Bugisu has been in an up-beat mood, in the build-up to Independence Day, 2019. Sironko, a District from the sub-region is hosting this year’s anniversary celebrations. “Uganda has come a long way. We feel honored that government chose Sironko to host the national ceremony”, Sir Bob Mushikori, the cultural leader of Bugisu told me.
9th October evokes such nostalgia countrywide because on this day in 1962, the British Flag was lowered and Uganda’s Flag was hoisted. Britain also handed instruments of power to nationals, marking the ‘birth’ of Uganda as an independent state. This year’s theme; “consolidating national unity, security, freedom and prosperity”, mirrors our progress in spite of the storms we weathered in the past.
The sub-plots to our story are such that under self-rule, national unity, security, freedom and prosperity are achievable in tandem. In the book, Sowing The Mustard Seed, Second Edition, President Museveni writes; “ideological training to understand the aims of decolonization, the importance of national independence and national sovereignty, the need for national unity, the need and ingredients of socio-economic transformation is a must”.
Unity in Uganda today is a product of efforts, particularly in the last three decades, to rid the country of sectarianism. Ethnicised politics with roots in religion, a colonial relic, had corroded the country in the 1960’s, 1970s through to the early 1980s. We remain culturally diverse but a psyche of unity inculcated after 1985 now binds us as citizens. In Bugisu, for instance, places like Gangama are home to people who settled in from central Uganda, and have bonded seamlessly with Bamasaaba. Central and southern Uganda, our ‘epicenter’ of integration hosts people from all-over of Uganda. This bond of unity extends to Western, Northern and West Nile – all over Uganda.
On security, President Museveni submits in the above book; “It is no accident that Uganda is today enjoying peace from corner to corner – for the first time in 500 years. Before colonialism there were tribal wars…”. True, because the colonialists further exploited those tendencies to set natives against each other, as they entrenched their agenda. Tensions from this status-quo were inherited by Uganda at independence. Alongside the leadership short-comings of the time, the stage was then set for the turmoil that swept through Uganda from the mid-1960s up to the mid 1980’s.
Cultural institutions were desecrated as renegade troops marauded. Religious leaders, government officials, businessmen and ordinary folks ‘disappeared’. Rogue elements ransacked barracks’ armories and accessed guns, as governments fell. Using such guns, Karimojong warriors wrecked havoc in eastern and northern Uganda for decades. An estimated 500,000 Ugandans lost lives in that period.
Re-building Uganda received a huge impetus when the NRM government assumed control in 1986. Rebel groups like the ‘Holy Spirit’ Movement, LRA, ADF et al, with insidious intent were flushed out or obliterated. Cattle rustling by Karimojong warriors in eastern and northern Uganda ended after the UPDF disarmed them. Even the isolated cases of kidnap and murder in Uganda should also end – just like the bombing instances in Kampala in the late 1990s. Tested and proven, the strength of our security apparatus is a major a key cog for Uganda as a nation-state.
Prosperity is increasingly evident in Uganda, thanks in good measure, to national stability. For instance, grass and wattle shacks which used to define many rural households are an ‘endangered species’ today. Citizens are settled and more productively engaged, knowing security of their lives and property is guaranteed. Indeed, the growth rate of Uganda’s economy was ranked 4th in Africa and 17th globally between 1986 and 2015. GDP swelled from USD 3.9 billion in 1986 to USD 29 billion now. With a broader tax-base, our internal revenue collection increased from UGX 5 billion in 1986 to 19 trillion now. This also puts Uganda in a strong position harness international development partnerships.
Government is now able to finance priorities that spur enterprise and prosperity. Bugisu, for instance, is now accessible on tarmac roads from Lira via Soroti, from Jinja via Tirinyi, from Busia via Tororo, and from Kapchorwa. It will be similarly accessed from Karamoja when paving of the Muyembe-Nakapiripit-Moroto road is complete. These are part of a 5,000+ km paved road network, linking all the regions in Uganda and our border points.
Heavy investment in dams has grown our power generation capacity from 60 MW in 1986 to 1,300 MW in 2019. It is the reason manufacturing/value-addition is quickly picking up, with the number of factories increased from 80 in 1986 to 4,900+ today. These are employing over 700,000 people and providing market for primary produce. Government is also funding income generation directly initiatives like the Women Entrepreneurship Program, NUSAF (3), the Youth Capital Fund, Cattle re-stocking through PRDP, Operation Wealth Creation, SACCOs etc. Funding for these prosperity-oriented initiatives will be increased under the NDP III, which starts in July 2020.
Freedom is enshrined in the Constitution, encompassing conscience, warship, association, cultural expression, the media etc. Civil society organizations are in hundreds, including “brief-case” ones. Our media is buzzing with a myriad of TV and radio stations, publishers in print and on-line, thanks to a liberal government policy. Over 10 million Ugandans are active on-line/ social media daily, exchanging, among others, expletives, a pointer at possibly ‘too much’ freedom.
There is still work to do, but Uganda has come a long way, particularly since 1986. We can manage our country this well, after-all. At 57, as we converge in Sironko, we should re-commit to consolidating national unity, security, freedom and prosperity – among others.
Commissioner, Information Dissemination, Monitoring & Inspection
MINISTRY OF ICT & AMP; NATIONAL GUIDANCE