Uganda: complicated birth; difficult upbringing

Uganda, the size of the United Kingdom, was born after a complicated ‘pregnancy’ following the Berlin conference; border adjustment negotiations among the United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium and France; religious and colonial wars that left some parts devastated. The outcome was compression into one country of segments of society with different cultures, hostile neighbors, different government systems and levels of economic and social development. Indirect rule using former oppressive chiefs over their subjects and employment of Baganda advisers to other parts of Uganda complicated the situation. Buganda was rewarded with territory taken from Bunyoro for cooperation in subduing the latter, a deal that Bunyoro never accepted. Through the 1900 agreement, Dundas reforms of 1944 and the 1955 agreement, Buganda was accorded a status of a state within a state. Because of various local administration ordinances, the colonial administration introduced a strong decentralized government system at provincial and district levels at the expense of central administration. Collaboration between colonial administration and the Protestant Church at the expense of Catholic and Muslim Faiths also created complications.

Why are Baganda complaining of impoverishment and marginalization?

UDU premise is finding and telling the truth about Uganda and Ugandans in order to identify problems and recommend solutions that will benefit all. In our culture we have a saying developed before refrigeration became available that if you hide meat from fire it will rot. Either you roast or boil it.

When confronted with a difficult situation, we Ugandans have developed a habit of brushing sensitive issues under the carpet/rug hoping time will provide solutions. We especially politicians have therefore developed a tendency of saying what the audience wants to hear or skipping vital issues to earn popularity.

There is ample evidence that if discussions before independence had been genuine, Uganda would have avoided the situation we are in. But because they were rushing our negotiators made some blunders. They avoided the issue of the head of state and we ended up with a Governor-General which delayed the problem. They avoided the right solution to Amin problem and we all know what we got from him. They avoided the issue of ‘Lost Counties” and we know what happened and what still lingers on. The colonial administration simply handed over the problems it created.

Highlights of Uganda history and politics

Lest we forget, let us remind ourselves of the discussions we have had so far and the issues that have emerged. My contribution has been publication of ten books, creation of a blog, co-host of an English program on Radio Munansi, participation in debates through Uganda Observer newspaper, Ugandans at Heart Forum and as Secretary General and Chief Administrator of UDU. I have avoided discussing or writing about private lives or family matters of Ugandans I have referred to. Without understanding our history and political experience, we will continue to engage in misinformation and misinterpretation of developments. Uganda’s history and politics have been distorted to serve parochial interests and setting the record straight has created some of the controversies we have witnessed. Because the highlights cover discussions of a year and half, the article is therefore a bit longer than usual.

As we move forward we should be governed by reason and tolerance, not emotion and intolerance; equality, not superiority; merit, not favoritism as to religion, region, gender, age or ethnicity etc and civility and decorum, not abuse or threat. We must always remember that Uganda belongs to all of us. Not one single individual or a group of few individuals should be allowed to determine the country’s future trajectory. When one attempts, Ugandans must act boldly and swiftly and nip the effort in the bud. Here are the highlights.

Foreign reliance on minority Tutsi has reopened old wounds

On July 9, 2011, I said a prayer silently and then stood up in front of fellow Ugandans in a conference hall in Los Angeles, USA and officially declared that I was going to devote the balance of my life to finding a lasting solution to the endemic problems in the Great Lakes Region of Africa (GLRA). I added that in carrying out this task I would be honest and fair to all stakeholders, notwithstanding that some findings may be contested even when everyone knows they are accurate. I have read and written extensively on the Great Lakes Region of Africa (GLRA) and posted some articles on

I was born and grew up in Rujumbura county of Rukungiri district in southwest Uganda which for centuries has been a battle ground between Bantu (Bahutu and Bairu) or agriculturalists and Nilotic (Batutsi, Bahima, Bahororo and Banyamulenge) or pastoralists. Because of shortages of pasture and water, nomadic pastoralists fight most of the time to destroy or chase away the competitor and dominate the territory. Because of constant wars and dispossession of opponents, pastoralists end up destroying more than they construct. Pastoralists in GLRA (and possibly elsewhere) don’t have a culture of negotiations and sharing with others on equal terms.

Discussion is the beginning of solving problems

The 18th century intellectual revolution (enlightenment) in Europe paved the way for revolutions in Europe and America, solving many problems. These intellectuals that included Locke, Voltaire, Rousseau, Montesquieu and Paine disagreed a lot among themselves but the direction and conclusions were clear – absolute rule with divine right, intolerance, abuse of human rights and exploitation were things of the past. Many intellectuals ran into trouble with their governments: were jailed or fled their homeland but never yielded what they stood for.

We had very intense and interactive discussions at the UDU conference in Boston in October 2011. It was realized that there was a severe shortage of information. Our history has distortions, biases, misinformation and misinterpretation of events. It was agreed that civic education should be one of the principal tasks of UDU. It was however stressed that discussions should be civil regardless of the degree of disagreement. None has a right to abuse others with different opinions. I urge that we maintain the spirit of respect for one another especially when discussing controversial topics.

Devastating wars in southwest Uganda

Since I joined Uganda politics I have been disturbed by the high propensity for war. It appears that Ugandans are eager to solve every problem through war. If you advocate peaceful means you are quickly called a coward. There are commentators who habitually dismiss peaceful change of regime in Uganda without explaining why war is a better alternative. You wonder whether these are saboteurs or genuine citizens. A large part of what we read and hear about Uganda is war mongering. There are Ugandans who are now getting ready to start war once the Syrian one is over because they believe it is Uganda’s turn. I believe war should be resorted to in self-defense. We therefore need Plan A (peaceful change of regime) and Plan B (military means for self-defense). Preparation for both should take place concurrently.

Uganda must end the culture of war

The history of Uganda has been defined by war than peace. Accordingly, Uganda has no culture of resolving disputes by peaceful means. Ugandans will fight over virtually everything, cattle and land included. The skeletons of war are everywhere and are piling up. The people of Rukungiri, my home district, still remember the devastating Kagogo war. Wars between Buganda and Bunyoro are too well known to be repeated here. Religions that had been invited to protect Uganda ended up fighting each other and tearing some parts part. Colonialism could not be established in all parts of Uganda except through the barrel of the gun which left Bunyoro devastated to this day. Kings and chiefs were overthrown, exiled or jailed.

Why has Museveni divided up Uganda into many districts?

One of the outcomes of UDU conference in Boston in October 2011 was recognition that there is an acute shortage of information about Uganda’s history, its place in the Great Lakes geopolitics and domestic political economy. It was decided that one of the main follow-up activities of UDU secretariat be civic education within the framework of the National Recovery Plan (NRP). I have consistently argued that:

1. You have got to identify the root cause(s) of the problem before attempting a solution;

2. You have to present research findings as truthfully and honestly as possible;

3. You have to study the actions of actors dialectically by looking for that which is not said because that is where the main motive is likely to be located;

4. You should not shy away from telling the truth for fear of hurting someone’s feelings. For instance, a doctor would do a disservice if he treated a patient with a sexually transmitted disease without disclosing the cause of the problem to avoid hurting feelings. The right thing is to tell the truth and ask that the partner also comes in for treatment so that the disease is cured once and for all, assuming that the two partners won’t engage in extra relations.

Why has NRM ignored unemployment in Uganda?

With all the resources in Uganda and donor money and the work that needs to be done, there is no reason why Uganda should suffer the current unacceptable high level of open and disguised (underemployment) unemployment. Instead, youth open unemployment stands at over 80 percent that has triggered mass poverty also at over 80 percent. In a true democratic country, Museveni would have been impeached. But he is still around governing with an iron fist threatening to crush those who oppose his vision of ‘under-developing” Uganda into a Fourth World country and impoverishing over 80 percent of Uganda citizens. NRM dismal performance is a function of two factors.

First, Museveni knows exactly what to do to get Ugandans to work and end unemployment. But he can’t do it because that would empower and encourage Ugandans to oppose his long stay in power. So to keep them powerless and voiceless, he has chosen to marginalize them through unemployment and disguised unemployment. Without paying attention to lessons of history and how unemployed mobs can easily turn revolutionary as in France in 1789 and Russia in 1917, Museveni believes poor people can be sat on forever. If the trend continues recent by-elections are sending a signal that Museveni’s time may be up for voluntary exit or he could face a revolution of French or Russian style led by poor, hungry and unemployed mobs – and we have plenty of them in Kampala and elsewhere. Don’t rule out the possibility of disgruntled security forces joining the mobs. There are rumors that cracks are opening up in some sections of the forces.

Is Uganda likely to have a charismatic leader soon?

The nature of my career as an international civil servant prevented me from direct engagement in Uganda politics. Instead, I devoted much spare time studying it inter alia why Uganda has failed to produce a charismatic champion like Jomo Kenyatta, Julius Nyerere or Kwame Nkrumah etc. When time was ripe, I began writing about Uganda politics and economics. The outcome of this effort is ten books and a blog

Before I opened up, I discussed Uganda politics in the form of asking questions or seeking clarification on certain issues to avoid giving personal opinions. Those I engaged in this type of discussion can now understand why I adopted that strategy. In these discussions I found there was too much resistance to build national consciousness or patriotism. In an attempt to fill the gap, I co-founded Uganda Unity Group (UUG) in Lusaka, Zambia drawing members from all parts of Uganda but could not attend the Moshi conference in 1979 because of the constraints of my career. Thus I escaped accusations of direct engagement in Uganda politics although I had practiced politics largely indirectly for a long time going as far back as before independence when I co-founded UPC Youth Wing at Butobere School and interacted with Secretary General John Kakonge (RIP) when he visited Kabale.