Globalization and re-colonization of Uganda

During the 2004 hearings by the World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization, many African participants equated globalization with the re-colonization of Africa. Many Ugandans believe that Uganda which was never fully de-colonized has already been re-colonized since entering into structural adjustment with the IMF in 1981.

In order to appreciate that re-colonization has actually occurred, one needs to understand what the objectives of colonialism were. They were to secure a strategic advantage, evangelize the natives and obtain tropical raw materials and food for British industries and population respectively and land for surplus British population; and finally markets for manufactured products.

Britain, France, Germany and Belgium conflicted over the control of areas that eventually became Uganda. The agreement between Germany and Britain involving Heligoland is well known as is the Fashoda incident between Britain and France. The interests of White settlers in Kenya and Egypt’s reliance on the waters of the Nile affected the final shape and size of Uganda. Ultimately Uganda lost big chunks of land in the east and the north to Kenya and Sudan respectively. In the south and west of Uganda land was also exchanged among Germany, Belgium and Uganda. Uganda remains a battleground for old and new colonizers as a gateway to the Great Lakes region and the Horn of Africa. During the cold war era, Uganda sat at the intersection between the ‘red’ and ‘blue’ belt states that contributed to the 1971 coup.

Uganda was also a religious battleground among Muslims (Baisiramu), Catholics (Bafransa) and Protestants (Bangereza). The three religions combined forces and overthrew Buganda king and his government that was not happy with the problems religions brought to Buganda. After the king’s overthrow the religious faiths turned against one another. Catholics and Protestants turned against Muslims and subsequently Protestants and Catholics turned against each other declaring the war of 1892. The military intervention of Lugard head of the Imperial British East African Company (IBEAC) resolved the dispute in favor of Protestants (Lugard being British) who dominated the politics and economics of Uganda until 1986. The guerrilla war that toppled a Protestant government of Obote II was composed of Catholics and Muslims led by a Protestant, Yoweri Museveni. Since NRM’s assumption of power, Catholics and Muslims have ascended into key political and economic positions sidelining Protestants. The arrival of evangelical missionaries has added to the age-old conflict between Catholics and Protestants. The latter are now openly complaining of marginalization, witness the quarrels within NRM in Kanungu district.

Colonial authorities undermined the industrial sector and destroyed all the flourishing pre-colonial industries through competition of cheaper imports. Uganda was reduced to production and export of raw materials through peasant smallholder agriculture. Manufacturing and commercial activities were monopolized by White and Asian communities.

All governments since independence have advocated the benefits of industrialization like added value, reduction in loss of agricultural produce, job creation, and improvements in living conditions. When the Uganda peoples’ Congress (UPC) under Milton Obote I tried to bring Africans into the modern sector he was accused of socialism and overthrown. When he returned to power in 1980, Obote II again stressed industries. Under a structural adjustment agreement signed with the IMF in 1981 to get the badly needed foreign currency, Obote II was compelled to resume the production and export of agricultural raw materials, bring back Asians to resume their industrial and commercial activities and return European properties that had been nationalized. Although he tried to conform to the demands of globalization enshrined in structural adjustment, Obote was never trusted as a true convert to neo-liberalism and laissez-faire capitalism. He was denied funds although the economy grew in real terms at an average of 6 percent per annum between 1981 and 1984. Discontent grew and in July 1985, he was overthrown by a section of his army.

Yoweri Museveni came to power in 1986 with a clear mixed economy agenda that would transform the economy from raw material exports and end dependence on external forces. He and his government felt that African problems should be solved by Africans. For a year and half, he resisted external pressure to influence his government’s economic and social policies. Economic hardship and an empty treasury forced him to succumb to an extreme (shock therapy) version of structural adjustment. He switched from industrialization to diversification of raw material exports, allowed the importation of used items which have undermined local industries especially textiles, invited Asians back and gave them all they demanded and Britain returned and is now the largest foreign investor.

Ugandans are worried about the current direction in matters of land use and tenure. Whereas British colonial administration left land in Ugandan hands, today the new colonizers are demanding land as an incentive to attract foreign direct investments. Although Ugandans were thoroughly exploited through unfavorable terms of trade and heavy taxation, they were not made landless under colonial rule and were able to feed themselves. To meet neo-colonial demand for land the government has adopted a subtle strategy of creating land by incorporating large chunks of rural areas into municipalities under the pretext of bringing fast development to the people and reducing their poverty. Peasants are hoodwinked that the value of land in municipalities will appreciate and peasant sellers will get more money and begin business in towns. This way land will be sold without political troubles. But peasants will end up landless, and possibly penniless.

The case of Uganda as outlined confirms the complaints presented during the 2004 hearings by the World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization.