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Country Profile


Country profile: Uganda

Where is Uganda? The Nile Mansions once struck terror into the hearts of Ugandans. It was there that Idi Amin’s torturers exercised their peculiar tastes in violence. Now the luxury Nile Hotel, its rooms are likely to accommodate World Bank or IMF visitors wielding instruments of economic reform.

Times have changed greatly since the National Resistance Army entered Kampala in January 1986, bringing Yoweri Museveni and the National Resistance Movement (NRM) to power. Armed rebellion has been subdued – though the small Sudan-backed Lord’s Resistance Army still conducts savage cross-border attacks on hapless villagers. In Kampala, the police have reclaimed law and order from the military. The capital is a pleasant, modern city.

Dismissed as a disaster area after the extreme violence of the Amin and Obote decades, Uganda is applauded for hauling its economy from the sickbed and its population out of an era of gross disregard for human rights. Amnesty International is still concerned about arbitrary arrests following rebel action, and some harassment of opposition politicians and newspapers, but it acknowledges the gains already made – and Uganda acceded last June to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Uganda is the darling of the IMF, having followed its recommendations and achieved an annual growth rate of nearly six per cent over the past nine years. Aid donors have also been impressed, pledging $850 million last year against the $500 million asked for. Asians expelled by Amin have been invited back and there has been an inflow of investment capital.

Yet Uganda remains a very poor country, burdened with vast international debt. The sense of progress is by no means felt in all parts of the country. People complain of a widening gap between the beneficiaries of new policy and the sizeable proportion of the population who are getting poorer. Much of the north remains a Cinderella region.

The NRM has resisted pressure to reinstate multi-party democracy, pursuing its idea of governance by a popular front incorporating different shades of political opinion. Parties can operate but are not represented in government. President Museveni’s argument is that premature multi-party democracy will reproduce the tribal fragmentation all too familiar in the old Uganda and elsewhere in Africa. He sees the NRM as enabling Ugandans to move away from crumbling tribal traditions and embrace new principles of democracy and modernization.

In June the NRM Constituent Assembly voted to defer the return to multi-party democracy for a further five years, after which a referendum will be held. At the local level Resistance Committees – elected by and accountable to the communities they serve – are encouraged to mobilize resources to deal with local problems, attacking the dependency syndrome that often undermines development. While they need more training to realize their full potential, they can bring an unprecedented degree of democracy to local government, and an opportunity for ordinary people to develop democratic practice and self-reliance.

Anthony Swift


LEADER: President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni

ECONOMY: GNP per capita: $170 – the seventh lowest in the world (US $23,240)
Monetary unit: Ugandan Shilling
Main exports: Coffee (70% of total), cotton. New exports - hides, maize, sesame and fish
Main imports: Capital goods, manufactured goods, foodstuffs, fuels
External debt: $3 billion

PEOPLE: 19.3 million

HEALTH: Infant mortality 114 per 1,000 live births (Australia 7 per 1,000). An estimated one in five (nine per cent of the general population) of the sexually active population is infected with HIV. Encouragingly, though, rates of infection among women attending antenatal clinics have been falling since 1992.

CULTURE: Most Ugandans come from the integration of various ethnic groups, mainly the Baganda, Bunyoro and Batoro
Religion: Christian (Catholic and various Protestant sects) 50%; traditional (mostly animist) 40%; Muslim 10%
Languages: English is the official language but Nilotic languages are spoken in the north and Bantu in the south. The most common are Kiswahili, Luganda and Luo.

Sources: New Africa Year Book 1995-96; Africa Review 1995; The Statesman Year Book 94-95; The State of the World’s Children 1995; Amnesty International; Oxfam; AIDS Analysis Africa.

Previously profiled October 1983


[image, unknown] INCOME DISTRIBUTION [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Structural adjustment is widening the gap.
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[image, unknown] LITERACY [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
48% However, primary-school enrolment is 80%
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[image, unknown] SELF-RELIANCE [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Uganda is hobbled by an onerous debt burden and has a very narrow manufacturing base. Its debt servicing to exports ratio is three times the IMF estimate for sustainability.
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[image, unknown] FREEDOM [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Ugandans are a lot freer from tyranny and armed insecurity but there have been efforts to control the press and political opponents.
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[image, unknown] POSITION OF WOMEN [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Realizing women’s aspirations is seen as part of modernization and a woman is vice-president. New opportunities but still a long way to go.
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[image, unknown] LIFE EXPECTANCY [image, unknown]
42 years. Currently the lowest life expectancy in the world, largely due to AIDS.
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[image, unknown] NI ASSESSMENT [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
The NRM Government deserves credit for pulling Uganda out of the horror of the Amin and Obote years – and for its moves against sectarianism and towards local democracy. But its economic policies may work against its claim to be acting in the interests of all Ugandans at a time when it is resisting pressure for multi-party democracy.

NI star rating

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©Copyright: New Internationalist 1995

New Internationalist issue 272 magazine cover This article is from the October 1995 issue of New Internationalist.
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