Today 9th October 2012 Uganda celebrates 50 years of independence from Great Britain. I am disappointed that I am not in Uganda to join in the celebrations and parties.
I will settle for reflection on some of the highlights from those 50 years and what the future holds for the Pearl of Africa.
On 15th September 2012 Ugandans in Diaspora gathered at the Troxy on Commercial Road London to discuss investment opportunities in Uganda as well as the role of the Diaspora in the economic development of Uganda. The gathering attracted Senior Government Ministers including the Speaker of Uganda’s Parliament, Honorable Rebecca Kadaga. In her speech Hon Kadaga, urged us to return home and rebuild the country. She said
In 1962 when the British handed over the instruments of government it was not envisaged that most of our people would leave permanently
This statement says a great deal as I suspect neither the British nor the Ugandans at the time saw what followed coming.
In the first twenty-five years Uganda went through twelve presidents and the power struggles between meant that there was always a civil war of sorts as tribes were pitted against one another.
The first and perhaps biggest incident that wasn’t anticipated was the expulsion of the Ugandan Asians by Idi Amin. The country’s economy went down hill from here and so did the infrastructure followed by the start of the brain drain. The country’s physicians were the first to leave and they headed south to South Africa, to take advantage of gaps left by Apartheid regime. At the time Uganda’s Makerere University and Mulago hospital were amongst the most respected Institutions in the region and therefore the physicians from these Institutions were able to pick up work in areas of South Africa that the whites could not or would not work.
By 1986, the country was a failed state and she had a new President- MUSEVENI. The buildings on the main street in Kampala had grass and trees growing in them, having been bombed in one of the civil wars.
Shortly after Museveni’s National Resistance Army came to power a woman that came to be known as Alice Lakwena started a “holly war” that was picked up by Joseph Kony in 1987 and went on for 26 years. The consequence of this conflict was that whilst the south of the country enjoyed economic growth and renewal the north became a no go area, those that could get away either left the country all together or became Internally Displaced People (IDP) whilst those that could not get away were recruited into Kony’s army especially children whilst women were raped.
Something else happened, HIV and AIDS. The HIV virus claimed almost as many lives if not more than the civil wars leaving a generation of orphans. Credit where it is due, Museveni and his government lead the way in the fight against HIV and AIDS in Africa leading to big reductions in the spread of the virus in Uganda.
In the 26 years that Museveni’s NRM has been in power, Uganda grown in confidence and taken on the role of regional Army albeit in a self appointed capacity. If you review the literature on regional conflicts you will discover that Uganda has a hand in almost all the regional conflicts, Rwanda, Congo, Sudan, Somalia. This role appears to be supported by the USA and European Union who provide training and technical support to the Ugandan army.
I am not quite sure if this has any benefits for Uganda itself, some argue that Uganda’s involvement has left her vulnerable to terrorist attacks as was the case in 2010, Al shabab killed at least 74 people who were watching the world cup finals citing “pay back” for Uganda’s involvement in Somalia. But when you speak with sections of the population that actually live in Uganda and you will discover that whilst they might be unhappy about all manner of things they very have happy with the security and peace that the country enjoys. In fact word on the street is that Kampala is the safest city in Africa.
The emerging picture in Uganda –
Is one of mixed fortunes on the one hand the rich are able to send their children to world universities, travel to Thailand, Malaysia, South Africa etc, to access first class health care whilst at the lower end of the scale women die in maternal wards because they can’t afford the fees.
There is an ongoing exploration of what lies beneath Uganda’s soil and the emerging picture is one of riches beyond Uganda’s wildest dreams. You would think that this would be a cause for jubilation but oh no, deep down the man on the street knows that he is unlikely to personally benefit what lies beneath the earth.
There huge questions about Human Rights and governance in the country. As an observer (as I have become) I get excited when I see those abusing their positions being taken to task or being hauled before a court/parliamentary enquiry then nothing becomes of such actions, for example I recently followed what appeared to be a stalemate over the budget the gist of which was whilst the President wanted to ring fence the defense budget, most MPs wanted to increase the Healthcare budget. In the end it was reported that someone got to the opposing MPs and perhaps money changed hands and the budget stalemate was broken!
The government opposition appears to have found a voice albeit one that has been successfully muffled by various government instruments. I recall being in Kampala in June 2011, and as I walked through the city there were soldiers everywhere on the streets, the army occupied the city square. This was a scene I had not seen since 1985 and was unnerved by it. Apparently this was intended to stop the Walk to Work demonstrations.
On the issue of Human Rights, a member of Uganda’ parliament introduced a private member’s bill regarding homosexuality. The Anti Homosexuality bill has polarized the country, some say it is an excuse to cover up the real issues whilst others argue it has nothing to do with Human Rights and call for the killing of homosexuals.
There has been some very good news too, last year (2011) Uganda was voted by Lonely Planet amongst the Top 10 destinations to visit. But, and there is always but, it would appear that not a lot has been done to capitalize on this.
I have schemed over a great deal of detail, events and facts that are not within the scope of this post and I am left with the question
WHAT WILL THE NEXT 50 YEARS LOOK LIKE?
I sincerely don’t know. But according to Uganda’s National Development Plan 2010-214, Uganda aspires to be a middle-income country as well as improve the number of manufactured goods it exports as it recognizes that value addition at source generates more income than exporting raw materials. In addition Uganda also aspires to increase the number of registered Trade Marks. Will any of this be achieved without improved governance, improved human rights record, a more equal society for both men and women etc. your guess is as good as mine!