Tuesday, October 18, 2016

WHAT IF INDEPENDENCE HAD HAPPENED DIFFERENTLY?

Last week New Vision to commemorate Independence Day had a 40-page plus supplement of stories and accounts surrounding the events.

The serialisation of Phares Mutibwa’s book “Uganda since Independence: A story of unfulfilled hopes” was an eye opener whose excerpts showed that the political manoeuvres by the key political actors sent against the background of a country divided by tribe and religion meant the Independence project got off to a shaky start at best.

"But even beyond that the country had serious deficiencies in social and physical infrastructure that meant the new government would, even with every citizen behind it, struggle to deliver the promise of a better Uganda for its citizens quickly enough to forestall any unrest...

But to go back even further the colonial project was not intended to empower Ugandans to take over the reins of power sometime in the future. Its main objective was extractive, to use our raw materials to stock Britain’s industry. With that in mind the British administration wold build only as many roads, railway lines, school only so many people as was necessary to execute the project.

It is unlikely if they had stayed any longer this state of affairs wold have changed.  One of the major reasons we got independence when we did was because Europe was reeling from the aftermath of the Second World War and was all but bankrupt. It did not have the resources to continue the political project in the shape and form it had since the beginning of the 20th century.

In addition even those colonial powers that sought to hung on struggled once the momentum for independence was set in motion beginning with Sudan’s independence in 1956.

As a bare minimum a better educated population – only 700 students graduated from O-level in 1960, may have tempered post-independence tensions. To put this in perspective if we were graduating O-Level students at the same rate today we would only have 3,600 graduating to go to A-level. Today there at least 1.3 million students in O-Level and even these are not enough.

Unfortunately it takes at least 13 years of schooling to produce a clerk and while the post-independence government went on a tear in building schools for political purposes, white administrators had to be replaced by indigenous Ugandans immediately, often regardless of competence.

A long serving bureaucrat has suggested that it’s these capacity inadequacies that triggered the continent’s endemic of official corruption. He argued that we blame the Amin era for our descent into darkness but he pointed out that the same is happening in much more peaceful Kenya and Tanzania, which inherited similar if not worse human resource deficiencies.

Our physical infrastructure was just as lacking. The argument would have been that with adequate infrastructure we could have imported manpower as our own learned the ropes and we would be fine. 

To show how far behind we are comparisons with South Korea, which it is sometimes suggested we were at the same level of development in 1960, would be instructive.

"In 1960 the stock of South Korea’s road network stood at 27,000 km in Uganda 56 years later our road network stands at about 20,000 km. In the 1960s South Korea consumed about 1,500Gwh of electricity we currently only just double that number. Currently South Korea consumes about 500 Gwh of power a year....

And to crown it all we had serious leadership gaps at independence. Our leaders really had no clue what they were getting themselves in to, did not have the tools or predisposition to run a modern state and were clearly out of their depth.

It did not help that the issue of Buganda’s status at the heart of an independent Uganda remained unresolved and sat like a ticking time bomb at the center of our collective conscious.


In hindsight its clear we really did not have a chance. The deck was so stacked against us as to guarantee failure. It was a matter of when not if the implosion would come.

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