Why has Uganda become a nation of complaints?

On balance Uganda has been plagued by complaints more than anything else. And what is worrying is that the complaints are multiplying and getting louder with the passage of time. This article will record those complaints from 1962 to the present and attempt an explanation. This article is written particularly for the youth, Uganda’s future leaders, who must find solutions to these complaints.

Uganda as a nation had a rocky start caused by religious wars among Catholics, Muslims and Protestants as well as resistance to colonial rule which was very bloody in some places. With these conflicts over, law and order was restored and important decisions were made that laid a solid foundation for economic growth and social development. The construction of the Uganda railway, the wise decision that Uganda belongs to Ugandans, the realization that good nutrition is a vital component in human development, and the determination, in the 1950s, that industrialization is essential to create jobs, transform Uganda’s economic structure and build forward and backward linkages.

In spite of this promising start, rhetoric was not marched by action and most dreams were not met. On the eve of independence in 1962, the then Secretary General of the ruling Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) complained, inter alia, that:

  1. Uganda had inherited from the departing colonial administration an impoverished society
  2. A predominantly agrarian economy
  3. A low level of living conditions including low school enrolment and poor health facilities
  4. Foreign domination of trade, commerce and industry.

He stressed that Uganda leaders faced a challenge to meet basic needs of the people and should desist making revolutionary or pretentious statements. He added that “If we fail to live up to their (Ugandans) hopes and aspirations, they will look for other leaders who would promise to answer their needs in a quicker way” (A. M. Kirunda-Kivejinja 1995).

Although commendable progress was made in many areas of human endeavor, there were complaints that culminated in the change of government at the start of 1971. On January 25, 1971 Uganda soldiers issued a statement explaining why they had decided to take power from a civilian government. The overall goal was to prevent a bad situation from getting worse. Ugandans were described angry, worried and very unhappy for reasons that included:

  1. The lack of freedom in the airing of different views on political and social matters
  2. The frequent loss of life and property arising from almost daily cases of robbery with violence and kondoism without any strong measures being taken (by Uganda leaders) to stop them
  3. Widespread corruption in high places, especially among Ministers and top civil servants that has left the people with very little confidence, if any, in the government. Most Ministers own fleets of cars or buses, many big houses and some even aeroplanes
  4. Economic policies have left many people unemployed and even more insecure and lacking in the basic needs of life like food, clothing, medicine and shelter
  5. The creation of a wealthy class of leaders who are always talking of socialism while they grow richer and the common man (and woman) poorer
  6. The Cabinet Office, by training large numbers of people from President Obote’s home area in armed warfare has been turned into a secondary army. Uganda therefore has had two armies, one in the Cabinet, the other regular
  7. The Lango Development Master Plan written in 1967 decided that all key positions in Uganda’s political, commercial, army and industrial life have to be occupied and controlled by people from Akokoro County, Lango District (home of President Obote). Also the same master plan decided that nothing of importance must be done for other districts
  8. Obote has sought to divide the Uganda armed forces and the rest of Uganda by picking out his own tribesmen and putting them in key positions in the army and everywhere
  9. From the time Obote took over power in 1962 his greatest and most loyal supporter has been the army.

The soldiers ended on a note of national unity as the only way to avoid bloodshed (Colin Legum 1972).

There was jubilation at the start of Amin’s regime. The country was full of hope which was dashed within a short time to be followed by a wide range of complaints that led to the overthrow of the regime in 1979. The complaints as recorded by the Chairman of the National Consultative Council on May 22, 1979 included:

  1. A military dictatorship that had suppressed the people of Uganda for eight years
  2. The disunity of our people on tribal, ethnic, religious, political and other parochial lines
  3. The negation of our people’s human rights and democratic freedoms
  4. The destruction of our people’s freedom and national independence
  5. The prevalence of poverty for the vast majority of our people while a tiny clique lived in fabulous wealth

The Chairman stressed that the struggle against the Amin regime was undertaken for the sake of national unity, adding that it was the continued colonial strategy of divide to rule that enabled the suppression of our people for over 70 years (A. M. Kirunda-Kivejinja 1995).

The complaints after the 1980 elections and the economic policies that followed were so serious that they led to a bloody and destructive civil war (1981-85) that culminated in the formation of the NRM government in 1986. The complaints included the intensification of:

  1. The inherited colonial economic distortions of reliance on a few export crops and lack of industries of a basic type like iron and steel, chemical industries etc
  2. Illiterate population with a high infant mortality rate, a low income per capita, a low life expectancy , poor health services and food insecurity
  3. Wrong politics of sectarianism, intrigues and empty talk, a repressive regime in dealing with the masses, the massacre of Ugandans many of them for political reasons
  4. The development of an ‘enclave’ economy surrounded by a sea of backwardness, poor people walking bare feet and suffering from jiggers and malnutrition and lacking technology
  5. Dictatorship that has stifled developments in economic, social, political or cultural fields

In order to correct these wrongs, the NRM government issued the following agenda which included democracy; security of all persons and their properties; consolidation of national unity and elimination of all forms of sectarianism; defense and consolidation of national independence; self-sustaining national economy; restoration and improvement of social services and rehabilitation of war-ravaged areas; elimination of corruption in public life; settling the peasants that have been rendered landless by erroneous ‘development’ projects or outright theft of their land through corruption; settling the long-suffering Karamajong and ensuring decent living wage etc (Y. Museveni 1986).

As time has passed, the majority of Ugandans from all walks of life are complaining of deteriorating conditions in the country. Corruption and sectarianism; national disunity; poverty and disease; joblessness; poor quality education and food insecurity; crime and violence; human rights abuses; alcoholism; traffic accidents; landlessness; break down of social and cultural fabric; ecological depletion and attendant thermal, hydrological and climate change; murders, and most disturbing of all witchcraft and human sacrifice. Singly or in concert, these complaints or challenges have increasingly rendered Uganda a difficult place.

To conclude, the complaints are similar except that they have grown in intensity. They include dictatorship; sectarianism and corruption; skewed distribution of wealth resulting in massive poverty and the associated ills of poor health, sanitation, education, food, clothing and shelter; national disunity and reliance on the military to silence political and economic dissent.

Uganda has enough natural resources and dynamic, entrepreneurial, innovative and resilient people that have been dubbed at various times the ‘Chinese’ and the ‘Japanese’ of Africa. What seems to be missing since 1894 is a government or leadership that is dedicated to facilitating the majority of Ugandans to meet their basic needs and live in a country characterized by freedom from fear; freedom from want and freedom to live in dignity.

Instead, from colonial rule to now in 2010 leadership has focused on a minority of privileged households that have grown filthy rich at the expense of the masses. That is the challenge the youth of Uganda must confront if they hope to end complaints that have polluted the atmosphere in Uganda’s political economy and society since 1894.

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