Museveni Captures Kampala Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

After years of fighting and nearly a decade of sporadic warfare, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni’s forces seized the Ugandan capital of Kampala, filling the power vacuum that had developed after Idi Amin’s dictatorial regime.

Summary of Event

The East African state of Uganda had been embroiled in widespread civil unrest for fourteen years leading up to Yoweri Kaguta Museveni’s capture of the capital, Kampala, in January, 1986. In 1971, Colonel Idi Amin staged a military coup and removed President Milton Obote from office. Amin’s unsteady regime ruled from 1971 to 1979. Uganda;government Revolutions and coups;Uganda [kw]Museveni Captures Kampala (Jan. 25, 1986) [kw]Captures Kampala, Museveni (Jan. 25, 1986) [kw]Kampala, Museveni Captures (Jan. 25, 1986) Uganda;government Revolutions and coups;Uganda [g]Africa;Jan. 25, 1986: Museveni Captures Kampala[06000] [g]Uganda;Jan. 25, 1986: Museveni Captures Kampala[06000] [c]Government and politics;Jan. 25, 1986: Museveni Captures Kampala[06000] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Jan. 25, 1986: Museveni Captures Kampala[06000] Museveni, Yoweri Kaguta Obote, Milton Okello, Tito Olara-Okello, Bazilio Amin, Idi Lule, Yusuf Binaisa, Godfrey Nyerere, Julius

A disparate group of Ugandan rebels, living in exile in Tanzania, united against Amin’s government by forming the Uganda National Liberation Front Uganda National Liberation Front (UNLF) and its military wing, the Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA), plotting to take back the country. Among these rebels were the ousted president Obote, Museveni, Tito Okello, and Yusuf Lule. While in Tanzania, the UNLF gained the support of the country’s president, Julius Nyerere. With the aid of the Tanzanian army (Tanzanian People’s Defense Force), the UNLA invaded Uganda in 1978-1979. Amin’s army was no match for the combined Tanzanian army and UNLA. After Amin was deposed, the UNLF appointed Lule to rule the interim Ugandan government. The UNLF soon deemed Lule unfit, however, and appointed Godfrey Binaisa to oversee the government until they could organize an election. The highly contested election in 1980 declared Milton Obote the president of Uganda. Many observers and dissidents challenged the validity of the elections, accusing Obote’s forces of manipulating the vote.

Ugandan president Yoweri Kaguta Museveni meets with U.S. president Ronald Reagan at the White House in October, 1987.

(Library of Congress)

Among the dissidents outraged by the election results was Museveni. He had worked under the Obote regime during Obote’s first term and had fought on Obote’s side against Amin. Dissatisfied with the results of the election and the manner with which the elections took place, Museveni gathered some followers and revolted. Museveni’s rebel group, the National Resistance Army National Resistance Army (Uganda) (NRA), began its war against Obote when it attacked the Kabamba military barracks on February 6, 1981. The objective of this raid, along with many subsequent raids on other military facilities, was to gain weapons to fight the Ugandan government. After the Kabamba raid, the NRA fled to rural areas of Uganda where they conducted a guerrilla war, known as the Ugandan Bush War, against the government. The war raged through the early 1980’s while Museveni’s band grew in size and strength.

Following Amin’s regime, President Obote faced the daunting task of uniting diverse ethnic groups, stabilizing Uganda’s plummeting economy, and squelching political revolts like Museveni’s NRA. Obote actively made overtures with different ethnic groups and attempted to mend the rifts galvanized by successive Ugandan leaders. However, his regime was unpopular and alienated the ethnic groups of the central and western regions. Museveni’s forces thrived in this time of confusion, and the Ugandan government was ill prepared to fight against Museveni’s rebellion. The NRA received supplies and intelligence from allies as they attacked from rural areas, commonly called “the bush.” The NRA used bases in the bush to launch attacks and to draw support from other Ugandans frustrated by the government. Many of the most decisive and brutal battles took place in a triangle-shaped region north of Kampala, known as the Luwero Triangle. In addition to raiding government facilities, the NRA relied on local donations and offerings made by its members to support its operations.

The war that enveloped Uganda injured Obote’s already low popularity. Furthermore, the country’s ethnic divisions were mirrored in the military. On July 27, 1985, an officer in the Ugandan army, Bazilio Olara-Okello led a military coup against Obote and took control of Uganda by establishing a military council. After the coup, the military council chose Tito Okello to lead the government and consolidate the fragmented state. Olara-Okello remained a key figure in the military. Okello’s regime tried to strengthen ties with important ethnic groups and to deepen his influence in the military by enlisting Amin’s former soldiers. However, many soldiers and officers in the Ugandan military felt that they could not fight beside a force they had previously fought against. Disillusioned officers and infantrymen joined Museveni’s ranks against the government in mass defections. By 1985, the NRA had gained significant control of the country and threatened to overthrow the regime.

The Okello regime offered a peace treaty to Museveni’s NRA, and the two groups met briefly in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. However this meeting failed to secure peace, and the NRA continued its offensive against Okello’s army. The attack on Kampala lasted three days. On January 25, 1986, the NRA secured control of the capital. Okello’s army, led by Olara-Okello, fled to the east and continued to fight the NRA. Inside Kampala, rioting and looting accompanied the battle. Civilians joined Olara-Okello’s soldiers as they robbed shops and destroyed property on their way out of Kampala. Museveni’s NRA split up at this time: One segment of the army pursed Olara-Okello’s forces while the other attempted to establish order in Kampala. The NRA chased Olara-Okello’s army to Sudan, where Tito Okello had sought refuge. The fall of Kampala marked the end of a series of political and military power transfers between competing ethnic groups in Uganda.

Museveni pledged to create a democratic and ethnically balanced government in Uganda. His National Resistance Movement, National Resistance Movement (Uganda) the political wing of the NRA, would become the sole party in Uganda and would work to dissolve ethnic tensions. Both Obote and Okello were in exile. Okello and Olara-Okello separated, and Museveni granted Okello amnesty in Uganda. The ethnically defined political groups of western Uganda were relieved that the regime had been removed, and the groups did not mount a serious resistance to the NRA.


The National Resistance Movement under Yoweri Museveni ushered in a new era of relative peace to an embattled Uganda. Uganda was embroiled in civil strife since Idi Amin’s coup in 1971 and suffered from multiple regime turnovers after 1979. Between Amin’s insurgency and Museveni’s capture of the capital, an estimated 800,000 Ugandans died in civil conflicts and as a result of political purges. Since Museveni began his tenure, there has been relative peace in southern and western Uganda. Factional strife continued, most notably the with the Lord’s Resistance Army and the Uganda People’s Democratic Army, both in northern Uganda, the West Nile Bank Front in the west, and the Karamojong in the northeast. Nevertheless, Uganda began a period of stability that its had not seen since its liberation from British rule. Citizens could travel and trade with some guarantee of safety.

Museveni installed a one-party government and a tiered form of direct and indirect democracy through the National Resistance Councils. However, this system was dissolved through a referendum so that multiple parties could compete. Since 1996, presidential elections rewarded Museveni with the democratic rule of Uganda. Museveni was elected president in 1996 and reelected in 2001. He was elected a third time in 2006, though with a controversial amendment to the constitution allowing a third term of office. Museveni continues to be a powerful leader of Uganda and heavily influential in the politics of the surrounding states. Uganda;government Revolutions and coups;Uganda

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Amaza, Ondogaori. Museveni’s Long March: From Guerrilla to Statesman. Kampala, Uganda: Fountain, 1998. History of Museveni’s rise as a political and military leader as told by a former medical office in the NRA who also cowrote Uganda’s constitution.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Clayton, Anthony. Frontiersmen: Warfare in Africa Since 1950. Philadelphia. UCL Press, 1999. Describes military episodes that have shaped the history of Africa since 1950. Brief accounts of the wars and important figures that shaped their outcomes.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Museveni, Yoweri. Sowing the Mustard Seed: The Struggle for Freedom and Democracy in Uganda. London: Macmillan, 1997. Autobiography contains stories of Museveni from childhood through his second term as president. Discusses his political objectives as the leader of a nascent government.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rake, Alan. African Leaders: Guiding the New Millennium. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2001. Analyses the choices and opportunities the new wave of African leaders face in the unstable context of African politics.

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Categories: History