50 years of Ugandan independence
Author : Andrea Schmidt / mc
Editor Susan Houlton
British rule over Uganda came to an end on October 9, 1962. Half a century later, the African nation still has not made the transition to genuine democracy.
One cannot refer to Uganda as a democracy. Following the brutal regimes of Milton Obote and Idi Amin, power is now in the hands of President Yoweri Museveni where it has rested for the last 26 years. Observers described last year's election as free, but not fair. Victory at the polls for the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) was only achieved by generous election promises and an expensive campaign, funded from state coffers.
Sarah Tangen heads the Kampala branch of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, a German think tank. She views political life in Uganda with some skepticism. "Uganda is not a de facto democracy," she told DW, "it is a pseudo democracy with authoritarian traits."
The military-style police are brutal and they assist and protect the government rather than the people. This is reflected in the poor reputation the police have in the population at large.
Tangen says corruption is another of the country's problems. "There are a large number of paramilitary organizations that operate outside the law," she says.
Powerful president, divided oppositionPresident Yoweri Museveni has run Uganda since he came to power in 1986. When he was taking the oath of office, he said that Africa's problem was that its leaders stayed in power for too long, thereby encouraging impunity, corruption and cronyism. When journalists remind him about his length of time in office, he replies evasively "It's a question of fighting." Museveni said he has been fighting his country's problems since 1971, in other words since Idi Amin seized power. "We fought for 16 long years, do you expect me to give up half way? Because we are still fighting, not in the bush but in the government. I am not talking about power, I am talking about the struggle."
Museveni sees the presidency as a life-long mission. He believes he must adopt tough measures to stop the country from sliding into chaos. The reason why he is still in power is because the opposition is divided, it lacks a coherent political strategy. It has failed to win the support of the masses, even though the country has seen anti-government protests against high food prices, corruption and social inequality.
At the crossroads for half a century
Kizza Besigye, formerly Museveni's personal physician, is the country's strongest opposition leader. He believes his country has made progress on infrastructure and the economy generally, but not in its political life. Fifty years after independence, Uganda is still at the crossroads, Besigye says. "We still haven't succeeded in making the transition to a stable, democratic society. In those 50 years, there hasn't been one single head of state who has handed over power to his successor peacefully," he added.
Democratic rights may be written into the constitution, but the reality is rather different. The right of assembly has been drastically curtailed. Permission for demonstrations is often denied on the flimsiest of pretexts, protests are brutally put down by "security forces".
Agnes Kabajuni works for the rights group Amnesty International in Uganda. "We are very concerned by the many human rights violations that take place here," she says.
Beacons of hope
The government adopts a antagonistic attitude to NGOs like Amnesty International. Activists who campaign for the rights of sexual minorities bear the brunt of such hostility. One of the country's best known gay rights activists, David Kato, was murdered last year. The culprits haven't even been found, let alone put on trial or convicted. Kato was instrumental in ensuring that draft legislation which envisaged the death penalty for gays and lesbians was eventually dropped.
It was also pressure from the international community that forced the regime to abandon this draconian bill. Such pressure is still needed. "We need support, urgently." said Clare Byarugaba from the NGO Civil Society Coalition, which fights for gay rights in Uganda. "We believe that draft law was scrapped because the government was worried about its image," the young activist believes.
The majority of Ugandans are under the age of 20. The only president they have ever known is Museveni and they are calling for their rights with increasing self-confidence. Young parliamentarians are also starting to become more vocal in their criticism of the regime, which is a sign of hope in the former pearl of Africa.
Uganda: 50 years of independence, amid turbulence
By RODNEY MUHUMUZA
The East African country has come a long way from the days when brutal dictators were in charge, but it has not had a single peaceful transfer of power since 1962 and the potential for instability remains as opposition activists intensify their campaigns and authorities clamp down.
President Yoweri Museveni took power by force in 1986 and has ruled since. He has not said if he intends to run in the 2016 vote, but some in the ruling party are starting to demand his retirement, saying his long stay in power hurts the party's popularity. For opposition activists, the fact that Museveni has held power for more than half the time Uganda has been independent is reason enough to use the anniversary to demand his unconditional exit.
"We have to show the whole world that there is no independence in Uganda," said Ingrid Turinawe, a prominent political activist. "Why should we celebrate? What is there to celebrate?"
Military police surrounded the home of Uganda's top opposition leader on Monday, effectively putting Kizza Besigye out of circulation. Besigye had threatened to stage a rally in Kampala to spotlight the government's alleged failures.
David Mpanga, a lawyer for Besigye, said his client's house has been "besieged" by police and his movements restricted. Police last Thursday fired teargas to disperse a rally called by Besigye, who was then taken into a police cell before being allowed to return to his heavily monitored home.
"We are not yet there," said Nicholas Opio, an independent political analyst, talking about good governance in Uganda. "We are still on the road. There are bigger questions to be asked of this government. There is an aura of paranoia on the part of the state and this paranoia is a result of the increasing unpopularity of the regime."
Henry Kyemba, an author and politician who worked for Ugandan dictator Idi Amin before fleeing to England, said the country had progressed from the days of Amin, who ruled by military decree and whose regime killed thousands of Ugandans. He describes Uganda today as hopeful despite the lack of peaceful political transitions.
"That is a most unfortunate situation and we should try and reverse it," said Kyemba, whose 1977 book about Uganda under Amin is titled "A State of Blood."
The national celebrations Tuesday were attended by at least 15 heads of state, including two of the longest-serving leaders in Africa: Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Yahya Jammeh of Gambia. Britain's Queen Elizabeth was represented by Prince Edward, the Duke of Kent, who in 1962 handed over the symbolic instruments of power to a young Ugandan politician who would be overthrown eight years later by the army chief, Amin.
Uganda's population has since grown from 7 million to 34 million. The World Bank says Uganda has sustained a record of "prudent macroeconomic management and structural reform." In 1996, at least 44 percent of Uganda's population lived below the poverty line. By 2009, according to the World Bank, the figure had fallen to 24.5 percent.
Angelo Izama, a political analyst with a Kampala-based think tank called Fanaka Kwawote, said that while Uganda has made progress on issues such as women's rights, poverty reduction and the rule of law, the country remains in a perpetual state of political crisis.
"Unfortunately, Uganda advances through crises," Izama said. "The next crisis will be the question of succession. The oil resource has upped the ante on what succession means."
In 2006 Uganda discovered commercially viable oil deposits in the Albertine Rift, along the border with Congo, raising expectations in a country that exports mostly cash crops such as coffee and tea. Officials now estimate Uganda's crude oil deposits at 3.5 billion barrels, the basis for Museveni's claim last month that the country will achieve middle-income status in about 50 years.
But some suspect the discovery of oil may have given Museveni a new incentive to hang on to power as well as a source of money to build and maintain that patronage networks that have enabled him to rule so long.
"A number of independent and donor-funded studies have characterized today's government of Uganda as one of neo-patrimonial rule," the watchdog Global Witness said of Uganda shortly before Museveni was re-elected last year. "This is a system of government which is dominated by an individual leader whose personal authority is indistinguishable from that of the state and in which political power is maintained through a combination of patronage and the selective use of intimidation and force."
Uganda's Leader: 26 Years In Power, No Plans To Quit
October 8, 2012Rebel leader Joesphy Kony, head of the infamous Lord's Resistance Army, has achieved greater notoriety than any other Ugandan in the world today.
Idi Amin, who ruled the country through most of the 1970s, still stands as a symbol of African dictators who abused power and inflicted gross human rights abuses.
Yet as Uganda celebrated 50 years of independence on Tuesday, the man who has most shaped the country is far less known, at least in the West.
Yoweri Museveni has ruled the East African nation for 26 years, more than half of its post-colonial history. A charismatic former rebel commander, Museveni seized power in 1986, decrying other African leaders who overstayed their welcome.
Museveni points to many achievements in a country with a troubled past. But today, more and more Ugandans say their president has grown heavy-handed as he clings to power.
Despite this criticism, Museveni has dug in his heels. Just before he won a fourth five-year term last year, Museveni changed the constitution to loosen term limits.
In an interview with Al-Jazeera at the time, Museveni was characteristically defiant, deflecting arguments that he had been in power too long.
"The main point is: How would Africa transition from backwardness to modernity?" he told the Qatar-based network. "We should be talking about that, not talking about the individuals. ... Talk about the process of transformation from Third World to First World."
In the Kiseka market, a huge auto parts bazaar in the capital of Kampala, it's said that you can buy everything you need to assemble a Toyota Land Cruiser from scratch, if you want to. Here, the grease-stained shop owners speak their minds.
"I was born in 1986, and all I have to tell you is I have never seen another president," says 26-year-old electrician Jeremiah Senyondo. "All I see is Museveni, Museveni. And what I feel on the inside of me is [the need for] change."
This is a sentiment heard more and more across Uganda: It's time for someone new.
From Freedom Fighter To Autocrat
Museveni sees himself as an aging revolutionary, a historic figure who fought in the bush and overthrew dark forces, and whose mission to transform Uganda is not finished, despite the fact he's been around for a quarter-century and is pushing 70.
No one denies Museveni's accomplishments. Under his long rule, security has improved, the army is more disciplined, and the economy has gained traction.
Today, more children go to school, the fight against HIV/AIDS has made progress, and Washington considers him a key regional partner in fighting terrorists in Somalia.
"Uganda has made great strides," says Ugandan political scientist Frederick Golooba. "But, having said that, I think that we have reached a point where Uganda no longer needs Museveni. Most people would say that."
In Uganda's half-century as a nation, it's no longer enough that Yoweri Museveni overthrew tyrants Idi Amin and Milton Obote.
Museveni was once regarded as one of the most progressive leaders in Africa. Today many Ugandan analysts say Museveni increasingly resembles any other African big man, characterized by vainglory and egocentrism, nepotism and corruption, repression of opposition figures and intolerance of dissent.
"I guess the longer you stay in power the more vulnerable you become," says Daniel Kalinaki, editor of the Daily Monitor newspaper. "I think what we're seeing now is the government entering a phase where regime survival becomes a top priority."
A report released last month by Human Rights Watch, titled Curtailing Criticism, claims the authoritarian climate in Uganda is typified by the president's treatment of certain nongovernmental organizations. The report says groups have recently faced closure, intimidation, arrest and decertification for challenging the government's political and financial interests.
No Tolerance For Dissent
In Kikyusa, a mud-street town where a small nonprofit called the Development and Child Welfare Initiative is staging a civic meeting, villagers pass around a microphone to voice grievances against the government. It is a unique opportunity for the villagers, who are not used to confronting local officials.
One man stands up and faces the stony-faced district police commander, complaining that when he goes to the police department to make a complaint that there's been a crime committed, the officer asks for money to go arrest the suspect, some 20,000 shillings, or $8.
A woman asks who is supposed to pick up the stinking garbage. A hotel owner wants to know why he should pay taxes when the government does so little for this town. One fuming parent wants to know why a rich pineapple grower is allowed to rape local children and then pay off the police to avoid arrest.
These sorts of questions make people in power uncomfortable, and that's the point, says John Segujja, the project coordinator. But it's a project that comes with a cost in Uganda.
Segujja explains that when he went to renew his organization's registration earlier this year, he was told it was under investigation by the president's office.
His group, which is supported by international donors, still has not been recertified. He says the government is blocking recertification because the group encourages people to challenge officials.
"We are opening the peoples' eyes and ears to ask questions," Segujja says. "And people in government don't want to be asked questions, especially on matters concerning corruption."
The president's spokesman did not return NPR's repeated phone calls to comment on this story.
Defense Minister Crispus Kiyonga, a protege of the president's for 26 years, said in an interview that foreign NGOs operate "with anarchy" in Uganda and need more oversight.
When asked about the president's longevity in office, he smiled and said it's up to Ugandans to decide whether they want to keep Museveni in the country's top office when he runs for an expected fifth term in 2016.