External influence has destroyed Uganda’s independence

Ugandans struggled for independence to have freedom and determine their destiny. They had seen their resources exploited for the benefit of the mother country. They had witnessed their industries and markets destroyed to make room for European manufactured products. Uganda’s demand for independence grew out of the struggle by Africans to have a stake in the cash economy which was dominated by Europeans and Asians, keeping Africans as small holder farmers.

When British authorities finally agreed that Uganda should become independent, they retained the power to decide who would be the leader and which party would form the government. The Catholic dominated Democratic Party (DP) under the leadership of Benedicto Kiwanuka, a Catholic, won the 1961 pre-independence elections. The British and Church of England leadership was not happy. They wanted a Protestant Party led by a Protestant leader. Fresh elections were held and a coalition of Protestant parties (Uganda Peoples’ Congress {UPC} and Kabaka Yekka {KY}) formed the independence government in 1962 with Milton Obote (Protestant) as prime minister and Freddie Mutesa II (Protestant) as president. The Vice President was also a Protestant. The Democratic Party complained after it lost the 1962 elections that the Church of England led by the Archbishop of Canterbury played a decisive role in its defeat.

The British imposed an unsatisfactory federal constitution on the people of Uganda. This constitution with unequal benefits and the defeat of the Democratic Party sowed seeds of instability in Uganda’s politics to this day in 2010. Politics based on Religions is re-emerging because Protestants have been marginalized since 1986. Unless there is balance, religious conflicts will return to Uganda’s political theater. Threats against religious sectarianism alone will not do much.

The Development Committee together with the World Bank determined Uganda’s development trajectory by maintaining the classic colonial economy based on the export of agricultural raw materials in exchange for manufactured products. This classic and static comparative advantage has remained the principal economic guide to the present day in 2010.

At the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Africa held in 1986, a landmark decision was taken that Africans would have primary responsibility for development of the Continent. I attended the session and saw how African leaders were very happy that at long last real economic freedom had come after political freedom as predicted by Nkrumah.

The decision conveyed good news for Uganda with a new government under the leadership of Yoweri Museveni who had been demanding a self-sufficient industrial economy, independent of the demands of the outside world. He had launched a ten-point program prepared by Ugandans. It reflected Uganda’s priorities which had been carefully and transparently negotiated in a participatory manner. The program was a truly home-grown blue print.

During colonial days the government raised sufficient revenue from domestic resources and accumulated surplus. By 1986 when Museveni and his NRM came to power the country was broke, devastated by war, internal conflicts, corruption and incompetence due in large part to the triumph of loyalty and nepotism over competence.

In these circumstances, lack of revenue made it difficult for Museveni and his government to implement the General Assembly decision that conferred primary responsibility for Africa’s development on Africans. That decision had implied that each African country should be able to mobilize revenue from domestic resources. The decision had also ended blaming colonial governments for the under-development of Africa.

Former colonial and neo-colonial governments and institutions began to exert influence on Africa through the back door in the name of structural adjustment. To get donor support, African governments had to agree to the stiff conditionality imposed by IMF and the World Bank. Some governments like Tanzania put up a strong fight against the austerity measures and extracted some concessions. President Rawlings expressed disappointment when structural adjustment in Ghana caused hardship on Ghanaian people.

In Uganda Museveni under the influence of World Bank and IMF and Linda Chalker then minister in Thatcher government, accepted the extreme version (shock therapy) of structural adjustment. Ugandans with different ideas were either dismissed or sidelined. Those who criticized from abroad were not given a chance to join the government. Instead the government chose to invite young British economists to run the powerful ministry of finance, planning and economic development and the central bank. Foreign supervisors were imposed on senior and experienced Ugandans.

With a flood of consultants Uganda’s economy was directed by foreigners. They determined macroeconomic policy; sidelined social and ecological sectors; removed subsidies including on agriculture, education and health care; determined that education would focus on primary level; agriculture would emphasize exports; the state would disappear from economic activity and; the invisible hand of market forces and (laissez faire) individualism would be the new engine of economic growth. To promote labor flexibility workers union activity was restricted and employers had the freedom to set wages supposedly according to the law of demand and supply and hire and fire at will.

Since the 1990s, Museveni has virtually stopped listening to Ugandans and threatens those who exercise their right to criticize public officials for their commissions or omissions including Museveni himself. He uses the pretext of maintaining peace and stability, which has been achieved through bloodshed, to silence dissent about the suffering of the majority of Uganda people.

Museveni listens and acts only when external voices are involved. Many examples confirm this observation, but just five are cited below for illustrative purposes.

(1) He stopped allocation of Mabira forest to Indians for agricultural purposes when western environmentalists made noise.

(2) He stopped the gay bill when Rachel Maddow of USA TV channel 29 single handedly challenged it.

(3) He switched from condom use to abstinence in the fight against HIV.

(4) He accepted holding regular elections because it is a requirement for receiving foreign aid which he needs to stay in power.

(5) He adopted static comparative advantage as required by Washington Consensus.

It is for these and other reasons that many Ugandans regard Museveni as an ambassador in Uganda representing western interests. This excessive external influence has destroyed Uganda’s political and economic independence.