Are poor people easy to govern in perpetuity?

Years ago, a Uganda official reasoned that well educated and paid people are difficult to govern, implying that poorly educated and paid Ugandans are preferable because their daily problems keep them too busy to exercise their rights. What the official did not know or chose to ignore is that poverty is one of the root causes of political and many other forms of instability. Making or keeping people poor so they are governed in perpetuity without difficulty can be counterproductive as developments in Uganda are beginning to show. Under the NRM government many Ugandans have sunk into deep poverty which was hidden under economic growth and per capita income figures until it manifested itself through diseases of poverty.

The NRM came to power determined to govern indefinitely. One of its strategies right from the start was to impoverish citizens in the short, medium and long term. In the short term, the NRM government of Museveni took 30 percent of Ugandans’ meager savings as a service charge for changing old into new currency. Many lost their businesses right away. Some of those who survived have not fully recovered 25 years later.

From ten-point program to evangelism

President Museveni’s address to the NRM special organs conference at Namboole on Tuesday September 7, 2010 portrayed him more like a religious preacher to a flock in disarray and adviser to a government that has done a poor job than a president who has been in power continuously for 25 years. It is not surprising given the unprecedented chaotic performance in the recent (September 2010) NRM primaries for 2011 elections and the overall economic, social and ecological decline. The promised industrial and social revolutions and poverty eradication are nowhere in sight.

In Uganda, politics under the NRM is about power: how to get it, monopolize it and use it to become filthy rich relying on family members, relatives and friends. Knowing full well that democracy would not secure him the presidency, Museveni chose the military option and became president in 1986 and has no plans to retire soon. The army and other security forces are used more to silence dissent against his regime than to keep peace and stability as Museveni and his foreign backers would want us to believe. The demonstration by unemployed and unarmed citizens in Kampala was met with disproportional military force resulting in many deaths and injuries.

“A new colonialism: Europe must go back into Africa”

There have been suggestions that Europe must go back into Africa to put the continent back on track. Despite independence Europe never left Africa. It’s like governors went on indefinite vacation leaving behind Africans acting as Officers-in-Charge (oic). Through these oics, Europe has continued to exert tremendous influence (perhaps more than if Europeans were in direct control) in many ways that have contributed to the many political economy challenges Africa faces.

For some African countries, their relationship with Europe after so-called independence can be compared to relations between a department chief who before going on mission or vacation instructs his/her designated officer-in- charge (oic) to implement the chief’s decisions, and have the chief clear all outgoing correspondence before they go out under the signature of the oic. There are many instances when correspondence is drafted by the chief and signed by the oic. Many are deceived that the oic is in full control of the department and acts independently in the absence of the chief. Similarly in some African countries policies come from Europe or the international institutions they control although they bear the signature of the African head of state or head of department concerned. This has been particularly the case since the 1980s when stabilization and structural adjustment programs (SAPs) or the Washington Consensus were launched.

Crickets and locusts do not fly together

In my culture we have a proverb “ekiharara noruzigye tibiguruka kumwe” which means that a cricket and locust do not fly together. Why? Because crickets fly a short distance and take a break. They also fly at a low altitude. On the other hand, locusts fly a long distance without a break and fly at a high altitude. When the two try to fly together in a long distance race at a high altitude, crickets drop out of the race. Locusts continue to the finishing line and win prizes.

In Uganda, relations between Bahororo and the rest of Ugandans are similar to relations between locusts and crickets. Bahororo (locusts) under the leadership of Museveni started the guerrilla war with a long term plan: to dominate Uganda politics indefinitely. On the other hand, the rest of Ugandans (crickets) especially Baganda and Catholics joined Museveni with a short term plan: to defeat Obote and his Protestant ruling UPC party. They joined Museveni’s guerrilla war and brought Obote down through Acholis in the army in July 1985. The Acholis who had a short term vision: to throw Obote and his Langi tribesmen out of power had no long term plan of holding onto power. Consequently, they were overthrown six months later and Museveni came to power in January 1986.

Dividing Uganda into Nilotic North and Bantu South is not correct

When I wrote that dividing Uganda into watertight Nilotic North and Bantu South was not entirely correct, some people sought clarification and elaboration. Earlier on some people had also raised the question whether the people of southern Uganda who are linguistically the same (Bantu-speakers) are also racially (or ethnically) the same.

For Uganda’s northern region one can safely use the Nilotic classification. For Buganda, Bunyoro and Toro one can also safely use the Bantu classification since intermarriage between Nilotic and Bantu peoples was so thorough that new communities emerged, adopted a common Bantu language and practiced mixed farming thereby ending the pastoralist and agricultural specialization between Nilotic and Bantu peoples respectively. However, in south west Uganda (Ntungamo and Rujumbura in particular) the situation is different.

Bantu people who speak Bantu language or Bantu Bantu-speakers (BBS) from Cameroon/Nigeria border arrived in southwest Uganda first through the Congo region. They practiced mixed farming of crops, short horn cattle, goats and sheep and poultry. They also manufactured a wide range of products particularly those based on iron ore. Centuries later, Nilotic Luo-speaking people with long horn cattle arrived in the area. Their ancestors came from southern Sudan. Although the Nilotic people (Bahima and Bahororo) adopted Bantu language, hence Nilotic Bantu-speakers (NBS), culturally and economically they remained distinct from Bantu Bantu-speakers (BBS). Separate identities were retained through a combination of strict restrictions on inter-marriage and specialized economic functions.