Uganda will stabilize only when foreign powers say so

In order to effectively address Uganda’s intractable and endemic challenges which are mounting by the day, Ugandans themselves will need to examine candidly their history. Those who argue that revisiting history is dangerous because it will unearth uncomfortable truths are wrong. Sweeping problems under the carpet hoping they will be forgotten in due course is not only naïve but also selfish. It is usually individuals or communities that have thrived on hiding their identities or associations that oppose revisiting history and when they get a chance pass laws against such attempts.

Under these circumstances, Ugandans are increasingly hiding their faith, ethnicity or ancestral origin, spouses and even where they went to school, creating high suspicions. Uganda is at a crossroads as democracy digs in and the country gets more involved in regional and global arrangements with external forces flexing muscles in many areas of human endeavor.

With Uganda’s young generation in mind that has been demanding to know its country’s history, the purpose of this article is to trace foreign contribution to Uganda’s political instability and to reflect on the future course of action.

First, Ugandans must always remember that their country is a creation of an agreement among Belgium, Britain and Germany to suit their own respective national interests. The communities that formed Uganda were not consulted in any way. Given this situation, Ugandans must learn to make the best of it, meaning that Uganda must be saved from centrifugal (dividing) forces.

Second, since its creation, Uganda has suffered from religious conflicts initiated by the British administration that favored Protestants over Catholics and Muslims. The first independence government was formed by a coalition of Protestants from Buganda and the rest of Uganda with British indirect involvement thereby adding injury to Catholic and Muslim wounds.

Third, when the Protestant government digressed from the capitalist path during the cold war, it was removed with tacit support of foreign powers. Mr. Heath, former British prime minister was glad to see Obote go (C. Legum 1972). The successor government led by Amin was put into power because it was considered friendly and compliant to foreign interests. The foreign choice of Amin paved the way for the ascendancy of Muslims that misgoverned the country for eight years with foreign advisers, financial and material support.

Fourth, the coming to power of Yusuf Lule as president took most Ugandans by surprise. He was the British choice (K. Ingham 1994). Delegations at the Moshi conference organized to discuss plans for replacing Amin’s regime were baffled but endorsed that choice without understanding the background of his nomination. It is not surprising that he did not last long presumably because he was not ready for the post and lacked the understanding of Uganda politics.

Fifth, Obote was allowed to return to power because foreign powers realized that he was still popular with most Ugandans although they did not trust him because of his socialist leanings (V. Gupta 1983).

Sixth, the search for Obote’s replacement began soon after he became president in 1980. With wider interests in mind, foreign powers picked Yoweri Museveni as their choice

(P. Phillips 2006).

President Museveni and his NRM government has since become the darling of western governments and the financial institutions they control. Because Catholics backed Museveni during the guerilla war, he has in turn appointed them disproportionately to political and administrative positions to the discomfort of Protestants who are now grumbling publicly.

To sustain Museveni and NRM in power, western powers have painted an artificial picture of developments in Uganda with a focus on GDP and per capita growth rates, inflation control to single digits, macroeconomic stability and multi-party democracy forgetting almost completely – until very recently – issues of blatant sectarianism particularly in strategic sectors, rampant corruption and mismanagement, human rights violation including increasing torture (Human Rights Watch 2004) to silence dissent. Diseases of poverty (scabies, jiggers, trachoma, etc), malnutrition especially of children when Uganda is a major exporter of food, insanity from poor feeding and stress, violence especially against women and children, massive school drop outs, environmental degradation and climate change are all increasing but are barely – if at all – mentioned in donors’ and foreign advisers’ reports.

Thus, foreign influence using the power of the purse has had a major share in political choices and distortions in funding programs and reporting that have contributed to instability in Uganda. Witness the recent (September 2009) riots in the nation’s capital and demonstrations against the president in USA during his visit there.

As elections approach in 2011 some Ugandans are beginning to complain that western powers, keen on keeping Museveni and NRM in power are beginning to pump money into the country through bilateral and multilateral channels supposedly for development purposes. They know that there is a likelihood that much of it will end up funding NRM campaigns.

Thus, for the sake of peace, security and political stability, Ugandans are appealing to foreign powers to desist from taking sides in 2011 elections to give Ugandans a chance to elect their representatives without bribery, intimidation, torture, rigging, etc. Sincerity and impartiality of foreign powers will be judged not so much on rhetoric or silence but on real and transparent action on the ground between now and 2011.