What we are witnessing is that Ugandans have entered a new phase – a phase where they are asking questions and demanding convincing answers and analyzing issues dialectically to make the absent be the present because the greater part of the truth is in that which is absent, hence examining Museveni’s restoration and expansion of colonial policies.
When Museveni came to power in 1986, he preached what Ugandans wanted to hear – improve education and healthcare, balance production for domestic consumption and export, transform the economy from agriculture to industry and export manufactured products instead of raw materials etc). However, in practice, Museveni has behaved like a colonizer, making many people feel – rightly or wrongly – that he is Rwandese colonizing Uganda with connivance especially of Britain that has supported him even before he became president. Before comparing Museveni policies to those of the colonial regime, let us briefly examine what the British colonizers found at the time of colonization, how it was destroyed and replaced by colonial policies, what Obote and UPC did to undo colonial policies and then examine how Museveni has returned Uganda to the colonial period.
European travelers including Winston Churchill, explorers and missionaries admired what was happening in what later became Uganda. People were enjoying dynamic economies: growing a wide range of crops, livestock and manufacturing a wide range of products based on abundant raw materials. These products were supplemented by a wide range of wild game and fish, fruits and vegetables. Ugandans were dynamic and innovative and were described as the ‘Chinese’ and ‘Japanese’ of Africa. Overall, they ate adequate and balanced diets, enjoyed healthy lives and traded surplus in local and regional markets and accumulated wealth. Bunyoro, Buganda and Busoga were known for the fine quality of their manufactured products. Pre-colonial comparative advantage benefited everyone.
British colonizers came to Uganda in search of food to feed their exploding population, tropical raw materials for their manufacturing enterprises, markets for surplus manufactured products and home for surplus population. Consequently, Britain decided that Uganda would become a producer of raw materials and stop manufacturing enterprises because Britain had a comparative advantage. It decided that Buganda would be the center of export production of cotton and later coffee and other areas would be labor reserves to provide cheap labor to Buganda. White settlers came to Uganda and began plantation agriculture. However, the losses incurred during the economic recession in the early 1920s forced them to abandon agriculture and settlement altogether. After the construction of the Uganda railway, Britain allowed Asians to enter Uganda and dominate commercial and industrial sectors mainly connected with initial stages of agro-processing and manufacture of bulky products that would be expensive to import from Britain.
Law and order was the first priority of colonial administration and crushed any resistance – Bunyoro being the case in point. The best developed institutions were the police, prisons and the judiciary.
Uganda was reduced to producing industrial raw materials (cotton, coffee, tea and tobacco) and foodstuffs for export. These exports left little food of nutritional value and under-nutrition became a problem. Although colonialism ended famines, it introduced endemic hunger caused by eating unbalanced diets mostly of cassava, maize/corn and plantains.
Education was limited largely to primary and vocational training in the areas of carpentry, bricklaying, drivers, primary teachers and low level health workers. Skilled jobs were retained for British expatriates.
When UPC under Obote came to power in 1962, it reformed many colonial policies. Education was expanded to secondary level, hospitals and clinics were built in rural areas, industrial activity was promoted and food security and overall hygiene were improved. Nationalization of the commanding heights of the economy took place and Ugandanization proceeded pretty fast. Because Obote had reformed colonial policies, he was accused of being a ‘dangerous’ socialist working against capitalist interests. Britain played a big role in his overthrow in 1971, ushering in the ‘gentle giant’ named Amin. Contrary to popular belief, Obote was not overthrown by Amin and Ugandans. He was overthrown by western powers using Baganda agitation and desperate Amin as a cover (Amin was about to be arrested).
Notwithstanding Obote’s premature departure, he had accomplished a lot. According to the World Bank report (1993), Uganda’s social indicators improved considerably through low-cost health and nutritional programs. School enrollment improved and Uganda developed a reputation for ‘very high quality’ education. GDP growth averaged 6 percent per annum between 1963 and 1970. Uganda today (2010) has not reached the general standard of living enjoyed in 1970.
Obote II regime emphasized industrialization of Uganda’s economy. However, interruptions caused by western supported guerrilla war, structural adjustment and withdrawal of support by IMF and World Bank and western-engineered military coup in 1985 prevented the implementation of the program. The Obote II regime was overthrown because western powers were “interested in seeing another pliable government come to power in Uganda – strategically important because of its borders with Kenya, Sudan and Zaire” (Victoria Brittain 1988).
Then came Museveni in 1986 with a mixed economy agenda (ten-point program) which he quickly abandoned in favor of a colonial economy model in the form of structural adjustment. Museveni like the British in Uganda emphasized law and order and would not tolerate resistance to his rule, hence more than 20 years of destructive war in northern and eastern Uganda and penetration of the rest of Uganda by security agents. Like in colonial days, police, prisons and the judiciary have been developed to deal with criminal activities and attempts to destabilize the regime.
Museveni’s economic policy went back to Ricardian classical economics of static comparative advantage turning Uganda once again into a full blown producer of coffee, cotton, tea and tobacco. Museveni went further and added a new dimension of non-traditional exports (NTEs). Foodstuffs traditionally produced for domestic consumption like beans, maize/corn and fish have become export crops. Ugandans have been reduced to eating cassava, maize and plantains (like in colonial days) without adequate nutrient supplements. Like in colonial days under-nutrition has returned with a vengeance.
Through a policy of trade liberalization, Uganda’s manufacturing enterprises have been closed or driven out of the country and the remaining are operating far below installed capacity largely as a result of unfair competition by cheap imports especially used products like clothing. Cheap powdered milk has outcompeted fresh milk dealing a heavy blow to domestic milk production.
Uganda had attained a reputation for quality education in spite of the political economy difficulties between 1971 and 1985. On advice from foreign experts, Museveni, like the British colonial administration, decided to focus on primary education and devalued post primary education by imposing tuition fees and other charges beyond the reach of many students. Primary education has been poorly managed resulting in very high dropout rate. And most graduates are functionally illiterate and unemployable.
As in colonial days, Museveni decided to reserve skilled jobs to western experts particularly from Britain. The most important Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development and the Central Bank are staffed by western experts, advisers and supervisors (Sebastian Mallaby 2004). Qualified Ugandans are languishing at home or working outside. In an interview in 1993, Museveni stated categorically that he was not interested in the return of qualified and experienced Ugandans in the diaspora. He advised them to stay there, make money and send remittances home as their contribution to national reconstruction and development. He then recruited his guerrilla fighters most of them poorly trained and inexperienced. Filling strategic posts was based on loyalty rather than competence – hence medical doctors becoming minister of finance and marketing corporation. Museveni invited foreign experts to take up positions he could not fill with guerrilla fighters, thus restoring the colonial policy of expatriates occupying skilled jobs.
Not least, Museveni invited Asians back and returned their properties possibly including those that had been compensated, denationalized foreign enterprises and returned them to former foreign owners making Britain the largest investor in Uganda.
Ugandans can now see why Museveni still has the backing of western powers and corporations in spite of his poor performance and unpopularity among Ugandans. Museveni has been the champion of neo-colonialism based on market forces and laissez faire capitalism.
Western retention of Museveni in power will ensure the continuation of the neo-colonial trajectory – not the improvement in the standard of living of the majority of Ugandans. Thus, elections which western countries have insisted on are designed to hoodwink Ugandans. Should he become first president of the East African political federation, chances are that Museveni will extend neo-colonial policies to the entire great lakes region. Eat Africans beware of what you are getting into.