Fifty years of self-rule or 50 years of misrule? Uganda after half a century of (in)dependence

Published: 9 Oct 2012
By: Dismas Nkunda

On 9 October 1962, Uganda was handed her independence with great fanfare. Today marks 50 years of self-rule – or misrule, depending on your perspective.

But what are we celebrating? Did Uganda really deserve to be independent? And what has independence brought us? These are questions that we as Ugandans have to ask ourselves as we look back at what has happened over the past 50 years, as we reflect on our recent history that is enough to take your breath away.

By the time the British handed over the instruments of power to the then President Sir Fredrick Mutesa and Prime Minister Milton Obote (later to become president), Uganda was touted as a country that was ready to take off. The economy was at its best. The roads were roads not potholes. The schools were schools and no one studied under mango trees. The cabinet was slimmer. The health sector was healthy. Hope was in the air.

Then, like Nigerian playwright Chinua Achebe says, things began to fall apart. Politics quickly changed and, with it, the future.

Obote abolished the kingdoms to ensure he never had to be betrothed to the largest kingdom in Uganda, the Buganda Kingdom. Mutesa, the first president, fled to exile. Soon after, none other than Idi Amin over threw Obote; and that was the beginning of the wars and economic downturn that have since never ended. In between came the expulsion of the Asians to fulfill a dream Amin had. Then in order to remove Amin, Tanzania and the likes of Museveni and Obote fought a war that left scars embedded in the DNA of the country that would stay there well into the future. Two short term serving Presidents were removed in quick succession (Gofrey Binaisa and Yusuf Lule), and then Obote returned to power in 1980. Initial hopes that he would pick up from where he had started and put the economy back on an even keel came to nothing. Instead, another war was in the offing. Museveni and his National Resistance Army took to the bush claiming Obote had stolen the 1980 elections. But before Museveni could capture power, Obote was once again overthrown by his own army and in came General Okello Lutwa. But before Lutwa had time to take a breath, the NRA captured power.

Once again, there was hope in the air. Who would not have hoped? It had been 24 years of agony. But before we could celebrate, another war was beginning in northern Uganda and with it came what was to be described as the worst humanitarian catastrophe in the world. Displacement, death and despair become the norm. A generation of Ugandan youth in the north did not know what a normal home meant.

The hope that had been placed in Museveni quickly vanished as space for dissenting voices evaporated. Arrests and intimidation returned, and today police brutality is the same as it was all those years ago.

The agonising truth is this: that 50 years down the road, we are still far off dependence and we still yearn for the elusive answer to the question: why are we, the “Pearl of Africa,” still like this at 50? We look at ourselves in the mirror and we see only a shadow of what we aspired to be in 1962.

So Ugandans at 50 years are still looking for the answer: did we deserve independence or were we better off remaining a British colony?

For those with hope, I wish you a good celebration for Uganda at 50. For the rest, let us never stop fighting for something that we can all celebrate.

Regions: Great Lakes Region, Uganda
Type: IRRI Blog