A literary and socio-political analyst
January 26 last week marked 24 years since the National Resistance Army marched into Kampala and took power marking the beginning of a new era for Uganda that has seen us move from doldrums to decent life.
Most Ugandans recognise this date as a landmark in our history because life has been looking on the up since then, but there is a small cross-section that disagrees and refuses to acknowledge the importance of this our liberation day. They remind me of one of the beliefs entrenched in our folklore.
We are told that a leopard gives birth to three cubs which it nurtures and feeds. Then when they begin to see â€“ they are born blind â€“ she comes and frightens them. Two of them â€“ one of whom in Runyankore is called emondo and the other enturu, run away when their mother frightens them. But one of the cubs stays put, not impressed. This is the real leopard that stays calm because it recognises the voice of its mother. It reasons that the person frightening them is actually their mother, so why run off?
Our good friends who cannot see or refuse to see the benefits that January 26 has bestowed upon us are like emondo and enturu, incapable of recognizing the voice of their own mother and running away in fright. There are many achievements that one can point at; too many to enumerate. But one has only to look at our media (200 radio stations, a dozen or so television stations and scores of newspapers) that is vibrant and playing its watchdog role, exposing corruption and other challenges of Government, and one realises that we live in a much changed Uganda.
There are many countries that are more corrupt than Uganda but they hide it under the carpet. Uganda has chosen to unmask corruption and deal with it rather than bury its head in the sand. There is promotion of the marginalised groups like women, youth, people with disabilities and others. More than at any other time in our history we are seeing and experiencing what independence of the Judiciary means. We are seeing Parliament and the Executive performing well. The civil society is strong and still growing even stronger; they are holding the government to account on almost everything. People are free to stand for political office under any party of their choice or on the principle of individual merit. But for me the greatest achievement of the NRM is the professionalisation of the army and the end of state-inspired violence. In many ways, Ugandaâ€™s biggest problem was the dubious role of the army in politics and the terror it rained on the populace that it is supposed to protect. Life was no longer taken for granted and because of it Uganda lost all tenability as a habitat for many people for both political and economic reasons. Many people found refuge in other countries and those who stayed behind lived one day at a time, like a drunkardâ€™s cockerel, never sure whether theyâ€™d live to see the light of the next day.
Peace and stability are the foundation and the lowest common denominator of the progress of any country. And where they are absent, life becomes untenable and development comes to a standstill. That is why for more than two decades after independence Uganda was in the doldrums and experiencing reversal and retrogression in every sphere of life. It was enough that one was alive; you didnâ€™t have to bother about investment and development since the main preoccupation was keeping skin and bone together.
It is not until 1986 that Ugandans had the first taste of civilized governance; with a leadership that believed in putting people first and making the state and its apparatus like the armed forces subordinate and subservient to the ordinary citizen.
At the January 26 celebrations in Bushenyi, the Deputy RDC, Nickson Kabuye, made an important point that the NRM is not a ruling party, but a leading party. He said that President Museveni is therefore a leader, not a ruler, because his government has the capacity to rule but he has opted to stay calm and impassioned in the face of below-the-belt challenges. He is insulted by many people but he ignores them and the army likewise stays put. This does not mean the President and the army do not have the capacity to rule with an iron fist like some African leaders and armies have done in the past. It is just that they have consciously chosen to play the civilized game. Take the case of the young lady Lydia Draru who is alleged to have killed Maj. Gen. James Kazini last year and is now in jail. In the old days Draru would not have been given a chance to reach the Police station.
The process of professionalisation of the army should reach new heights now that the conflict in northern Uganda â€“ which was the last remaining insurgency â€” is over. In fact if all these insurgencies had not been there, life in Uganda would have been a lot different, because billions of shillings have been invested in fighting rebellion over the past two decades. As a matter of fact one would not be wrong to allege that the NRM has been in power for only three years, because it is only in the past three years that we have had a country without rebellion in any part.
With peace all round, we can be certain to have development all round, because areas like much of northern Uganda where development had come to a standstill because of conflict, now have a chance to experience what the rest of the country has been enjoying â€“ development on the fast track.
And on the whole, for the first time in our history, Uganda has a clear political direction and people are very certain about tomorrow. Nevertheless some issues still stick out like a sore thumb and need urgent resolution.
In Karamoja, plenty has taken place. The region has undergone several phases of disarmament, but plenty of work remains to be sorted out. The challenge with Karamoja is that most of the region is generations behind the rest of the country and their way of life is at odds with what most of the world deems optimal. Solving the Karamoja question is therefore a process even far more delicate than the Joseph Kony rebellion.
Mindsets and cultural dispositions may have to be shaken to their very foundations before Karamoja gets on the same footing as the rest of the country. That will take time. Employment is another problem that needs to be sorted out urgently. It is apparent that the rate at which we are producing graduates is at odds with the rate at which the job market is absorbing them.
National unity is also of paramount concern just now. And corruption â€“ which the President called the last frontier, the one war which has not yet been won â€“ also needs to be tackled with the firmness it deserves.
January 26 is a landmark