As Uganda turns 52, some see reason to celebrate

Government spokesperson Ofwono Opondo says there has been a "big difference" since Uganda won its independence

As Uganda turns 52, some see reason to celebrate

The government of Uganda's ruling National Resistance Movement celebrated on Thursday the country's 52nd independence anniversary with much fanfare, but many Ugandans see little reason to celebrate.

"Are we really independent?" asked Sylvester Nathan Mafabi, a 63-year-old retired educationalist.

He said a country could not claim independence if it looked to others to solve all its problems.

"How can a country be independent when it isn't self-reliant?" Mafabi asked. "You can't have independence with the current dependency syndrome."

Uganda on Thursday celebrated the 52nd anniversary of its independence from Britain.

Many gathered at Kololo Airstrip in capital Kampala to join the gala celebrations.

But others did not, citing countless problems – not the least of which is the lack of democracy.

"We have been independent for 52 years, but we have a regime that has consumed more than half of that period," Brian Jemba, a 38-year-old accountant, told AA.

He said the lack of democracy diminished the entire notion of independence.

"We haven't changed government in 28 years and it will probably take us another military coup to witness a change of government," Jemba lamented.

Eriya Rwakashaija, a retired teacher, agreed.

"What we wanted before independence was democracy," he told AA. "What difference is there between this rule and British rule?"

"Every leader waits to be removed through a military coup," said Rwakashaija.

Since gaining independence in 1962, Uganda has had seven presidents, including incumbent Yoweri Museveni who assumed power in 1986 after a five-year-long guerrilla war.

Jemba says that although the current government held periodic elections, polls were neither free nor fair.

"It seems like we move two steps forward and four steps backward," he said. "There have been evident irregularities during the elections, with even courts of law confirming it – and the vice only gets worse."

Playing constitution

Jemba also criticized the 2005 abolition of term limits in the country's constitution and rumored plans to remove age limits.

"A country which has been independent for the last 52 years should appreciate the significance of its constitution, but we don't," he said.

"Our constitution has continued to be molested to suit the leaders' interests," the young accountant added.

The constitution had previously stipulated that presidents could not serve more than two terms each. But the government took advantage of its numerical strength in parliament and abolished term limits.

One lawmaker is currently planning to propose a bill to abolish age limits to enable Museveni to seek reelection in 2016.

The constitution restricts anyone over 75 years old from contesting the presidency.

Jemba suggested that Ugandans were now less satisfied than they were under colonial rule, citing incessant protests since 2011 general elections.

Dissatisfied with poll results and economic conditions, the opposition in 2011 launched a series of protests that were brutally quelled by police.

The protests, nevertheless, went on for more than two years.

Lack of services

Angella Banyagi, a 32-year-old social worker, complained about health services in the country.

"As a person who has worked in communities, I've witnessed how people are suffering. I am so disappointed in our health sector," she told AA.

Banyagi said she has seen health centers that don't have a single doctor, adding that big hospitals were not any better since they lacked basic equipment.

She recalled that when she was in the Mbarara regional hospital in the western part of the country, a baby had been born weak and in need of oxygen.

"The parents were told that the hospital couldn't provide oxygen and were advised to take the baby to a private facility. Unfortunately, the baby died on the way," Banyagi lamented.

Mafabi, the retired educationalist, went so far as to suggest that the health sector had been better under the Bazungu ("white men").

"It is a pity that in the 52 years since independence the national hospital remains the one that was built by colonialists," he told AA.

"You can't expect the hospital built 52 years ago, when the population was less than ten million, to serve the 35 million people that we have now," he fumed.

Rwakashaija, the retired teacher, says the same applies to the education sector.

"I pity young people who have gone through the current education," he told AA.

"I have been a teacher for over 20 years, and I can tell you that our education system has been on a downward trend," said Rwakashaija.

He said students could not be expected to learn on empty stomachs, pointing out that the government had failed to provide food for those in the universal primary and secondary programs.

In 1997, the government introduced free primary education, and free secondary education in 2002. But the government delays or completely fails to release funds for these schools every new financial year.

Rwakashaija also said that teachers who are paid meagerly – or not paid at all – cannot provide quality education.

"When I was head teacher, it would be hard for me to reprimand a teacher for performance when I know he hadn't been paid for over three months," he recalled.

"Our education was the best in the region under British rule," Rwakashaija asserted.

Sarah Apiyo, a banker, says she has witnessed 32 independence celebrations, but hasn't seen any genuine change.

"Each year of our 'independence' actually gets worse," she told AA. "Economic conditions are getting worse."

Apiyo recognizes that she is better off than most Ugandans, noting that most of her contemporaries don't even have low-paying jobs like hers.

"I wonder how the over 80 percent of [Ugandan] youth who are unemployed survive," she added.

Apiyo says Ugandans are hard pressed because of poor economic conditions, adding that the country's currency continued to depreciate while the cost of living kept going up.

"'Independence' is when a government can know the challenges its people are going through and addresses them," she insisted.


Jemba and Banyagi, however, say there have been some notable achievements.

Banyagi says the country has greatly improved in terms of security, asserting that the country was more secure than most of its neighbors who are suffering civil wars and terrorist attacks.

"More roads have been constructed and all parts of the country can be easily accessed now," noted Jemba.

Government spokesperson Ofwono Opondo argues that there has been a "big difference" since Uganda won its independence.

"Ugandans are sure that after every five years there will be a change of government," he told AA.

Opondo asserted that Museveni's reelection for four terms showed that Ugandans had confidence in him and his abilities to transform the country.

"We have moved from the days of the black market, when our people struggled to get paraffin, sugar and salt. Now, almost all basic needs are manufactured locally," he said.

The spokesman added that the generation of adequate electricity had allowed investors to set up industries that had both produced essential commodities and generated badly-needed jobs.

"Only five years ago, the country was in darkness," he said. "But now, there is enough electricity – industries and factories are opening every day."

Opondo went on to assert that social services had improved.

"We have successfully dealt with communicable diseases, which has in turn reduced infant mortality rates," he told AA.

He added that, although the education system was still far from ideal, the government had nevertheless ensured that every Ugandan has access to education.

"Every school-going child has access to some form of education, regardless of quality," said Opondo.

He said the government was now aiming for total economic sustainability, declaring that this would soon be achieved since Uganda could now finance 85 percent of its budget.

Professor Ndebesa Mwambutsya, a political science lecturer at Makerere University, said both the government and its detractors had valid arguments.

While it would be unfair to say Uganda had not seen any development since independence, he said, it would also be untrue to say the country had achieved "transformation."

Mwambutsya compared Uganda to a caterpillar that grows fat but never changes into a butterfly.

"We don't need a caterpillar that just puts on weight," he told AA." We need a caterpillar that transforms into a butterfly – that's what we're lacking."



Güncelleme Tarihi: 09 Ekim 2014, 22:36

Muhammed Öylek