There are troubling developments in Uganda that must be fixed

A close friend of mine with many years of accumulated experience advised me on four things. First, a message must be repeated (orally or in writing) until it is properly understood. He explained that listening and hearing or reading and following a story are important but they must lead to a full understanding of the story and its implications on society. Until that understanding has been attained, the story must be repeated. Second, when a conversation is about a forest it should not be allowed to degenerate into a talk about trees. When you focus on one or two trees, you miss the larger picture. Third, during economic and political hard times, people tend to be short-term focused and miss the long-term dimensions. Fourth, three treasures must always be protected and used properly: population, land and institutions. Let us examine the fourth point with respect to Uganda.

Since Museveni came to power, Uganda has become a laboratory to test new ideas (Sebastian Mallaby 2004). Uganda provided laboratory facilities for shock therapy structural adjustment experiment starting in 1987 after it had been rejected in Ghana in 1986 as very problematic (Paul Nugent2004). The people of Uganda have paid a very heavy price. Uganda has now become a center for testing genetically modified crops (GM) and birth control.

Whether intentionally or not, Uganda launched a birth control program in 1996/97 when Museveni introduced free primary education confined to four children per poor family. To prevent birth of another child, birth control facilities were established and/or expanded countrywide. The use of contraceptives has increased from 15 to 24 percent. Consequently, fertility (the number of children born per woman) has declined from 7.1 to 6.5. The false impression that has been given in Uganda is that it is high fertility that leads to rapid population growth. The truth of the matter is that “Declining mortality, not rising fertility, is the root cause of current world population growth. It is not that people breed like rabbits; rather, they no longer die like flies” (John R. Weeks 1994).

What we are witnessing in Uganda is that fertility is going down – from 7.1 to 6.5. That is a commendable development, albeit slow for those in a hurry. What is not very clear is the trend or rate in mortality. Since the 1970s, Uganda has faced tremendous difficulties with potential for increasing mortality. This has included destructive wars in Luwero Triangle and northern and eastern regions, HIV pandemic, epidemic diseases like malaria devastation as in Kabale district, and the diseases of poverty including malnutrition. One can safely conclude even in the absence of accurate data that nationally mortality has either held steady or increased somewhat. Since fertility has declined and mortality has either slightly increased or held steady, natural population growth (births minus deaths) must have declined. So where has Uganda’s population ‘explosion’ come from? This can be explained by either faulty statistics or something has been omitted or both.

In any country, population size is a function of natural population change (births minus deaths) and net migration (in-migrants minus out-migrants). The 2010 report on Uganda’s population has painted a scary picture about the dangers of population explosion. Yet, the report did not include information on immigration. This is baffling in a country that has a liberal immigration policy and data available in the ministries of labor, internal affairs and finance, planning and economic development and UNHCR (on refugees).

We know that since the 1920s Uganda has been a magnet attracting migrant workers, refugees and illegal immigrants the majority of whom have stayed permanently (at independence in 1962, 40 percent of Buganda population were Banyarwanda and many more Batutsi have moved into Buganda since then). The Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development that has responsibility for population matters should explain this omission. Without accurate information on net migration (in-migration minus out-migration) and using fertility instead of mortality as a critical factor in Uganda’s population change, the report has lost value as a tool for policy formulation. It is possible that migration is responsible for the so-called population explosion. If Uganda is not careful, it could end up like Ivory Coast where migrant agricultural workers now outnumber indigenous population and are reported to have won presidential and parliamentary elections. This is a useful lesson that Ugandans must take very seriously indeed!

What is the difference between family planning and birth control? Recently someone argued that family planning does not include birth control. It is about timing and spacing of birth of the number of children needed. In the final analysis birth control and family planning both result in limiting the number of children born. Birth control terminology was used and rejected at a time when Third World countries did not believe that population growth and size was the development problem. They reasoned that it was exploitation by developed countries that caused poverty in developing countries. Birth control then was replaced by family planning but when you examine it closely family planning if applied inappropriately could reduce the number of children wanted.

A woman does not produce babies indefinitely. Normally by the age of 45 or thereabout, she stops having babies. If a woman makes a mistake in timing for the first child, breast feeding and spacing she could end up with fewer children than desired. Birth control and family planning in this sense mean the same thing – the birth of a child does not occur. The difference is that birth control implies preventing birth of a child which sounds cruel to many. On the other hand, family planning means planning birth of a child which sounds good. The latter sounds better than the former but the impact is the same.

Then there is the issue of side effects. They have not been adequately factored into Uganda’s equation. Studies in Uganda have demonstrated that there are serious side effects including reduction or loss of sexual interest. While family planning facilities should be made available for those who volunteer to use them, they must be well staffed with experienced doctors and nurses to deal with side effects as they arise.

Human beings need land on which to live and produce what they need. By and large, people especially in developing countries depend on land for livelihood. The right to land may be lost by instruments that may not have foreseen trouble ahead. Article 29 (a) of the 1995 Uganda’s Constitution states that “Every Ugandan shall have the right – to move freely throughout Uganda and to reside and settle in any part of Uganda”. This was probably done in good faith. The interpretation has become another matter. Some people think the provision empowers them to settle where they think land is free (witness the case of Buliisa). This abuse has become serious when combined with the concept of willing buyer and willing seller. Individuals are secretly selling family land to strangers!

The land situation will get worse when East Africans will be free to reside and settle in any part within the context of the East African integration and political federation once the two instruments have been have been finalized and ratified. Uganda will be flooded by people from Kenya, Rwanda and Burundi where land shortage is very acute. That may explain why there is strong support for integration and federation in these countries. Museveni wants it to be the first president. Ugandans may end up in an integrated and federated East Africa without land. This calls for Ugandans to properly assess and discuss net benefits in a transparent and participatory manner so that everyone understands and takes an informed decision. Getting a passport, free travel and trade in the region are necessary but not sufficient conditions for rushing into integration and federation. The European Union members that had a compelling case for early integration and federation after the devastations of WWII still have a long way to go so is SADC that started the process before us in East Africa. There is no need to rush. And no government or person in Uganda should force these tough decisions on the people of Uganda.

Finally let me say a word about the possibility that Uganda could easily become a hereditary kingdom. I wrote an article on this topic recently (posted on in which I outlined the steps that are being taken to declare Uganda a kingdom. Museveni is moving closer to that goal and article 256 is helping him along that path. However, some Ugandans believe that the immediate reason why a bill is before parliament to operationalize article 256 on cultural leaders is to get support of chiefs in northern and eastern regions. That may help him get re-elected with two thirds of NRM MPs. With this support, he will at an appropriate time table a bill in parliament that Uganda be declared a kingdom with himself as a hereditary monarch. The trajectory is very clear. He has the Supreme Court on his side should legal complications come up. This is not fantasy. It is real! The question is: how many Ugandans want a kingdom? What will happen to the kings we already have who are popular with their people? What are the costs in economic, social and political terms?

The only way to stop these troubling developments outlined above is for Ugandans to be bold and defeat Museveni in February 2011. Three months to February elections is a long time to organize. Ugandans have to overcome fear and take some risks for the sake of our children. Museveni knows Ugandans are afraid of soldiers and that is why they have started to talk about getting the military ready because he is sensing defeat. Let us surprise and defy him this time!

When you are so quiet even those outsiders who would want to help in one form or another cannot do so. You have to help them to help you!

I have written before and I will repeat now: Museveni came to power with a hidden agenda which he has methodically implemented in a subtle way. Because many of us were obsessed with defeating Obote and UPC we did not study Museveni properly and we are all in one way or another paying a very heavy price. Museveni has also discovered that many of us are greedy and corruptible. But those who have benefitted or hope to benefit from Museveni’s hand outs will also pay a heavy price in one form or another from the wrath of Uganda people. When the time comes do not plead that you did not know. Now you know.

The purpose of my struggle through the barrel of the pen (my first book was published in 1997 and have written a total of ten books so far mostly on Uganda) is to make sure that the playing field is leveled for all Ugandans (male and female) to use their God-given talents and aim for the stars. This is clearly contained in Article I of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It states “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood”. Good luck to you all.

, , , , , , , , , All