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 Obama Defends Immigration Action

Obama says with his executive action on immigration, enforcement resources will be focused on 'felons, not families; criminals, not children' More

US-Led Airstrikes in Syria Kill Over 900: Monitoring Group

British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the toll includes more than 50 civilians, five of them women and eight of them children More

Report: Obama Broadens US Combat Role in Afghanistan

The New York Times says resident Barack Obama has signed a classified order extending the role of US troops in Afghanistan for another year More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
New Skateboard Defies Gravityi
X
November 21, 2014 5:07 AM
A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Gay Evangelicals Argue That Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality

More than 30 U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriages, and an increasing number of mainline American churches are blessing them. But evangelical church members- which account for around 30 percent of the U.S. adult population - believe the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender evangelicals are coming out. Backed by a prominent evangelical scholar, they argue that the traditional reading of the bible is wrong.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid