People & Power

Uganda in 2012: A broken, medieval, retarded society

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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

Posted  Sunday, December 30   2012 at  02:00

In Summary

No joy at all. The 50th independence anniversary celebrations felt so sad. Everything came across as a hurriedly assembled effort lacking a historical perspective and richness of a kind that, say, a European country would put together.

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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