Kampala is bedecked with black, yellow and red flags. The final touches are being put on the new Independence Grounds in Kololo. The Independence Monument has been sand blasted and the surrounding area has been given a fresh lick of paint. Foreign heads of state and dignitaries have arrived. Security has obviously been heightened around town, with the regular police patrols being augmented with Military Police personnel. Key Opposition figures are under lock down in their homes to prevent them stirring up any protests in the streets. It’s the 8th of October 2012 and Uganda celebrates its 50th independence anniversary tomorrow.
Uganda is not alone in celebrating 50 years of independence on the African continent in the past few years. The wave of celebrations in sub-Saharan Africa started in Ghana in 2007 and swept through various countries, notable amongst which are Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2010. They have tended to be lavish affairs held in large stadia, complete with big military parades. Uganda is no exception. We have a brand new pavilion at the Independence Grounds and there will be a military and civilian parade crowned by a fly-past of our new Sukhoi jets, flown by Russian pilots.
As the 50th anniversary, popularly referred to as Uganda@50, has drawn closer, there has been a lot of debate in the mass and social media as to whether there is anything to celebrate. There has also been major revisiting, and, some would say, rewriting of, Uganda’s colonial and post-colonial history. The debates have tended to descend from an assessment of the achievements of Uganda as a nation to the assessment of the achievements, merits and de-merits of three presidents: Milton Obote; Idi Amin and Yoweri Kaguta Museveni. This has polarized the debates and also made them relatively shallow because very few people have open views about these three men, the latter of whom has reigned over Uganda for 26 of the 50 years that it has been independent.
Yet ironically, although it is marking the anniversary of a historical date, Uganda@50 should not be about the past. It should be about the future.
At 3.58% per annum, Uganda has the world’s fourth highest population growth rate. In 2001, Uganda’s Population Secretariat posited a scenario where Uganda’s population will grow to 53.7 million people in 2025 (i.e. Uganda@63). As the population has grown larger, so has it grown younger. It is estimated that about 56.1% of Uganda’s 34.1 million people are under the age of 18. Regarding the economy, the Population Secretariat highlighted the fact that this kind of rapid population growth will require the creation of 713,000 new jobs every year in order to keep unemployment at acceptable levels. The Secretariat forecast a need for the construction 2.6 million extra units of housing in urban areas by 2025 to cope with the surging urban population, or, as they put it more graphically, the “construction of a new Kampala every 2 years”.
For this burgeoning young population, the end of colonialism, the post-independence coups and the people’s protracted revolutionary struggles of the late 20th Century are interesting but nothing more than history. The burning issues are jobs, social services (especially health and education), energy, infrastructure and the environment.
The youth may be more prosperous than their forebears but that doesn’t really matter. They were not there to witness their parents’ and grand parents’ poverty. Rather they are concerned about the growing social inequality and the stifling social immobility. What used to be a gap between the rich and the poor is quickly growing into an unbridgeable chasm. The young people are shocked by and increasingly angry about the alarming levels of wastage and misappropriation of public funds. They are the victims of the pervasive corruption because it is their future, their happiness and their prosperity that is being looted and wasted by the greedy few.
This may explain the lack of enthusiasm for the big parade and the tinge of pessimism that has been apparent in much of the Uganda@50 media commentary and social media debates. It isn’t so much from a lack of patriotism as from a feeling that Uganda as a state is not capable of guaranteeing the young people a bright, happy and prosperous future.
The pre-independence generation made the mistake of uniting around one simple issue, independence from British colonial rule. Post independence history shows that they were guilty of what Chinweizu calls “under-conceptualization”. Time has shown that the dream of everything being fine under self-rule was clearly too shallow. For what was the value of replacing white colonialists with black tyrants? Did tyranny, oppression and exploitation become any more palatable when inflicted by one’s own kind?
Yet Uganda still needs a dream, now more than ever, which unites us as a nation in hope for the future. A dream of a new, all-embracing Uganda, in with opportunities for all and in which hard work, enterprise and playing by the rules are properly rewarded. We need a dream which drives us to make solid and workable national, regional and personal development plans. We need a dream that drives us to work harder, to work smarter, to produce more and to save more. We need a dream and the collective and individual capacity and discipline for its implementation. This is what Uganda@50 should be all about; delivering the Uganda we all dream about for our children and our children’s children.
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