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The children of Independence speak-out

By Rukiya Makuma

People were poorer than today but they did not notice it – James Tumusiime

In 1962, James Tumusiime, now Group Managing Director of Fountain Publishers Limited was barely 10 and a primary four pupil at Kinoni Primary school in Mbarara district. He could tell that something important was happening but did not understand what all the fuss was about.


“Every time, you tuned in to radio, something to do with Uganda’s Independence would be said loud and clear, the term Independence was on everyone’s lips. The hype created around it was too much for one to ignore,” he says.

He was used to seeing White people as the rulers and everybody was excited at the prospect of their departure and self-governance. “Uganda was surely treading on new territory the Governor was leaving and the country would be managed by an Executive Prime Minister who would be a Ugandan,” he says.

At school, they were hurriedly taught how to sing the national anthem in lieu. “We were given badges at the time,” he recalls.

He remembers the country was awash with songs praising Prime Minister designate, Milton Obote. “Ye yekka Obote waffe, Katumukulisa katitikiro olwo obuwanguzi”, “We mubanga mulya twemwelabila nga Obote wa Mirembe….( He is the only one, our Obote, we congratulate our prime minister for this victory, whenever you’re eating, never forget Obote, the man of peace)”

“It spread like a bush fire, everywhere you turned, someone was humming one to himself,” Tumusime recalls, “the scent of Independence promised good things.” He says, however barely two years later, the ugly side of Independence reared its head.

“This time people were constantly reminded about Obote but not as a peaceful man. There were two years of infighting and arrest pf prominent ministers. Within no time, kingdoms were abolished, and this was like the biggest blow.”

As a young boy Tumusiime, had grown up knowing and believing that the King was invincible, indispensable and respected by everyone. The value attached to the kings was inestimable.

The country was growing politically and the voices of the Prime Minister became more pronounced.

He says Just like all African countries that were colonised, Uganda has shared the same post-independence experiences; breakdown of law and order, shattered expectations, war, and turmoil.

“Bbut there has been great effort in getting the country back through sacrifice,” he says, “the greatest advantage the country has is that today people are more equipped with knowledge and are aware of what a responsible government is. The other advantages include the vibrant media that puts government to task and an educated populace population which is optimistic.”

“The country is witnessing economic pressures today and yet in the earlier days the situation was worse off. People were poorer than today but they did not notice it,” he says.

Corruption has killed the country –  Henry Kyemba, former minister, author of State of Blood

Unlike most people who were merely looking on and waiting upon Independence to pass, at 25 years and as a fresh graduate from Makerere University College, Henry Kyemba who held several ministerial and distinguished jobs in at least four of the eight post-independence regimes in Uganda, was deeply engrossed in the preparations for the activities of October 9, 1962 successful and memorable.

He says at the time, they had to deal with the issue of national anthem, the court of arms and the national flag since these three aspects were to be important symbols for the independent Uganda. Though the national anthem and court of arms were identified and agreed on early, Kyemba recalls the problem encountered in selecting the colours for the national flag.

“Benedicto Kiwanuka the first prime Minister had identified colours yellow, green and black,” he says, “but Milton Obote who was in charge then proposed the colour red.” Eventually the issue was sorted with Obote’s red included in place of Kiwanuka’s green.

He says to him Independence meant the ability to see Ugandans taking charge of their own destiny after colonial rule. “The events were very touching because it automatically put the blacks in charge of the country,” he says, “In the colonial rule it was very infuriating because Ugandans in all professionals were seen as assistants no matter the qualifications they had. Whether one was a qualified doctor or engineer, in the colonial era that person was an assistant to the powers that were.”

He says independence to them meant being able to do those jobs that had been saved for the foreigners instead of just hearing about how things a done. “Independence meant putting this new dream into reality,” he says.

He says the environment has changed tremendously. “The latest innovations in technology have fast tracked the way people communicate and it is now easier to deal with situations as they come,” he says.

On the negative side, he says the people who were put in charge have taken advantage of their positions as a quick way to get money. He says back then, salaries and purchasing power was commensurate with people’s needs, which is not the case today. People want to get things so fast in the fastest way. This has killed the country because most resources meant for delivering services to the country are diverted by the greedy service providers.

“Corruption was unheard of in our days, but today it is everywhere,” he says with melancholy, ““Today people want to be paid for the services and jobs that they are employed to do. People are only propelled to work when you give them small hand outs and this has greatly contributed to the high levels of corruption.”

Indiscipline holding the country back – By Apollo Nsibambi, former Prime Minister

Former Prime Minister, Apollo Nsibambi, was 24-years old at Makerere University when Uganda attained her independence.

For someone who was lucky to attain education at a time when Ugandans were being denied the right, he was excited by the prospect of independence and he saw it as an opportunity for Ugandans to shape their destiny.

“I hoped that with independence, Uganda would get good get good leadership, political stability, and economic development,” he says.  He looked forward to a time when Ugandans would have the best in the health, energy, and education sectors.

He recalls that as head of a young country, Prime Minister Milton Obote, ensured that things run smoothly and normally from 1962-66. He says, however with the new position he held, Obote fell prey to greed and when he was challenged by parliament, he declared himself president.

“That is when the problems started,” he says, “On the Buganda question, he made the army important, killed and arrested whoever threatened his government especially those who opposed him and this caused a lot of instability and the situation that prevailed at the time has prevailed throughout Uganda’s 49 years.”

Nsibambi says Ugandans started witnessing some of the unfortunate events that dashed the hopes of having independence.  The country was characterised with a lot of instability which was followed by different coups and liberation wars by different personalities as a way of ensuring that the country is restored back to normal.

He says Uganda at 49 has achieved a lot of stability politically but is grappling with global challenges which are affecting it like the energy and food problems but, he says, solutions are underway.

“The country is on the right path. It is not only held back by the indiscipline that is being exercised by some sections of society,” he says.

If Ugandan were disciplined enough we would be doing better than we are – Prof. Joy kwesiga, Vice Chancellor of Kabale University

Prof. Joy Constance Kwesiga, the Vice Chancellor of Kabale University, was lucky to attend the Independence celebrations at Kololo Grounds in Kampala on October 9, 1962. She was a school girl in Senior Four at Gayaza High School and recalls how teachers helped them to learn the national anthem in preparation for the day.

Although she now knows how lucky she was to be among those who would witness Uganda’s baptism from a colony to independent country, she did not quite grasp the whole concept of Independence even as she  participated in the celebrations.

“It was very fascinating to see the British flag being lowered and the Ugandan flag being raised up. Everything was too much for one to comprehend,” she says, “ Everything that time had a taste of Independence; I remember receiving independence adorned postcards from my young siblings then.”

She says much as the missionaries helped and introduced formal education, it was poorly suited for Ugandans as those who got an opportunity to go to school were brought up in a strict Pentecostal way. “We did not have the opportunity to learn about the roots of our country, our forefathers and what they did for a living, we were deprived of learning traditional songs, dances, and rhymes which were enriched with African culture,” she says.

She says appreciation of colonialism and the good changes it brought came later because when people received independence, they associated independence to mean that they were free to do whatever they felt like doing without anyone questioning them.

Kwesiga says in Kabale Kigezi people are no longer disciplined in everyday life of farming and land management.

“Terraces are no more, and crop rotation is no longer practised and yet before it was compulsory. Soil erosion is a very common occurrence,” she says.

She says in colonial times, parish chiefs played a very great role and would punish all those individuals who did not practise crop rotation.

“Punishments would range from one carrying rubbish to the Gombolola headquarters on their heads,” she says.

She says up to date the indiscipline has widespread to all sectors of the economy and this had greatly affected our country.

“These days people look at the state as though it is not part of us,” she says.

She says along the way the country has achieved a lot in terms of goods and services, and infrastructure.

“Many schools and hospitals have been built regardless of their quality and if Ugandan were disciplined enough we would be doing better than we are,” she says.

Uganda at 49 is not the Uganda that independence fighters envisioned in their quest for independence – Jack Wamai Wamanga, MP

Jack Wamanga, the MP for Mbale Municipality, was 16 when Uganda attained independence on October 9, 1962.  Wamanga says Independence promised the best and the leaders at the time were responsible to bring that peace to the people. Milton Obote, Idi Amin Dada and all the presidents that have ruled Uganda have all been admired in their early stages. However after a while the hope and promises they come with are quickly dashed. Uganda’s 49 years have been tainted by the rampant killings by different regimes that came to power.

He says the country has acquired some of the best infrastructure but there is no service, the country has multiparty democracy but no term limits for the presidency, there is privatisation but the cooperatives have collapsed, many jobs have been created but many more people cannot get those jobs or if they do the salaries cannot sustain them.

“Uganda at 49 is not the Uganda that independence fighters envisioned in their quest for independence,” he says.

Good buildings amount to nothing if people are poor Drake Sekeba, WBS TV presenter

Renowned WBS TV presenter, Drake Sekeba, says after Independence in 1962, the country was at peace and people were free to do things they were denied from doing by the colonial government.

That is until the post-Independence African politicians turned around and started antagonising the very peace and changes they had craved so much. “There was infighting and the police started beating up people themselves, whoever challenged the ruling government was quickly silenced either by death or by putting them in prisons a situation that has persisted till today,” he says.

Sekeba was an 18-year old junior two student at Kibuye Junior Secondary school. For him independence meant Africans would be free to do things which were not allowed by the colonialists. It meant that Ugandans would be free to visit certain hotels and would be able to attend schools that were previously only accessed by foreigners.

Schools like Nakasero primary school were for Europeans only, Norman Godinho Primary School, now  called Buganda Road primary school and Nakivubo Primary School now Nakivubo Blue Primary School were mainly for Asains

Shops were only for Europeans. Only one or two very well to do Africans would be allowed to access drapers, the departmental stores that were located at the present day Crane Bank main offices on Kampala Road in Kampala.

At the time the talk around was that colonialists were going and Africans were going to be in charge of everything. Independence meant that Ugandans would be free.

Sekeba remembers the agitations and struggle for political independence which were greatly silenced by colonial governors like Sir Andrew Cohen.  Demonstrations by politicians were not allowed and police would be on alert to beat up whoever came out to demonstrate. Demonstrations were regarded as illegal assembly.

With independence came the change in political leadership, before there was the head of State represented by the governor and later the position was changed to governor general after 1962. The 1962 constitution which was made in Britain with Ugandan representatives created a position of Executive Prime Minister, Milton Obote and ceremonial president, Sir Frederick Walugembe Mutesa II.

According to Sekeba the picture of Uganda at 49 in 2011 is a big contrast to the Independence people fought for.

“Are people free to do what they want within the laws? Are we not worse or like before the colonial period?,” Sekeba questions.

For Sekeba , Uganda at 49 is a confused picture; because you cannot proudly say that Uganda is  at peace, there is development economically, socially despite the existence of infrastructure. Everything that was attained and made Ugandans proud of has been destroyed. “Good buildings amount to nothing if people are poor,” he says.

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