NRMAt36: What January 26th Means In Uganda’s History

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When I was a little girl, I used to wonder what NRM Liberation Day meant. I was always happy to stay home since it is a public holiday but what excited me more was how my grandfather made us watch the celebrations on live television every year. He always looked forward to this day.

One day out of curiosity, I asked why he had to change channels from our cartoons to the liberation day celebrations. I can honestly tell you that if I was not a young child, I could have earned myself the beating of a life time.

As a loving parent, he instead took me into his laps and narrated the story. Today I will pass on the story to another curious person. Here is why the country commemorates the event every year as NRM Liberation Day.

On January 25, 1986, the National Resistance Army (NRA), under the wing of the political National Resistance Movement (NRM), defeated a government that represented years of corruption, civil rights abuses, mass killings, and voter fraud etc. The movement, led by the current president H.E Yoweri K. Museveni, promised “a fundamental change in the politics” of Uganda.

Years of civil rights abuses and corruption marred Uganda, and after a highly contested election on December 10, 1980, many of Uganda’s citizens had had enough. In February of 1981, Yoweri Museveni, founder of the Uganda Patriotic Movement and trained in guerilla warfare, gathered other like-minded individuals to begin the Ugandan Bush War.

This group merged with the Uganda Freedom Fighters to form the NRA, a military wing of the more political NRM. At the same time, other rebel groups like Uganda National Rescue Front (UNRF) formed to take on the administration of Milton Obote. Using hit-and-run tactics, the NRA and other rebel groups attacked army installations and campaigned in rural areas where opposition to Obote was strong.

Obote retaliated at first, typically doing more harm to local citizens than the rebel groups themselves. In 1983, Obote set out to stifle rebel support in the Luwero District, killing and imprisoning hundreds of thousands of people in the process. Yet, support for Obote was waning, even within his own rank and file. He alienated many of his high-ranking military officers by turning to support in both North Korea and from external ethnic tribes.

A military coup, led by Obote’s own Lieutenant General Bazilio Olara-Okello, ousted Obote on July 27, 1985. With this action, NRA activity grew in intensity, the rebels unhappy that their revolution was “hijacked” by members of Obote’s ranks. A peace deal was brokered between the military government and the NRA after nearly four months of negotiations, but the ceasefire was short-lived.

The NRA pressed on with their goal of liberating Uganda in January of 1986, gaining significant ground from the southern regions. Their efforts culminated in the ousting of the military government on January 25, and Museveni was sworn in as president on January 29. During the ceremony, he said, “No one should think that what is happening today is a mere change of guard; it is a fundamental change in the politics of our country.”

Today, the January 26, 2022 marks 36 years of liberation from dictators, corruption and abuse of human rights. Celebrations will be held at kololo ceremonial grounds. We celebrate and remember the heroes who fought for our freedom, prosperity and security of Uganda.

 

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