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

Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Seen as a potential driver of recovery, Cairo’s plan to expand waterway had been raising hopes to give country much needed economic boost More

Ebola Maternity Ward in Sierra Leone First of its Kind

Country already had one of world's highest maternal mortality rates before Ebola arrived, virus has added even more complications to health care More

Malaysia Flight 370 Disappearance Ruled Accident

Aircraft disappeared on March 8, 2014; with ruling, families of 239 passengers and crew can now seek compensation from airline More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Super Bowl Ads Compete for Eyes on TV, Webi
X
January 29, 2015 9:58 AM
Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 1) is about more than just the NFL's American football championship and big parties to watch the game. Viewers also tune in for the world famous commercials that send Facebook and Twitter abuzz. Daniela Schrier reports on the social media rewards for America’s priciest advertising.
Video

Video Super Bowl Ads Compete for Eyes on TV, Web

Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 1) is about more than just the NFL's American football championship and big parties to watch the game. Viewers also tune in for the world famous commercials that send Facebook and Twitter abuzz. Daniela Schrier reports on the social media rewards for America’s priciest advertising.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Freedom on Decline Worldwide, Report Says

The state of global freedom declined for the ninth consecutive year in 2014, according to global watchdog Freedom House's annual report released Wednesday. VOA's William Gallo has more.
Video

Video As Ground Shifts, Obama Reviews Middle East Strategy

The death of Saudi Arabia’s king, the collapse of a U.S.-friendly government in Yemen and a problematic relationship with Israel’s leadership are presenting a new set of complications for the Obama administration and its Middle East policy. Not only is the U.S. leader dealing with adversaries in Iran, the Islamic State and al-Qaida, but he is now juggling trouble with traditional allies, as White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video MRI Seems to Help Diagnose Prostate Cancer, Preliminary Study Shows

Just as with mammography used to detect breast cancer, there's a lot of controversy about tests used to diagnose prostate cancer. Fortunately, a new study shows doctors may now have a more reliable way to diagnose prostate cancer for high risk patients. More from VOA's Carol Pearson.
Video

Video Smartphones About to Make Leap, Carry Basic Senses

Long-distance communication contains mostly sounds and pictures - for now. But scientists in Britain say they are close to creating additions for our smartphones that will make it possible to send taste, smell and even a basic touch. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.
Video

Video Saved By a Mistake - an Auschwitz Survivor's Story

Dagmar Lieblova was 14 when she arrived at Auschwitz in December 1943, along with her entire Czech Jewish family. All of them were to die there, but she was able to leave after several months due to a bureaucratic mix-up which saved her life. Now 85, with three children and six grandchildren, she says she has a feeling of victory. This report by Ahmad Wadiei and Farin Assemi, of RFE/RL's Radio Farda is narrated by RFE’s Raymond Furlong.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid