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)
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

Video Getting to Zero AIDS Infections

More than 35 million people around the world are infected with HIV, a disease that is both preventable and treatable

Children, Childhoods Lost in European Refugee Crisis

According to UNICEF, 190,000 children applied for political asylum in Europe in the first 9 months of this year - twice as many as last year

What Happened When I Landed in Antarctica

Refael Klein chronicles what it's like to visit one of the coldest, most desolate places on Earth

By the Numbers

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?i
Carol Pearson
November 29, 2015 1:23 PM
The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?

The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video Political Motives Seen Behind Cancelled Cambodian Water Festival

For the fourth time in the five years since more than 350 people were killed in a stampede at Cambodia’s annual water festival, authorities canceled the event this year. Officials blamed environmental reasons as the cause, but many see it as fallout from rising political tensions with a fresh wave of ruling party intimidation against the opposition. David Boyle and Kimlong Meng report from Phnom Penh.

Video African Circus Gives At-Risk Youth a 2nd Chance

Ethiopia hosted the first African Circus Arts Festival this past weekend with performers from seven different African countries. Most of the performers are youngsters coming form challenging backgrounds who say the circus gave them a second chance.

Video US Lawmakers Brace for End-of-Year Battles

U.S. lawmakers are returning to Washington for Congress’ final working weeks of the year. And, as VOA's Michael Bowman reports, a full slate of legislative business awaits them, from keeping the federal government open to resolving a battle with the White House over the admittance of Syrian refugees.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video After Terrorist Attacks, Support for Refugees Fades

The terrorists who killed and injured almost 500 people around Paris this month are mostly French or Belgian nationals. But at least two apparently took advantage of Europe’s migrant crisis to sneak into the region. The discovery has hardened views about legitimate refugees, including those fleeing the same extremist violence that hit the French capital. Lisa Bryant has this report for VOA from the Paris suburb of Cergy-Pontoise

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

As Thailand takes in the annual Loy Krathong festival, many ponder the country’s future and security. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs