36 years under Museveni; 24 under others. Are we doing OK?
What you need to know:
- The better part of 1979 and the early 1980s were characterised by violence, insecurity, lawlessness and gross violations of human rights, just as we are witnessing today.
For a country, 60 years do not seem like an advanced age. A country that has been independent for 60 years is generally viewed as young. But at 60, there are many things that a country can do well and have, especially if it is not politically mismanaged. Has Uganda managed to reach this level as an independent State? Are we where we think we should be? Are we doing well?
To understand fully whether we have done well or badly as an independent country, let us do some stocktaking. This article looks at three areas — peace and security, social service delivery (education, electricity, health, etc) and economic well-being — to try to see what we have achieved and where we have failed.
Peace and security
When Idi Amin overthrew Milton Obote’s government in January 1971, Uganda was eight years old. It had its first taste of military dictatorship. Amin, who was at the helm from 1971 to 1979, was a dreadful dictator and brooked no dissent, no criticism. He killed opponents and critics with gay abandon, although not hundreds of thousands as the Western media often reports.
In 2005, Sunday Monitor published a series of interviews in which several people who worked closely with Amin, including Edward Rugumayo and Henry Kyemba, gave chilling accounts of murder, assassinations, disappearances by Amin’s security forces.
President Museveni, under his Front for National Salvation (Fronasa), tried to fight Amin’s government to no avail. Amin was to lose power in 1979 after taking his country to war with Tanzania, whose army proved vastly superior. Those eight years of a dictator in charge meant that peace and security were elusive in independent Uganda.
The better part of 1979 and the early 1980s were characterised by violence, insecurity, lawlessness and gross violations of human rights, just as we are witnessing today. Presidents such as Yusuf Lule, who assumed power after Amin’s ouster, and Godfrey Lukongwa Binaisa were in charge for short periods and cannot be held responsible for what went wrong in terms of peace and security.
After the brief administrations of Lule and Binaisa, and with Obote and other political dissidents back from Tanzania where they had sought asylum, Uganda held a general election in December 1980 in which the key contenders were Uganda Peoples Congress’ (UPC) Obote and Democratic Party’s (DP) Paul Ssemogerere. President Museveni, leading the Uganda Patriotic Movement and Jehoash Mayanja Nkangi, standing on the ticket of the Conservative Party, were political midgets who had zero chance of winning a presidential election.
The election ended with Obote declared winner, not by the Electoral Commission but by the man who headed the Military Commission, Paulo Muwanga, which served as a de facto government. This was part of the reason President Museveni gave for launching an armed rebellion. From 1981 to 1986, Uganda saw nothing like peace and security. In fact, during this time, two governments were removed through violent and unconstitutional means.
Although the rebel army fighting Obote’s government would blame the absence of peace and security in the early 1980s on Obote, the truth remains that if the government had been allowed to lead Uganda with no threat of an armed rebellion launched by President Museveni and his fighters, Uganda would not have experienced the level of insecurity and deaths at the scale we witnessed. When you add the five years of insecurity to the eight under Amin, you get 13 years of no peace and security.
That pattern continued when the government that took power in 1986 found itself having to fight a host of rebel armies. They included Alice Lakwena’s Holy Spirit Movement, Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army, Herbert Itongwa’s National Democratic Army, Jamil Mukulu’s Allied Democratic Forces, Amon Bazira’s National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (NALU), Peter Otai’s Uganda People’s Army (UPA) and the Uganda People’s Democratic Army.
From 1986 to 2008, north-eastern and northern Uganda did not see any peace and security. We are talking about 22 years of no peace and security added to the 13 mentioned already for other parts of Uganda. Peace and security for a country means that every single person is living peacefully and is in a secure environment.
The war in the north is effectively over, and Uganda is not involved in any armed conflict on its soil, but it would be misleading to say — given the many reports of abductions, illegal arrests and human rights violations — that peace and security in independent Uganda is enjoyed by every Ugandan.
Just days before our 60th independence anniversary, the leader of the National Unity Platform (NUP), Robert Kyagulanyi, addressed a news conference and displayed dozens of photos of Ugandans, mostly supporters of his party, whom he said had been abducted and held illegally. In 2018, when Mr Kyagulanyi was campaigning for Kassiano Wadri in Arua, his driver, Yassin Kawuma, was shot and killed by security forces.
Social service delivery
Barely a year after the NRM government won its first election in 1996 as a civilian government, it introduced Universal Primary Education in January 1997. Many Ugandans who would otherwise fail to go to school have been educated by the government. Some have graduated and have jobs, but many are still not in school because they cannot afford education.
In Kampala, children who should be in school are seen around Clock Tower, the Electoral Commission and other parts of the city begging. This is to say nothing of those in rural areas. Some come from as far away as Karamoja. The World Bank says 14 percent of school-going children in Uganda are out of school. There are also question marks about the quality of this education since government officials who introduced this scheme are reluctant to send their children to UPE schools and instead opt for private schools.
Away from education, electricity supply (even in many parts of Kampala) remains notoriously unreliable. Yet President Museveni, while campaigning in December 2020 for his fifth re-election, bragged that once Karuma Dam is complete — it has capacity to generate 600 megawatts — “our country’s electricity generation capacity will be 1,868MW, up from the 60MW we generated in 1986.” Paradoxically, Uganda has more electricity than it had 36 years ago, but the vast majority of its people do not have electricity.
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Independent Uganda is also struggling to provide decent healthcare. The short lived government of Obote managed to build 20 hospitals, but the NRM government, in power for 36 years, has only rehabilitated and equipped Mityana, Nakaseke, Kiryandongo, Entebbe Grade B, Nebbi, Anaka, Iganga, Moyo Moroto hospitals. Kawempe and Kiruddu are new but are struggling. Primary healthcare facilities at sub-county level remain understaffed and ill-equipped. Dr Diana Atwine, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, declared an indefinite freeze on hiring healthcare workers because there is no money to pay them.
The cost of treatment at Mulago Specialised Women and Neonatal Hospital, a new flagship health facility built by the NRM, is simply unaffordable for ordinary Ugandans. Less than a kilometre away, at the Uganda Cancer Institute, patients sleep in the open because there are no wards, no beds for them, as The Observer reported in August. The best proof that our healthcare is not fit for purpose is the refusal by senior government officials to use it. Many use private hospitals in Kampala and abroad.
Without financial assistance from the US, which injects up to $1b (Shs3.8 trillion) annually in health, education and other sectors, our health landscape would be looking pretty bad. Financial aid from the US buys anti-retroviral drugs for 1.4 million Ugandans who are living with HIV, according to the US embassy’s 2021 report to Ugandans.
Uganda was placed by the United Nations on the list of Least Developed Countries in 1971, nine years after it got independence. It is still on that unenviable list and — needless to say — is one of the poorest countries in the world, with income per capita of less than $1,000. Statistics suggest that the government has managed to reduce poverty, but the figures are belied by the number of people who cannot send their children to school; Ugandans who cannot pay medical bills; Ugandans who sell acres of land to raise money for a plane ticket to the United Arab Emirates to take up menial jobs — only to work for years and return to buy just one 100ft x 100ft plot of land near Kampala.
All the poverty-alleviation programmes the government has introduced since the late 1990s have failed either because they are corruptly managed or poorly conceived. None of the following programmes has lifted a significant number of people out of poverty: Entandikwa, Poverty Eradication Action Plan (PEAP), Poverty Action Fund (PAF), Plan for Modernisation of Agriculture (PMA), National Agricultural Advisory Services (Naads), Operation Wealth Creation and Emyooga. The Parish Development Model is the newest, but how it will be different from those before it remains to be seen. The government is broke, indebted and struggles to pay civil servants on time.
For many Ugandans, being in control of their country is preferable to colonialists. But the Uganda our leaders — past and present — inherited from colonialists worked better, especially in terms of social service delivery. At least it was not plagued by corruption, which seems to be the order of the day in independent Uganda.