New Internationalist


October 1983

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Map of Uganda

Leader: Dr Milton Obote

Economy: GNP US$300 per person (1980)

Monetary Unit: Uganda shilling

Main exports: Export sector collapsed under Amin. Now being reactivated, concentrating on coffee, cotton, tea, tobacco, mining, and tourism.

People: 12.6 million (1980). Town dwellers: 9%.

Health: Infant modality: 97 per 1000 live births (1980). Daily calorie availability: 93%. Access to safe water 35%

Culture: Originally several kingdoms, most powerful being Bunyoro and Buganda. Buganda allied with British after Uganda became British protectorate in 1893. French missionaries introduced Catholicism. Now 33% Catholic, 30% Protestant, 6% Muslim. Independence: 1962.

Languages: English widely understood and spoken, and is official language used in government, commerce and education. Luganda most widely spoken native language, and some 47 other native languages.

NEAT PARCELS of fertile, intensely cultivated land and green plantain fronds along the roadsides give the Ugandan countryside an appearance of prosperity and peace. Yet the hardship of daily life belies the tranquil image. Village health centres are empty shells, plundered of equipment and medicines; school children gather under a tree for classes since schools have been destroyed; women collect water from polluted streams because wells and pumps are long-since broken down and never repaired. In Kampala, the country’s capital, tumble-down buildings and boarded-up shopfronts are testament to more than a decade of neglect and war.

Yet during the 1960s Uganda was renowned as ‘the pearl of Africa’, with its export crops of coffee, cotton and tea largely in the hands of cooperatives and a growing social service sector. But the government of President Milton Obote alienated much of its support by breaking a pact with the King of Buganda. When Major-General Idi Amin led a coup in 1971 he met with little internal opposition.

Many Ugandans, including Obote, fled to Tanzania. In 1979 Obote returned in the wake of the invading Tanzanian army. Three successive post-Amin governments tried and failed to pull the bitterly divided country together. In 1980 Obote was reelected, amidst cries that the elections had been rigged. The Uganda Obote inherited had descended from a blossoming state into one of the world’s poorest countries. The situation worsened in 1980 when a prolonged drought brought famine to the north-eastern region of Karamoja.

In a radical switch from his previous socialist orientation, Obote has turned to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to support the economy. In 1983 Uganda’s economy shows signs of recovery, at least on paper. Exports have increased, foreign companies are investing, and even the Asians are returning, Individually, however, Ugandans are poorer than ever. A doctor earns just US$20 a month and a driver US$5. Small wonder that doctors are selling essential drugs on the black market and all government employees are susceptible to bribery. Corruption is not seen as a cancer, but as the only way people can survive.

Unrest continues, although the guerilla movement which threatened to destabilise the government during 1980 and 1981 has largely died away - mainly because of divisions within its leadership. But in Buganda, still the stronghold of opposition to Obote, the army is rounding up thousands of women and children, ostensibly to protect them from guerillas. Stories of army brutality abound.

While Western nations salute Obote for improvements in the economy, many Ugandans see little improvement in their standard of living or their personal safety since the infamous days of Amin.

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Rich/poor gap increasing
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Dependent on IMF
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‘Little recognition or representation
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‘48% literate. Access to education decreasing under Amin.

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Human rights abuses common especially rape and murder by army

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‘54 years. Health services destroyed under Amin and during war.

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This feature was published in the October 1983 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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