Uganda’s diverse society needs diverse leadership

When Ugandans meet formally or informally, the political economy, future and diversity of Uganda come up. What has been recognized is that Uganda’s diversity is an asset and a strength that should be utilized properly to bring about equitable distribution of the benefits of that diversity. Many times, as discussions progress, my mind races back to what Kaunda former president of Zambia said about diversity in his country. He observed on several occasions that although merit is important in appointments and promotions, he had to use it carefully to meet the needs of Zambia’s diverse population. He stressed that in trying to strike regional balance, he picked the best trained and experienced from each region so that he maintained professionalism and regional balance.

In Uganda the concept of merit has been applied differently under the NRM government since 1986 with unanticipated adverse outcomes. There are cases where merit considerations applied by the appointing authorities have resulted in top or strategic positions going to people from the same family, same ethnic group or same region. The western region is believed to have benefited more than any other in Uganda. However upon closer scrutiny you find that within the western region some families or ethnic groups have benefited more than others. Further analysis has demonstrated that merit was not even strictly applied causing discomfort in various quarters.

In Rujumbura county of Rukungiri district in southwest Uganda there are three ethnic groups: Bairu or the indigenous people, Bahororo (Batutsi from Rwanda), and Bakiga from the southern part of former Kigezi district. The latter two groups migrated to Rujumbura in 1800 and since the 1950s respectively. The distribution of top positions at the political and civil including diplomatic service levels have gone to Bashambo clan of Bahororo ethnic group or those married into this clan. Ministers, members of parliament, presidential advisers, senior civil servants and ambassadors to key duty stations all come from this family. Yet they are not necessarily the best trained or experienced for the posts they occupy. It is not the appointments per se that have generated controversy. Rather it is the economic and social benefits associated with these appointments and promotions. These people earn good money, send their children to the best schools, their sick relatives to the best health facilities, live better lives and have accumulated assets laying a strong foundation for their children and grand children.

At the same time there are well qualified and experienced people from the other two ethnic groups that have been sidelined and increasingly marginalized raising doubts about the original intent of using the concept of merit in appointments, promotions, scholarship awards, etc. In Rujumbura’s situation many believe that the application of the merit concept has done more harm than good, raising tensions and political heat among the three ethnic groups. Some of those in power have misused it to retain their advantages provoking unnecessary exchanges.

A general consensus has emerged that for lasting peace, security, stability and prosperity for all Uganda’s diversity needs leadership diversity. Thus, ethnic and regional balance is essential for the good of the country. A good starting point to its realization is to nominate all-inclusive candidates for parliament for the 2011 elections. In the case of Rujumbura every effort should be made to ensure the one family or one ethnic group take-all-mentality comes to an end next year. Similarly, in the rest of Uganda, all Ugandans should get and enjoy equal opportunity to serve Uganda and its diverse people and equally benefit from the country’s diverse endowments.