Monday, October 15, 2012


If our independence fathers were to rise from the grave today, they would be badly shocked at how we have turned out as a country.

Not because progress has not been made. Progress has definitely been made, but because we have not lived up to the vision they may have had for Uganda fifty years down the line.

It is safe to say that had World War II not bankrupted the colonial powers, independence for Africa may have taken a bit longer to come.

The War also dymstified the mzungu, with our returning troops – many of who saw action in the carrier corps, filling the ranks of many resistance movements in the region.

The agitation for independence was not as bloody in Uganda as it was in Kenya, Zimbabwe and South Africa.

Britain set Uganda up as a protectorate and not a colony, the difference being they never saw themselves settling here permanently like they planned to in the colony states.

For obviously selfish reasons the infrastructure both physical and institutional, in the colonies was more developed than it was in Uganda in view of their longer term plans for those countries.

Whereas the colonies begun to develop industrial capacity, Uganda lagged behind as a provider of raw materials to Britain through Kenya. The colonies had big education institutions at every level intended to educate the settler children, which Uganda did not. The colonies had a well manned civil service, familiar with negotiating with the wealth creating class of businessmen, manufacturers and commercial farmers relative to Uganda’s smaller bureaucracy.

So when independence came along Uganda was less prepared than the colonies.

Politically independence was sold as a project to take state control for the benefit of the African. Africanisation or the filling of all influential positions by indegenous Ugandans was going to be an overidding theme, as in other post-independent governments.

The challenge with this popular move is not only were the local elite not competent to run a modern state they had underdeveloped state structures to work with.

Developed institutions would have put a check on the excesses of the executive and prevented the slide into mediocrity and worse at first, gradual gathering pace during the Idi Amin era and slowing down later but still with us today nevertheless.

Also mature institutions, which would have previously served the colonialists would have been leveraged to jump start development targeted at uplifting the previous marginalized indigenous population.

Uganda since independence is a classic case study of what happens when a transition as significant as independence occurs in an environment of institutional immaturity.

Beyond the colonial institutional legacy Kenya’s post-independence rulers were businessmen, in fact Kenya’s first President Jomo Kenyatta and his main rival Jaramogi Oginga Odinga were for a time business partners in a trading company.

Business not only likes stability, but thrives in a rule based environment where property rights are secure beyond the lives of the main actors of the day. Businessmen therefore prefer rule by institutions than by the whims of one strongmen or the other. It comes as no surprise that whereas Kenya is battling corruption the underlying institutional structures remain and are widely exercised.

The business minded forefathers of Kenya may have cut numerous corners on their way to their immense fortunes but they also recognized that when push comes to shove its institutions that would safeguard their wealth.

It is no surprise that almost four decades after the patriarch died his heir Uhuru Kenyatta is listed as one of the wealthiest men on the continent with an estimated fortune of $500m to his name.

They may have benefitted disproportionately from their positions but Kenyan society is all the better from the experience.

A similar thesis can be overlayed on Botswana’s experience, without the kleptocratic ruling class.

Institutions prevail or not, depending on the ruling class’ interests.

One is always wiser in hindsight but clearly destiny was rigged against us – at least for the next fifty years as a country, when the Union Jack was lowered on the night of October 9th 1962. Our dreams for our young nation were over ambitious given the facts on the ground and the context of the day.

People may argue that if we had good, patriotic leaders who would put their country before their own parochial ambitions things would have been a lot better. Maybe.

But as they say if you want to know the true character of a man give him power.

The fruits of our post independence leaders are there for all to see, whatever their long term vision for the country they led.

Evolutionary theory suggests though that everything that has come before serves to strengthen. We may have wandered in the wilderness for more than 40 years but there is cause for optimism looking ahead to the next 50 years as we resolve our human resource and institutional deficiencies.

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