How Ugandans got impoverished

When I wrote the article on ‘How Rujumbura’s Bairu got impoverished’, I was sending two messages.

First, I was bringing to the attention of Ugandans and the donor community the plight of Rujumbura’s Bairu who face the prospect of disappearing from their ancestral home through impoverishment and displacement.

Second, I was warning the rest of Ugandans what lay in store for them because the Bahororo who have presided over the impoverishment of Bairu in Rujumbura for the past 210 years, are now in charge of the whole country using the same governing tools to impoverish and dominate.

Before proceeding with the story of how Ugandans got impoverished, let us first clear the confusion about Bahima and Bahororo. While Bahima and Bahororo share a common ancestry of Nilotic Luo-speaking people from southern Sudan, they are distinct groups who are silently antagonistic.

When Batutsi from the ruling family of Rwanda founded the short-lived Mpororo kingdom (1650-1750) they took on the name of Bahororo (the people of Mpororo). Mpororo kingdom covered an area occupied by indigenous Bantu speaking people in parts of Rwanda and southwest Uganda. In this context, Bahororo refers to Batutsi people of former Mpororo kingdom hence the use of Bahororo as distinct from Bahima.

When Mpororo kingdom disintegrated, Bahima of Nkore and Batutsi of Rwanda replaced Bahororo as rulers. Mpororo in turn disappeared from the maps of Uganda. (Miraculously, Mpororo has recently reappeared on Uganda maps). Some Bahororo returned to Rwanda, others took refuge in Rujumbura around 1800 and the rest scattered in Ankole and possibly in other parts of Uganda. The people who remained in the former Mpororo kingdom became Bairu in Uganda and Bahutu in Rwanda or commoners. However, since 1750 when Mpororo kingdom disintegrated from internal squabbling, Bahororo have tenaciously clung together by Bahororo men refusing to inter-marry with Bantu people.

Under Yoweri Museveni, Bahororo with strong support of their Bahima cousins and Batutsi from other parts of the world waged a guerilla war against an elected government – under foreign cover – and came to power in 1986. Therefore the ‘core of rulers’ in Uganda since 1986 comes from Bahororo – that is Batutsi people of Rwanda origin – with Bahima of Ankole playing a supporting role. (Those with doubts about this analysis should do some home work so that we can compare notes at an appropriate time).

Let us return to the story of impoverishment of Ugandans beginning with Bairu in Rujumbura. In Rujumbura of Rukungiri district impoverishment was accomplished by stripping indigenous people – dubbed Bairu by Bahima – of their property. For example they were denied ownership of productive cattle which had been their main source of capital accumulation. Subsequently, they were reduced to cultivation of foodstuffs – most of which was consumed by Bahororo – and free laborers in exchange for so-called (Bahororo) protection.

Under the indirect British colonial rule Bahororo – as trusted and reliable civil servants – continued to exploit Bairu with impunity. They have continued doing so since independence through political, administrative and now military control. Impoverishing Bairu removed potential opposition and possible replacement. Consequently, in Rujumbura however educated and experienced you are, chances of making substantial progress in many areas of human endeavor are very slim unless you belong to Bahororo ethnic group or you have married their daughters and become ‘tusified’. Check it out if in doubt.

At the national level Bahororo who are bent on keeping power indefinitely as they have done in Rujumbura have employed the same techniques (impoverish and dominate) in large part under cover of structural adjustment and anti-sectarian law. Let us take structural adjustment (Washington Consensus) first.

With support from the donor community who favor macroeconomic stability (particularly economic growth, balanced budgets, inflation control and export diversification), Bahororo leaders have meticulously impoverished Ugandans through selective retrenchment of public staff to balance government budgets. Furthermore, with high interest rates to keep inflation low, Ugandans have been unable to access loans to start or expand business that create jobs. Consequently, lack of jobs and functional illiteracy (through so-called free public schools that have been starved of resources in large part because of rampant corruption to build schools, hire quality teachers and supply adequate instructional materials) have resulted in massive unemployment, deepening and spreading extreme poverty which is grossly under-estimated by using (defective) expenditure methods to compile statistics on poverty trends. However, the rapidly spreading diseases of poverty have betrayed those who hoodwinked Ugandans and the international community with rapid poverty reduction figures.

The continued government’s encouragement of food exports (traditionally grown for domestic consumption) through production for cash rather than for the stomach when Ugandans are starving also impoverishes Ugandans. Bahororo leaders know full well the debilitating physical and mental impact of food and nutrition insecurity especially on children – Uganda’s future leaders. Health insecurity through a long and well known severe shortage of medicines and medical staff especially in rural areas where some 90 percent (depending on how you define an urban area) of Ugandans live has added a new dimension in the process of Ugandans’ impoverishment.

As if that was not enough to finish the job, Bahororo leaders came up with the idea of dividing up the tiny country into uneconomically viable districts – now approaching one hundred – in the disguised name of taking services closer to the people and having representatives in parliament and other elective institutions. Without adequate resources district councils are unable to provide funds for education, healthcare, infrastructure, jobs and above all maintenance of law and order.

Finally let us understand how anti-sectarian law has also contributed to the impoverishment of Ugandans. Bahororo leaders have used individual merit and anti-sectarian law to hire and promote Bahororo followed by their Bahima cousins and leaders of Catholic supporters at the expense of other Ugandans. Strategic institutions relating to politics, external relations, security and the economy are firmly in the hands of Bahororo and their close supporters leading to acute income inequality and poverty. Ugandans are afraid to talk about the practice for fear of prosecution and possible imprisonment. The disproportionate accumulation of wealth by Bahororo at the expense of the rest of Ugandans has been facilitated in large part by the unwavering donor support that has paid more attention to macro-economic stability, foreign privatization of Uganda’s economy and export diversification than to the plight of Ugandans.

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