Insight-Uganda: The rotten state
13 December 2011 at 00:00
How did we come to this? All over Uganda; homes, offices, restaurants,
warehouses, and workshops are in darkness. The two main taxi parks in
Kampala now look like farmland, with mud inches deep, everywhere.
Inflation is now past 30 per cent, profit margins have been eroded, the
boarding schools realise that even their fee raise of last term was not
enough to cover the effects of inflation but can't bring themselves to
announce yet higher fees.
Groups in Uganda that are known to be risk averse are now at the point of
being desperate enough to strike and march in protest.
Garbage lies everywhere, from Kampala to Jinja, Mbarara, Entebbe, Masaka
In two major by-elections since the February 18, 2011 general election,
disillusionment runs so deep that the residents and voters of Entebbe -
where State House is located and Luwero - where the NRA first set up its
military base and where it supposedly has the undying support of the people,
who sacrificed their resources and lives for Museveni - have rejected the
NRM and voted Democratic Party candidates.
The fact that the choice of Entebbe and Luwero residents is the DP and not
even the main opposition party, the FDC, suggests that Ugandans, Baganda at
least, are starting to return to their tribal roots as the only protest
against the 25-year rule of Museveni and his NRM.
Depression in Uganda
Today, except for the fact that the western media is focused on the Eurozone
and US economic woes, they should be describing countries like Uganda as
being in their own version of the Great Depression.
Something must explain this failure of state and society. It is fashionable
in the media to lay the blame at the feet of President Yoweri Museveni and
in most ways, rightly so. However, a closer, more detached view of Ugandan
society reveals that Ugandans helped bring on this national collapse to
It is not entirely true that the National Resistance Army (NRA) guerrillas
battled their way to state power in January 1986. Along the way, they formed
"Resistance Councils", held public rallies in towns and villages they
captured, a crop of Makerere University students abandoned their studies and
joined the NRA starting in 1981, and this broad view of the last 30 years
shows a detailed process of alliances, negotiations and public support to
the Museveni project.
Buganda since independence always has had its fixed, non-negotiable goal:
the revival of Buganda power, prestige and wealth. It has been prepared to
enter into any alliance with any political leader, military or political,
dictator or democrat.
It is beyond question that Buganda played a major, perhaps the most critical
role, in granting the NRA the legitimacy it so lacked in 1981 and so badly
needed. The Crown Prince Ronald Muwenda Mutebi, who has since as Kabaka
suffered innumerable indignities at the hands of the NRM government, toured
the NRA's "liberated areas" in late 1985, an explicit public endorsement of
Museveni and his guerrillas.
Why? Because of the principle of "My enemy's enemy." Rather than demand the
delivery of services, guarantee security across the board and create a
system of merit-based recruitment to government jobs, various quarters of
Ugandan public opinion since 1986 have chosen to strike private deals with
President Museveni as a person.
So when the people of Kisoro to the southwest extreme corner of Uganda feel
they have poor roads, schools and low incomes, they march to State House or
wherever Museveni might happen to be and through manipulation of guilt and a
reminder of how loyally they vote him, they extract a promise from him to
appoint a "son of the soil" in his next Cabinet. Whether this Mufumbira "son
of the soil" is relevant to the facts of their poverty or poor road, they
don't see and when a minister from Kisoro is announced, there is great
jubilation. However, five years later, they start to notice that their main
road to Kabale is still impassable and they are still without incomes and
After the NRA came to power in 1986, so great was the relief and feeling
among the southern Bantu tribes that this was now a start of sanity and
return to innocence for Uganda that several Baganda "kadongo kamu" folk
singers composed songs narrating how the NRA had defeated the UNLA.
The way the songs describe the UNLA, it is not that the NRA beat the then
national army. It is that the NRA defeated "those northerners." The message
is clear and was clear all along, and remains clear to this day: the
1981-1985 NRA guerrilla war was a tribal war, pitting the Bantu-speaking
tribes of central and western Uganda and the Rwandan Tutsi refugees against
what was perceived as the "northerner army."
The two main guerrilla leaders Andrew Kayiira and Museveni understood this
southern tribal sentiment and played along with it.
Of course another glaring fact since 1986 is that the Uganda of today is as
failed a state as it was in 1986. It was dedicated to consistent western
diplomatic, military, intelligence, and financial aid to the Museveni
government that had kept the regime in power this long. The West was tricked
into believing the same "fundamental change" claims that millions of
Ugandans believed in 1986. And like the Buganda kingdom, the West also had
its long-term objectives. Over time, Museveni learnt to study what these
western objectives were and adapt his entire foreign policy to meeting them.
So let's endure the mud in the taxi parks and our neighbourhoods, the rotten
state of once respectable schools, the erosion of any sense of shame by
public officials. Let inflation get to 50 percent by mid next year. Let
Museveni and his cronies abuse power at will. Let prison be filled with the
innocently convicted. This is part of that divine punishment. When we are
done with it, a new Uganda will emerge.
Many of the roads in Kampala City centre are next to impassable.
Many of the roads in Kampala City centre are next to impassable. PHOTO BY
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Received on Tue Dec 13 2011 - 07:31:14 EST