A good Muganda is a dead one – Milton Obote?
By Timothy Kalyegira
The above statement will go down in Ugandan history as the most controversial and offensive ever made. Did the later former president Milton Obote ever make such a statement? If so where? If not, who did? The answer will surprise many Ugandans.
In this special report, never-before-published detail and analysis are presented into the origins of the most notorious statement in Ugandan history.
The statement, “A good Muganda is a dead one”, further stirred up great anger toward Obote among the Baganda and was a factor in rallying armed Baganda opposition to the second UPC government after 1980.
Obote consistently denied ever uttering or writing that statement. UPC officials have at various times issued challenges for anybody to provide proof that Obote made the statement and if so, where he might have made it.
Already Obote was a much-resented national figure in Buganda following the stand-off between the central government and the Buganda kingdom in May 1966.
After being overthrown in a military coup by the former army commander Major-General Idi Amin in January 1971, Obote re-located to Tanzania where he remained active in the anti-Amin exile struggle.
Several attempts, all foiled, were made to overthrow Amin’s regime. On February 5, 1977, state security agents arrived at the Kampala home of the Anglican Archbishop of Uganda, Janani Luwum.
They were there, to search for a cache of weapons that had reportedly been delivered to Luwum by Ugandan exiles in Tanzania as part of a coup that was to take place on January 25, 1977.
Contained in one of those crates of assault weapons and ammunition was a 25-page document titled Obote’s War Call to Langis and Acholis.
This document outlined the justification for an armed uprising against the Amin regime. When the government discovered it, hidden among the weapons, a public rally was called at the Nile Mansions Hotel in Kampala.
Religious leaders, foreign diplomats, senior government officials, military and intelligence officers and rank-and-file soldiers were summoned to witness the occasion. On that day, February 14, 1977, a number of Ugandans implicated in the alleged plot were made to read statements about their role in the coup that was to have taken place on January 25.
The document was reproduced almost in its entirety in the February 17, 1977 of the government-owned newspaper, the Voice of Uganda. It was in this document that the statement, “A good Muganda is a dead one”, first appeared and was first heard and then read by the Ugandan public.
The statement reads in part:
“Actually, the very fact that this memorandum will be handed to our trusted contact compatriots and discussed, though very carefully, with representatives of the enslaved masses is a most crucial proof that there is a desire and will amongst some people of Uganda to rise up one day in order to throw off the shackles of death and destruction which now bind them.
That desire and will constitute the strongest weapon against the regime. It follows, therefore, that all planning, organisation, and choice of what can and must be done in that name of Uganda, must have roots in the source of that desire and will. That source is the masses.
We must sway the masses away from the regime. For our plans to succeed we must use the masses and only get rid of them afterwards. We must hypnotise the masses so that they follow what we want. They must believe that they are oppressed; they must believe that they are deprived.
But once we have managed to sway the masses from the regime we can take care of the elite. It must be realised that the regime gains its momentum from masses. Any scheme based on the wishes of the masses has a far better chance of succeeding in overthrowing the regime following it with decency and respect for human lives, prosperity and food [sic, good] administration.
The masses are easy to deceive and they are easy to satisfy. We must not appear to be opportunistic and selfish. We must pretend not to be sectional and divisive.
Of course it is important to remove some faces from the present regime but this may not change the nature of rule which Uganda has experienced since January 1971.
Unfortunately, extensive killings have to be carefully planned. Fortunately, we have learnt by the mistakes of Amin. Removing Amin alone altogether with a few faces will not be enough. It is, however, necessary to plan so thoroughly that mass massacre must take place during the period of confusion while executing the plan.
Let us accept, the world knows that the regime has gained a political momentum of its own and it is essential that we at least should identify important elements in that momentum and then examine what resources we have and which we can use in order to remove the regime from circulation…
…On the face of it, the regime we are now considering seems to be a one man show. It is this element of the regime which many of our compatriots have constantly misread since 1971.
Soon after the coup in 1971, some opportunists among whom were Democratic Party and Kabaka Yekka, who lent their support for the regime were lured by being made minister or judges and ambassadors, into being the greatest mouthpieces of the regime.
It is now common knowledge that those opportunists, including some hopeless Langis and Acholis, saw the regime as a one man band which lead [sic, led] them to falsely think thay they would or could manoeuvre things in such a way as to replace Amin.
Nothing happened because these opportunists disregarded the fact that Amin at that time was a stooge of foreign powers particularly Israel. The more these people made statements denying extensive and rampant killings of Ugandans, the more happy were the foreign masters who actually devised the means of the killings and who carried out almost all the killings themselves…It is doubtful that Amin without the urging of the Israelis, DP and Kabaka Yekka would have staged a successful coup in 1971.
In a way it was our mistake because in 1970 the UPC government, through Akena Adoko, who had thoroughly confused the Muslims through NAAM, had made a plan to lure the Muslim money by pretending that Israel’s technical (personnel) aid to Uganda had to end.
Because we wanted the plan to be fool-proof, even the Israelis were not briefed. So they were given [not given] notice. The Israelis mistakenly interpreted this to mean a pro-Arab move. God forbid it was not…During the same period (1974 and 1975)…the policy of low profile succeeded and some of its successes can be cited here:
(a) It made the regime of Idi Amin in particular and our detratctors to regard us as a spent force. Accordingly, less and less was broadcast about us by Radio Uganda during the period. We, however, know that Amin is still very much aware of our existence. However, for him to keep shouting about us as he used to do in 1971 to 1973 he knows only serves our purposes and weakens his stronghold [sic, stranglehold] on Uganda and the very stronghold [stranglehold] on the armed forces…
…(b) The more the army and other supporters of the regime turn their attention away from us, the more it has been possible for leaders of our movement, activists, contacts and agents (both in the Northern region and other parts of the country) to strengthen and mobilize our movement and forces unlike in 1973 when much of our efforts were concentrated on gathering information, the past two years have witnessed considerable and positive work in creating an atmosphere of confusion, uncertainty and instability in the country and recruitment of a striking force.
(c) Because little attention was being paid to our activities, leaders of our movement including our headquarters personnel made useful and frequent contacts with one another. It was as a result of these contacts that views as to what can and should be done were discussed and assessed and assignments were given for additional work which would ensure the success of any operation to be undertaken by us.
(d) The low profile policy enabled our movement to throw off opportunists and other undesirable tribes who had by various means of deceit got into our movement and then sought to destroy the external wing of the movement as well as confuse the internal wing. These people I have indicated as being the Baganda and Basoga, the lazy westerners and it is true to state here that one of the true Ugandans in his book these days said that a good Muganda is a dead one and this statement is further confirmed during our low profile policy.
However, these opportunists and tribalists will be rid of by the law of elimination. This law is the governing element in the successful execution of our movement from the very start up to the end because it is these tribes that uncovered our underground and secret activities in 1972 unsuccessful attempt.”
That line in section (d) of the narration in this document “Obote’s War Call to Langis and Acholis” is the first time the statement “A good Muganda is a dead one” ever appeared in print. In no other book was that statement ever written, even though this document appears to vaguely quote one such book.
Several clues to the author of the document are contained in it.
First, its title and the fact that it was included in one of the crates containing arms to overthrow Amin’s military government, suggests that Obote was part of the coup plot.
If so, it should strike the reader as odd that Obote would plan a coup and include his names in third person in the title of a document outlining his goals.
It would be strange, too, that Obote, a Lango by tribe, would describe his own tribesmen as Langis and their close relatives as “Acholis”, when the plural for a Lango is “Langi” and that of the people from Acholi as “Acholi.” (Some argue that a single person from Lango is a “Langi” as are several, “Langi”)
However, under no circumstances are there such descriptive terms as “Langis” or “Acholis”, which would be akin to saying “Bagandas” or “milks”.
Obote, born in Akokoro village in Lango, certainly would know that and would not have authorised a publication bearing such obviously erroneous grammer.
Secondly, the text itself does not read like Obote; it is not his writing style, does not reflect his political philosophy, and method of operation.
Obote, typically, wrote soaring articles and letters, always rhetorical and usually filled with questions directed at the reader, trying to engage the reader in debate and reflection.
If there was a moment that Obote would have needed to communicate effectively in arousing the Acholi and Langi to rise up against Amin, it surely would have been in this detailed 25-page document. His passion, his style, his beliefs, all would have come out most clearly. The author of this document, unlike Obote, discusses but his or her tone is one of lecturing the reader.
The error in describing the two tribesmen as “Langis” and “Acholis” rather than “Langi” and “Acholi” and yet makes no such error in describing the Baganda and Basoga, indicates that whoever authored that document was not from the northern part of Uganda but from among the southern Bantu tribes.
Also, the document recounts previous experiences, quoting dates, methods of work, setbacks and successes, writes with a good knowledge of the role the Israelis played in Uganda prior to the 1971 coup, and has a sense of strategy and perspective.
Therefore, the author of the document, at least as it is written, is clearly steeped in 1) the military 2) intelligence or has a good grasp of covert intelligence work 3) has a strong sense of history.
(Compare the contrasting writing styles in this document and that of Obote in his 1990 work Notes on concealment of genocide in Uganda at the UPC website upcparty.net)
Obote was also well-known to be a Ugandan nationalist. His political support was drawn from all corners of the country. Upon his return from exile in May 1980, he landed in Mbarara and drove on to Bushenyi, both places in Ankole in western Uganda.
His first cabinet in 1962 had ministers from all regions of Uganda. He believed to the end that the UPC was a popular government in all parts of Uganda and so were he to stage a coup against Amin, he would characteristically have appealed for support from “the people of Uganda” (a favourite expression of his.)
To appeal to only his tribesmen and their neighbours the Acholi, when he believed that most Ugandans were suffering under Amin, would have been untypical of Obote. Besides, even if he departed this once from his broad appeal to Ugandans, knowing or believing that the Acholi and Langi were Amin’s prime target for arrest or massacre, he would certainly not draw attention to them by publishing an appeal to them in this document.
Then too, Obote believed in his party, the Uganda People’s Congress or UPC. No major speech or document by Obote would have been complete without mention of the UPC and its achievements. The “Congress” was at the centre of Obote’s lexicon.
It is an odd document, therefore, that Obote would have written at such a momentous time as an impending coup without him once mentioning to the UPC members and branches all over Uganda to rise up against Amin and instead restrict himself to tribes.
After all, if Obote planned as risky a venture as a coup, why limit his appeal to the Acholi and Langi and not get all the support he could from as many supporters as he believed he had who were in large numbers in all tribes of Uganda with only the exception of the Baganda?
Finally and most revealing of all, seven times in the excerpt of the document so far, the author describes his or their organisation as “the movement”, never as the Congress as would be expected of Obote.
Was this Milton Obote? Or was it an impersonator assuming Obote’s identity? Why would Obote so consistently in this 1977 document make reference to “the movement” when his natural tendency was to say “the Congress”? And why would he explicitly call upon the Acholi and Langi to join him in rising against Amin but not once refer to the UPC in the document?
And which political leader in Ugandan history has been more inclined than any other to refer to his organisation as a “movement”? Which political party in Uganda alone came to bear a name that contains “movement” in it?
Toward the end, the document mentions Otema Allimadi as belonging to the Nairobi group (along with Yusufu Lule, Dr Aliker, Wilson Lutara, John Kazzora, Mr Ofwono of Foreign Affairs, ex-police officer Okot-Okullo “now renting a house in Ntinda area”, Apollo Lawoko, and John Olobo (or spelt correctly as Lalobo).
The document added that the Dar es Salaam group had a “training ground in Tabora. It is led by Obote whom they have chosen to be the president in case they successfully invade Uganda. The leading military personalities with them are Tito, Oyite Ojok and Nyero. This group draws its moral and financial support from Tanzania and Zambia. They purchase their arms at a subsidized rate from China under the cover of the Tanzanian government.
Activities: So far has on its record one activity against Uganda — that is the invasion of Uganda of 1972 was a Dar es Salaam group action. However, this group is not popular both internationally and locally. They are poorly financed and badly organised.”
At this point, it should be clear that this was not Milton Obote at all. How else can the inconsistencies in the document be explained?
With Obote planning a coup against Amin and trying to marshal support from the Acholi and Langi, would he in the same document he had authored criticise his own organisation, Kikosi Maluum based in Tanzania, describe his own organisation as “not popular both internationally and locally…poorly financed and badly organised”?
Taking all the parts together — the intimate knowledge of intelligence methods and covert action by the author of the 25-page document, the lecturing, condescending tone, the reference several times to a “movement”, the misstating the words “Langis” and “Acholis” and therefore betraying non-Nilotic origins of the author, the constant use of the Marxist term, “the masses”, the use of a familiar expression “it is true…”, the tendency to describe operational and future plans in detail — all offer compelling proof of who really wrote that 1977 document Obote’s War Call to Langis and Acholis.
It should further shed light on the arms that arrived in Uganda in January 1977, implicated Janani Luwum, and the document that cemented the hatred that millions of Baganda feel for Obote to this day.