Bantu from the North
What is known about Uganda begins in the 5th century AD, when the Bantu from the north and west started to mingle with the indigenous people of the region. The Bantu brought agricultural and metallurgical skills and, in time, dominated and displaced many of the less sophisticated groups in the area. Their largest numbers settled along the northern shore of Lake Victoria.
Traders and Explorers
In the mid-1800's, Arab traders seeking ivory and slaves brought Islam to Uganda. The English explorers, John Speke and Henry Stanley, who were searching for the source of the Nile in 1862 and 1865, were probably the first white men to enter the country. Anglican missionaries from Britain arrived in 1877. Catholic missionaries from France arrived soon after. As might be predicted, converts to the three religions warred against each other. In the end, the pro-British Protestants prevailed.
Uganda became a British protectorate in 1894. The British upheld the supremacy of the Buganda Tribe and, allied with them, conquered the country. However, this collaboration was repeatedly challenged by other factions, especially the warlike people in the north. It was during these early years of colonialism and unrest that the British brought in Indian troops to assist them. These troops formed the nucleus of the Asian population which grew and prospered as merchants and administrators.
Railway Opens Uganda, Trade Increases After the War
In 1901, a railroad from Mombasa on the Kenyan coast of the Indian Ocean to Kisumu, on the shore of Lake Victoria, was completed. This opened Uganda, described as the "Pearl of Africa" by Winston Churchill, to international trade and the development of cotton cultivation for export.
During World War I, the British were able to repulse German incursions in East Africa. After the war and during the 1930's and 1940's, trade prospered and was controlled by the British through Asian administrators. They circumvented the Bugandans and hired labor from distant regions of Uganda and Kenya. The Bugandans revolted in protest in 1949. The British prevailed and delayed reforms.
A teacher named Milton Obote formed a coalition of the discontented during the years leading up to independence, granted voluntarily by the British in 1962. He overthrew the constitutional government in 1966, and became dictator of the country. His army chief of staff was Idi Amin Dada. Obote's rule became more brutal and repressive and his promises to the Bugandans remained unfulfilled. In 1971, while Obote was out of the country, Idi Amin staged a coup d'etat and Obote found exile in neighboring Tanzania, accompanied by his followers.
Idi Amin's Reign of Brutality
Idi Amin proceeded to destroy what was left of the country's infrastructure and economy with capricious misrule and sadistic brutality. It is estimated that over 300,000 Ugandans were murdered during the 8 years of his reign of terror. In 1972, he exiled the 50,000 Asian merchant class, expropriated their property and businesses and doled them out to his cronies. Ironically, he deeded them a country in shambles.
Chaos and Mayhem
In 1978, in an attempt to divert attention from the mess he had created, Amin invaded northern Tanzania with what was left of his unpaid army. Tanzanian troops, aided by Milton Obote and his followers (The Ugandan National Liberation Army), held off the invasion and crossed the border into Uganda occupying Kampala in 1979. Idi Amin fled to exile in Saudi Arabia. At first Obote's Army was greeted as liberators. Unfortunately, in short order, the army and the underpaid Tanzanian troops resorted to intimidating the population and pillaging the countryside. Once again, Uganda disintegrated into chaos.
Obote regained power through a fraudulent election and his rule of 4 years was as or more brutal than Amin's. He created a police state dominated by factions in the north and persecuted regions and people favored by his predecessor.
Museveni Founds National Resistance Army
Ugandans, especially those in the south, chafed under Obote's oppressive rule. Yoweri Kaguta Museveni was one of them. He founded the National Resistance Army and recruited members from regions hostile to Obote, especially those from central and western Buganda. Obote was ousted and fled the country with what was left of the nation's wealth.
Museveni was proclaimed President in 1986. His rule was tenuous at first and more years of civil war bloodied the country. Eventually in 1989, Museveni granted amnesty to his opponents and a fragile peace ensued. It has endured to the present. Unfortunately, the grim specter of tribalism haunts the northern and eastern parts of the country and insurgency still takes it's toll.
President Museveni has brought more stability to Uganda than has existed in decades. Prosperity remains an elusive objective. But, if peace prevails, the future looks bright.