How frustration with Museveni has led us to abandon reality and embrace demagoguery
THE LAST WORD | Andrew M. Mwenda | October 20 | Last week, newly elected Member of Parliament for Kyadondo East, Robert Kyagulanyi, issued what he called a “Letter to Young Ugandans.” In it, he claims that “in 1962…the colonialists handed over a country which worked. Infrastructure was in place, having been built by the British – Mulago Hospital, Makerere University, roads, schools, power generating plants etc.”
So the man who wants to “liberate” Uganda from the shackles of President Yoweri Museveni lacks even the most basic knowledge of our nation’s history and the reasons why our forefathers revolted against colonial rule. In 1961, Uganda had a population of 7m people and only 343 students enrolled in A Level. If the same enrolment rate for A Level was maintained Uganda today with a population of 38m would have 2,225 students in both private and public schools. A Level enrolment today is 235,000.
Many societies tend to harbour feelings of a mythical past, fantasizing that things were much better. But to glamourise colonialism, the cousin of apartheid, by an “emerging leader”, who is youthful, is depressing. Uganda in 1962 was a horrible place where access to basic public services like education, health, water, electricity and roads were restricted to a privileged few in towns – a tiny white expatriate community, Asians and a few native African elites serving the colonial state.
The ignorance of Ugandan (and African) elites of basic facts about our country/continent is often blinding. Kyagulanyi claims that in the golden age of Uganda under colonial rule, a student from a rural primary school could favourably compete with a student from the city. There were hardly any schools in rural Uganda at the time. And today, schools outside of Kampala are performing better than in this city.
For example, in 2016, the top ten districts (towns) with best results in UPE in order of performance were: Fort Portal (99.9% passing), Entebbe (99.3%), Ntungamo (99.2%), Rukungiri (99.1%), Jinja (98.6%), Kabale (98.5%), Masaka (98.4%), Mbabara (98.4%), Lira (98.1%) and Masindi (98.1%). Kampala is not among them, showing that an average student in Lira or Kabale did better than the one in Kampala.
In 1962, Kyagulanyi’s golden age of health provision, there were no hospitals in rural areas at all. In fact, there were only 14 government hospitals in the whole country, based in the main towns of the 17 districts. Ugandans used to go to traditional healers for medical attention. It is the UPC government under Milton Obote that between 1962 and 1971 made the first effort to take health services to the people by building 22 rural hospitals.
Public services like health and education in Uganda (and Africa) today may not be as good as under colonialism. But this is not because our leaders are bad. It is largely because postcolonial governments have democratised them. In an effort to ensure universal access, our governments have spread their meagre resources too thin. Hence supply cannot meet demand, a factor made even worse because scale has made supervision difficult hence corruption, incompetence, absenteeism and apathy.
Kyagulanyi even claims that colonialism handed to us good infrastructure. For the first 69 years of colonial rule (1888 to 1957), the British did not build any tarmac roads. It is when Ugandans were elected to the Legislative Council for the first time in 1957 that our country began building tarmac roads with a total of 268km: Kampala-Jinja, 80km, Jinja-Bugiri, 72km; Bugiri-Tororo-Malaba, 71km; Maya Swamp-Mpigi, 16km; Busega-Bujuko, 17km and Kaseese-Kilembe, 12km. They were cheap roads with service duration of five to seven years. The DP government under Benedicto Kiwanuka did 210km (Jinja-Kamuli, 59km; Mukono-Sezibwa, 40m; Tororo-Mbale, 49; and Mbale-Soroti, 102km in its short life. Therefore, tarmac roads built before independence, were only possible because Ugandans got involved in governing.