Uganda in 2012: A broken, medieval, retarded society

By this year, Uganda had reached the lowest point it has ever got to in peace time in its 50 years since independence in 1962. In previous times, such as the late 1970s and the first half of the 1980s, some of the breakdown in Uganda could be attributed to a military coup, looting in the wake of the coup, the 1979 Uganda-Tanzania war, the civil wars that raged in Buganda in the 1981-1986 period and the conflict in northern Uganda from 1986 to 2006.

Sunday December 30 2012

The Bududa landslides that hit the area in June, left many families, including this lady in tears after loved ones were buried alive.

The Bududa landslides that hit the area in June, left many families, including this lady in tears after loved ones were buried alive. FILE PHOTO 

By Timothy Kalyegira

Many Ugandan families, starting in Baganda in the 1930s, have attained a modicum of middle class material success --- land, houses, bank accounts, equity in public corporations, children studying abroad, cars, furniture and electrical appliances.

We have built personal houses, bought large four-wheel cars, attained graduate university education, own a range of iGadgets and have travelled the world, but what Uganda and its sister African countries still solely lack is a rock-solid intellectual tradition.

What no single Ugandan family has yet attained, both before and since independence, is the definition of Middle Class in the European, Israeli, American sense, framed around intellectual and innovative distinction.

Ours is an acquisitive rather than an innovative culture. We acquire land, houses, cars, sofa sets, but we do not study the human genome or excavate lost Nilotic or Hamitic settlements. We are an immediate, material, practical, simple people who lack the prodigious intellectual output that is archetypically Europe.

Even when we one day sort out our politics, curb corruption, invest our oil resources well, Uganda shall develop more along the lines of the Persian Gulf states like Oman and Qatar than the pattern of Switzerland or Italy: feudal societies with world-class skyscrapers and global broadcasters like Al-Jazeera.
What the Spanish Prime Minister meant, then, was that William Shakespeare or Leonardo da Vinci can suffer a financial setback and become bankrupt. But a Shakespeare or da Vinci is still not the same man as a shoe shine or marketing manager of a Kampala corporation.

One of the saddest personalities of Uganda at 50 in 2012 was its head of state. Yoweri Museveni was the reflection of that Medieval leader governing a Medieval society, arriving at Kololo Airstrip in a $1 million armoured Mercedes, driving past a crowd of Ugandans who barely had breakfast that morning and no longer able to recognise the African Big Man caricature he has now become.

The very caricature he himself denounced that January day in 1986 when he took his oath of office.

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