The Independent (Kampala)

29 October 2012

Uganda: The Making of 50 Years of Uganda

book review

Our memories are so weak sometimes: Perhaps many will remember the 2007 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), but few will the OAU Meeting in Kampala in 1975.

Many would remember the Buganda riots in 2009, but a few would the 1966 Mengo crisis. Many sing Jose Chameleon's praise but few recall Christopher Ssebaduka or "Ever green" Elly Wamala, and so on. As the times go by, memories get fainter, except where a good record exists.

Fountain Publishers, dancing to the drums of Uganda's Independence jubilee celebrations, researched and compiled the earthshaking events of the past 50 years of the country. 'Independent Uganda: An Eventful Journey: 1962-2012' is a detailed account of what made news in independent Uganda's half century.

As titled, Uganda's 1962 -2012 script is crowded, with both local and foreign engagements. In this single volume, rendered in picture and text, documented are events ranging from politics (which has taken the largest share of the book), economics, social services, religious and society to sports. In other words, there have been as many coups, liberations/guerilla wars, cult killings, as there were gold medals, new artistes or even media outlets.

The book does not only add nuance to the well-known histories, but it attempts a fresh and more balanced expose. Starting with the date the country's independence, the 1964 army mutiny, 1966 Mengo crisis, the attempted assassination of Obote, the rise of Idi Amin and his ambitious local and foreign policies to President Museveni's long reign - his clashes with Mengo, insurgents, the economy and the opposition - all are narrated with commendable candor, and less finger-pointing. Take for instance; although much blame is placed onto the regime of Obote, Mengo is also implicated in the saga that visited the palace in 1966 -and this time in a more detailed format. Amin's love for Uganda, and his contribution to history, especially as regards the return of the economy to native hands, his mode of operation notwithstanding, is also well articulated.

But this is not just a political narrative; the volume details Uganda's cultural, social and economic life in much the same way. Culture, especially the changing patterns and trends in music and art are discussed. It is actually upon the reader to judge, whether our cultural industry is headed for the worse of good times. The boom in education with the coming of privately owned schools; the introduction of Universal Primary Education (UPE) have all been included, and a critique on quality is provided.

Much writing nowadays either demonises or appraises regimes, not both. But much space for correction, critique and appraisal has been granted in this book. On the economy, for example, the widely held myth that Uganda's economy at independence was equal to that of North Korea is put up for scrutiny. Indeed, we have started reading overt appraisals of the nationalisation of the economy in 1972. And interestingly, the scarcities that followed, the rise of the black market, and mafuta mingi - are reviewed to a conclusion that these were not just a product of Amin's naivety or failure of Ugandans to manage the newly nationalised economy, but external sabotage, especially from Britain and anti-government fighters, is problematised.

The growth in both agriculture and industrialisation, profiles of several major sites of economic activity: tea plantations, sugar factories, mining centers, water bottling, heavy metal processing, etcetera - have been detailed. The flip side of this economic growth manifesting through egregious levels of corruption especially under the current government is deftly compared with the earlier regimes. Indeed, the book notes that despite the economic instability of the earlier times and massive robberies; the present face of corruption is outstandingly bad and unprecedented.

Because the book provides a kind of one stop-center of Uganda's history, it provides ground for immense comparison (and shared appreciation) of feats and fouls across times. So we are able to compare and appreciate John Akii Bua, Dorcus Inzinkuru and Stephen Kiprotich - in the same spirit. Afrigo Band and Eagles Production are also put up for comparison. Events happening under different presidents tempt a comment on presidents as well: President Idi Amin and President Museveni are the most unavoidable: Away from both having been "professional" soldiers, and claiming their places as presidents through the army, both have been Uganda's most adventurous presidents at foreign policy. Amin ventured a criticism of Israel to the extent that he gave sanctuary to a hijacked Israel plane; opted for open war with the apartheid regime in South Africa (not granted, though) - Museveni, on the other hand, has had a peacekeeping mission and has openly battled insurgents in Somalia, aided guerillas in Rwanda, etcetera. Only different strokes of the same script!

Of course, there are a couple of gaps in the narrative. In issues that are deemed sensitive, the editors veered away from being branded controversial -especially with the current times: elections, media closures, land grabbing. Even away from home, the editors stuck to the Orientalist or government spin not venturing to research the other side of the story; this is specific with the narrative on the Union of Islamic Courts in Somalia. Put together, however, this is a wonderful gift for the Golden Jubilee.

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