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Nation-building @ 50

By Elamu Denis Ejulu

Were Obote, Amin more nationalist than Museveni?

For the past five decades former Uganda president, the late Idi Amin Dada, has remained the yard stick for measuring failure in our politics and governance, which has downgraded us to low standards and expectations.

This is the background against which Uganda is celebrating five decades of independence amid an avalanche of mixed expectations this October.


Some are asking the how, why, and when questions as far as Uganda’s journey towards a self-sustained integrated economy and nation state will either come to fruition or remain elusive.

Uganda is a like a patient who has been diagnosed by different doctors using different medicine to cure its economic, political and social ailment. In his book, The Shrinking Political Arena, Nelson Kasfir argues that the Obote and Amin regimes devoted much effort at constructing nationalism, by distributing the national pie.

By 1971, the total number of government hospital beds had increased by 70 percent over the 1966 figure and even the number of secondary school had tripled between 1961 and 1966. The Obote regime tried to detribalise politics by dropping the question of ‘Tribe’ from the 1969 census form. County chiefs in multi-ethnic districts were for the first time since the Baganda agents had departed, transferred out of their counties in which they shared the objective ethnic characteristics of most of the inhabitants.

The Uganda people’s congress (UPC) also introduced a basic political approach which called for a member of parliament to stand for election in four constituencies, where he or she had a basic constituency but would appeal for votes in the other three multi-ethnic constituencies.  This was an effort at promoting politicians with nationalistic orientation and aimed at ethnic de-participation in our politics. These good intentions, however, came to haunt the Obote government since the baganda, looked at it as a way of destroying their ethnic identity. This ended in acrimony between the centre and the baganda.

The question now is whether Uganda has not moved from good to worse in terms of political participation since the amendment of 1967 constitution in which people participation was curtailed, by taking back the devolved powers back to the centre as the Obote regime did? This has become part of the constitutional crisis in Uganda that today Article 91 of the Ugandan constitution retains the same executive powers as of 1967 constitution.

President Yoweri Museveni’s NRM government has for the last two and half decades presided over less participation in the economy for many. In fact, Uganda in my opinion is foreign-owned and in terms of political participation, the same decentralisation system which the NRM government initiat ed has remained on paper because of the breakdown in service delivery. More powers in the hands of the centre which has hindered the very mass participation at local levels through the local council system introduced in 1986.

Uganda today is more ethnicised at the civil service level yet this is an area critical in nation building. With corruption at institutional level that has eroded public morals and integrity; we are divided according to our ethnic groups because of a particular tribe dominating the national cake.

Why has our government misread the needs of Ugandans? The demand for better service delivery has been answered by granting of districts with no traceable developed infrastructure. More politicisation of local politics along ethnic lines has been the outcome of this double standard.

Uganda has tried to forge a national identity based on economic nationalism but it has eluded us. While the governments of Obote and Amin made efforts to open up to Africans a wide variety of positions in commerce and industry previously monopolised by Indians and Europeans through nationalisation measures, and the trade licensing act,  the NRM has instead like the late Wadada Nabudere always said, “returned the colonial state”.  The economy is not in the hands of Ugandans anymore but a few of them and their foreign capitalists.

From Obote’s `Move to the Left’ to the `Economic war’ of Amin and then to the NRM’s long abandoned 10-point programme, nothing has really rallied Ugandans to build their economy. Instead we have been used and divided against each other by every leader who comes.

We have in fact used conflict as a scapegoat to justify our underdevelopment yet these very conflicts were and still out of individual mistakes which have later on been forced on ethnic groups.

Most personalities who shaped our post- independence history have tended to use the blame game in attempt to transfer their failings and mistakes on either particular ethnic group or other personalities. The earlier we realise the culture of building institutions that outgrow personalities, the better we shall have been at diagnosing part our ailment as a country.

The saddest thing has always been to use Idi Amin as a yard stick for measuring failure and success of our leaders. This has made our national expectations to be low and encouraged impunity, massive corruption before our face and human rights abuse at institutional level.

As we celebrate 50 years we need to reflect and ask and provide answers on the questions concerning our governance, agriculture, industrialisation, environment, and education. It is these issues that will keep us moving towards what we dream of as a community.

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