50 Years On, Uganda Still Dances On the Same Spot
By Paul Amina, The Star
As Uganda marks its golden jubilee today, Paul Amina argues that the country is a shadow of its former self and that a balanced overview of Uganda’s 50 years of independence shows that (de)colonisation is only a stage towards genuine African liberation which the country has yet to arrive at.
Contrary to widespread perception, Uganda’s modern history cannot simply be summarised around its three rulers – Milton Obote, Idi Amin and Yoweri Museveni.
At this time when Uganda celebrates 50 years of its independence today, an examination of the country’s balance sheet shows more negatives than positives. And there are many reasons – both internal and external.
The country has been an arena of intricate contentions of various local and international interests. This is partly what explains much of its turbulent history and many political changes.
Many political personages have emerged in the country’s political scene since independence. The past 50 years of self rule have witnessed the rise and fall of Milton Obote and Idi Amin Dada. General Yoweri Kaguta Museveni has risen at the tail end of this scenario where he has been in governance for 26 years.
None among these Ugandan leaders, since independence, has escaped from the historical, structural and social and unresolved political questions that have entrapped Uganda for long.
Museveni’s administration which promised an era of fundamental change in Uganda has not qualitatively performed any better than his predecessors.
Although President Museveni has held political tenure in new times, the spectra of the old and non-transformed Uganda has thrown back the president into the persistent historical and chronic problems of Uganda polity.
Successive leaders in the past have also not managed to correct the underlying causes of the country’s problems. They failed to assess the nature and character of the problems of Uganda – hence largely proffered merely palliatives to address most of the outstanding structural and developmental questions.
Once a proud producer of cotton, coffee, copper, tea, and tobacco and above all a most attractive tourist destination, Uganda is a pale shadow of her former self and what it could have become in the new times.
The basic mistake has been the surrender of all critical development questions to the international, financial and capital interest concerns.
This reality has most negatively impacted on the prioritisation of development programmes that could have generated more focused national energies for the long term development of the country.
Despite these constraints, Uganda has been largely spared the shame of dependence on famine relief donations that are common in many African countries, except in a number of areas like the Karamoja region and former war-ravaged areas in the north and east of the country.
The country’s agricultural development potential remains enormous. It holds the advantage of excellent soils and favourable climate, as well as a large number of farmers who constitute its agriculturally skilled population.
Given the projected world shortages of food and other agricultural products, the country could mobilise greater capacities in the production, processing and focused marketing of its quality and largely organic agricultural products.
A vibrant agricultural sector could be complimented with light industry which services its needs. The recently discovered oil and gas resources, the country’s tourism and skilled services provision present added opportunities to generate wealth and employment.
The geo-strategic placing of Uganda in the Great Lakes Region, East Africa and the Horn of Africa gives the country unique possibilities in helping to co-ordinate common African developmental programmes.Many of these possibilities have forever got squandered by the country’s political class.
In addition, the East African Community provides a basis for the country to take advantage of the larger possibilities of collective processes of development including research, education, communication, joint economic and service provision ventures.
The authoritarian methods of governance and war management of national and regional political questions which the Uganda government has adopted in over a quarter century has undermined the gains that could have been achieved in social and economic development, human well being and the welfare of Ugandans.
These methods have had a toll on all developmental questions such as quality education, water, sanitation and health provision including poverty mitigation, infrastructure, viable power generation systems and the necessary generalisation of skill acquisition programmes amongst the population.
At independence, under Obote, Uganda economy was vibrant like no other in Africa. It was a proud producer of over 470,000 cotton bales a year and had a network of ginneries spread all over the country as well as quality coffee and tobacco production.
Co-operative movements were active. Beef and dairy industry were never left behind and the country was above all an attractive tourist destination.
The advent of military rule under Major General Idi Amin in the second decade of independence reversed gains and opportunities for the general population and the country whose resources were diverted to security maintenance and purchase of military hardware.
The economy stagnated as opportunities were squandered by the military. The decade was a sorry tale of mismanagement, dictatorship and murder of thousands of innocent people.
The ills of the second decade haunts and spilled into the third, fourth and fifth decades under General Museveni. Qualitatively, the economy has not improved and the familiar words of Uganda rulers for the last quarter century are salvage, rehabilitation and reconstruction which have since become a chorus.
But the population cannot afford not to face up to the resolution of the Uganda developmental question. On this, Ugandans have to find a way out of its current social, political and economic difficulties and invent a definitive democratic way to spur necessary development.
In view of qualitative movement, the country continues to dance on the same spot. Consequently, Uganda is a pale shadow of its former self, and what it could be in the new times if its overall human and national resources endowments got further developed.
The political and power arrangements at Uganda’s independence got unravelled. Another which is more accommodating and congruent to the pluralities of the country shall have to be instituted.
Given the decades of civil wars and unending conflicts, perhaps only such plural and democratic political and power arrangements can leverage the country to meet its potentials.
A balanced overview of Uganda’s 50 years of independence shows that (de)colonisation is only a stage towards genuine African liberation which the country has yet to arrive at.
The fate that befell Obote and Amin in their tenure has astounding similarities which cannot be ignored. One such similarity cannot but strike a diligent observer of Uganda’s political events.In their resting points in Uganda and Saudi Arabia respectively, Obote and Amin must be cursing figure nine.
By sheer coincidence, the reign of both leaders (Obote’s first tenure) ended on the ninth year respectively. Obote ruled Uganda from 1962 to 1971 while Amin’s terror reign was from 1971 to 1979.
Paul Amina is a freelance journalist.