The rise and fall of Yusufu Lule, Binaisa

Saturday March 5 2011

Cuba President Fidel Castro (R) meets Binaisa

Cuba President Fidel Castro (R) meets Binaisa on arrival for the Non aligned conference in Havana. 

Prof. Yusufu Kironde Lule (1912-1985) will go down in history as the shorted-lived head of state in East Africa, having ruled for only 68 days in 1979. He was succeeded by Godfrey Lukongwa Binaisa (1920-2010) who ruled for 11 months. Saturday Monitor's Timothy Kalyegira examines the reasons why each of them fell from grace to grass.

Professor Yusufu Kironde Lule (1912-1985) will go down in history as the shorted-lived head of state in East Africa, having ruled for only 68 days in 1979. He was succeeded by Godfrey Lukongwa Binaisa (1920-2010) who ruled for 11 months.

Many Ugandans over the last 30 years have mused over these short-lived presidencies. In truth, the real story is not in why these two men ruled for a short time but rather how in the first place they came to occupy State House almost by accident.

Vacuum after Amin's fall
Just as how the January 1971 military coup had been a British military plot against Obote, the 1978-79 war had a lot of British backing. As a condition to Tanzania for financing the war and providing military equipment, Britain expressed its wish to President Julius Nyerere for Obote to not be allowed to succeed Amin.

Furthermore, Baganda in London had also put pressure on Britain not to support the return of Obote to power after Amin’s fall. Efforts, then, were made to keep Obote away from the Moshi Unity Conference of March 1979, even though Obote remained the most influential figure in Ugandan politics. Had the natural political order been allowed to take its course, Obote should have played a key part in the conference. He was a friend of President Nyerere. He had been one of the original founders of the Organisation of African Unity and at the core of the East African Community, as well as having supported the independence and anti-apartheid liberation movements of southern Africa.

The largest Ugandan armed exile group, Kikosi Maluum, commanded by Col. Tito Okello and Lt. Col. David Oyite-Ojok, was loyal to and essentially patronised by Obote.

Many attending the Moshi Conference accused Obote’s Uganda Peoples Congress party of having created many of the 22 exile groups at Moshi to enable them gain extra votes and make it possible for Obote to be elected the president of the Uganda National Liberation Front (UNLF). As such, the Moshi Conference, although called to determine the composition of the new post-Amin government, took on the form of some kind of referendum on Obote.

In fact, Obote and Nyerere are the two men who called and organised the Moshi Conference. Obote chaired a meeting in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania on November 28, 1978 at which he contacted Ugandan exiles in Europe, the United States, Zambia, Kenya and other countries to plan the post-Amin period. Even with this track record, the most influential Ugandan politician could not be permitted to attend a conference called to discuss the post-Amin Uganda.

The rise and fall of Lule
This ban on Obote at the Moshi Conference left a political vacuum in Uganda after Amin’s government was finally overthrown in April 1979. To fill in this vacuum, the only recourse was to arrive at a compromise and head hunt compromise candidates.

Since to appease Britain and the Baganda, Obote could not even set foot at the Moshi Conference, and since Buganda support would be essential to the UNLF government, the ideal compromise candidate would be a Muganda. But since there were powerful competing forces at Moshi like Paulo Muwanga of the UPC, Yoweri Museveni of the FRONASA group, Ateker Ejalu of the Save Uganda Movement and many others, the Muganda in question could not be somebody like Paulo Kawanga Ssemogerere of the Democratic Party or any other Muganda with a real power base inside Uganda.

Makerere University was still a much-respected institution in Uganda and the rest of East Africa, having educated many prominent public officials, including President Nyerere, the Tanzanian Foreign Minister Benjamin Mkapa and the Kenyan minister Mwai Kibaki. A Tanzanian called Idi Simba, who had been the director of the African Development Bank in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, is the man who first proposed Lule’s name as a suitable successor to Amin.

In their 1982 book, War in Uganda, journalists Tony Avirgan and Martha Honey noted that “While it is perhaps too strong to state that Lule’s selection was stage-managed by outside powers, it is clear that he became an increasingly attractive candidate to the British, Kenyans and the Commonwealth Secretariat as well as key Tanzanian officials” (page 108).

This is how the Moshi delegates settled on Professor Yusufu Kironde Lule, the former principal of Makerere University College. As an academician, he had an unthreatening and decent image and no power base whatsoever. However, after he was sworn-in on April 13, 1979, Lule discovered what all politicians eventually discover: the intoxicating, self-actualising effect of power.

The rise, fall of Binaisa
Lule, who had been politically active while in exile in London during the 1970s, felt comfortable in his role as head of state. However, there soon emerged a tension in the Ugandan body politic on what Constitution governed the country.

The Moshi Conference had come up with a Constitution that appointed a president and a powerful body, the National Consultative Council (NCC) with the powers to remove the president among other powers. Although Lule was a conservative and had bitterly opposed the abolition of the traditional kingdoms in 1967, as president he discovered how much power the 1967 Constitution gave him.

The Moshi Constitution gave certain executive powers to the NCC and placed many limits on the powers of the President. The 1967 Constitution gave the president wide-ranging powers, among which being that he could appoint his cabinet single-handedly. The Moshi constitution fobade such decision-making that did not consult the NCC. The tensions among the elite were over what Constitution should government the post-Amin era, the Moshi Constitution of 1979 or the Republican Uganda Constitution of 1967.

Lule insisted that the 1967 Constitution had not been overruled by the Moshi Constitution of the UNLF while the chairman of the NCC, Mr Edward Rugumayo, said the Moshi Constitution had been agreed upon as ruling Uganda after Amin’s fall.

Key Lule advisors like Semei Nyanzi, Dr. Arnold Bisase, and Grace Ibingira preferred Lule to govern Uganda under the 1967 Constitution. When Lule announced a cabinet reshuffle and appointment of new ministers in June 1979, the tensions over the Moshi versus the 1967 Constitution reached a head and the NCC called a vote of no confidence, resulting in the removal of Lule from office on June 20, 1979.

The former Attorney-General and like Lule a Muganda, Godfrey Lukongwa Binaisa, was selected to succeed Lule. Like Lule, Binaisa with his high academic qualifications bore that air of western-educated respectability essential for a post-Amin Uganda. “We (NCC, in selecting a successor to Lule) also wanted a person with knowledge of how a government works. That is when we brought in Godfrey Binaisa”, said the NCC’s Chairman, Professor Edward Rugumayo, on why Binaisa had been selected. Binaisa’s rise and fall was similar to that of Yusufu Lule. Like Lule, Binaisa was an interim head of state, a stop-gap candidate selected for a period until the proper balance of political power could be restored.

Exercising full control
But as President, like Lule, Binaisa moved to exercise his full executive powers under the 1967 Constitution, leading in turn to the real political and military powers that had appointed him to remove them from power, which happened to Binaisa on May 11, 1980.

In due time, with the return from nine years in exile on May 27, 1980 of Milton Obote and the announcement of a December 10, 1980 general election with the UPC and DP --- Uganda’s two oldest and most popular parties --- as the main contenders, the natural political order returned to the country.

Why Lule fell so quickly from power

Uganda’s political landscape has always been full of intrigue, scheming and rivalry. However, it has never been so acute as to cause a head of state to last only 68 days in power. Lule was a former university professor and his presidency was excitedly received in many parts of Uganda. African presidents had routinely being abusing their offices or overstepping the limits of their power since the start of the independence wave in the late 1950s. So whatever the National Consultative Council accused Lule of cannot have been the real reason behind his fall.

Something extraordinary must have led to Lule’s fall from power so dramatically and so quickly. Some background can clear the mystery. After Lule’s swearing-in at the Parliament Buildings in Kampala on April 13, 1979 and his official address to the nation in English, Lule addressed himself to Baganda in Luganda by stating something to the effect that “Our turn has come”.

Present that day was the Tanzanian Defence Minister Rashid Kawawa. In Tanzania, in the interest of forging national unity, it had been forbidden for government officials to speak their tribal languages at state events and only Kiswahili was permitted of the African languages.

When Kawawa was told what Lule had told the thousands of Baganda that day, he got angry and expressed disbelief that the respected Lule could get so triba on his very first day as president. Others present like the new Minister of State for Defence Yoweri Museveni were angered by that. The new army chief of staff, Lt. Col. David Oyite-Ojok, found it amusing and laughed it off.

During the first cabinet meeting at State House in Entebbe the next week, Oyite-Ojok attended. According to Super FM’s researcher and political historian Ssemwanga Kisolo speaking on his history show Emboozi Teba Nkadde, about Lule’s fall on Friday February 25, 2011, Lule did not know Oyite-Ojok.

When he asked him who this man in a battle steel helmet was, Oyite-Ojok said “I am Lt. Col. David Oyite-Ojok”. Unable to grasp his names, Lule said “Okay, I’ll call you David. That’s easier”. The dismay at Lule’s tribalism and condescending attitude, coming so soon after many officials had held commander roles in the war against Amin, embittered the UNLF political establishment. This, more than a minor breach of presidential powers, was the real and unreported reason behind Lule’s fall from office in so short a time.