9 November 2012

Uganda at 50

Uganda celebrated its Golden Jubilee on October 9. The country attained independence from Britain in 1962. President Yoweri Museveni presided over a ceremony witnessed by many African leaders including Nigeria's vice president Mohammed Namadi Sambo, the current Chairman of the African Union and president of Benin Republic, Mr Boni Yayi, and new Egyptian president, Mohammed Morsi.

Like many former African colonies that gained independence in the 1960s, Uganda started out well, making modest gains in social and economic development under its first prime minister, Mr Milton Obote.

A power tussle between Obote, who had executive powers and the titular head of state as president, the Kabaka of the semi-autonomous kingdom of Buganda, Sir Edward Mutesa , plunged the country into a constitutional crisis in 1966.

Obote ordered the army led by General Idi Amin to attack the palace of the Kabaka, forcing him into exile. The prime minister then assumed the role of executive president.

Following the overthrow of Obote in 1971, military rule headed by General Amin threw the country into another period of instability and civil strife. Amin's regime was notorious for gross human rights violations.

In a failed attempt at economic empowerment of Ugandans, Amin expelled Asians who had dominated the retail and manufacturing sectors, a move that worsened Uganda's economic situation and poor international standing, leading to the breakup of the East African Community that grouped Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. Tanzanian leader Julius Nyerere, with tacit international support, mobilised troops and drove Amin out of power.

Following a succession of leaders, Museveni's National Resistance Movement (NRM) emerged from the bush to seize power in1986 after a long guerrilla campaign, bringing a semblance of stability to the country.

Under his watch, Museveni sought to heal old wounds. He restored the Ugandan monarchies abolished by Obote in 1967, including that of Buganda. The economy recorded higher growth rates but is still dependent on subsistence agriculture and coffee exports. With the discovery of oil in commercial quantity, Uganda is set to join the league of oil producing countries.

In his early years in office, Museveni managed to restore Uganda's international standing, endearing himself to the donor community by effectively rolling back the AIDS epidemic ravaging the country. Winning the hosting rights for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) held in Kampala in 2007 was a personal triumph for the Ugandan president.

Uganda's foreign policy in the last two decades has been robust, actually punching above its weight.

Uganda supported the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) of Paul Kagame which launched a guerrilla campaign like the NRM to seize power in Kigali. In a similar fashion, Uganda backed the military campaign launched by Joseph Kabila against the long-time dictator Mobutu Sese Seko in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

A recent United Nations report however criticized Uganda and Rwanda for supporting rebel groups in DRC's troubled North Kivu province.

As the largest contributor to the African Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), Ugandan troops have played a pivotal role in its war against Al Shaabab Islamist insurgents in Somalia.

The Ugandan government has had to grapple with an insurgency launched by the notorious Joseph Kony and his Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in Northern Uganda, fighting for autonomy for the Acholi. Kony is is accused of committing widespread human rights abuses in Uganda, Southern Sudan and the Central African Republic.

Although Uganda is in theory a multiparty democracy, it has become a de facto a one-party state under Museveni and muzzled the opposition by hounding its leaders. In the run up to the Golden Jubilee celebrations, the main opposition leader Kizze Besigye, who had been a bitter opponent of the government, was placed under house arrest.

President Museveni has been in power now for 26 years, and shows no signs of wanting to give up power. Over the years, he has begun to acquire an authoritarian streak, given to lecturing and hectoring Ugandans.

Having once criticized sit-tight African leaders in his early years in power, Museveni has now joined their ranks. He has abolished term limits, leaving him to stay in power for as long as possible. Uganda is yet to witness a peaceful transfer of power since independence in 1962. Museveni should be working to ensure that dubious legacy is broken.

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