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Five decades of futile search for nationhood

On October 9, 2021, Uganda celebrated her 59th independence anniversary.

Theoretically, Uganda gained independence from direct colonial rule on that day. As the nation replaced the Union Jack with the Ugandan flag, its people imagined a future full of glory, honor, and world-thrilling exploits 59 years ago. With the colonizers gone, what could stop them from living their dream?

As decades piled on, a deep disappointment began to set in as successive governments led by their own countrymen fluffed opportunities to create a workable, new framework for the aspirations and ambitions of ordinary people.

Fifty nine years ago Ugandans for the first time took charge of their country and destiny. Specifically, Sir Edward Mutesa who was also king of Buganda became president and Apolo Milton Obote became the executive Prime Minister.

At the time, Uganda was cobbled together from different kingdoms and chiefdoms into one country though many things we’re still unsettled. The sense of nationhood was still a myth, and distant.

The argument was also for self-determination; Africans looked at themselves as better governors. But this is not exactly what happened. In many instances, the colonialists were better governors. Most of the people who took the reins of power then were never set on driving the country to prosperity and when the latter happened, it was by accident.

The interest then as it is now was self-preservation and consolidation of personal power. And this thinking has had terrible repercussions for those trying to pursue that line and the country as a whole. The country deteriorated into civil strife, wars, wanton killing of citizens, poverty and utter dictatorship.

The quality of life declined much as economic statistics paint a rosy picture today. Particular sectors such as health, education, and other economic activities were destroyed.

At the time colonialists left the country, almost all districts had model schools (primary and secondary, teacher training colleges, vocational institutions). There were also district bursaries to help the indigent but intelligent students. All these evaporated with regime changes.

The cash crops growers who were assured of some cash on a good harvest now have to beg from government to get by. We are a country relying heavily on ridiculous loans from China, World Bank and others. Corruption especially for those working in public sectors has become a norm and source of income for local ‘investors’. 

The National Resistance Movement government which captured state power in 1986 has mainly mastered the art of trumpeting itself as the peace and sleep giver. The last 35 years of independence have not seen political maturity save for manipulation of law and the Constitution.

There more tears of regret than joy. Like the Irish philosopher Edmund Burke once remarked: To make us love our country, the country ought be lovely. And it is not hard to make Uganda lovely.

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