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Uganda Commemorates NRM Liberation Day

NRM Liberation Day is a public holiday in Uganda.

NRM Liberation Day: January 26

NRM Liberation Day is a public holiday in Uganda.

On January 25, 1986, the National Resistance Army (NRA), under the wing of the political National Resistance Movement (NRM), ousted a government that represented years of corruption, civil rights offenses, and alleged voter fraud. The movement, led by Yoweri Musevini, promised “a fundamental change in the politics” of Uganda. The country now commemorates the event every year as NRM Liberation Day, though not without its detractors.

History of NRM Liberation Day in 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 Musevini, founder of the Uganda Patriotic Movement and trained in guerilla warfare, gathered other like-minded individuals to begin the Ugandan Bush War.

Musevini’s 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 Musevini 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.”

Uganda’s NRM Liberation Day Traditions, Customs and Activities

The celebration of the NRA/NRM’s liberation of Uganda has come under scrutiny the last few years. Many of Uganda’s citizens feel the NRM’s promises of “fundamental change” seem to have been lost in recent years. The Democratic Party (DP) has been most vocal about the boycott of NRM Liberation Day celebrations over the last three years, though the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) has also chided the celebrations.

“The major cause of the liberation war was the injustice of vote rigging, but vice has become entrenched in the system,” said FDC deputy publicist and acting administrator, Boniface Toterebuka during the 2009 NRM Liberation Day. “Corruption has also been institutionalized. We should instead be mourning for thousands of lives that were lost in several years of war to satisfy the needs of selfish individuals.”

The Uganda Pulse reported in 2007 that attendance was dwindling at the celebrations, likely due to dwindling support of the NRM.

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