Why Uganda has moved from hope to despair

post-independence history has been marked by alternating phases of
hope and despair. The 1960s represented a period of hope as the
country transitioned from colonial rule to independence. Apart from
some political hiccups in the second-half, Ugandans enjoyed better
quality education, healthcare, nutrition, housing, transport,
clothing, jobs and improved opportunities for all. There was hope for
better democracy and national unity.

decade of the 1970s pushed Uganda into a political, economic, social
and environmental depression caused in part by the Cold War conflicts
between the forces of Capitalism and Communism and Amin’s
inappropriate policies after the overthrow in 1971 of a civilian
government with external involvement.

search of security and sustenance, families moved from urban to rural
areas where pressure mounted on limited resources and standards of
living plummeted. Those who escaped murder or imprisonment left the
country. Despair descended on the nation and Ugandans flocked to
churches en masse in search of solace.

overthrow of the Amin regime in 1979 rekindled a sense of hope.
People returned from exile, others drifted back from the country side
to towns determined to reconstruct their shattered lives and dreams
and to never again return to the dark days of the 1970s. The first
chaotic half of the 1980s was treated by many as a painful transition
to permanent peace, security, prosperity and sustainable development.
And hope was kept alive.

January 1986 the National Resistance Movement came to power promising
to end problems in all areas of human endeavor. That spirit was
embodied in the Ten-Point program subsequently expanded to fifteen.
All Ugandans were to be treated free and equal in dignity and rights
without any distinction whatsoever. Merit would be the only criterion
for upward mobility. In the short term Ugandans were prepared to
tighten their belts further to give government time to lay a
foundation for a better future.

the mid-1990s Uganda’s economy was growing at 10 percent per annum
and reconstruction was improving people’s lives except those with
limited capacities or caught up in the northern war.

international community was impressed and increased financial and
technical support. Uganda became a “success story” with reports –
full of hope – appearing in the international media, United Nations
conferences and the Secretary-General’s reports to the General

signs of trouble began to surface in the political and economic
theaters. The war in the north took a heavy toll – many deaths,
displacements, kidnappings, child soldiers, malnutrition and disease;
and the destruction of infrastructure and institutions – with no
end in sight. The atrocities were reported worldwide and began to
tarnish Uganda’s image of hope.

justification of her involvement in Congo wars was largely
unconvincing. The alleged plunder of Congo’s resources and massive
violation of human rights did not go unnoticed.

the economic and social levels studies began to show that the
benefits of growth did not trickle to the majority of Ugandans and
structural transformation was a far cry. Regional and class findings
indicated that the bulk of economic growth was taking place in the
south and in the capital city of Kampala and its vicinity. The
northern region had suffered disproportionately and rural-urban
income gaps had widened.

private sector and exports – the two principal engines of Uganda’s
economic growth – proved incapable of absorbing the economically
active labor force – including 50 percent of university graduates –
and earning enough foreign exchange to repay external debt and
generate resources with which to import technology for development.
Food exports had created domestic shortages contributing to acute
hunger and under-nutrition.

these economic difficulties on the weather, laziness, opposition
parties and population explosion did not absolve the government.

the political level government resistance to a true multi-party
democracy and freedom has led to violations of human rights and
creeping political corruption.

political, economic, military and social indicators of instability,
Foreign Policy and Fund for Peace have included Uganda in the index
of Failed States (Foreign Policy May/June 2006). Subsequent studies
by the UN and Human Rights Watch have painted a picture – not of
hope but of despair – which all Ugandans and friends should take
seriously and propose bold and urgent corrective measures.