Uganda: the civil war and the destiny of a journalist

 
PIIS032150750009553-0-1
DOI10.31857/S032150750009553-0
Publication type Review
Source material for review William Pike. Combatants. A Memoir of the Bush War and the Press in Uganda. L.: 2019. 293 p.
Status Published
Authors
Occupation: Leading Research Fellow
Affiliation: Institute for African Studies, RAS
Address: Moscow, Russian Federation
Journal nameAsia and Africa Today
EditionIssue 5
Pages63-65
Abstract

  

KeywordsWilliam Pike, Uganda, rebels, mass media, National Resistance Movement, National Resistance Army, Yoweri Museveni
Publication date23.06.2020
Number of characters13151
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1 The book by British journalist William Pike (William Pike. Combatants. A Memoir of the Bush War and the Press in Uganda. L.: 2019. 293 p.) is an important historical document that reveals details of numerous events of the Ugandan Civil War of 1981-1986, the post-war reconstruction, the ascent to power of Yoweri Museveni and the first years of his presidency.
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3 The work is especially valuable because the author did not just visit cantonment sites of the National Resistance Army (NRA), which had been established in 1981 and soon thereafter transformed into the National Resistance Movement (NRM, or simply the Movement), but also was the first journalist to interview the leader of the NRM – the future president of Uganda Yoweri Kaguta Museveni.
4 The key characters of the book – field commanders of the Movement and W. Pike himself – are, undoubtedly, extraordinary personalities. Incidentally, the author’s name should be familiar to the readers of the Asia and Africa today journal of the Russian Academy of Sciences due to the 2012 publication of the article «Mr. Pike in Uganda and Moscow» [1], authored by Dr. Oleg Teterin, who had meetings with the Englishman while being in charge of the Kampala bureau of the Novosti News Agency (1985-1990). In turn, W. Pike at that time was heading the editorial board of the Ugandan government newspaper New Vision.
5 Interestingly, the «African memoirs» of the Russian [2] and British journalists were published nearly simultaneously, allowing us to compare their views – in many respects similar – of events in the Uganda of those days1. 1. In 2011, William kindly provided his long-time friend Oleg with one of the chapters of his future book, Meeting Museveni, a Russian translation of which was consequently published in the Asia and Africa today journal [3], and in 2012 he facilitated the publication of Dr. O. Teterin’s article about the first day of the July 27, 1985 coup in Kampala in the New Vision newspaper. Moreover, the article was included in the «Golden Jubilee» rubric as one of the brightest witness accounts in the history of independent Uganda [4].
6 W. Pike has been taking interest in events taking place on the Black Continent throughout his life. And this is not surprising: the author was born on May 24, 1952 in Tanganyika (present-day Tanzania), where his father served as the Commissioner of the Southern Province. In 1959, his parents brought William to «cold, gray» England, and this was a traumatic experience for the boy. Even then he «knew that he would return to Africa» (p. 5). In 1982, Pike arrived as a freelance journalist in Tanzania, and in July 1984, he came to Uganda.
7 Meanwhile, events in Uganda at that time were developing rapidly. The failure of the 1972 military operation against Idi Amin, which had been launched from the Tanzanian territory, prompted Y. Museveni to form his own movement – the Front for National Salvation (FRONASA), whose fighters underwent training in Mozambique. In 1978, as a result of a military operation carried out by Ugandan rebel groups and units of the Tanzanian army, the rigidly authoritarian regime of Idi Amin collapsed, and Museveni became the youngest member of the presidential administration of Yusuf Lule (1979), and then – of President Godfrey Binaisa (1979-1980). In 1980, a presidential election took place, wherein Milton Obote rigged the voting results and claimed victory. Museveni, who had warned Obote in advance that he would not allow falsification, began an armed struggle against the ruling regime of Obote and established the NRA/NRM [5].
8 In 1982-1983, the NRM operated on the territory of the so-called Luweero Triangle, formed by several roads about 120 miles north of Kampala. In 1981-1985, about 300 thousand people died in the area as a result of armed clashes, and Pike, seriously concerned with the fact that Western press was ignoring these events, decided to fill the gap and tell the world about the abuses of Obote’s regime, the goals and objectives of the rebels, and the situation in Uganda in general (p. 20).
9 Almost immediately after arriving in Kampala in 1984, with the support of the Ugandans whom he had met in London, Pike went to the area occupied by the rebels. Risking his life, accompanied by just one NRM fighter, the journalist crossed government army checkpoints, travelled kilometers of forest paths in total darkness or moonlight, got stuck in a swamp, waded through bushes, going from one rebel base to another.
10 Of special value for the readership, in particular for scholars in conflict studies, are the detailed descriptions of NRM camps a few kilometers from Kampala: plastic canopies with beds arranged under them, bonfires for cooking, AK-47 rifle pyramids, observation posts... (p. 35). According to Pike, the area, including villages with huts destroyed during the war, seemed completely uninhabited to him and reminded of the film Stalker by Andrei Tarkovsky, wherein the hero first crosses an abandoned industrial zone in one direction and then in another direction (p. 37).
11 Pike rightly notes the absence of tribal divisions in the Movement, in which representatives of many Ugandan ethnic groups participated. He points to the discipline of the militants, their loyal attitude to local residents – regardless of their willingness or unwillingness to help the NRM. The author compares the behavior of rebels and soldiers of the regular army: the former, having taken prisoners, offered them either to join the Movement or to walk free; the latter killed the enemy on the spot. Thus, Pike emphasizes the difference between Museveni’s fighters and not just Obote’s soldiers, but also participants of other African rebellions (the United Revolutionary Front in Sierra Leone, the Liberian National Patriotic Front, the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda, etc.), which were distinguished by extreme cruelty.

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1. Teterin O.I. 2012. Mr. Pike in Uganda and Moscow. Asia and Africa today. № 3, pp. 62-67. (In Russ.)

2. Teterin O.I. Remembering Africa (important issues… and not so much). Moscow, 556 p. (In Russ.)

3. William Pike. 2012. Meeting Museveni. Asia and Africa today. № 3, pp. 68-72. (In Russ.)

4. Teterin O.I. How Swahili saved a Russian diplomat during the 1985 coup. New Vision (Kampala). August 28, 2012.

5. Denisova T.S. 2016. Uganda: Yoweri Museveni and the problem of political longevity. Asia and Africa today. № 11, pp. 34-41. (In Russ.)

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