Fifty-seven years ago on October 9, 1962, Uganda became an independent nation and the first indigenous leaders took oath of office.
The British Union Jack ( flag), which had flown over Uganda for 68 years, was hauled down and deservedly replaced by the black, yellow and red flag of the newly independent Uganda at Kololo (now ceremonial grounds) airstrip.
The then prime minister Milton Obote received the instruments of independence from the Duke of Kent, Edward George Nicholas, who represented the Queen of England. Uganda was now governed by Ugandans, not colonial masters.
In his speech, Obote stressed: “Government in whose name I now speak offers you a firm determination to protect your life and property and opportunities for your advancement as individuals and country.”
He added: “We shall have the Uganda flag, a national anthem and coat of arms. These will be our symbols, but independence does not begin and end with the selection and raising of a flag, the singing of a national anthem and the display of the coat of arms. Our independence shall mean great responsibilities for all of us without exception.”
Obote had a point, with colonizers gone and the days of subjugation behind us, independence meant many things but prominent among them is the opportunity for individual advancement. And this could be reflected in many ways such as education, the quality of health services available to the people and, respect for the right to personal dignity, among others.
Personal advancement has been elusive for majority of Ugandans. To some, job opportunities, especially in the public sector, have not been open to talent and merit but to technical know-who.
It is particularly strange that at the time of independence, the economy seemed stronger buffeted by agriculture and industries. But at the sunset years of 1980s, this pillar collapsed and the economy became speculative.
Independence meant creating stable and inclusive societies where every person can live free from fear and want, in dignity and under the rule of law.
There are categories of Ugandans who have spent over 25 years in the firm grip of war; they have no education to speak of, they became internally displaced in their own country. They are despondent.
This despondency has driven some people to prefer a life under the colonial master. While we pride in being independent, we are saddled with heavy debts from the new imperial masters such as the Chinese who are dangling some silver coins while eyeing our unexploited resources.
The gap between the rich and poor is widening. But even the rich are hinged on pillars mounted in quicksand. A class of untouchable vultures in public service is growing by leaps and bounds.
This particular class has turned corruption into a new entitlement. The state’s efforts to fight corruption have ridiculously fallen short.
But all is not lost, the party in power- which has also led the country for the longest time (33 years and still counting)- can turn this country into a real pearl of Africa. Let us build institutions and discard the mentality of creating personal cults in leaders.
May the 57 years trigger our reflection on how we have betrayed the cause of independence. May this be an opportunity to revamp and realign our country to the proverbial Promised Land!