Inside Ibingira’s plot to depose Obote – Part I

Former minister of Justice Grace K. Ibingira (left) and former prime minister Milton Obote. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • Minister Grace Ibingira claimed that prime minister Obote had aligned himself with the Communist East, forfeited Uganda’s independence external position and betrayed his UPC party.

Mid-1965, Uganda’s executive prime minister Milton Obote made a prolonged trip to Eastern Europe and China.
His visits followed the December 1964 US trip by former minister of Justice Grace K. Ibingira and vice president Wilberforce Nadiope, also Kyabazinga of Busoga at the time, along with other Uganda People's Congress (UPC) party supporters.
Ibingira, under the guise of touring his ranch in Ankole, had led his UPC supporters to the US to allegedly raise funds to bolster his capitalist orientation. When he came back to Uganda, it is said Ibingira used the money to expand his following within the party.

According to ABK Kasozi’s book Social Origins of Violence in Uganda 1964-1985, while in the US, Ibingira informed the US government that Obote would soon be removed from office and that the US would expect a more friendly and responsible government in Uganda. On his return to Uganda, Obote was greeted by a concerted series of increasingly bitter challenges for his visits and foreign policy.
In a speech whose lack of specific names was a device that left many concerned Ugandans in doubt as to its target, minister Ibingira claimed that Obote had aligned himself with the Communist East, forfeited Uganda’s independence external position and betrayed his party. For this, Ibingira suggested that the prime minister must be summarily removed from office.

Speaking for the prime minister, former minister of Information and Broadcasting Adoko Nekyon and then Agriculture minister John Kakonge in substantively near identical addresses blasted certain Ugandan politicians as “sent agents of foreign powers” whose betrayal of the people of Uganda was attempting to instigate the removal of proper authorities (Obote and his government). 
Ibingira’s struggle to seize control of UPC and deposing Obote had started shortly after being elected UPC secretary general in April 1964.
With Obote’s support, Ibingira had defeated the reigning secretary general John Kakonge and he soon started to use his newly acquired position to purge the party of a number of Obote’s supporters.

Following the October 1965 speeches, rumours of an impending coup against Obote filled the air and the rift between the two seemed too wide that the final showdown was inevitable. The apparent truce suddenly collapsed in February 1966. 
At this moment, Obote had clearly decided Ibingira’s political life. Ibingira had built an executive committee of tenuous Cabinet majority but did not have the UPC parliamentary group majority on his side.
Worthy of note is that in May 1965, Ibingira had pushed for an amendment on the floor of Parliament to the police ordinance that allowed police to crush any public meeting. However, when he attempted to convene his UPC conference in his capacity as party secretary general, police acting under the authority of the new statute, prevented Ibingira’s meeting.

Muteesa joins Ibingira’s plot
Meanwhile, following the bitter collapse of the UPC- Kabaka Yekka (KY) alliance in 1964 over the “lost counties”, president Edward Muteesa, also Buganda king, fearing that UPC under Obote would deny his kingdom its traditional autonomy, proceeded to instruct the Baganda Members of Parliament to join UPC with a goal of bolstering Ibingira’s position to unseat Obote and thus allowing the reorientation of the UPC-KY coalition that would be more favourable to Buganda.
At this point, Ibingira’s strategy was cogent. He went ahead to organise the non-Baganda southerners into his working alliance popularly known as the “Bantu Group’’. But the two legs of his policy were mutually contradictory. Ibingira’s followers were all southerners and westerners, except for Mityana MP Daudi Ochieng who was an adopted Muganda from Acholi. 

However, not all the central, southern and western politicians followed Ibingira. In Busoga and Bunyoro, there was a fear that any increase in Kabaka’s power would pose a threat to their kingdom interests. 
Originally, vice president and also Busoga King had been promised presidency by Ibingira with Balaki Kirya, Bukedi MP, as prime minister and Ibingira himself to serve as secretary general and governmental eminence grise.

Ibingira also promised semi-autonomy for Buganda, the rule of aristocracy in Buganda Kingdom and retention of presidency of Uganda by Kabaka Muteesa.
Despite contradiction in his promises, Ibingira wooed the Kabaka’s men. His group’s growing identification with the KY floor crossers had been instigated by the rumours that the Kabaka was planning to join Ibingira’s UPC faction. 
Consequently, by January 1966, Ibingira’s plot had gained serious momentum and thus posed a great threat to Obote and his government.

On February 4, 1966, Ibingira leaked data of the corruption allegation in connection with the Congolese revolutionary government, on the alleged Obote’s subversive guerrilla training camp in Mt Elgon and on the alleged Obote-Onama-Nekyon-Amin’s coup plot.
With emergency of the civil war in the eastern Belgian Congo (now Democratic Republic of Congo), Obote had sent his deputy army commander, Col Idi Amin, to aid the rebels who were being pressed by the Congolese army chief of staff (and later president) Col Mobutu Sese Seko, who was pursuing the rebels towards the Ugandan border and Obote ordered Amin to help the rebels and also to guard his home territory. 
Ibingira’s document alleged that the rebels often came to Entebbe, stayed in Amin’s house from where Obote usually met them. 

“Their greatest need is arms and transport. They have truckloads of gold and ivory they seized as they retreated from the areas once they occupied,” Ibingira’s document alleged. 
According to Ibingira, Col Amin as the Congolese rebel contact, sold the gold and ivory and bought them arms. Ibingira claimed that in all Amin’s dealings, no records were kept. The goods came in trucks to his house in Entebbe and he did not have to account for what he had sold. 
Ibingira further alleged that out of those dealings, Amin had been banking for himself a large sum of money to the tune of $1m. 

The news of Amin’s sudden wealth soon leaked out, followed by an inevitable probe bound to expose and embarrass prime minister Obote.
On the same day, February 4, 1966, while Obote was on his upcountry tour in Nebi (West Nile), Ibingira convened a Cabinet meeting to recognise the complaint.
On February 10, MP Ochieng moved a motion on the floor of Parliament charging Amin with corruption and accusing Obote and the Defence minister Felix Onama of being complicit in their actions. 
After the debate, the inquiry into the alleged illegal transaction was authorised. If Obote was found to be guilty, he would be removed from his office as prime minister and both Amin and Onama would also lose their positions.

Following Ochieng’s motion in Parliament, coup rumours swept across the country and Obote’s days in office were seen as numbered. Kasozi notes that correspondents from all corners descended on Kampala like vultures to witness the end.
According to the New Africa Magazine of March 3 1967 Vol.6, No.1, in early February amid tension, president Muteesa, in anticipation of a possible coup, attempted to seize the opportunity by approaching the UK High Commissioner in Kampala to inquire whether he could secure Her Majesty the Queen’s forces to back him should he decide to remove the government and either rule directly or install a new government. 

The answer should, however, be noted, was “no” by the High Commissioner. Muteesa again approached several judges to seek their advice on the removal of the prime minister and appointment of the new government. 
He finally turned to several army officers led by the army commander, Shaban Opolot, regarding their support for engineering and backing such a change of government.

Next Sunday read about Obote’s 
reaction to the political machinations