It is 40 years since Prof Yusuf Lule was overthrown, just after 68 days in power, making his the shortest reign in country’s history. But unlike other coups, this was a bloodless coup carried out within the confines of the State House.
Prof Lule was sworn in on April 13, 1979, only to be overthrown on June 20, 1979, by some of the very people who had appointed him president during the unity conference in the Tanzanian town of Moshi.
Uganda’s fifth president had been invited to the Moshi Conference as one of the two special guests, the other being Paulo Muwanga. The conference brought together Ugandans in the diaspora who were opposed to the Idi Amin regime in Kampala, which was facing an imminent fall following Amin’s invasion of Tanzania and Julius Nyerere in response backing of forces opposed to Amin.
According to Prof Tarsi Kabwegyere, the convener of the Moshi Conference, the invitation of Lule was a well calculated move.
“Mwalimu [Nyerere] was very clear. He wanted the world to know that this was a Ugandan effort. Among those who attended the conference was Lule who had been known to Nyerere from when the Tanzanian president was a student at Makerere,” he says.
Lule’s tribe and employment record was of relevance to his presence and eventual choice as president of the post-Amin era.
“Getting to Kampala from any direction, you have to go through Buganda. Thus you don’t need to have any hostility with Baganda. Lule was a prominent man from Buganda, had no record of being in UPC [Uganda Peoples Congress] or DP [Democratic Party]. In fact, he was a KY [Kabaka Yekka] man. He had worked with the Commonwealth, so he was needed diplomatically,” says Kabwegyere.
The more than 20 groups – some of them phantom groups – that met in Moshi agreed and formed the Uganda National Liberation Front (UNLF).
Three names had been proposed for the post of president: They were Martin Aliker, Prof Yusuf Lule and Paulo Muwanga.
“Dr Aliker stood down for Lule and he went ahead to campaign for him. In his campaign for Lule, he [Aliker] told Muwanga to also step down because he was not a man of substance,” Kabwegyere recalls.
During the three-day conference, administrative structures were put in place to be followed when the regime in Kampala fell.
According to Prof Wangoola-Wangoola, a former member of the NCC, the post-Amin president was to follow the Moshi spirit and be accountable to the National Consultative Council (NCC) which was the interim Parliament. But when they got to Kampala, the president seemed to be reading from a different script.
“There were a lot of negotiations to have the president inaugurate Parliament. When he met us, he was announcing his 52-man Cabinet which had not been approved by the NCC. He instead said it was not time for talking, but work,” Wangoola- Wangoola says.
Not only was the appointed Cabinet not approved by the NCC, it also out-numbered the NCC. This raised concern among the NCC members who said they had not been consulted about the appointments as stipulated by the Moshi Conference.
“When we reached Kampala, Lule said he does not have to consult the NCC, he will only do so if he so wished. Besides the appointment of the Cabinet, he wanted to replace the Tanzanian forces with the British soldiers,” Kabwegyere says.
With NCC rejecting the Cabinet, tension between the Executive and the Legislature was inevitable.
The NCC wanted answers from the president for his actions, and after a lot of legwork by the chairman of the NCC, Prof Edward Rugumayo, a meeting was agreed upon at State House which Lule hardly left.
According to Kabwegyere, NCC’s rejection of the Cabinet was a deliberate move.
“We did not want people in Cabinet that were not acceptable to the NCC,” he says.
And true to their fears, some of the choices for Cabinet posts were questionable.
Within the NCC, a caucus was formed. The members included Wangoola-Wangola who says they wanted to know whether the president was accountable to the people or not.
“We went to that meeting to test whether president Lule derives his power from the Moshi Conference, and whether he should submit to the NCC as the top organ,” he says.
“We also drew scenarios, like in case he submits to NCC what should be done and what should be done if he does not submit. At Entebbe we told him, ‘Mr President you appointed your Cabinet but under the UNLF the president doesn’t have power to appoint the Cabinet without the ratification of the parliament’.
“He said, ‘no, I made these appointments under the 1967 Constitution. It gives me the power and it does not talk about you. Therefore, I cannot give you the list because according to the Constitution you are alien. I don’t know you’.”
The bone of contention was the four names NCC did not want on the Cabinet list. They were Dr Andrew Kayiira, Serumaga, Dr Robert Sebunya and Grace Ibingira.
“We didn’t agree with the way Kayiira worked. Serumaga had been implicated in the murder of three land valuers from the ministry of Lands, while Ibingira, who had also become Lule’s advisor, had been Obote’s advisor, and Obote’s mistakes originated from his advice. No one in the NCC wanted him in Cabinet,” explains Kabwegyere.
Having been dismissed, the 18 members of the NCC who were at Entebbe discussed a way forward.
Wangoola-Wangoola tabled a motion of no confidence in the president.
It read in part: “We should have a president who understands that he derives his power from the Moshi Conference. Such a president should be willing to abide by the Moshi agreement, otherwise we as the NCC leave, or he leaves and another person who follows the Moshi spirit is appointed.”
Wangoola-Wangoola says: “We, therefore, decided that Lule cannot remain president of Uganda when he disowned us yet his legitimacy, power and authority come from UNLF, which he disowned by adopting the 1967 constitution. We, therefore, disowned him.”
Prof Yash Tandon seconded the motion and it was put to vote. Out of the 18 members of the NCC that attended the meeting, 14 voted for the motion and four against it.
According to Wangoola-Wangoola, the reason for the vote was simple and Lule could have negotiated, but he never did.
Kabwegyere says, “I was among the four that voted for him to stay. I still felt I wasn’t so sure how that gap was to be filled. Immediately after the vote, the four who had voted Lule walked out with him.”
Wangoola-Wangoola says removing Lule from office was not premeditated.
“Nobody wanted to remove him, but we had agreed that if he doesn’t play ball we remove him. All we wanted was for him to remove four names from his Cabinet list and also for him to know that he cannot make appointments without our approval. He could have talked us into approving everybody, but he was adamant,” he says.
Lule picked his papers and walked out to a private dining room upstairs inside State House. Immediately the process to have him replaced started.
About Moshi Conference
The 28 groups at the Moshi Conference, which sat from March 24 to 26, 1979, and formed the Uganda National Liberation Front (UNLF), were basically divided into “militarists” and “democrats”.
The Democratic Party (DP), Save Uganda Movement, Uganda Freedom Union to which Godfrey Binaisa belonged, and a few others were deemed to be democrats, while Yoweri Museveni’s Front for National Salvation (Fronasa) and the Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC), to which the Kikosi Maalum led by Gen Tito Okello and David Oyite-Ojok were linked, were deemed to be militarists.
While the militarists believed in the establishment of a government headed by another militarist with civilians playing an auxiliary support function, especially in the area of diplomacy and raising the much needed resources for the country’s rehabilitation, the democrats believed in the establishment of a civilian-led government and subordinating the military to civilian authority.
Early fault lines
Prof Wangoola, who moved the motion that culminated into president Lule’s removal, says matters were further complicated by the fact that even the so called democrats did not agree on the source of the president’s power and to what extent he could dispense that power.
While he accepted the presidency at the Moshi Conference, Lule did not believe that he was bound by what had been agreed upon in the conference.
He did not believe that he derived his authority from Moshi, which would have made him accountable to the NCC, which was an organ of the UNLF.
NCC did not want four names on the Cabinet list. Serumaga had been implicated in the murder of three land valuers from the ministry of Lands, while Ibingira, who had also become Lule’s advisor, had been Obote’s advisor, and Obote’s mistakes originated from his advice. No one in the NCC wanted him in Cabinet.