UGANDA’S LIBERATION STRUGGLE: A SIGNIFICANT CONTRIBUTION TO OUR PRESENT AND FUTURE DEVELOPMENT

By Kyetume Kasanga 

The underdeveloped world is well known for hosting bogus regimes and successful national liberation movements; they are characterised by a struggle in the name of suppressed people for political, cultural, socioeconomic, territorial liberation and/or decolonisation.  As Associate Professor, Dr Jeff Sluka of New Zealand’s Massey University rightly concludes, oppressed people are not socially stupid even when they are poor, hungry, or uneducated. They understand only too well the social, political and economic conditions of their lives, and when the possibility presents itself, they are prepared to act to improve those conditions. National liberation movements are one of the most significant ways people do this. Vietnam, Albania, Guatemala, Panama, Mexico, Algeria and Ghana through to Eritrea, Somalia and Somaliland down to Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Angola, Namibia and South Africa, are all in this league.

In Uganda, when former Prime Minister Dr Apollo Milton Obote ordered soldiers to surround Parliament in May 1966, MPs were intimidated into approving a Republican Constitution which overthrew that of 1962 and concentrated power into his hands. A flurry of events was then touched off: indiscriminate arrests of political opponents, abolition of federal governments and exile of the Kabaka of Buganda all culminated into the 1971 Maj. Gen. Idi Amin Dada military coup. The erratic, beleaguered, brutal and bellicose military dictatorship became synonymous with genocidal purges as state-inspired disappearances, mass murder, torture and general mayhem was the order of the day. Most industries closed shop and businesses wound up as annual inflation topped at 200 percent. By 1980 all hopes of a rebounding economy diminished.

The struggle to truly liberate Uganda started on February 6, 1981 with a lightening attack on the government army installation at Kabamba by 27 men of a guerilla outfit. They catapulted into government through people-power in 1986 and the country has since not looked back in the long walk to paradise. Needless to say, transformation from making a state ungovernable as the guerillas under Yoweri Kaguta Museveni did, in order to govern it, and turning a clandestine liberation Movement into a mass political party are tough and often contradictory processes. In his book “Liberation Movements in power: Party and State in Southern Africa”, Roger Southall,South Africa’s Witwatersrand University sociology professor emeritus contends that victory and associated difficulties of liberation struggles usually end with the inability of the victorious Movements to adapt to politics beyond the struggle. Not so with Uganda! In his maiden speech after being sworn in as the 9th President of the Republic of Uganda at the steps of Parliament on Wednesday, January 29, 1986, Museveni’s famous statement was “… this is not a mere change of guards, but this is a fundamental change”.

The country is now set to commemorate the 32nd Liberation Day Anniversary, with the national celebrations at Arua Municipal Boma Grounds on Friday, January 26, 2018. The theme is “Uganda’s liberation struggle; a significant contribution to our present and future development”. The people’s five-year protracted struggle was every inch worth it because it changed the outlook of Ugandans for good. It formulated a national ideology of Ugandan nationalism, Pan-Africanism and Social conservatism. The ideology of a liberation struggle is an imperative for its success at any given point in history. It is largely because of their ideological disposition that some liberation organisations have not registered enduring victory.

A product of the protracted struggles of the Ugandan people, the National Resistance Movement aimed at fighting injustice and exploitation. It empowered vulnerable communities through various action programmes. High on the priority list was restoration of law and order, political stability, respect for human rights, national unity, peace, security and constitutionalism,with the ultimately inevitable fundamental change. Significant milestones included formulating the Rehabilitation and Development Plan of 1987-1991, holding democratic Resistance Council elections of 1989, returning expropriated properties to their Indian owners in 1992, as well as restituting traditional leaders in 1993. The 1994 Constituent Assembly heralded a new and popular pro-people Constitution of 1995 that paved way for the 1996 general elections and subsequent development frameworks. Alongside came people enfranchisement through restoration of the vote in regular, free and fair elections, participatory democracy through the Decentralisation Policy, and self-governance through local councils, leading to people’s political empowerment and consequent social harmony.

The NRM executed a minimum economic recovery programme through rehabilitation and development of socioeconomic infrastructure, reduction and control of inflation, and promotion of local and foreign investment, of private-sector-led growth and of export-oriented production. Every year has since recorded factual and empirical successes as presented to the citizenry in very detailed and multifaceted forms such as presidential and budget speeches, Cabinet papers, ministerial, departmental and agency reports and newspaper supplements, among others.

The cornerstone is entrenchment of transparency, accountability, nationalism, patriotism and pan Africanism. Pro-people security interests and pursuing a clear programme of a mixed private sector-led, self-sustaining, independent and integrated national economy were nothing to forget. The country has been experiencing consistent economic growth. According to a recent Bank of Uganda State of the Economy Report, in fiscal year 2015/2016, we recorded Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth of 4.6 percent in real terms and 11.6 percent in nominal terms. Our exports have been increasing from 2.8 percent of GDP in 2012 to 2.9 percent in 2016, while imports have been decreasing from 5.3 percent in 2012 to 4.3 percent in 2016. The Bank foresees economic growth picking at 5.5 percent this year and 6.0 percent in 2019. Growth is expected to continue rising, driven mainly by public investment in extensive infrastructure and human capitaldevelopment.Meanwhile, the banking system remains sound with bank liquidity and capital buffers being well above the minimum requirements.

Uganda is well endowed with natural resources. We have bumper, albeit finite, reserves of both crude oil and natural gas. Once properly exploited the resources will boost our national income, GDP will increase and the average income of each Ugandan will rise. The increase in national income will have significant consequences for the structure of the economy because it will boost demand for goods, services and investment. Due to the prevailing conducive socioeconomic and geopolitical hygiene, Uganda serves as an economic hub for a number of countries including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, South Sudan, Rwanda and Burundi. The enabling environment has encouraged the diaspora to contribute enormously to her economic growth through remittances and other investments. According to the World Bank, in 2016 Uganda received an estimated US$1.099 billion (over UShs 4 trillion) in foreign remittances, second only to Kenya (US$1.574 billion) in the East African Community.

During the inaugural Cabinet meeting on June 23, 2016 after the presidential and parliamentary elections, President Museveni said: “Over the last 30-plus years, the NRM has identified four principles that shaped our ideology and 10 strategic bottlenecks that had to be overcome for Uganda to become a middle-income-status country in the next few years and a first-world country in this generation.” The four principles are patriotism which means non-sectarianism on grounds of religion or tribe and no gender-chauvinism; pan Africanism; socioeconomic transformation and democracy. Strategic interventions include fighting ideological disorientation, eliminating sectarianism, refining human resources through improving education and facilitating private sector-led economic growth. Others are developing infrastructure (roads, railway and electricity), market expansion through regional integration, pursuing industrialization for exports’ value addition, developing the service sector to create jobs, modernising agriculture to increase household incomes, and deepening democratic governance.

Beyond this, we must sustain the momentum of reforms across three main levels. First is by building and strengthening the capacity of existing institutions. Secondly, harmonizing standards and guidelines is critical for quality control, greater tracking and monitoring. The last one is managing public investments underpinned by a robust regulatory framework. Coupled with increasing political will, these can help streamline ministerial, departmental and agency mandates but also strengthen incentives for the systems to work. The structure of our economy still consists of a sizeable informal sector that accounts for about 49 percent of the economic output. The agriculture and industrial sectors require major effort to spur continued growth and competitiveness. The foundation has been laid but the present and future demand strong value systems, honesty, hard work and integrity. With the nascent oil and gas industry, economic justice should be achieved. Only then can Uganda have meaningful sociopolitical stability. It is, therefore, the duty of every citizen to buttress the process by ensuring quality leadership through electing leaders who can take the country to the desired future – the Uganda we all want.

The author is a Principal Information officer at the Ministry of Information, Communications Technology and National Guidance