By Lineaker Kigunddu
In the annals of Ugandan political history, the narrative of how Yoweri Museveni outmaneuvered Milton Obote and the UNLA to ascend to power in 1986 is a compelling tale of strategy, resilience, and calculated chaos. While the 1980 elections seemed like an insurmountable challenge for the then little-known Museveni, he ingeniously used it as a launchpad for a guerrilla war that ultimately toppled the existing political order.
Museveni’s recognition that winning the election was a near-impossible feat prompted him to adopt a different approach. He leveraged the irregularities and massive rigging of the 1980 elections to declare war on the Obote government in 1981. The seeds of the National Resistance Army’s (NRA) rebellion were sown, setting the stage for a transformative chapter in Ugandan history.
The initial stages of the war were fraught with challenges for Museveni and his forces, including a lack of arms, fighters, and essential resources. However, his strategic vision became apparent as the NRA focused on dismantling the UPC system from the grassroots level upwards. Village by village, parish by parish, and district by district, Museveni’s forces systematically targeted UPC mobilizers and spies, leaving no room for their survival.
A crucial element of Museveni’s success lay in turning the civilian population against the government. The deliberate targeting of UPC chairpersons and Mayumba Kumis in villages created an atmosphere of fear and insecurity. As government soldiers poured into these areas in search of rebels, their actions resulted in atrocities against locals, inadvertently pushing the people towards supporting the rebels.
Museveni’s psychological warfare was equally effective. The NRA rebels, at times, would disguise themselves as government soldiers, committing atrocities one day and sympathizing with the locals the next. This manipulative strategy played a significant role in turning public sentiment against Obote and the UNLA.
Economic destabilization became another potent weapon in Museveni’s arsenal. The deliberate targeting of coffee shipments, urban terrorism, blowing up infrastructure, and disrupting vital supply lines contributed to the collapse of the economy. As the economy crumbled, people found solace in the promise of change that Museveni represented.
The strategic brilliance of Museveni lay in his ability to orchestrate a multifaceted approach, combining military tactics, psychological warfare, and economic sabotage. By the time Museveni emerged victorious in 1986, he had not only defeated the military forces of Obote but had also dismantled the very foundations of the existing political and economic order.
In retrospect, whether one views Museveni’s ascent with admiration or critique, the complexity and depth of his strategic moves are undeniable. The chessboard of Ugandan politics witnessed a masterful player, and the echoes of those moves continue to shape the nation’s trajectory today.