How Nyerere convinced Obote not to attend Moshi Conference

Sunday January 19 2020

In March 1979, towards the fall of former president Idi Amin’s government, the leaders of Ugandan exiles were organised by the Tanzanian government in the town of Moshi to meet and decide on the next government.

The government of Tanzania, under then president Julius Nyerere gave the responsibilities of organising the conference to four men who later earned the title of the “Gang of Four.”

The four men were Prof Omwony Ojwok, Prof Yash Tandon, Prof Dani Wadada Nabudere and Prof Edward Rugumayo. The latter had served in Amin’s Cabinet and yet another was appointed by Amin to the East African Community.

Thus to Obote, the credibility of the outcome of the conference became promptly doubtful even before the meeting was convened.

Suggestion for Conference
In his memoir The Role of UPC in the Removal of Amin, Obote says the Moshi Conference and its initial good intention were his proposals to president Nyerere.
He says in December 1978, he held a meeting with Nyerere to discuss the overview of the war against Amin. In that meeting, he says, Nyerere kept insisting that Tanzania People’s Defence Force (TPDF) invades Kampala in the coming three months.

“I expressed opposition to that idea. I told the president that it would be most damaging to the Tanzanian image in Africa and in the world for Tanzania to expose herself to accusations that they had become a colonial power,” Obote writes.


He, however, says Nyerere’s response was that he could not leave Uganda in a vacuum without a government. Obote explains that he then suggested to Nyerere two possible ways by which Tanzania would handle the matter.

One was convening a conference of Ugandans in either Masaka or Mbarara immediately after the fall of either districts. The second was holding a conference in either Uganda or Tanzania after the entire country had been liberated.

Even if this idea seemed good to Nyerere, Obote notes, the president kept insisting that since TPDF and the Tanzanian police would still be present in Uganda, such an interim government would still be seen as a puppet of Tanzania.

Nevertheless, Nyerere asked Obote to write a paper on various aspects of the conference. He, however, told Obote that he did not want those Ugandans who insulted him for not recognising Amin to be included in the interim government.

“The papers I wrote were sent to president Nyerere through the director of intelligence service who kept returning to me to expand on this and that theme, which I did. I worked on the papers almost day and night,” Obote recounts.

Obote says in March 1979, he received a letter from the director of intelligence service inviting him to the conference at Moshi, together with five UPC members.
He says much as he had received an invitation to attend the conference, he became suspicious because the Tanzanian government had agreed to a team of UPC economists attending the conference, but not mobilisers.

At that point, Obote says, he received information that Paul Mwanga, the UPC political commissar, and Gen Tito Okello Lutwa, the commander of Kikosi Maalum, the UPC army, were not needed at the conference.

He says his suspicion was confirmed when Nyerere came to his residence that same day.
“The president spoke to me passionately, urging me not to go to the conference without giving a clear reason for this. He told me that there would be no one at the conference who would erase what I had done for Uganda and that Kikosi Maalum was my army whose participation in the war would enable the people of Uganda to give me much praise for their liberation,” Obote writes.

He says diplomacy forced him to agree to Nyerere’s urgings, but he pleaded with the president to allow Paul Mwanga and Tito Okello attend the meeting, to which he agreed.

He, however, notes that he gained the uncomfortable impression that the president was under great pressure from outside, compelling him against his will, to sideline the UPC from getting anywhere near power in Uganda after Amin’s fall.

Obote says he later learnt that the government of Tanzania had been pressured by the British to ensure that he and his UPC party did not return to power after Amin. The British had thought if Obote attended the conference, his presence would overshadow Prof Yusuf Lule, the British stooge, the paper says.

The Moshi Conference
According to Obote, the first day of the Moshi Conference was chaotic. While radio stations were reporting that Ugandans in exile were meeting at a conference, what was happening was different.

He claims that while he had drafted the original purpose of the conference to make its attendants leaders and liberators of Uganda, the organisers decided to exclude many, adding others that included non-existing groups.

UPC and the Democratic Party (DP) being the main political parties in Uganda at the time, Obote says were allocated three seats each, the same with “the imaginary Muthaiga Club formed in Moshi by Martin Aliker and Grace Ibingira.”

Obote notes that at that point, he received a call from Moshi and was informed that the conference was very tense and that even before the names were called for nominations, one would sense the conference was divided in three ways.
He says the general mood at the conference was for UPC political commissar Mwanga to become chairman of the Uganda National Liberation Front (UNLF), but there were also some few supporters of Lule and Edward Rugumayo.

At that point, Obote says, the Tanzanian minister supervising the conference sensed that should there be nominations and votes, Mwanga would win. He was left with no option but to direct the conference to be adjourned and then took Mwanga, Tito Okello and Lule behind the conference hall for a separate meeting.

When the conference resumed, Obote says, Okello was the first to speak. Instead of addressing the conference, he directed his remarks to Mwanga that he should not stand for the post of chairman and leave it to Lule since he (Okello) and Mwanga had very important task on the frontline. Thus Lule was elected the UNLF chairman and the president of Uganda by acclamation.

Obote claims that at that point, the ‘Gang of Four’ led the UPC and Milton Obote’s haters in a chorus that UPC and Obote had been overthrown in another coup. He says the most absurd decisions taken by Lule and his UNLF during and after the conference was to degrade and demean UPC and then pretend that they had made UPC army Kikosi Maalum, then on the frontline, to be renamed Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA).
Mwanga was then elected chairman of the Military Commission and given direct control of UNLA.

Lule failed to make a cabinet lists
Shortly after the conference at Moshi, Obote says president Nyerere tasked Lule to name a Cabinet. He says Nyerere had told him that as long as TPDF was still in Uganda, he would not allow the portfolios of Finance, Defence and Internal Affairs in the UNLF government to be filled by someone who was not friendly to Tanzania.

Obote claims Lule submitted the first list of his ministers to Nyerere, but they comprised of some very old people, including those who had served in the colonial government, and even Lule himself did not know whether they were still alive or dead.

Obote says Nyerere rejected three ministerial lists submitted by Lule and asked him (Obote) to help Lule come up with a Cabinet list.

“I told the president that since I was not a member of UNLF, I had no locus standi to get involved in the affairs of the UNLF. I also told him that the UNLF leaders jubilated and sang choruses at Moshi that they had overthrown the UPC in another coup, which had pained me greatly,” Obote writes.

He says Nyerere’s response was that unless the UNLF worked with him (Obote), their government would be without the support of the people of Uganda and that it would not last, insisting that if he could not meet Lule, at least he should meet UNLF vice chairman Akena p’Ojok, to which he agreed.

Obote says when he met Akena p’Ojok and his team at his residence, he led them into composing a tentative list of ministers which Akena p’Ojok took to Lule, who then forwarded it to Nyerere.

Meeting in Mwanza
Obote says in June 1979, Nyerere invite him to accompany him to Mwanza to meet President Lule and his ministers.
He, however, told Nyerere he was an outsider and pleaded with the president to leave him out of the meeting.
“I want Lule and his ministers to know that you and me are one in all matters,” Nyerere allegedly replied, thus the two went together to Mwanza.

At the meeting, Obote says he witnessed accusations and counter accusations and he would see that the UNLF leaders, for whatever reason they had become a government, had lost Nyerere’s confidence and would not last.

At lunch break, Nyerere took Obote and President Lule to a room and asked Lule whether it was true that he was planning to appoint a bishop as vice president. Lule’s answer was that the matter was still under consideration.
“I advise you to appoint Milton,” Nyerere advised.

Obote says before he could respond, Lule shot up and said although Obote had supporters in Uganda, he also had enemies and he (Lule) could not guarantee his security. He instead offered to appoint Obote ambassador to the UN so that he would go away to New York in USA.

This reaction angered Nyerere who then asked Lule whether he knew who was guaranteeing his security in Uganda, to which Lule said it was TPDF.
“I told the two presidents that I was not looking for a job and would not accept to be vice president or an ambassador,” Obote writes.

He says the meeting in the afternoon continued and ended without any meaningful decision to bridge the rift in the UNLF administration.

The hollowness of the UNLF was exposed just after 68 days of Lule’s presidency when on that night its national executives voted to remove him from power and proposed Godfrey Binaisa who had also been seen as unfit to attend the Moshi Conference and had been locked out.
Obote notes that Binaisa, just like Lule, had to depend on the Gang of Four who were inconsistent and unreliable.

The UNLF eventually came to a premature end when Binaisa attempted to remove the army Chief of Staff, Maj Gen David Oyite-Ojok, and announced his posting as ambassador to Algeria without consulting the executive council.
Binaisa was put under house arrest by the army and finally removed from power.