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SEPTEMBER 27, 2007

Uganda :: The Pearl of Africa



We have arrived in Uganda slap bang in the middle of both the lead up to an election and the Queen's visit during the CHOGM (Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting) Conference in Kampala in November. The rainy season is well in effect with flooding in the north causing massive problems with road access, health and farming.

Uganda was called such by the British after the majority Buganda tribe (who speak Luganda), however the country consists of several other kingdoms each with a ruler, their own language and their own customs and history. Swahili is the shared language of Eastern Africa and while looked down upon in Uganda, is still the consistent language of use across the country.

A little history for those who care, Uganda was declared a British protectorate in 1894 (not a colony) as part of the Berlin treaty in which Africa was carved up amongst the powerful European nations. Unlike other African colonies, as a protectorate the traditional Ugandan kingdoms were given a reasonable level of self autonomy under their monarchy leaders.

With the rest of Africa, in 1962 Obote led the Ugandan people to a peaceful independence. However he was a brutal leader who did not want to share his power with the regional monarchies and quickly abolished the monarchy, became President, and let his military take control of the country under their Chief, one Idi Amin.

Like present day Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe, Obote re-wrote the constitution and nationalised foreign owned assets driving the country into economical decline.

In 1971 Idi Amin staged a military coup, instructed the army to shoot on sight any dissidents, and a year later all Asians were given three months to leave the country, the economy collapsed, wildlife was pillaged for food, the country was financially ruined. (On my flight into South Africa I was please to have 'The Last King of Scotland' as the in-flight movie).

In 1979, faced with no money to pay his soldiers Amin went to war with Tanzania. The Tanzanians however smashed the Ugandan army, forcing Amin into exile in Saudi Arabia until his death in 2003

In a rigged election in 1980 Obote returned to power, he was no better than Amin and after more killings, the discovery of mass graves and other atrocities, in mid 1985 he was overthrown in yet another military coup.

In 1986 the National Resistance Army (NRA), a Ugandan guerilla outfit based in Western Uganda and Tanzania launched an offensive that successfully took the capital Kampala and ousted Okello, the current President. Finally under the NRA's leader, Museveni, Uganda began to recover economically.

Over the past 20 years Uganda has steadily improved both in safety and economic sectors. The north is still a violent place where the Lord's Resistance Army leads a brutal rebel movement to overthrow the Ugandan Government using child soldiers, rape and intimidation. Corruption is rife, the roads are horrendous, but things look to be slowly improving. And there is hope among the people.

     
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