"It was very bad" under deposed Ugandan president Milton Obote, said a church worker in western Uganda last week. "Much worse than under Amin," he noted, in reference to Idi Amin, the country's exiled former dictator whose rule became infamous for vast human rights abuses and military excess.
"Now with the help of God, we shall learn to live again," he added.
Just over two weeks after Army troops ousted Obote, Ugandans are doing just that, with an aplomb born of much practice.
Within a few days of troops tearing through Kampala on looting sprees, the city set about picking up the pieces. Men swept the streets clean of glass and other debris that spilled out from empty shops. Businessmen commuted to work past makeshift roadblocks constructed from anything that came to hand -- broken chairs, gasoline cans, metal pipes, even beer bottles.
For the most part, the bored soldiers who manned them simply waved everyone through from where they lay sprawled on the grass. Occasionally, travelers paid a toll of cigarettes or food. One motorist was asked if she had any books in the car. She didn't. The soldier shrugged and continued his perusal of a tourist brochure.
By contrast, visitors to Kampala in the days after the coup ate dinner each night to the sound of gunfire punctuated by wails. Inquiries the following morning revealed that Army troops, traditionally ill paid and ill disciplined, still were looting and firing at houses whose doors were bolted.
Saturday night, in the country's second-largest city, Jinja, five persons reportedly were killed in a looting rampage by soldiers.
Earlier Saturday, truckloads of men, their fists raised in salute, were freed from Kampala's Luzira Prison. The convoy unloaded its passengers into the capital's central square, where the occasion quickly evolved into a rally for Uganda's Democratic Party.
The party was once in opposition to Obote's Uganda People's Congress. Now, under the new government of Gen. Tito Okello, who promoted himself last week from the rank of lieutenant general, its Baganda followers are ascendant. One of the first steps taken by the new military leaders was to authorize the release of 1,200 political prisoners, many of whom had been held without charge for several years. But the traffic proved to be two-way as a sweep of Obote's security agents and Uganda People's Congress supporters quickly filled the prison cells again.
Politics, however, is not the sole motivation for such actions in African countries with threadbare economies, such as Uganda. The simpler matter of daily survival is also a factor, as members of rival tribes fight among themselves for the available spoils.
"Freedom is very sweet," said John Kizito, 34, a prisoner freed Saturday who was a member of Democratic Party. Kizito, who worked for the national examination board, cited unemployment as the reason for his imprisonment. Members of Obote's Langi tribe wanted the jobs of the traditionally better educated Baganda who live around Kampala, he said.
The country's new prime minister, Paulo Muwanga, underscored the kaleidoscopic shifts in alliance that can accompany political upheaval here.
In the 18 years since independence, he has served under Obote twice, most recently as vice president and defense minister, as well as under Amin and in three interregnums.
Friday, at his first press conference as the new prime minister, he cited his efforts "to build a Ugandan nation." A key part of that effort is scheduled to begin today in Tanzania between the new military government and former defense minister Yoweri Museveni, leader of the National Resistance Army guerrilla group.
On Friday, Muwanga referred to Museveni, whose participation in the new government is regarded as a key element in national reconciliation, as "a personal friend."
Muwanga headed the military commission that masterminded the elections that returned Obote to power in 1980. When Museveni, then defense minister, lost at the polls, he claimed the election was rigged and took up arms. Since then, the two men have been on opposite sides, with Muwanga, as defense minister, ordering punitive raids against the guerrillas led by Museveni.
[Monday, reports from Uganda indicated that Museveni's guerrillas were on the move -- marching toward Masaka, the country's third largest town, according to witnesses quoted by Reuter, and making other advances in the southwest of the country and north of Kampala, according to unofficial reports cited by The Associated Press.]
Muwanga, a member of the Uganda People's Congress under Obote, a Langi from the north, had been considered a turncoat by his fellow Bagandas in the south.
Now, however, he has tendered an olive branch to their Democratic Party by giving the first Cabinet appointment to party leader Paul Ssemogerere.
At the time, Ssemogerere was free on bail pending trial on charges of sedition brought by the Obote government. The case was due to be heard Aug. 5 but was postponed when the state prosecutor could not be traced. Ssemogerere was named internal affairs minister on the same day, thereby becoming the prosecutor's boss.
Some Ugandans, acknowledging that life is more important than gainful employment, have retired from prominent positions to unobtrusively eke out a living as small shop owners or petty traders. They eat food grown in backyard vegetable plots.
Many have either sold their cars or simply left them to disintegrate by the side of the road. Those who want to build new homes because their own have fallen into disrepair construct with mud bricks. Few can afford to buy cement and in any case there is none on the market.
"We have been very lucky. We didn't lose anyone under Obote or even Amin," said one household head.
The road to reconstruction is likely to be long and steep. Years of neglect under Amin set the economy back by more than a decade. When Tanzanian soldiers and Ugandan exiles drove him into exile in 1979, it was estimated that the country needed $2 billion to get back on its feet.
However, while Obote pressed ahead with economic reforms backed by the World Bank and the IMF, he was also, according to central bank officials, siphoning off much of the country's coffee export earnings and depositing them in a private offshore bank account. Coffee sales make up 90 percent of Uganda's foreign exchange.
Obote allegedly dealt his final blow to the economy when he raided central bank vaults en route into exile, taking with him what Okello described as "enough money to run the country for three years."
Kampala's main street is now lined with buildings that have been variously bombed, burned or simply picked clean.
Some are a legacy of the heavy fighting that occurred during the coup that deposed Amin. They can be identified by the moss hanging from the walls and the trees sprouting from the drainpipes.