By J. Basudde
The country’s turmoil that continues to be second nature to Ugandans is most often seen in the dilapidation and negligence of our cities and the country’s infrastructure. But the deeper, less visible, and much longer-lasting rupture is in the moral fabric of our society.
Since shortly after independence, there has not been any moral leadership. The emphasis of all—with the exception of Professor Lule’s rather brief tenure—of our leadership has been on self-aggrandizement and lifetime presidencies, militarism and, of course the unfailing promotion of ethnic antagonism to obscure the corruption and managerial failures.
In my view, the biggest problem in establishing stability in Uganda—never mind “democracy”--is that Africans do not have any concept of nationhood. We think nearly exclusively in terms of our ethnicity. Ethnic hatred has been clearly exemplified in several different postings recently by non-Baganda in Uganda's newspapers and on FedsNet, in which they express their glee about Buganda's perceived---and much hoped for---"demise." This is rather unfortunate, because the hatred for Buganda is not because she exploited the other regions, but because Buganda dared to develop. Still is the most developed.
We've all heard and read, from the most popular school of thought on Buganda, that THE reason for Buganda's historical centrality in what is now Uganda is: The bazungu gave preferential treatment to Buganda from 1900 to independence, in 1962, and that's why Buganda was able to move ahead of the others.
Actually, by the time the British came to Buganda, the Baganda already had a viable administrative system solidly in place. This entity was now part of the Kiganda culture. Using one’s intellectual abilities to function well in society and to advance in government had become the preferred alternative to violence. Buganda’s culture had, therefore, an internalized social order [self-restraint], stability and cohesion. Buganda was civilized.
Uganda is blessed with natural resources, clement weather, water and fertile land. At independence, there was a relatively large professional and comfortable middle class, which included doctors, teachers, businessmen, the clergy, lawyers, and even scientists.
Uganda has now been ruled by non-Baganda from 1962 to the present . Fully 43 years. [Muwanga and Binaisa were proxies for non-Baganda interests. Professor Yusuf Lule lasted a mere 68 days, which were full of intrigue and sabotage against him].
During most of the past 43 years of “independence,” there were, and still are, systematic and unwavering efforts to decimate everything Kiganda, impoverish Buganda and, as a result of these unwavering efforts, at least a million of her people have been killed, raped, orphaned, widowed, maimed, brutalized, forced into exile, and their land and property stolen by successive, fraudulent government decrees.
Meanwhile, these non-Baganda rulers were presented with enviable and numerous opportunities to develop Uganda. They had far, far more access to local and international funds, loans, grants, modern technology, external expertise, direct financial aid and investment, and exposure to developed countries than Buganda ever had in all her history.
Yet, with negligible exceptions, the schools, hospitals and infrastructure are either dysfunctional, dilapidated or, more often than not, both; corruption and theft are de rigueur in government and society; morality and responsibility for one’s actions are non-existent; living standards are well below what they were at the time of independence [and, remember, people were already poor in 1962]; crime [physical assault, murders] is rampant; unemployment is in the double-digits, and only pockets of individuals from the ethnic group that happens to be in power at any given time have benefited--through theft, massive corruption, intimidation, murder and cronyism. The rule of law has been replaced by the rule of government agents and prosecutors, who interpret the law to suit their careers, agendas and friends.
But to divert people’s attention from the corruption, mismanagement and incompetence that define them, Uganda’s rulers have focussed on demonising Buganda---through disinformation, obfuscation and fabrication---as the cause for nearly everything wrong with the country. Their method is to divide and rule, because they lack the concept of nationhood, and are seeking only self-aggrandizement. The realization that if a region other than theirs grows is beneficial to all is simply not in their sight of vision. They regard it as a threat to their freedom to plunder and control, instead.
Kampala, for instance, is flooded with non-Baganda seeking jobs, yet employment opportunities are few to none. The city’s physical limitations cannot accommodate them, so they live in slums, and the resultant squalor and poverty contribute greatly to the crime rate.
The most practical solution to this quagmire would be a devolution of the power structure [federalism] so that the other regions can have more power in collecting and spending their taxes for themselves. Regional development would greatly ease the burden on Kampala and its social services.
Back to Buganda
Despite the concerted efforts of these rulers to eradicate Buganda, she remains the only place in the entire country where there is any cohesion. When people talk about Uganda's "culture," it's Buganda's they are talking about; when they talk about civility, it’s Buganda's. Industriousness? Baganda's. Buganda is the place that non-Baganda love to hate, insult, abuse, denigrate, steal from----but never, ever want to leave. Why? I believe it is because they realize the following, albeit reluctantly: Baganda are industrious; Kiganda society is civilized and advanced, and therefore more stable and accepting of others, and thus it is more conducive to business than the others. It is the country's engine. The Baganda have a work ethic, and a can-do attitude. Buganda, therefore, is the place to "make it." And yet, the demonization continues!
The damage done to the country by the governments’ discrediting of Buganda’s achievements is deep and unrelenting.
(1) Demonising and brutalizing the most stable, most advanced and industrious segment of the country shows a vision deficit, and a high degree of irresponsibility. Such actions only fuel hatred and only obfuscate the corruption and incompetence in the short run, much to the country's detriment;
(2) By falsely discrediting Buganda’s achievements, and speciously attributing her advancement to British “preferential treatment”, the rulers are sending a strong, very destructive message to the non-Baganda, which is: Africans cannot have an advanced society without European help and, therefore, do not expect to advance beyond your present station, because Africans are just not capable of development on their own. [This message is firmly reinforced into the public psyche daily by the government's massive failures to provide even the most basic of social services];
(3) When people believe that their regions are inherently incapable, the educated few and able among them resolve to focus on self, rather than their regions’ development, and are thus co-opted into corruption as the only means out of poverty;
(4) But, in the midst of discrediting Buganda comes the undeniable, irrefutable recognition that yes, in fact, Buganda was able to achieve on her own. This recognition is then turned into hatred because the Baganda dared be African and able. But, rather than striving to meet their responsibility and obligation to develop the country—to catch up with Buganda, if you will---the rulers find massacring, demonizing, and marginalizing the Baganda easier; genuine development is too hard: It requires administrative responsibility, planning, sacrifice, fiscal and self-discipline. The rulers just do not have the desire, confidence and vision to reach this level of maturity. Which is why federalism—a system through which regions can have a genuine say in their development---is anathema. It would, if instituted, necessitate accountability, especially for public funds, provide efficient social services, fairness in government hiring, put a stop to one-man rule, cronyism, and ethnic manipulation to divert attention from incompetence.
Fear of Competition
It is because of a well-founded lack of confidence in African governments and our leadership that a large number of Ugandans say, “Let’s keep Museveni. At least we can sleep at night.” What they do not mean by this is, “Museveni’s government is competent and able, and, therefore, will improve our living standards.” No. What they are saying is, “We expect nothing but mediocrity, corruption and cronyism from an African government, so why change this one for the same failures when at least Museveni’s is not killing as many of us as the previous ones?” What a sad commentary on African administrative abilities and ethics.
It is high time that non-Baganda ask themselves the following:
(1) If, in fact, Buganda's reason for being advanced was due to British influence, should there not be tangible, noticeable development in the rest of Uganda by now, forty years after independence?
(2) Why, instead, are we poorer than we were before independence?
(3) Who is going to develop our region, if not ourselves? How do we do it without access to taxation and regional decision-making?
While I believe whole-heartedly that Uganda's future lies in federalism, I also believe that Buganda's [and other ethnicities] long-term survival is in being proportionately represented in the Army and defense forces. Africa is still very tribalistic, so much so that precautions must be taken to safeguard against ethnic cleansing. Fair and equal representation in the African armies in one way of avoiding another Rwanda. It would be a mistake to think it cannot happen. This time, in Uganda.