Uganda's 44th Independence anniversary:  What is there to celebrate?
Parliament House, Kampala which accomodates the Chamber of the National Assembly was started in Febuary 1958. It was inaugurated for use in September 1960.
from Uganda Independence October 9th 1962 Souvenir Programme.

Uganda's 44th Independence anniversary: What is there to celebrate?

Special thanks to Sonja Winklmaier for photos from Uganda Independence October 9th 1962 Souvenir Programme.

By Gerald Rulekere
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First published: October 8, 2006

Ugandans are on Monday October 9th 2006 commemorating Independence Day with celebrations in different parts of the country as well as other parts of the world where Ugandans have organized different events to mark the day. The day marks 44 years ago in 1962, when Uganda gained independence from colonial masters, Britain.

The national celebrations are being help at Kololo ceremonial grounds. President Yoweri Museveni is presiding over the celebrations that have attracted heads of several countries like Burundi, Kenya and Tanzania among other countries, as well as Ugandan dignitaries and diplomats in the country.

The celebrations being held under the theme: "Prosperity for all: the best way for Ugandans to move out of poverty" will witness a parade by the security forces, traditional and cultural dances and exhibitions, as well as the usual speech by the President.

Independence Day celebrations are also taking place at the headquarters in each of the now 72 districts. This is no doubt the country's uniting holiday, a big day of celebration. Like in the past years, many Ugandans are still asking what there is to celebrate about Independence.

President Yoweri Museveni has in last celebrations challenged Ugandans to unite and to work hard to develop the country. During the national prayers for oil on Saturday October 7th at Kololoo, President Museveni assured the country that his government will provide good leadership to ensure all Ugandans benefit from the discovery of oil and other resources of the country.

This may do little to convince those who have accused the President of concentrating most of the benefits of his 20-year rule in his home area of western Uganda. The usual pointer is the number of cabinet ministers, with some people expressing concern that western Uganda takes more than 50% of all ministerial positions. In what may at the surface seem like an unfortunate trend of measuring benefits from the government, lie the evils of sectarianism (or is it tribalism) and corruption that are strong in the country.

Some regions like the north and east parts of the country have said on many occasions they feel left out of the country's benefits, while Buganda has had traditional problems with the central government, which are yet to be answered.

Many Ugandans have reached an extent of thinking that their problems can only be solved, or they can only benefit, if cabinet ministers or the president comes from their tribe, religion or region. To many such Ugandans, the notion of independence and one Uganda is further from a reality.

Other than the issue of direct benefits being measured on sectarian tendencies, there is still a feeling by many tribes or regions in Uganda that they are under bondage of another tribe or region and that they need their own special independence. If you have followed the agitations for federalism by Buganda, Bunyoro, Busoga, Toro, Teso and others, you will understand the need that many Ugandans are expressing for self-governance at local levels.

While the British took leadership from these local regions in the 1890s, it returned the leadership to a central authority created without consultations with all regions, thereby leaving many of the traditional authorities yearning for their own independence. Thus while we talk of Uganda's independence, many regions or tribes continue to yearn for their own independence. This has made national unity in Uganda a fragile intention, and an almost unachievable goal.

In Buganda, many people desperately want to be self governed by their kingdom and have for decades been crying for their own "independence". Though they are celebrating with the rest of the country, many Baganda and other kingdoms still feel they are not independent, if they still have to ask (you may say beg) the President and central government to be governed under a federal system, or ask for a return of the kingdom's assets- (Ebyaffe).

Northern Uganda, which has suffered a brutal war for the last 20 years, has for long claimed to be marginalized by the south. Norbert Mao, the Gulu district chairman recently called for an independent Nile State in northern Uganda so that the people in the region can feel in charge and pursue their own governance.

In Bunyoro kingdom where oil has been discovered, many people are glaring over the likelihood of not benefiting from the oil, and of continuing to live under the ruins and conditions that the British colonialists pasted on the region as punishment for their resistant king Kabalega. According to the kingdom's Press Secretary, Henry Ford Mirima, 64% of the kingdom's fertile land was declared national and forest reserves and despite 44 years of independence, they have had little to do to reverse this fact.

More known probably is the issue of land in the former lost counties of Buyaga and Bugangaizi which today make up Kibaale district. The land here still belongs to Baganda absentee landlords who were given the land by the British colonialists for their help in defeating king Kabalega of Bunyoro. Despite voting overwhelmingly to return back to Bunyoro from Buganda in the 1964 referendum which was provided for in the 1962 independence constitution, the people in this area do not own "their" land.

Mirima says that it is difficult for such people to say they are celebrating independence when they don't even own land on which they live. He says that because of the traditional land problems in the area, many settlers from Kigezi region have flocked the area and are taking over the land and political leadership because of their big numbers, subjecting the people to what he calls another era of colonialism.

The Bakonzo and Bamba are among other peoples who have an axe to grind over lacking independence. They are yet to get their much-awaited Rwenzururu kingdom to define their identity from the Batooro under whose leadership they were placed by the British colonialists. Every tribe or region seems to have their own case of not-yet-Uhuru.

The result of this problem is the lack of national (Uganda) patriotism with many individuals and groups advocating for national issues in the goggles of their tribes or region. That is why it is easy to understand the challenge of any government as everything thing must be balanced across the different regions. But balance depends on who is seeing on analyzing and most likely where they come from.

Corruption is making it increasingly difficult for anyone to feel like they are Ugandans. One has to cough out something to get a service they should get as a citizen, say at hospital or in any government office. Many people can attest to how difficult it is to get a job unless you are "somebody's" son or daughter or giving something in return. Just like it is almost impossible to get a contract in any government department without giving "kick back". You cannot easily get a job or contract in a district when you come from a different tribe.

Moses Ssebaduka, a trader in Kampala says that corruption is making the country seem like it belongs to some few people. "They are enjoying all the benefits and there is an increasing feeling that you can only benefit if you tow their line of give them something in return," he says. But he says Uganda's independence is still good to celebrate since it shows we are independent as a country and can work out the issues that are hindering some from benefiting internally within the country.

Arial view of the New Mulago Hospital. Openning of Mulago Hospital, Kampala by Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Kent
Arial view of the New Mulago Hospital. Openning of Mulago Hospital, Kampala by Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Kent.

Yet listening to most radio talk shows over the last week, some people are concerned with what is being termed as internal colonization. There is a fear that a few people, especially foreigners, are owning more and more of the country.

Despite his arguably good intentions, President Museveni is hard pressed to explain to the majority of Ugandans that attracting foreign investors to the country, giving them incentives like free land, forests, famous falls (like Bujagali) is not tantamount to "selling the country" to foreigners. Herman Musoga from Jinja says many Ugandans are worried of a second set of colonialism where foreigners own the majority of the land and the businesses in Uganda that will see Ugandans enjoy only partial independence.

And so, what does independence mean? To Grace Nantoongo, a teacher, it is about self-governance of a people of a country. To Francis Kiwanuka, it is about the ability to meet one's responsibilities and needs as a country and as an individual.

"Celebrating independence as a country is good. But first, we need independence in the home. Do you have the means to meet your needs? Do you have what to eat? Let's work and develop ourselves as individuals and as a country so that we can enjoy the fruits of our independence," says Francis Kiwanuka, a political mobilizer in Kampala.

But just like some Ugandans who can't fend themselves, analysts have been wondering how a country whose budget is largely funded by donors with their usual conditionality to toe their interests can be independent. Until June 2006, about 52% of the country's budget was being supported by donors. Although the government, starting this financial year said it would raise 52% of the budget, Uganda is largely a donor-funded country.

The high levels of poverty for which the country is always thankful for donors' intervention is another factor limiting the independence spirit Ugandans should be enjoying. That is why some people have argued that it is meaningless to talk of Independence celebrations when poverty is biting more and more Ugandans every day. More than 36% of Ugandans are still living on less than $1 (1,800 shillings) a day, with many hardly affording the basics of life.

But surely national independence has less to do with the economic position of nationals as it has with political and civil rights of citizens. With the adoption of multi-party politics last year, many Ugandans can no longer claim of lacking the freedom to associate, mobilize and compete for leadership positions.

Even talking economically, many more Ugandans are living a better life after Uganda gained independence. The successive governments have built hospitals, roads, schools, provided free primary education and universal secondary education is set to begin next year. The economy has been expanded from a dependence on coffee and cotton during colonial times, to include fish, tourism, and flowers among other exports where many Ugandans are increasingly running and earning from businesses.

Ugandans now elect their leaders right from Local Council 1 to the President every five years and certainly the feeling of being Ugandan is higher than it was in 1962.

But many people like Peter Walubiri of the Uganda People's Congress (UPC) whose pioneer party president and twice Uganda's leader Apollo Milton Obote (RIP) received the instruments of power from the British in 1962, Uganda has less and less to celebrate over independence. Walubiri says that so many Ugandans are living in poverty and do not participate in national issues that it is useless to tell them to celebrate independence.

The UPC has organized the first commemoration of the death of Obote who was buried on 10th October 2005, just a day after the Independence celebrations of that year. The ceremony is set to take place at Kololo ceremonial grounds, with several political leaders (including president Museveni) expected to attend.

"UPC played a leading role in struggling for and eventually attaining independence for this country. The nationalists like Obote were inspired by the vision to build a new and better Uganda," says Prof. Patrick Rubaihayoi, UPC's National Chairman. He says he would have wished a situation like their time of leadership when at every independence celebration, Obote would either open up a school, factory or development institution.

Another indicator that much of our political leaders are living in the past: While Rubaihayo is praising UPC for what was done, President Museveni will most characteristically blame past leaders like Obote for what was done in the past as being behind many of the woes the country is facing today. The usual story that has become tasteless over the years to many Ugandans, some of who have chosen to enjoy the holiday part of the day rather than the actual celebration of independence.

But no one can oppose the theme of "prosperity for all", which is the catchword of the current government. If only there are clear ways on how to achieve this prosperity maybe then many more Ugandans will be able to celebrate actual independence.

By Gerald Rulekere
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First published: October 8, 2006
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Gerald Rulekere is a Journalist and member of Ultimate Media Consult. He has written and published extensively on business and gender issues and been writing for Ultimate Media Consult (U) Ltd for the last two years. A professional and graduate journalist, Rulekere is always looking for an opportunity to better his writing especially for international media.