Finale: What we have learned about Uganda’s political economy

I have come to the end of a research project that began in 1961 when I was in third year of high school (senior three) at Butobere School in the then Kigezi district. To get a good grasp of the interconnectedness among Uganda’s development variables, I studied Geography, Economics, Demography, International Law and International Relations/Diplomacy, Sustainable Development and History.

My first book came out in 1997 and I have written a total of the following ten books.

1. Critical Issues in African Development (1997)

2. The Paradox of Hunger and Abundance (1999)

3. Africa’s Lost Century (2001)

4. The Failure of Governance in Africa (2003)

5. World Leaders at the UN General Assembly (2008)

6. Uganda’s Development Agenda (2008)

7. Rethinking Africa’s Development Model (2009)

8. Defying Poverty Through Struggle (2009)

9. For Present and Future Generations (2010)

10. Fifty Years Ago (2010).

In 2008, I created a blog to share information more widely and facilitate debate at the global level with good results so far.

My research and writing have been governed by a dialectical philosophy which compelled me to examine issues that are taboo or deliberately left out in conventional literature thereby making my contribution controversial because hidden truth has been brought to the surface. The research has covered peopling of Uganda and ethnic interaction, ownership of civilizations and distortions in Uganda’s economy and society since colonial days at the start of the 20th century. In the interest of brevity, the coverage of these issues will be very brief and selective. Details are contained in the books which can be obtained from Amazon, Burns and Noble and

Distortions and errors in Uganda’s history

Uganda is peopled by two major ethnic groups of Bantu and Nilotic people. Contrary to earlier writings, there are no Hamititc or Nilo-Hamitic groups in Uganda. That was an error. Bantu people entered Uganda through the Congo basin. They brought with them short horn cattle, goats, sheep and poultry and iron technology. The nomadic Nilotic Luo-speakers who ended up in the great lakes region entered Uganda later from southern Sudan and brought with them long horn cattle.

Before the two ethnic groups interacted, Bantu people had developed sophisticated civilizations including manufacturing enterprises and specialization including in cattle herding that freed some to concentrate on establishing and managing institutions of governance. Bantu communities had kings with palaces, chiefs and council of elders that kept law and order, settled disputes when they arose and defended the nation including the application of diplomatic tools. The civilizations of Buganda and earthen works including those at Ntusi and Bigo in central Uganda were developed by Bantu people.

The majority of Nilotic people occupy the northern part. In areas where they met Bantu people, there was extensive intermarriage creating new communities. Nilotic Luo-speakers who crossed the Nile River with their long-horn cattle intermarried extensively with Bantu people in Bunyoro, Buganda and Toro and created entirely new communities that engaged in mixed farming. They all spoke Bantu language. When the Nilotic Luo-speakers got to Ankole they adopted the name of Bahima, in Rwanda and Burundi they became Batutsi . Batutsi who subsequently left Rwanda and settled in present-day Ntungamo and Rujumbura of Rukungiri district became Bahororo, thus Bahororo in Uganda are Batutsi from Rwanda. And those Batutsi that migrated to Eastern DRC became Banyamulenge. In short, Bahima, Batutsi, Bahororo and Banyamulenge belong to the same ethnic (Nilotic) group but adopt local names and local languages whenever they move to new locations. Batutsi that settled in cattle areas of Ankole, Buganda, Teso and Lango etc adopted local names and local languages. That is the first finding.

The second finding is that although Bahima and Bahororo adopted local Bantu languages and local names, they refrained from marrying local Bantu women to retain their Nilotic identity and keep secrets to themselves about dominating others. They also retained and monopolized the cattle identity by denying Bantu people (whom they dubbed Bairu or slaves) cattle ownership. Until today in 2010 Bahima and Bahororo men do not marry Bairu women or from any other Bantu group because in part they despise them as low class (a few Bahima/Bahororo women largely from lower social classes are beginning to marry wealthy or well educated Bairu and other Bantu men) and people who scratch the soil for survival and eat grasshoppers. Thus in southwest Uganda a distinction of Bantu speakers needs to be made. There are Bairu-Bantu speakers who entered Uganda from Congo and Nilotic-Bantu speakers (Bahima and Bahororo) whose ancestors entered the area from southern Sudan and not Ethiopia as originally reported. This distinction must be kept in mind when discussing Bantu speakers from the western (more specifically southwest – Ntungamo and Rujumbura) region of Uganda. It is also important to note that there are no Bahima but Bahororo in Rujumbura.

Using their military superiority (cattle herders engage in fighting all the time for pasture and water or to restock their herds) which they have deliberately monopolized until now in 2010 because of their numerical inferiority, Bahima and Bahororo occupied Bantu grazing lands. The latter lost their short horn cattle for lack of pasture and were reduced to cultivation. That is how specialization in cattle by Nilotic-Bantu speakers (Bahima and Bahororo) and in crop cultivation by Bairu-Bantu speakers came about. It was a deliberate creation. It is difficult to accumulate wealth on crops that rot after harvest unless invested in cattle at that time. So Bairu were impoverished and lost access to protein from beef (goat meat was also consumed by Bahororo in Rujumbura). From then on Nilotic-Bantu speakers (Bahima and Bahororo) with cattle wealth and military superiority have dominated, exploited and even participated in the enslavement of Bairu-Bantu speakers in collaboration with Arabs. This relationship of domination has continued since independence. There are well educated Bairu unemployed or terribly under-employed while the poorly educated Bahima and Bahororo even get employment offers before they graduate! Consequently, there is no single Muhima or Muhororo involuntarily unemployed in a country with over fifty percent of university graduates unemployed.

The third finding is that contrary to popular belief, Uganda is not strictly divided into Nilotic north and Bantu south. Bahima and Bahororo who live in the south have retained their Nilotic identity. There are Bantu speakers who also live in the northern and eastern parts of the north. Further people who have governed Uganda from northern and southern parts – Obote, Amin and Museveni – are all Nilotic with ancestry roots in southern Sudan.

A fourth finding is about who is responsible for the civilizations that explorers found when they arrived in what later became Uganda. John Hanning Speke came to the region at the height of race theory debates in Europe which had placed Black people or Negroes at the bottom of the race pyramid and white people at the top. Blacks were believed to have no civilization of their own because of their intellectual inferiority. That is in part why Africa was described as a ‘Dark Continent’ which by definition had no history or civilization. And darkness is not a subject of history or civilization!

When Speke arrived in the area in 1862 including in Buganda he found marvelous and sophisticated civilizations which he could not attribute to Negroes. Since Speke believed that the white race monopolized civilizations, he concluded that white people must have lived in the area and are responsible for the civilizations he found. Speke then proceeded to create a white race in Uganda. He searched and finally settled on Bahima whom he christened as white people (they have some physical features similar to white people). He argued that these ‘white’ Bahima people entered Uganda from Ethiopia. They conquered Bantu people south of Nile River and were dubbed Bairu who were then civilized by white Bahima people. Any civilization including earthen works at Ntusi and Bigo, etc were credited to Bahima. Speke added that Bahima (white) people were more intelligent than Bairu and born to rule others. Seligman a British professor and Johnston a colonial administrator in Uganda and others from aristocratic families in Europe who came to Rwanda and Burundi formalized this racial superiority of Bahima over others in Uganda and Batutsi over Bahutu in Rwanda and Burundi. The British colonial officers naturally picked Bahima and Bahororo to assist in the administration of the protectorate as part of the indirect rule system. That is how Makobore (Muhororo) in Rujumbura and Mbaguta (Muhororo) in Ankole rose to prominence because they were favored over other chiefs for their willingness and readiness to cooperate with British officials including in very difficult areas of taxation and forced labor. People like Igumira in Ankole who questioned British motives were banished.

Subsequent scientific research and laboratory tests have proven beyond reasonable doubt that Bahima and Bahororo and Batutsi are black people and civilizations found in Uganda including the earthen works were the work of Bantu people. Furthermore Bachwezi people who pioneered these civilizations were a Bantu aristocracy and not white people or ancestors of Bahima and their cousins – revelations that Bahima, Batutsi and Bahororo have refused to accept and falsely continue to claim intellectual and leadership superiority that brought about civilization in the great lakes region.

As nomadic people constantly on the move and live in temporary and simple shelters made of tree branches and thatched with grass and always fighting to survive they could not have been responsible for these sophisticated civilizations including centralized governance systems. In fact studies show that nomadic people destroy more than they construct as we have seen in Uganda under Museveni leadership including in Luwero and northern and eastern regions.

Their intelligence has also been tested and found wanting. Overall, Bairu students, even with their late start in colonial schools and with all handicaps associated with poverty, have been proven to be superior students especially in science and math subjects. Yet the governing of Uganda is still solidly in the hands of Bahororo and Bahima in large part because they control guns and have external support. The spreading and deepening diseases of poverty are a clear and visible external manifestation that Bahororo and their cousins are not intelligent much less leaders. Unfortunately, the distortion of Uganda’s history starting with Speke has continued to favor Bahororo and Bahima in Uganda and Batutsi in Rwanda even when the situation on the ground proves otherwise. Fortunately because of new information and the ease with which it is being shared through the internet, Ugandans are beginning to understand the forces at work and to determine who is doing what to whom. That is good news!

Distortions in Uganda’s economy and society

European visitors to what later became Uganda were amazed by human and natural abundance. They found everything necessary for comfortable human existence. Ugandans were described as the ‘Japanese’ and later the ‘Chinese’ of Africa for their intelligence, hard work and innovation. The manufactured products from iron ore were of high quality. At that time Uganda was growing food crops for domestic consumption – not cotton, coffee, tobacco and tea for export. Thus under normal circumstances or in the technical language of comparative advantage Uganda should have become a producer of manufactured products. Instead she was designated a producer of raw cotton, coffee, tobacco and tea that were introduced later starting in the 1920s and lost her industrial comparative advantage in manufacturing which was reserved for Britain. Uganda has remained a producer of raw materials with low and fluctuating prices making it difficult to accumulate necessary foreign currency for economic growth and social transformation. The little that is accumulated is lost in corruption, mismanagement and luxuries like the very expensive presidential jet.

Since independence, Uganda leaders have tried to industrialize the economy but have run into all sorts of obstacles because the powers that be have decided Uganda will remain a producer of traditional export commodities and since 1990s a producer of non-traditional export commodity in addition. Because of these obstacles Uganda’s economy has remained agricultural, poor and backward. Clearing large swathes of land to grow export crops in addition to food for domestic consumption has resulted in extensive de-vegetation, soil erosion, adverse thermal and hydrological changes that have contributed to desert conditions, reduced land productivity and attracted disease vectors like mosquitoes in places that were too cold for their survival with devastating malaria consequences particularly in Kabale district where wetlands that kept the place cool were drained to herd exotic cattle by few rich families who have bed nets to keep away mosquitoes .

Uganda’s quality of society has remained backward (perhaps drifting towards a fourth world status since the 1990s) since colonial times when education was limited to low skilled human power such as primary teachers, dressers in dispensaries, carpenters, brick layers and drivers etc to meet colonial requirements. The majority of Ugandans have remained subsistence, unemployed or under-employment in the informal sector. Commendable efforts made during the 1960s to improve quality and expand quantity in education, healthcare and nutrition, transport, communications and energy were stopped when Obote’s government was overthrown in 1971 with external involvement.

The introduction of structural adjustment especially since 1987 with stiff conditionality under the NRM government more concerned about security, indefinite stay in power and East African political federation than Uganda’s development, social conditions have worsened. While government has focused on economic and per capita income growth, poverty and food insecurity have increased, education and health systems are on the verge of total collapse and sectarianism and corruption have reached unprecedented levels forcing desperate people to resort to excessive alcohol consumption making Uganda number one in the world, crime and violence and increasingly to human sacrifice to make ends meet. The well connected few are getting filthy rich while the poor are sinking into a deep hole.

Uganda’s liberal immigration and refugee policy has resulted in many people entering the country and competing with natives over scarce jobs and especially land whose frontier has closed with no more room for expansion. To make it easy for the rich to buy land, NRM government has launched the little understood and rushed policy of expanding municipalities deep into rural areas which then become the property of the municipal council that can sell land to the highest bidder and dispossess previous powerless and voiceless peasant owners with or without compensation.

A combination of poverty and women disempowerment, early school dropout (in part for lack of school lunches which the government has refused to support unlike in other African countries as adopted by NEPAD of which Uganda is a member) and marriage in the teens together with a liberal immigration and refugee policy has resulted in high population growth. The government which till now has been in favor of more children to reach optimal level for development purposes seems to be bending in the direction of birth control through contraception. Much work needs to be done before a definitive policy decision can be taken.

First, the government needs to determine the respective roles of immigrants and indigenous people in population growth. Given the increasing number of foreigners entering Uganda, it is possible they are contributing a considerable share of the population ‘explosion’. Second, among indigenous population the government needs to determine which groups of women in which areas are producing more babies than others. It is possible that in areas where AIDS pandemic and civil wars have hit hard like in Rakai, Luwero Triangle and northern and eastern Uganda fertility rate may be high because of the natural instinct to replace the loved ones who lost their lives. That is a historical and natural phenomenon in time and space. Will it make moral sense for the government to impose birth control in such areas?

In countries where force has been applied to control population growth, results have been disastrous and regrettable. That route should be avoided in Uganda. The best option is a gradual one based on education of girls, reduction of child mortality and dependence on children by parents in old age, empowerment of women and reduction of poverty and hunger that increase the propensity to have children. These changes need to be considered within a short, medium and long term frame. Voluntary birth control should be an integral part of this strategy. Short cuts may produce unintended outcomes including abuse of human rights.

Distortions in political developments

Political developments in Uganda have been bumpy, to say the least. The introduction of multiparty politics seems not to be working. The governing NRM party has resorted to intimidation, harassment of opposition parties and candidates and naked use of force resulting in loss of lives and many injuries. The official position is that these measures are resorted to in order to maintain stability and attract and retain foreign investors. Since the 1970s, Uganda has been governed more by the barrel of the gum than the power of democracy. Not least, external involvement has been both more extensive and intensive under NRM government than under any other regime. These external powers therefore share the suffering caused to the people of Uganda.

NRM’s so-called revolutionary changes over the last 25 years have seen Protestants sidelined, Catholics promoted while control of power has remained solidly in the hands of a small group related to the first family through blood and marriage rather than expertise and experience. The good news is that Ugandans are beginning to disaggregate the factors at play and to understand the forces at work which was not so a few years ago. Thus, there is hope that ultimately the power of democracy will overpower the barrel of the gun. The international community is urged to play an impartial role and to facilitate realization of relevant articles of the United Nations Charter and Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other instruments on freedom and equality in rights and dignity for all Ugandans. There is hope in the air that positive changes will occur sooner rather than later.

I will make contributions on Uganda only when there are compelling developments. Until then, this is the end of a research and writing journey that began fifty years ago.

Eric Kashambuzi

October 23, 2010