JINJA – People that occupied the landmass that the British first named The British Protectorate early in their occupation, then the Commonwealth Realm of Uganda at independence in 1962 and then Uganda at the first anniversary of independence in 1963; were once known as very hospitable.
Restraint, sympathy, empathy, respect and the principle of sharing were more or less cultural matters. Interconnectivity and interdependence were integral to their extended family system.
Although poverty was always a threat, the extended family system protected members socially and economically, with the few that were socially and economically well-off taking care of the others. I ‘don’t care’ attitude was alien to the system.
If the elderly were left by their children to go and start their families – not far from the community – a few took care of them. It was rare for the elderly to suffer loneliness. Life was communal.
The people tended to trade and interact amicably, through barter trade, except for some misgivings between Buganda and Bunyoro, which were exacerbated by the British colonialists through the application of their infamous tool of domination called ‘divide and rule.’
The tool of divide and rule was developed as the most effective way of ‘denationalising’ the nations and reducing their stature in the evolving British sphere of influence in Eastern Africa.
The nations in question were: Acholi, Ankole, Buganda, Bugisu, Bukedi, Bunyoro, Busoga, Karamoja, Kigezi, Lango, Moyo, Sebei, Teso, Toro, and West Nile. Their emblems are at the entrance of the Parliament of Uganda building.
There were many clans in each nation distributed between many indigenous groups and among only four ethnicities: the dominant Bantu, the Luo, the semi-Haemites and the Haemites. There was nothing like an indigenous group of Banyarwanda. This was a constitutionally created group much later in the socio-political change of Uganda, when people with their biological and ecological roots in Rwanda and Mulenge of DRC captured the instruments of power in Kampala in 1986 and made a new Uganda Constitution 1995 favouring them. The socio-political domination by the “new” indigenous group that followed the constitutional design was helped by the enacting of certain laws that favoured the group: Movement Law, Sectarianism Law, Anti-Terrorism Law, Political and Other Organizations Law, et cetera.
Apart from the well-developed social systems that were people-oriented, the British colonialists found well-established administrative structures and functions especially in Buganda, Busoga, Toro, Bunyoro and Ankole. They quickly reached agreements with the then rulers in these nations to pave way for colonial cultural, social, economic, political and ecological penetration of the vast area they soon named the British Protectorate of Uganda. Hence there was the Busoga Agreement, the Buganda Agreement, the Toro Agreement, and the Ankole Agreement and lastly the Bunyoro Agreement underpinning what was to be indirect rule.
The colonialists discovered early that they could use Buganda to proliferate their hegemony and effect their colonial penetration of Eastern, Western and Northern regions of their new colonial entity in the then diminishing British Empire. It was a good discovery. Bunyoro almost frustrated the colonial scheme but Buganda helped to bring the Kingdom under colonial conquest, occupation and control. This opened the colonial penetration of the North.
By the end of the colonial penetration of the area that came to be called Uganda, it was clear the traditional nations would never be the same again. Indeed, the colonialists set about reducing them to tribal entities towards constructing its Uganda Project. Through education and religion they built the belief in the natives that their cultures and spiritualties were inferior to the culture of colonialists.
The long-term impact of this was disconnection between individuals and their communities, laying them bare for any future imperialism (white. black or yellow) to conquer, disorganize and dominate them well in future, with schemes intended to reverse whatever gains had been made in independence, sovereignty, development, transformation and progress.
The immediate post-colonial rulers promised the amalgamated nations, now tribes, that they would make their independence and sovereignty meaningful. They promised social development, justice, equity, human rights, quality education and quality health.
Their clarion call was to conquer ignorance, poverty and disease. Ignorance was dealt with by ensuring as many as possible all accessed quality education and that schools and university going people interacted well with ball from all parts of Uganda. Children of poor people had equal opportunity to enter school and University because it was a goal of the government not to deny Ugandan youths education simply because they came from poor families. Many schools were built, well-staffed and equipped. Even rural schools had a good chance of sending pupils or students to the best schools in the country, or even to University. Many Northern children and Western children got their education in Buddo and Busoga College, Mwiri, for example.
Poverty was best fought through encouraging every able-bodied person to engage in agriculture and cooperatives, and then ensuring them of good prices for their products. The prices would be reviewed from time to time. Workers in the private and public sector were assured of minimum wage, and there were no outrageous disparities in earnings between people of same qualifications, skills and experience on the same scale. Even differences between different scales were not outrageous. The Public Service Commission was effective in ensuring that people earned accordingly. There was no interference in its work by politicians. It was rare those days to hear that Ugandan workers were fleeing the country for new pastures abroad. Brain drain was thus controlled through government’s caring attitude for workers by ensuring favourable conditions of service.
Health-wise, many hospitals and dispensaries were built, well-equipped and well-staffed. Our doctors were some of the best trained and best paid in Africa South of the Sahara. They never struggled for improvement of salaries or working conditions as these were reviewed every year and announced every Labour Day Celebration.
With the ascension of President Tibuhaburwa Museveni to power, everything has changed in light of his statement on the day he was sworn in as President of Uganda in 1986 that “This is not a mere change of guards but a fundamental change.”
In his Ten Point Program, which was well-received by most Ugandans, he promised, among other things, democracy, respect for human rights, end to extrajudicial killing, end to corruption, and an integrated, self-sustaining economy. Almost forty years in power, the President has presided over retrogression in democracy and human rights and an increase in corruption and extrajudicial killings – some carried out by men in uniform.
The economy is not anywhere near being integrated and self-sustaining. It is now in the hands óf a small closely knit ethnic group with exogenous roots outside Uganda. Chinese and Indians control over the economy, often in league with a few people in power or connected to power. This tendency has risen supersonically over the decades, accompanied by creation of categories of citizens, some superior to the others in apartheid-like fashion.
Many Ugandans now perceive that they have lost their country and its economy to foreigners. They see people who were once refugees, or Indians and Chinese, prospering and accessing every opportunity in the country.
They see members of National Resistance Movement or those connected to power accessing everything, including the land formerly owned by indigenous communities being grabbed right, left and centre by the people with foreign roots across the socio-political spectrum.
They see biting poverty consuming their communities despite government efforts to enrich some of their people through money bonanzas such as Parish Development Model, Myooga and Operation Wealth Creation, whose primary focus is to exclude whole communities and concentrate on individuals in the false belief that when individuals prosper their wealth will be shared by whole Communities. This is like transiting from individual merit politics in the early years of NRM/A rule to individual merit economics.
They see their children, however educated, being sucked into the global modern slavery, stream and being excluded from the national economy, yet increasingly supporting the survival of the regime through taxation and remittances.
They see the children of regime functionaries being supported by the State at local and foreign universities.
They see elections not depicting their choices but what the rulers want: power retention at all costs.
They see human rights violations, extrajudicial killings, corruption and displacement of indigenous people by foreigners or people who were refugees, and well- protected by the NRM regime, from their land.
They see Uganda far more conquered and occupied than was the case under British colonialism. While British colonialism was not free from exclusion, it allowed for inclusion. Not today under President Tibuhaburwa Museveni’s rule. Those who seem to be included are no more than slaves.
They see State agents hounding them out of swamps but allowing so called investors and some elements connected to power to establish factories or mansions in swampy area.
They see the State pointing guns onto the population rather than at the borders, in an attempt to ensure that there are no demonstrations against the regime system, or even for improvement of conditions of farmers, workers, pupils and students.
People everywhere are both hungry and angry. Under these conditions, it is difficult to see how people would sustain the celebrations and ululations that received the ascent to power of President Tibuhaburwa Museveni in 1986. Widespread frustration is the order rather than the exception. This explains why Ugandans, once receptive and hospitable to foreigners now feel this is their undoing number one. Rather than show sympathy and empathy like they used to, they now celebrate the deaths of some people in the NRM ruling system.
They see even some of their notable people as having let them down and now celebrate when they die. This is a stance that has developed in the 21st Century. It is nonetheless anti-Ugandan cultures combined. In all cultures in Uganda, the dead were respected and once lowered in the grave, criticism of them ended. It was not part of the ethico-moral fibre of our people to speak ill of the dead.
The question is: Can we rewind to recover the Ugandaness that was hospitable, receptive to foreigners, sympathetic, empathetic and characterized by restraint?
Yes we can. However, it is an uphill task that requires the citizens to reject the seed of inferiority complex being sown in and amongst them. Apartheid-like leadership and governance is pervading our sociocultural, socio-political, and socio-ecological landscapes, pushing many – educated and uneducated into despondency, docility and hatred of people in power or connected to power. The valley between the people and power has never been any wider. In frustration, hopelessness and haplessness, many people are waiting for another notable one to die so that they can celebrate. It is sad but true. That is the only moment they are happy! It is not true Ugandans are the happiest people on Earth. Rethink Ugandans.
For God and My Country.