News / Africa

Ugandans Disappointed with Country’s Progress

A Ugandan woman shops at  a kiosk in candle light in Kampala. (file photo)
A Ugandan woman shops at a kiosk in candle light in Kampala. (file photo)
October 9 marks the 50th anniversary of Uganda's independence, an event the government is celebrating with great fanfare.  In 1962 Ugandans had high expectations of their new nation.  But not many of those expectations have been realized.

On the day Uganda was granted independence from Britain - October 9, 1962 - Denis Kazibwe’s father planted a tree. “A tree for independence.  That was the first time we were served bread and tea with milk, and all of us got excited,” said Kazibwe.

Kazibwe was only nine years old at the time, a primary school student in central Uganda.  But he remembers the atmosphere of euphoria and hope that permeated the new nation.

“The people thought that with independence, things would improve through all sectors.  People would get jobs, life would be better, schools would be better.  They were expecting quite a lot,” he said.

This Tuesday, Uganda is celebrating its 50th anniversary as an independent state.  The event is being marked in Kampala with concerts, speeches and exhibitions.  But not everyone is jubilant, as Ugandans look back at the turmoil of the last half-century, and contemplate how much remains to be achieved.

Mwambusya Ndebesa, a history professor at Kampala’s Makarere University, says that at the time of independence, Ugandans expected dramatic political reform.

“They expected to be more democratic and enjoy [more] freedoms than under colonial rule," said the professor.  "They expected to be controlling their economy and their politics.  But alas, they have found that citizens’ control of those in power, in certain respects, is as it was in the colonial period.”

Political trouble
Former President of Uganda Milton Obote (file photo)Former President of Uganda Milton Obote (file photo)
x
Former President of Uganda Milton Obote (file photo)
Former President of Uganda Milton Obote (file photo)

As Ndebesa points out, political trouble began less than a year after independence.  Things came to a head four years later, when then-Prime Minister Milton Obote suspended the constitution and seized all power for himself.  What followed was a succession of military takeovers ending with the current president, Yoweri Museveni, whose rule is seen by many as increasingly autocratic.

Ugandans have never truly been in control of their government, says Ndebesa.

Another problem, he adds, is that although independence created a legal state, it failed to build the nation-state needed to forge a common identity.

“Ugandans do not have much in common.  And that explains why most Ugandans do not identify themselves with each other and with the Ugandan state.  Ugandans still primarily identify themselves with their ethnic groups.  People do not identify with their national symbols or the constitution,” said Ndebesa.

Back in 1962, says Lawrence Bategeka of the Economic Policy Research Center, the new government’s intentions were good.  Policymakers of those days were determined to improve the lives of all Uganda’s people, he says.

What went wrong

“The government of the day that came into power was very excited. The desire was that government would provide everything, it will run public enterprises, and that’s where it went wrong,” said Bategeka.

What went wrong, Bategeka says, is that like many other new African states, Uganda embraced socialist policies without the financing to back them up.  He says this goes a long way toward explaining the wealth disparity today between Uganda and its relatively prosperous neighbor, Kenya.

“Kenya did not assume socialist policies.  That persuasion of adopting socialism partly explains the stagnation of sub-Saharan African countries.  Those that did not stifle the private sector, like Kenya, have done relatively better,” said Bategeka.

Economic outlook

Which is not to say that Uganda’s economic outlook is gloomy.  The past decade has seen robust growth, averaging over seven percent a year, according to Bategeka.  Uganda has also recently discovered oil.

But, as Bategeka points out, not everyone has benefitted from the boom years.

“It was driven mainly by services and construction," he said.  "And agriculture, which employs the majority of the people, grew dismally, sometimes negatively.  So the growth has not been equitably distributed. Income inequality has widened between income groups, and also between regions.”

Denis Kazibwe, now 59, agrees.  Life in his village, he says, has not improved much over the past 50 years.  Earlier this year, he took his son back to visit his old primary school, and was saddened by what he saw.

“That primary school is even worse than what it used to be in 1962," said Kazibwe. "You know, we used to go to school barefooted.  Now when I visited that place again, the pupils were still barefooted.  They don’t have electricity.  I would say that in the area, people are even poorer than what we used to be.  It’s a very, very big disappointment.”

The tree his father planted is still there. But his village’s optimism, Kazibwe says, died off long ago.

You May Like

Sunni-Shi’ite Divide Threatens Middle East Stability

Analysts say ancient dispute that traces back to Islamic Revolution is fueling modern day unrest More

Shifting Demographics Lie Beneath Racial Tensions in Ferguson

As Missouri suburb morphed from majority white to majority black, observers say power structure remained static More

Video Artists Shun Russia's Profanity Law

Restriction is toughest since Soviet era, though critics reject move as patronizing and ineffective act of censorship in line with a string of conservative morality laws More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Native Bees May Help Save Cropsi
X
Deborah Block
August 22, 2014 12:23 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video Native Bees May Help Save Crops

U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video US Defense Officials Plan for Long-Term Strategy to Contain Islamic State

U.S. defense officials say American air strikes in Iraq have helped deter Islamic State militants for the time being, but that a broad international effort is needed to defeat the extremists permanently. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned Thursday that the group formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, is better organized, and financially and militarily stronger than any other known terrorist group. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Drug-Resistant Malaria Spreads in Southeast Asia

On Thailand’s border with Myanmar, also known as Burma, a malaria research and treatment clinic is stepping up efforts to eliminate a drug-resistant form of the parasite - before it spreads abroad. Steve Sandford reports from Mae Sot, Thailand.
Video

Video Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbas

The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Nigeria's 'Nollywood' Movie Industry Rolls in High Gear

Twenty years after its birth in a video shop in Lagos, Nigeria's "Nollywood" is one of the most prolific film industries on earth. Despite low budgets and whirlwind production schedules, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa and industry professionals say they hope, in the future, their films will be as great in quality as they are in quantity. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Lagos.
Video

Video UN Launches 'Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years' in Iraq

The United Nations has launched what it describes as one of the biggest aid operations in 30 years in northern Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the extremist Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic State. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces battle the Sunni insurgents, the fighting has forced more people to flee their homes. Kurdish authorities say the international community must act now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid