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Independence expectations

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Joseph BossaThe lofty expectations of today were crafted after independence and should not be imposed on that generation

Over the last couple of weeks, three questions have engaged commentators, namely: what were the expectations of Ugandans of independence? Were those expectations realized? What should Ugandans expect the country to be like in the next 50 years?

The very notion of independence begs a question: independence from what and from whom? To this day there are opinion leaders who delude themselves that Uganda , or at least their corner of the country, was not conquered, which means being colonised, but was merely “protected”.  But, if it was not colonised what was it gaining independence from? Countries never colonised do not mark or celebrate independence.

Take Ethiopia. Whatever garb it was clothed in, the fact is Uganda was indeed colonised but not sufficiently so.Thanks to the doctrine of indirect rule, Ugandans did not sufficiently experience that “in your face” contact with the colonial power and did not have a long – held shared anger necessary to form a common attitude toward the effects for colonialism and have shared expectations from the attainment of independence. So far as their expectations were concerned, Ugandans were like the proverbial blind men who touched different parts of the body of an elephant – the tusk, the leg, the ear and the tail – and each was asked afterwards to describe what an elephant was like. Each gave a different description, depending on the part he had touched.

One common thread runs through so far as independence expectations were concerned: all Ugandans expected a change in the skin colour of the rulers and those who run commerce – from the white man and Asian, respectively, to the black Ugandans. So independence was seen in racial terms, not qualitative change of governance. To use that tired phrase, Ugandans at most expected a change of guards. It was that pragmatic and narrow. That came out clearly during a panel discussion a few days to the 50th anniversary. One panelist who was a political science undergraduate student at Makerere University at the time of independence spoke for the elite when he said he had expected to get a good job and live in Kololo like the British. A business person expected to own a shop along Kampala Road in Kampala. A former MP and minister said that as a secondary school student then, she had expected her headmistress and teachers to change from white ladies to black ones. It did not immediately happen and she was disappointed. (Missing at this forum was the voice of the peasants who were unrepresented).

That process of replacement was later described variously as Africanisation or indigenisation. It was completed finally  with the expulsion of Asians by Idi Amin in 1972, almost 10 years to the day Uganda got independence.

The lofty expectations of today were crafted after and not before independence and should not be attributed to or imposed upon the generation to whom the instruments of independence were handed so as to form the basis on which to judge whether or not independence expectations have been realised. When we transport our expectations, we substitute what were the true expectations of Ugandans then with what they ought to have been from our point of view. We should not write history with the benefit of hindsight, which makes even a fool wise. That is neither fair to those Ugandans then nor to ourselves today.

However, whatever the expectations actually were or ought to have been, I agree with one retired Bishop that now that we are stuck with independence, we should embark on a discussion and resolution of what to do with it. What is the State of Uganda in 21st Century expected to deliver to its citizens and its citizens expected to do for Uganda? What is the Uganda we want? That should now be our focus.

The author is an Old Boy of Namilyango College, Kampala.

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