History & Politics

An unsettled history

Idi Amin

Idi AminIn this video… Charles talks about Idi Amin, former President of Uganda (1971 – 1979). He was a brutal dictator and many people died during his regime.

Uganda’s recent history includes civil war and two brutal dictatorships. In a country with so much beauty and natural wealth, how did this happen?

For a start, areas of the north have long been neglected in terms of education, transport links and development.

The historical influence of Arab merchants and Catholic and Protestant missionaries also caused Ugandans of different religions to fight for dominance.

The British, who took over in the 1890s, favoured the Protestant Bagandans (people of Buganda). This group was given rule of the country, creating resentment elsewhere. After independence from Britain in 1962, grievances caused political meltdown and civil conflict.

Brutal dictators


The country’s prosperous Asian community were viewed as a popular target during the reign of Idi Amin. All Asians without Ugandan nationality were ordered to leave.

In 1971, an army general called Idi Amin overthrew the struggling government in a military coup. Under his brutal rule, the country suffered a moral and economic collapse.

Idi Amin was defeated in 1979 by Milton Obote, the leader Amin had originally ousted. Under Obote’s rule (1979-86), killings by the army continued.

While Idi Amin and then Milton Obote were in power, half a million Ugandans died.

A new era

In 1982, Yoweri Musevni formed a National Resistance Movement (NRM), an army largely made up of orphans and victims of Amin/Obote. The NRM entered Kampala in January 1986 and took charge of the country.

A brutal group

The violence of the past has not totally disappeared. A guerrilla group called the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) has terrorised people across northern Uganda and neighbouring countries over the past two decades. Led by a brutal leader called Joseph Kony, the LRA has killed and abducted tens of thousands of civilians, including many children, and displaced more than 1.5 million people.

Mr Musevni appointed a government from across ethnic lines, re-established the rule of law and set up a Human Rights Commission. Foreign investment and tourism were encouraged and Uganda’s economy began to grow. The monarchies of key Ugandan regions were also restored.

Yoweri Musevni won a presidential election in 1996 and again in 2001. In 2006, full democracy returned with multi-party elections and Mr Musevni remained president by popular vote. In power for 25 years, President Musevni won a fourth term of office in the February 2011 elections, making him the longest-serving leader in East Africa.

Brief history of Uganda’s peoples

This part of Africa has been inhabited for millions of years by man's earliest ancestors. Pygmoid people probably moved into the region around 3,000 years ago. These small hunter-gatherers are the ancestors of the Bambuti or Batwa.

Around 200BC, Bantu-speaking people brought iron-age tools and a more settled lifestyle. Over the next thousand years, these people formed small chiefdoms, with larger kingdoms emerging from AD1100.

After AD1500, three kingdoms rose up – the Bunyoro, Buganda and Ankole. At first, the Bunyoro was the largest. It had a central structure under a king (omakuma) and a strong trading position, because of its salt mines. But by the late 1700s, the Buganda kingdom and its king (the kabaka) had become established as the major regional power.