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.

The genesis and demise of structural adjustment in Uganda

Studies conducted by the World Bank in the 1980s and 1990s concluded that Africa was not doing well economically and socially largely because of distortions in the domestic domain. In its 1994 report entitled Adjustment in Africa: Reforms, Results, and the road ahead, the Bank noted that although there was no single explanation for Africa’s poor performance, economic decline was due in large part to poor domestic policies at macroeconomic and sector levels. The distortions were compressed into state intervention in production and economic regulation; overvalued exchange rates; large and prolonged budget deficits that undermined macroeconomic stability needed for long-term growth; protectionist trade policies and government monopolies through nationalized enterprises and financial institutions that reduced competition vital for increasing productivity; and a bias against exports especially of agricultural produce through heavy taxation.

The Bank recommended a new development paradigm (structural adjustment) to correct these policy distortions. It called for the state to be limited to the provision of basic services and a stable policy environment; promotion of exports with a focus on agriculture; promotion of private sector; maintenance of macroeconomic stability; and avoidance of overvalued exchange rates.

Bahororo-led NRM government has failed Uganda

When individuals, parties or nations assume leadership responsibilities, they should expect and accept scrutiny provided it is objective and constructive.

The rise to power of Bahororo people from obscurity to national and international prominence has raised questions about who Bahororo are and how they emerged. Until they came to power in 1986, Bahororo were unknown because they registered or introduced themselves as Bahima. So who are Bahororo?

Bahororo are Batutsi people from Rwanda who founded the short-lived Mpororo kingdom (from about 1650 to about 1750 or earlier) which stretched from parts of present day northern Rwanda to parts of present day southwest Uganda.

Uganda will develop only when donors relax their conditionality

Pre-colonial communities that later formed Uganda produced and traded in local and regional markets and consumed a wide range of products based on local endowments. Economic activities included a variety of crop cultivation, herding livestock, fishing, salt extraction and manufacturing enterprises especially those producing iron, wooden, skin and bark products.

Besides a strategic motive to control the source of the Nile, Uganda was colonized to produce raw materials for British industries and a market for British manufactured products. Lord Lugard stated clearly that the growing population in Europe and industrial expansion led to a desire for new markets for manufactured products, tropical raw materials for British industry and foodstuffs to supplement decreased home production and feed increasing British population (A. Seidman 1972). Consequently, Uganda was reduced to a producer and exporter of raw materials and an importer of manufactured products.

Economic discussions by Ugandans before independence emphasized manufacturing enterprises to transform a colonial economy and society, create jobs and add value to exports. However, the British had a different plan. As independence became inevitable, the British government invited the World Bank to evaluate development possibilities for Uganda. The World Bank’s principal recommendation was that Uganda should accelerate and diversify agricultural production primarily for export purposes (A. Seidman 1972).

Uganda silently becoming two nations in one

After the release of Nelson Mandela I travelled to South Africa and visited many parts in towns and the countryside. I came to the conclusion that the deliberate apartheid policy of separate development between black and white people had created two nations in one. There was a first world nation of white people and a third world nation of black people. This dichotomy was evident through differences in education, healthcare, agriculture, housing, etc and overall standard of living between white and black people. I therefore rejected the generalization that South Africa was a middle income country based on GDP and per capita income figures. My subsequent research and observations about Uganda’s development trajectory since the 1990s indicate that there may be a potential for creating – unintentionally – two nations in one.

At the start of his administration in 1986, President Museveni correctly noted and repeated that Uganda was a one class society – of peasants. The tiny middle class which had emerged during the 1960s virtually disappeared during the chaotic period between 1971 and 1986. Drawing from the ten-point program, President Museveni stressed his government’s determination to transform Uganda from a class of subsistence peasants to a middle class society. It was underscored that the transformative policies, strategies and programs would leave no one behind. The modernization of agriculture blueprint underscored government’s determination to effect real transformation. Similar steps were taken in education, healthcare, food and nutrition security. These efforts were well received and earned the NRM government some support. Ugandans saw an opportunity for real transformation from subsistence to modern life.

Ugandans should speak up now to prevent human tragedy

There is convincing evidence that demonstration effects work unless preemptive measures are taken – and well in advance. The black people of South Africa were emboldened to confront the all powerful apartheid regime head on after neighbors had removed colonial oppression through armed struggle. The 1972 genocide in Burundi which was ignored by the international community including the Organization of African Unity emboldened those who committed genocide in neighboring Rwanda in 1994.

Because nothing has happened to those who instigated or committed massacres of 2007 in Kenya’s Rift Valley, Ugandans may be emboldened to do the same hoping they will get away with it if the 2011 elections are rigged.

Uganda being wrongly advised

When you press Uganda policy makers privately and anonymously they admit the country is receiving wrong advice most of the time from external advisers and their Uganda surrogates. When you press further for an explanation, they tell you the piper calls the tune, implying that the donors have resources which Uganda does not have.

And when you ask whether in return for loans and grants Uganda has lost control and ownership of the economy, most replies are positive.

When the NRM government came to power in 1986, it resisted – for 18 months – IMF and World Bank advice to abandon the mixed economy model in favor of the neo-liberal one based on market forces and private sector as engines of growth. Finally the message came hone loud and clear when Linda Chalker, former minister in Thatcher’s government advised the government and possibly the president himself that most major creditors believe that “the solution to Uganda’s problems depended on reaching an agreement with the IMF” (New African 1987-88) and its harsh conditions.