Coup in Uganda: Military Commission Ousts President Binaisa

A six-member Military Commission led by Paul Muwanga ousted Godfrey Binaisa as President of Uganda on May 12, 1980, following a power struggle. Yoweri Museveni and Col Tito Okello Lutwa played key roles in the coup, which marked a significant shift in Uganda's political landscape.

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Bijay Laxmi
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Coup in Uganda: Military Commission Ousts President Binaisa

Coup in Uganda: Military Commission Ousts President Binaisa

On May 12, 1980, a six-member Military Commission led by Paul Muwanga ousted Godfrey Binaisa as President of Uganda, following a power struggle between Binaisa and powerful figures in the Uganda National Liberation Front/Army (UNLF/A). Yoweri Museveni, the Minister of Defence and leader of the Front for National Salvation (Fronasa), and Col Tito Okello Lutwa played key roles in the coup.

Why this matters: The coup marked a significant shift in Uganda's political landscape, with far-reaching implications for the country's stability and regional relations. The power struggle also highlights the ongoing struggle for control and influence in post-colonial Africa, with potential consequences for regional security and economic development.

The events leading to the coup began on May 10, 1980, when Radio Uganda announced the sacking of Lt Col David Oyite Ojok as Army Chief of Staff and the removal of Museveni as Minister of Defence. That evening, UNLA soldiers loyal to Museveni and Oyite Ojok stormed and surrounded the Nile Mansions Hotel, where most of the ministers worked and lived. The following day, another batch of soldiers took over Radio Uganda, announcing that Oyite Ojok was still Chief of Staff of the army.

In response to the seizure of Radio Uganda, Binaisa blamed the Tanzania Peoples Defence Forces (TPDF) and accused Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere of being "definitely biased in favour of the rebels." However, Museveni later revealed in 2010 that he was heavily involved in both Binaisa's instatement and removal, claiming that Binaisa had become a liability and was manipulated by "political schemers." Museveni admitted to being angered by Binaisa's decision to sack him from Cabinet.

Following the coup, Binaisa was placed under house arrest in State House Entebbe, surrounded by 150 men and soldiers of the TPDF. Despite appealing to Nyerere for release, Binaisa was kept incommunicado. He managed to smuggle a letter to us, president Jimmy Carter, seeking assistance to overturn the coup.

The Military Commission that took power included Paul Muwanga, Col Tito Okello Lutwa, Lt Col William Omaria, and Maj Zed Maruru. Muwanga later became Vice President of Uganda under Milton Obote. The coup marked a significant shift in Uganda's political landscape, with Museveni and the UNLF/A consolidating their power and influence in the aftermath of Binaisa's ouster.

Key Takeaways

  • May 12, 1980: Military Commission led by Paul Muwanga ousts Godfrey Binaisa as President of Uganda.
  • Yoweri Museveni and Col Tito Okello Lutwa played key roles in the coup.
  • Binaisa's removal marked a significant shift in Uganda's political landscape.
  • Museveni admitted to being involved in Binaisa's instatement and removal.
  • Binaisa was placed under house arrest and appealed to US President Jimmy Carter for assistance.