Why imposed foreign ideas don’t work

When you force a square peg into an object with a round hole you won’t succeed.

You damage both objects or one gets more damaged than the other. Similarly, when foreign projects or ideas, however altruistic or technically sound, are imposed especially quickly on different cultures, chances are they will not succeed and people in the receiving cultures might get hurt in the process. Foreign ideas such as indirect rule, modern birth control and structural adjustment programs that have been imposed on recipient populations have generally run into difficulties and caused suffering.

More often than not people hesitate to accept new ideas for rational reasons. For example, subsistence farmers are generally hesitant to replace old with new seeds for fear that if something goes wrong they might starve. Peasant farmers hesitate to sell their land and start business in towns for fear that business failure might spell disaster for the entrepreneur and his/her family. Poorly educated workers generally hesitate to look for another job especially during economic hard times because should they fail in the new job, they may not get another one or do so quickly. So they stick with what they have regardless of low pay and/or unsatisfactory working conditions.

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:

Bahororo history – conclusion of the first phase

Bahororo people have led the Uganda government since 1986. When an individual or a group of people emerges from obscurity to prominence – national or international – it is expected that there will be scrutiny sometimes with disquieting revelations. But as they say you cannot have your cake and eat it too! Who are Bahororo and what are their characteristics?

  1. Bahororo people are Batutsi from Rwanda who entered Uganda in the mid-1600s and founded the short-lived Mpororo kingdom in parts of southwest Uganda and northern Rwanda. The kingdom collapsed within one hundred years because of internal feuds among princes. The northern part was absorbed by Rwanda and the southwest part by Ankole. Some Bahororo returned to Rwanda, others sought refuge in Nyakinengo of Nyakagyeme Sub-county of Rujumbura County in Rukungiri district. The rest remained in Ankole or scattered to other parts of Uganda (Buganda, western, northern and eastern regions where many still live) where they continued their herding culture as cattle owners or herders of others’ cattle. Following their incorporation into the Ankole kingdom, Bahororo became commoners/Bairu (slaves). To avoid this categorization, they adopted the name of Bahima in Ankole and Rujumbura. In other parts of Uganda they adopted local names and local languages. However, wherever they are they have tenaciously clung to their Nilotic/Bahororo identity because their men do not marry from other ethnic groups except their own Nilotic group.

What the next Uganda government must do

I am writing this article on the assumption, inter alia, that:

  1. the new government will muster sufficient political will, genuine and real commitment to raise the standard of living of all Ugandans
  2. Ugandans and their friends and partners will recognize and accept that Uganda is basically an agrarian country dominated by peasants
  3. Ugandans will put the highest priority on meeting the basic needs of food, clothing and shelter
  4. the empowerment of the poor through inter alia mass quality education, healthcare and appropriate technologies will be promoted
  5. external advice however sound will not deliver without support from the nationals
  6. there is a recognition that structural adjustment has been a failure in social and environmental terms and sustaining economic growth
  7. development strategies are home designed, executed and owned
  8. land is life and a basic asset for peasants
  9. the respective roles of the state and the private sector will be redefined in a mutually reinforcing manner
  10. a bottom up approach will be supported through appropriate policies, strategies and institutions

Uganda must embrace the idea of inclusiveness and compromise

Uganda has reached a political impasse with the potential for explosion largely because of winner-take-all or zero-sum game mentality.

During the campaigns for the 1980 elections, I had the opportunity to talk to the leadership of the three parties because I had gone to school and university with them, reconnected with many of them after graduation, and made new Ugandan friends in the United States, Europe and Africa. I counseled that whoever wins the election should include Ugandans from the other two parties and stressed the need to pull together particularly given the ruinous years of Amin’s rule. The response was lukewarm and nothing came of it. The result was a destructive guerrilla war and overthrow of the Obote II government.

Let me share other experiences and hope that they will help those in present and future leadership positions.

How peasants lose their land

From time immemorial, the rich and well connected have devised ways and means to grab peasants’ land for various motives. In this article we are going to examine what happened in the past and what is happening now or is likely to happen in the future. But first let us define peasants.

Peasants are “low-status cultivators who are trapped in a double bind of material poverty and political marginality. … Peasants labor in a subsistence economy that is typically precarious and subject to the predation of powerful elites. As a result, peasants in otherwise diverse cultural and historical contexts share a common vulnerability to natural and human made disaster that constrains peasant strategies in the direction of an emphasis on subsistence security and family survival” (Joel Krieger 1993).

There are many examples throughout the world showing how peasants have lost their land. In early 16th-century Europe, rising prices and bad harvests led landowners to squeeze peasants by raising rents, enclosing common lands and increasing feudal dues.

Uganda’s downward spiral must be suppressed quickly

In my book “Uganda’s Development Agenda” published in 2008 I wrote a chapter comparing independent Uganda with medieval Europe (500-1500 AD). I showed similarities in the low standards of housing, clothing and eating as well as in agrarian economy and low level of technology. Since the publication of the book, I have conducted further research about Uganda and concluded that its problems have gone beyond standard development challenges.

The mounting problems including absolute and relative poverty have been suggested as part of the reasons why many Ugandans have turned to unusual behavior including witchcraft, human sacrifice, excessive alcoholism etc.

A few years ago while on vacation in Uganda, a python was killed in our village. It had to be incinerated and the ashes scattered so that parts of the snake are not used for witch craft. I also learned that cats were disappearing mysteriously because parts of them are used for witchcraft. I had a conversation with a senior citizen in the area who said that people have lost faith or suffered a rupture in institutions that sustained them forcing them to turn to witchcraft.

Uganda politics is a mixture of religion and ethnicity

I have been involved in Uganda politics at theoretical and practical levels since 1960 when I was in high school (senior two). I participated in district and national elections as a polling officer in former Ankole and Kigezi districts. I was also involved in student politics and the political processes that culminated in the Moshi conference before Amin fell from power in 1979.

At the height of political activities during the 1970s I worked in Brussels (Belgium), Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) and Lusaka (Zambia), where Ugandans lived as refugees (Lusaka), workers at ECA and OAU (Addis Ababa) and delegates to international conferences (Addis Ababa and Brussels). I moved to New York in the mid-1980s when politics among Ugandans was hot before the fall of Obote II government.

The conditions of my job in these places and my own neutral orientation offered me a unique opportunity to interact with many Ugandans. Throughout these interactions I did more listening than talking and got a feel of Uganda’s political pulse and the forces involved. My literary work about Uganda politics and economics has benefited from these interactions and the knowledge accumulated since 1960.

The creation of a new Mpororo kingdom is progressing methodically

I know there are a few Ugandans like Ms. Phionah Kesaasi who will call me all sorts of names and unfairly accuse me of trying to incite the public with ‘genocidal outcomes’ after they have read this article.

When I constructively criticized NRM’s extreme version (shock therapy) of structural adjustment program and stressed that it would hurt the majority of Ugandans, many in the NRM government and secretariat labeled me a saboteur bent on discrediting the NRM government. My views were ignored and I was ostracized. After more than twenty years the program has been abandoned in disgrace when the failures as manifested for example in the diseases of poverty could no longer be hidden in cooked statistics of economic growth, per capita income and macroeconomic stability. The World Bank, IMF and subsequently the government apologized but too much damage had already been done. Some of the individuals who criticized me have apologized while others have just avoided me.

Now I am going to write on yet another ‘hot potato’ subject – the subtle processes being methodically conducted to create a new Mpororo kingdom or district that may combine Ntungamo and Rukungiri districts and possibly other neighboring areas. Hopefully Ugandans and their friends will reflect carefully on the message contained in this article and act accordingly.

President Museveni’s scary statement should be opposed

President Museveni’s speech delivered at Hoima on June 11, 2010 is very scary indeed. Ugandans and their friends must not allow his scary remarks to be repeated or put into action.

When President Museveni, a head of state and chairman of the ruling party, talked about cutting someone’s head for entering his olubimbi (territory) was he saying, for example, that:

  1. opposition parties cannot aspire to form a government in Uganda with a new president
  2. poor people cannot aspire to become rich
  3. illiterate people cannot aspire to be educated
  4. women cannot aspire to inherit their parents’ properties
  5. women cannot aspire to work outside of the home and earn an income
  6. raw material exporting countries cannot aspire to industrialize?

If our understanding of his message is correct, then President Museveni is advocating a static division of labor or comparative advantage which is very difficult to accept. For example, Uganda cannot and should not accept to remain a producer and exporter of raw materials because we do not want to enter the lubimbi or territory of industrialized countries. This lubimbi concept explains why under Museveni’s leadership Uganda has de-industrialized.