Country Listing

Uganda Table of Contents


Surprise Political Tactics

The adroit political maneuvering of the NRM disguised its weakness in implementing its political agenda. Two of the more important political initiatives it took during its first four years were the general elections of February 1989 and the extension of interim rule the following October. In both cases, the government designed the initiatives to protect itself. It kept tight control by surprising its opponents and then moving too fast to permit them to take any political advantages. Museveni announced the February elections only three weeks before they began. The rules ensured that the NRM could not lose control over the government, regardless of the outcome. Aspiring candidates had to make an immediate choice to oppose the electoral system or to participate in it.

The NRM's October 1989 extension of the interim period until 1995 broke the most important promise the NRM had made in taking power, though the difficulties created by the war and the economy had made the four-year deadline impractical. The NRM rushed legislation for the five-year extension through the NRC in one week, despite demands from some parliamentarians for time to consult their constituents. The first person in Uganda ever to resign from parliament did so over the government's failure to allow public discussion of this issue. The government undoubtedly feared that a public campaign against the extension would serve as a vehicle for other political issues and so cripple its legitimacy. As in the case of outwitting the Baganda clan heads, the government's clever tactics helped it win the day but only at the expense of attending to its own agenda. In addition, NRM leaders were sufficiently flexible to bring their opponents into office under the umbrella of broad-based government, but that also reduced their political options by forcing them to respond to their opponents' interests in maintaining their own ethnic, religious, and patronage connections.

At the same time, until 1990 the government did not use surprise tactics to set up a new constitution. It allowed the commission appointed for that purpose to take two years to collect public testimony and write a draft. Indeed, completing the constitutional process without a rush was an important reason for extending the interim period. NRM leaders knew the minefield of Ugandan politics. Giving their opponents more time or room for maneuver might have mired each initiative or forced the government into using coercion and losing any chance to build political support. The interconnections of the north-south question, the Buganda question, and the party question made the government's tactical strategy all the more imperative. The NRM's use of tactics, so reminiscent of its surprise attacks during the guerrilla struggle against the Obote government, allowed it to retain the political initiative. But it also indicated that NRM leaders had discovered how difficult and how slow it would be to make any of the fundamental changes they had called for in the Ten-Point Program.

Data as of December 1990