Challenge of Uganda’s national unity since independence


British policy of divide and rule continued until independence in 1962. Since
then independent governments particularly those of Obote and Museveni have
attempted to construct national unity without success.

On October
9, 1962 as the country celebrated independence, the Secretary General of the
ruling Uganda Peoples Congress issued a statement that the main interest of
Britain in Uganda was to create a thick cloud of confusion behind which it could
hide and exploit the country although it posed as the arbiter between the
so-called warring tribes and fanatical religious groups which it nursed and
abated to suit its strategy.

of UPC’s government primary goals was to foster national unity. To this end the
government worked to end tribalism, feudalism, religious bigotry and political
opportunism in all their manifestations. Prime Minister and later President
Obote hoped to do so through the mechanism of politics and education.

the political route, he argued that political parties carried the potential of
drawing Ugandans together. He therefore devised a scheme requiring all
parliamentary candidates to secure votes both in their own “basic”
constituencies, as well as in three other regions of Uganda. This proposal was designed
to break up the persisting ethnic problems that he believed plagued the
country. The abolition of kingdoms in 1967 was also intended to promote
national unity.

education, all schools in Uganda were required to admit pupils and students from any part of the country and any
faith. English would be the medium of instruction in secondary schools. Policy
changes were also adopted so that district commercial schools would be replaced
by five large colleges, each concentrating on one main subject. This
arrangement was expected to unite the young people of Uganda and
eliminate the harmful effects of tribalism and religion.

Obote and his government were overthrown in a military coup in 1971, one of the
reasons given for the coup was that Obote had sought to divide the armed forces
and the country by placing his own tribesmen in key military and civilian positions. 

replaced Obote as President of Uganda in 1971. He too stressed the importance
of Uganda’s unity.Amin is
quoted to have said “We all want only [unity] in Uganda and we do not want
bloodshed. Everybody in Uganda knows that”.

when Amin and his government were overthrown in 1979, Amin was accused of
dividing the country along religious and ethnic lines, favoring Muslims, of
whom he was one, and the people of West Nile, his home district, and southern Sudan who
included Nubians like himself. For example, a large share of Asian property when
they were thrown out of Uganda went to Amin’s supporters mostly in the army who were his relatives.  

1986, Yoweri Museveni became President of Uganda and stressed the importance of
unity. In his first swearing-in address, he drew attention of the nation to the
third point in the NRM program which was about unity in Uganda. Past
regimes, he observed, had used sectarianism to divide people along religious
and tribal lines. While noting that religion should not be considered a
political matter, he advised that religious matters should be between
individuals and their god.

to the President, politics was about provision of roads, water, drugs in
hospitals and schools for children. He wondered why people should be divided along
religious or tribal lines when their interests, problems and aspirations were similar.
 People who used religion or tribalism
were opportunists relying on cheap divisive platforms because they had nothing
constructive to offer the people. He stressed that NRM does not tolerate
religious and tribal divisions because everybo

dy is received on an equal basis.
The establishment of a broad-based government in 1986 was seen as a genuine
step towards the realization of the national unity dream.

that the country was being divided did not take long in coming. The President
was accused of favoring his own ethnic group of Banyankole in the dispensing of
patronage. Other commentators added that Uganda was a more divided country
than it was when the NRM came to power in 1986. Corruption, regionalism and
ethnicity have continued to determine who gets what in the political and
economic arenas.

the September 2006 Uganda Convention in New York,
accusations were more specific, pointing to a small click of Banyankole who are
accumulating enormous political, military and economic power at the expense of
the rest of the country.

were also heard loud and clear that the presidential and parliamentary
elections in 2006 left no one in doubt about the widening rift between the
people of southern and those of northern Uganda. Those in the south had voted
overwhelmingly for the ruling National Resistance Movement Organization (NRMO),
while those in the northern region, who had suffered extensive economic, peace and
security deprivation, voted overwhelmingly for the opposition Forum for
Democratic Change (FDC).

since 1962 when Uganda became politically independent, unity has remained a dream. Some commentators
have blamed lack of intermarriage across tribal, ethnic, racial or religious
lines. One commentator noted that for Uganda as a whole, inter-marriages
do occur but they have remained comparatively few. The common man prefers a
wife of his own tribe who is familiar with his culture and speaks the same

us hope that the increase in mobility, education and urbanization will facilitate
the mixing of Ugandans from different backgrounds and improve interaction and ultimately
eliminate those elements that have obstructed the national unity project. The
young generation holds the key to fulfilling that dream.

(the people of Kigezi living abroad) have already made a commendable start. One
of the goals of the Association is to facilitate interaction of the young
people who come together every year for four days – they play together, eat
together and know one another as people from Kigezi irrespective of tribe,
religion or other characteristics. This is an example that should be emulated
and nurtured by others.