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

Multimedia Social Media Documenting, Not Driving, Hong Kong Protests

Unlike in Arab Spring uprisings, pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong aren't relying on Twitter and Facebook to organize, but social media still plays a role More

Bambari Hospital a Lone Place of Help in Violence-Plagued CAR

Only establishment still functioning in CAR's second city is main hospital More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid