The Ugandan Civil War, which is also known as the Luwero War, the Ugandan Bush War or the Resistance War. It was a civil war fought in Uganda by the official Ugandan government and its Army, the Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA), against numerous rebel groups, and the National Resistance Army (NRA), from 1980 to 1986.
Milton Obote had been President since Uganda’s independence from the United Kingdom in 1962, and his government saw a general decrease in living standards in the country, with corruption, terrorism, and persecution of ethnic groups spreading wide in the country.
Amin seized the presidency and forcing Milton into exile in Tanzania. Amin quickly turned to tyranny and destroyed the country’s economy and political system.
Increasing opposition to his governance and irrational distrust over Milton Obote to overthrow him, and conflict with Tanzanian president Julius Nyrere led Amin to launch the Uganda–Tanzania War, declaring war on Tanzania. Amin’s forces and his Libyan allies were defeated by Tanzanian troops and the Uganda National Liberation Front (UNLF), under the leadership of Obote, whose army was Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA).
Amin was overthrown during the fall of Kampala and then fled the country, and UNLF was set up by Tanzania to replace him.
The unstable UNLF government ruled the country temporarily from April 1979 until December 1980, when Amin loyalists who had fled into Zaire and Sudan reorganised, and prepared to ignite a war in order to regain control of Uganda again.
Meanwhile, Uganda’s northeast was unstable due to large-scale robbery and violence in the community by Karamojong groups, Ugandan Army remnants, and foreign attackers which caused famine in Karamojong Province.
The first war broke out in the West Nile region of Uganda’s northwest which later shifted to the north of Kampala.
The first group to start the war were the Amin loyalists who launched a rebellion against the UNLF government in 1980. Their 7,100 strong-force was called the “Uganda Army” because it consisted of the most part of old troops of Amin’s Ugandan Army. Amin arranged for the group to receive money from Saudi Arabia in preparation for a large-scale attack across the border against the West Nile sub-region.
On the 6th October, 500 rebels crossed the border and attacked the town of Koboko. The 200-strong UNLA members were unarmed and the rebels murdered the soldiers. The news spread and the other UNLA members left to the Nile River. They were welcomed by the local population because of their relationship. The UNLA then began its war on the 12th October together with the Tanzanian forces. Six of the Tanzanians including Lieutenant Colonel Elly Aseni were killed in Bondo. The UNLA forces being bullied, engaged in a rebellion killing over 1,000 civilians in Aura and instigated the flight of over 250,000 refugees to Sudan and Zaire.
The Ugandan Army launched its next offensive just before the Ugandan national elections in December 1980. The rebels attacked Obote as he was touring the West Nile region. They nearly killed him and Tito Okello, a high-ranking UNLA commander.
The Ugandan Army also held the areas it captured in West Nile, setting up a parallel government after retaking Koboko after about a month.
Most rebels focused more on looting the area than on fighting the UNLA.
The latter part of the rebels army split off and formed “Uganda National Rescue Front” (UNRF) under Moses Ali, and the remaining Amin loyalists were still called the “Ugandan Army” until they become known as “Former Uganda National Army” (FUNA). The West Nile rebels soon started to fight each other.
The movement became dormant since the 1960s, which ended when Amin’s government collapsed in 1979. The rebellion resumed and the security situation in the areas of the southwest which quickly degraded in 1980.
The elections of December 1980 were officially won by Milton Obote’s Uganda Peoples Congress(UPC), making him President of Uganda again. Others disputed increasing strife. Some claimed electoral fraud which led to the opposition launching armed rebellions against Obote’s government.
On the 6th February, 1981, bullying began in the south with a PRA attack on an army installation in the central Mubende District, the PRA succeeded, as it won over many locals in the area around Kampala and Obote’s government.
Museveni’s troops who were the opposition party would have been easily crushed in 1981 by the PRA.
As the war started, foreign support became vital for the survival of Obote’s government. The Tanzanians started to help to defend his government and kept some order through the presence of about 10,000 Tanzania People’s Defence Force soldiers and 1,000 policemen.
By June of 1981, just 800 to 1,000 Tanzanian advisors remained in the country.
The Ugandan President visited the country in late 1981 and signed a cooperation agreement which included military support for Milton’s government.
North Korea under Kim Il-Sung was one of Obote’s foreign allies during the Civil War, and provided military equipment as well as advisors.
By 1984, the number had risen to about 50 North Koreans who acted as security, intelligence, and military advisors. The conflict in the south became more serious. In which another rebel group emerged called Uganda Liberation Movement which threatened to kidnap and kill a United Nation’s personnel, as the latter was supporting Milton’s attempts at restabilizing Uganda. The threats worked.
On 5th April 1981, PRA captured important weaponry, but had to hastily retreat when a TPDF unit responded to the attack at Kakiri.
The PRA successfully recruited more volunteers, and grew to 200 fighters by May.
In the next month, Museveni travelled to Nairobi where he met with Lule who united PRA and UFF into a unified opposition group which was named “National Resistance Movement” (NRM) and it’s army as
“National Resistance Army” (NRA).
Lule was appointed overall NRM Chairman, and Museveni became Vice-Chairman of the High Command of the NRA. By December 1981, the NRA had grown to about 900 militants.
Libya’s leader Muammar Gaddafi also opted to provide support to the NRA, although it had overthrown his old friend Amin.
Gaddafi demanded that the NRA merge with the UFM and UNRF to unite but they refused. So he eventually backed out.
By December 1981, the UNLA had retaken much of West Nile while encountering little resistance. However, the UNLA failed to permanently remove the West Nile rebellions.
The Ugandan government signed a peace agreement with the rebel group in return for payments and other benefits to the latter under Milton.
By late 1981, the UNLA was already in a critical situation. Its rapid expansion to over 15,000 troops by December 1981 resulted in a majority of its troops being untrained, badly armed and often unpaid. Corruption became serious, and a lot occurred between UNLA units.
The situation began to change with Oyite-Ojok’s death under suspicious circumstances in a plane crash in December 1983, which led to Milton being overthrown as rumours spread that Obote had arranged the death of his Chief of Staff due to developing rifts between them. Obote was overthrown and was replaced by General Tito Okello as President in 1985 during the closing months of the conflict. Okello formed a coalition government consisting of his followers and several armed opposition groups which agreed to a peace deal. In contrast, the NRA refused to compromise with the government, and conquered much of western and southern Uganda in a number of offensives from August to December 1985.
The NRA captured Kampala, Uganda’s capital, in January 1986. It subsequently established a new government with Museveni as President, while the UNLA fully disintegrated in March 1986. Obote and Okello went into exile. Despite the nominal end of the civil war, numerous anti-NRA rebel factions and militias remained active, and would continue to fight Museveni’s government in the next decades.
While the defeated Acholi soldiers mostly returned to their villages. The war appeared to be over.
Video Credit: SOE TV