The severity of economic, social and environmental problems under the failed NRM government that has rendered the country vulnerable to internal and external shocks has provoked a reaction from Baganda who are speaking out loudly and complaining that their region is being impoverished economically and socially and degraded environmentally and culturally by unsustainable influx into the kingdom of Ugandans from the rest of the country and non-Ugandans from neighboring countries in search of economic and social opportunities and political security.
Since the colonial period policies have concentrated economic and social opportunities in Buganda while other regions have served as labor reserves. Currently some 80 percent of Uganda’s Gross National Income (GNI) is generated in Kampala and surrounding areas with a population of some 2 million while the rest of the country with some 33 million people generates a mere 20 percent of GNI.
Compared with neighboring countries Uganda had better economic opportunities and security during the colonial period attracting many people in search of work. For instance, land scarcity, frequent food shortages and a repressive regime forced Burundians and Rwandese to enter Uganda since the 1920s in search of work as laborers. In 1927 alone some 46,000 immigrants entered Uganda from the southwest route. The numbers fluctuated between 40 and 60 thousand annually. The number of men migrants far exceeded that of women, explaining in part why in Buganda at one time men exceeded women – even today there are more men than women in Uganda, implying a high level of male migration into Uganda. Although some economic migrants returned home, many others stayed and got assimilated as Baganda or retained their ethnicity, acquired assets such as land and participated in the political process.
The political instability since independence especially in Rwanda, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan has forced many refugees into Uganda many of whom have settled permanently including in Buganda increasing competition for scarce economic and social opportunities and increasingly in politics since NRM came to power in 1986.
The NRM policy that Uganda has plenty of unutilized arable land and water resources and has not reached optimal population size for rapid economic growth combined with a flexible immigration policy has resulted in many migrants entering Uganda especially in Buganda where the bulk of economic and social opportunities are concentrated. Urban population in Uganda is growing at a staggering rate of 5.7 percent compared to 2.6 percent in the rural areas.
Uganda’s economic growth and trickle down policy has failed to distribute benefits equitably and resulted in high absolute poverty level and unemployment especially of youth. Accumulation of properties such as land in fewer hands has resulted in increasing landlessness and rapid rural-urban migration especially to Buganda putting pressure on economic, social and environmental sectors. Sectarianism and cronyism under the NRM government that have favored non-Ugandans in public and private sectors at the expense of Ugandans in an environment of dwindling opportunities and natural resources have provoked Baganda to call for non-Baganda to go back home.
This sad political economy development needs to be handled with great care lest it explodes into ethnic cleansing. One way to resolve it is to institute a system of governance such as federalism that enables regions to be responsible for their own development in areas where they have comparative advantages in financial, natural and human capacities thereby reducing migration into Buganda and encouraging those already in Buganda to return to their homes.
It has been suggested that should a transitional government be established in the wake of NRM exit that will happen sooner or later, the new government should conduct a population census to give accurate information about Uganda’s population dynamics for planning purposes and convene a national convention to decide how Uganda should be governed. This is the time that Ugandans should be bold and take initiatives to lay a solid foundation for rapid, sustained and inclusive economic growth and social development without damaging the environment. One of the pre-requisites will be political inclusion at all levels, respect for human rights and freedoms and the rule of law. The June 2014 London conference of Ugandans from home and in the diaspora should include an item on this matter in its agenda.
Eric Kashambuzi is international consultant in development issues. He lives in New York