To fully understand Uganda’s current problems which will get worse in the foreseeable future, we must revisit the country’s colonial history and geographical location, corruption and the new notion of ignorance.
At the start of the colonial rule, Uganda was an industrialized and food self-sufficient country. Under the guise of static comparative advantage Uganda was converted into a producer of raw materials and foodstuffs to serve British industries and feed British people respectively. Uganda became an agricultural country and an importer of manufactured products. Uganda’s industries disappeared and hunger shifted from famine to endemic with serious under-nutrition and stunted growth among children.
Globalization has retained the status quo and in fact increased export of traditional crops of cotton, coffee, tea and tobacco and encouraged diversification into non-traditional exports dominated by foodstuffs. Consequently, Uganda has become even more dependent on raw materials and become hungrier. Some ten million people or roughly one in three Ugandans are believed to be going to bed hungry especially mothers and children. Hunger reduces productivity and increases susceptibility to disease and both of them increase abject poverty. Poverty in turn leads to hunger, sickness and low productivity, creating a vicious cycle. This bleak trajectory will certainly continue.
Uganda’s geographical location and potential has been disadvantageous to her people. The introduction of cotton and coffee in Uganda since the 1920s that coincided with economic, environmental and political problems in Rwanda and Burundi resulted in an influx into Uganda of migrant workers of Hutu and Tutsi many of whom settled permanently mostly in Buganda, Ankole and eastern and northern regions especially in Teso and Lango. Hutus settled in crop cultivation parts, Tutsis in cattle herding areas. Hutus are more difficult to trace because they married local women and become integrated. Tutsis did not and have remained distinct although they speak local languages and use local names.
Post-independence conflict in Rwanda witnessed a much larger flow of refugees into Uganda this time of Tutsis and their livestock. Because Britain was determined to grant Uganda’s independence in 1962, it did not want to get bogged down by refugee problems. Instead of confining refugees into camps until the situation returned to normal for them to return home, they were allowed to settle with relatives and into new places initially in the western region and in Buganda. They have since spread to virtually all corners of the country (thanks to the constitutional provision that allows settlement anywhere in Uganda) and resisted integration with indigenous people. Since Batutsi have a superiority complex and believe they are born to rule wherever they are, they entered Uganda politics and quickly occupied prominent positions since Obote I regime in the 1960s. Their profile rose during Amin’s bloody period.
During Museveni’s guerrilla war Batutsi contributed some twenty five percent of the guerrillas. Museveni being a Muhororo of Tutsi origin has relied heavily on Batutsi or Ugandans who have married Batutsi and Bahororo women who have occupied key and strategic positions at home and abroad. Museveni deliberately refused to invite Ugandans in exile because most of them were indigenous people. Museveni also used retrenchment of civil servants under structural adjustment to get rid of indigenous people especially those from southwest region as witnessed by complaints from Bushenyi among other places.
Few Hutu sought refuge in Uganda after 1994 political changes in Rwanda because of friendly relations between Kagame and Museveni. Therefore Tutsi have exerted much greater influence in Uganda than Hutu.
Given the significance of immigrants in Uganda’s political economy and population growth, it is surprising that Uganda’s latest 2010 population report hardly discussed the issue. Using scarcity of information on migrant trends is a weak excuse. The ministries of labor and internal affairs and United Nations Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) have enough data to give the trend. It is going to be very difficult if not artificial to design a population policy without sufficient information on net migration considering that Uganda has since the 1920s attracted in-migrant far in excess of out-migrants. The issue of migrants into Uganda appears to be too sensitive to handle!
Hiding behind anti-sectarian law and individual merit, Museveni has massively hired his family members, relatives and indigenous Ugandans who have married Batutsi, Bahororo or Bahima women and Bahororo/Batutsi who are scattered in all parts of Uganda especially in Buganda who speak local languages and use local names but have remained distinct because men do not marry outside their Nilotic circles. A prominent person from north or east Uganda in security forces or civil service may be a Tutsi who speaks a local language and has a local name. Further, although they may be registered as Baganda many Baganda diplomats may be Bahororo and Batutsi. It is now well known that key ministries especially of finance, foreign affairs and security institutions are packed with this ethnic group of people.
Those Ugandans and others who are research-minded may check on who have been posted to key embassies including in USA, UN in New York and Rwanda. Also look at who have run the ministry of foreign affairs in Kampala since 1986. State House is a public institution and recruitment should be open to all Ugandans. Besides, knowledge of ancestry of Ugandans and others in power might also be useful. Everyone must be able to trace his/her roots. Knowing who is who is in no way sectarian and should not be used to frustrate research and information sharing especially in the absence of vital registration. Museveni was fully aware that the problem of favoritism would come up hence the anti-sectarian law and individual merit for recruitment and promotion. Uganda’s performance at home and abroad has suffered considerably because capable Ugandans are marginalized or not considered at all because they do not belong to the ruling ethnic group.
Under Museveni’s regime corruption and greed have reached unprecedented levels. Museveni has corrupted virtually everyone including – sadly – church leaders. Uganda Protestant bishops have been given free vehicles (there may be a few but I know one who did not get one). Donations to churches and envelopes full of cash have become a common feature making many church leaders turn a blind eye to the suffering of Protestant worshippers. You cannot get so much from Museveni and then oppose his re-election or criticize him for mistreating many Ugandans. It is possible many bishops would want Museveni to stay in power longer in order for them to continue to get donations and vehicles thereby perpetuating corruption.
Museveni has deliberately created poverty and suffering by ignoring rural areas where some 90 percent of Ugandans live (depending on how you define an urban area), refused to create public works to absorb the unemployed youth and to allow school lunches and has underfunded healthcare. Museveni knows that unemployed, poor and hungry people are weak. He uses sticks and carrots to control them. When they try to demand their rights, he unleashes his troops on them as happened in Kampala recently. He has now produced rap music and distributed yellow shirts to youth who have been unemployed for years. A new yellow shirt will save some from going naked to the end of the election campaign early next year. In return the youth have pledged to re-elect Museveni to another five year term. There can’t be worse desperation than this – unbelievable!
Having found themselves in a tight corner, indigenous Ugandans that helped Museveni come to power because they did not like Obote and his Protestant-based regime are so embarrassed to the extent that they are pleading ignorance, arguing that they did not know Museveni could turn out like this. They did not bother to check his background including why he went for military training in the 1960s. Having failed to remove Obote and UPC politically, opponents resorted to military means and Museveni presented himself as Uganda’s savior. No further questions were asked.
Museveni began to create two countries in one. The country of the few rich Ugandans and foreigners in Kampala city where 70 percent of GDP is generated, where also modern private schools and private hospitals are located, and the country of the poor in the rest of Uganda. He established an elaborate security system that spies on everyone and a police and army institution staffed with relatives that silences dissent. Those who have consistently opposed Museveni have been squeezed economically and politically. Museveni has become a world class dictator and unprecedented sectarian. Notwithstanding, he has massive support of some powerful western powers because of his role in regional geopolitics and ideology. That is why he has refused to have an independent electoral commission so he rigs the 2011 election and the donors have looked the other way. Museveni therefore knows that he can get what he wants with impunity. Democracy and regular elections in Uganda have thus come to mean retention of dictator Museveni and inefficient, sectarian and corrupt NRM in power as long as they have western support. Museveni’s calculated anti-terrorism stand has greatly helped him and not the Ugandans who suffered a recent terrorist attack. Western double standards in treating African dictators have reduced western credibility on the African continent especially in eastern and southern Africa.
To many Ugandans, the 2011 elections is a fait accompli. The current bad situation will therefore deteriorate. Already Uganda has been placed 99 of 110 countries on Prosperity Index and Museveni classified among the world’s dictators. Museveni is also presiding over a failed state. It is certain that with Museveni and NRM back in power over the next five years, the situation will worsen for the overwhelming majority of Ugandans.