination of bilateral U.S. economic assistance. In November 1973, after repeated public threats against U.S. embassy officials and after the expulsion of Marine security guards responsible for protecting U.S. Government property and personnel, the embassy was closed. In 1978, Congress legislated an embargo of all U.S trade with Uganda.

Relations improved after Amin's fall. In mid-1979, the United States reopened its embassy in Kampala. Relations with successor governments were cordial, although Obote and his administration rejected strong U.S. criticism of Uganda's human rights situation. Bilateral relations between the United States and Uganda have been good since Museveni assumed power, and the United States has welcomed his efforts to end human rights abuses and to pursue economic reform. At the same time, the United States remains concerned about continuing human rights problems and the pace of progress toward the establishment of political pluralism.

In the early-to mid-1980s, the United States provided about $10 million in assistance to Uganda annually, mostly in the form of humanitarian aid (food, medical supplies, hospital rehabilitation, and disaster relief) and agricultural equipment needed to promote economic recovery in the food and cash crop sectors of Uganda's rural economy. The U.S. Agency for International Development currently is funding a multifaceted development program at a level of about $80 million per year, both direct assistance and Food for Peace commodities.

The Department of State has carried out a cultural exchange program aiding the National Theater and other cultural institutions, bringing Fulbright professors to teach at Makerere University, and sponsoring U.S. study and tour programs for many government officials. U.S. Peace Corps maintains volunteers in the country working in education.

Significant contributions to Ugandan health care, nutrition, education, and park systems from U.S. missionaries, non-governmental organizations, private universities, AIDS researchers, and wildlife organizations have brought long-term benefits to U.S.-Ugandan relations.

Principal U.S. Officials
Ambassador--Jimmy Kolker
Deputy Chief of Mission--Donald Teitelbaum
Public Affairs Officer--Mary Jeffers
Director, USAID--Vicki Moore

The new U.S. Embassy to Uganda was completed and occupied in April 2001. The address is Plot 1577, Ggaba Road Kampala; tel. 259792/3/5; fax: 259-794.

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