President Milton Obote today returned to the office of president from which dictator Idi Amin ousted him a decade ago and called on Ugandans to work together to rebuild the country after years of mass killings and chaos.
"The past is gone. We start a new future," he told an audience of about 1,000 in his inaugural address from the steps of Parliament of this former British East African colony.
In a conciliatory speech following an election marred by charges of fraud, Obote called on the opposition Democratic Party to take up its seats in Parliament. The party, which boycotted the inaugural ceremonies, has rejected last week's election and called for a new vote.
With seven seats still to be decided, Obote's Uganda People's Congress has won 70 of the 126 seats in Parliament to 48 for the Democrats and one for a minority party.
Today's ceremony lacked the jubilation common to such events in Africa. It was as if Ugandans, battered by some half million killings under Amin and chaos under three interim administrations, simply wanted to be left in peace now that they finally have an elected government again.
Gen. David Ojok, chief of staff of the military, summed up this sentiment, saying: "For 10 years we have been a laughing stock. Let us have a stop."
Obote, for his part, warned of the danger of tribalism that has plagued this country, saying, "To those who have won, we beg, don't lead us into darkness. Uganda is big enough for all of us."
Citing the massive rehabilitation problems facing Uganda, Obote said, "Things may be difficult, but together it should be possible for all of us to rebuild Uganda."
As his first act of reconciliation, Obote released former President Godfrey Binaisa from house arrest. Binaisa had been held since May when he was overthrown in a military coup that installed a combined civilian-military government under Paulo Muwanga to prepare the country for the elections.