What Uganda calls modernity is a byword for bandit economy run by refugees, ‘imported’ criminals

What Uganda calls modernity is a byword for bandit economy run by refugees, ‘imported’ criminals


Way back in May 2022, Andrew Mwenda wrote in The Independent an eye-catching, mind stimulating article under the title: Uganda’s Pursuit of Modernity.  The article raised a number of pertinent questions, namely:

1. Is it Uganda or President Tibuhaburwa Museveni pursuing modernity?

2. What is in modernity that is so valuable to President Tibuhaburwa Museveni’s governance of Uganda in the 21st century?

Elsewhere, I wrote that under the long reign of President Tibuhaburwa Museveni, Uganda has not only been grossly bantustanised into numerous, unviable entities called districts, some in conflict over shared resources.

In addition, the governance of the country has become ethnicised and apartheid-like, and that its economy is increasingly illicit and dominated by refugees or people who were once refugees, or else by Indians and Chinese in a way suggesting that the independence and sovereignty of the country have been reversed in the name of modernisation and/or modernity in the interest of foreigners.

 Apparently, President Tibuhaburwa Museveni’s government was the first in Africa to embrace globalisation as way forward for development, and played a big role in convincing the African Union to do the same. However, where globalisation operates, localisation diminishes. Globalisation is based on the dictum Think Global Act Local, but translating global thinking and action into local thinking and action can be as difficult as qualifying to go to heaven.

As part of the strategy of globalisation and modernisation, President Tibuhaburwa Museveni’s government, like many other governments did with their countries, integrated Uganda in the World Trade Organisation (WTO). This is the only global international organisation dealing with the rules of trade between nations.

At its heart are the WTO agreements, negotiated and signed by the bulk of the world’s trading nations and ratified in their parliaments. The goal of WTO is to ensure that trade flows as smoothly, predictably and freely as possible. It also settles trade disputes between its members and it supports the needs of developing countries.

Unfortunately, integration of an African country in the WTO does not favour local industrialisation but instead, as a tool of globalisation and modernisation, sustains the dependency syndrome on goods and services of foreign origin with strings attached.

I am not sure what the collective attitude of WTO is with regard to human and drug trafficking as well as the illegal trade in human organs and child labour. Indeed, WTO has been accused of trampling over labour and human rights. At least WTO has preferred a conspiracy of silence as Ugandan youth are subjected to modern local and foreign slave trade in their thousands in modern times.

Thousands of Ugandans are being exploited and abused in factories owned by Indians and Chinese, and have no right to a minimum wage. The exploiters are encouraged by the president’s promise of cheap labour in Uganda. Besides thousands of potentially reproductive youths of Uganda are everyday ferried to the Middle East to provide cheap labour to Arabs while the Uganda government gains in remittances of the modern slaves and taxes.

Apartheid-style governance in Uganda is a consequence of the choice of modernisation and modernity as governance tools in a political and economic sense. The NRM regime uses modernity and modernisation not just as slogans but political tools of exclusion of the majority from the governance and leadership of the country, whereby economic schemes to popularise the money culture are politically proposed and applied selectively against the majority.

In pursuit of partisan interests, the economic schemes are, and have been, used to give money bonanzas to known members of the ruling party in the rural areas, ostensibly to spur development among communities in a trickle-down fashion.

Unfortunately, extremely few individuals are benefitting from the money bonanzas. The majority of those benefitting are bureaucrats and politicians in the patronage/money bonanza chain. Most of the public money released does not reach the identified beneficiaries on the ground. Besides, those who receive it end up misappropriating or misusing it and no meaningful development takes.

Therefore, the economic schemes are ending up segregating between people in the communities and pushing the majority into the abyss of poverty. The schemes include Operation Wealth Creation (OWC), Parish Development Model (PDM) and Myooga. Billions of shillings have been misappropriated, but the rulers still market them as the only alternative to fighting poverty in modern times.

No meaningful and effective monitoring and evaluation of claimed projects on the ground takes place and the recovery of disbursed funds is extremely poor. Many ordinary people who receive the money interpret it as NRM’s or President Museveni’s appreciation of their role in the electoral processes that return the party and the president to power every five years since 1996.

What apartheid-style governance implies, and has implied, is that a small ethnic group dominates all spheres of the economy and life, and even trade with outside world, and receives all opportunities, at the expense of the natural ethnic and indigenous groups.

Those who have keenly analysed the socioeconomics and politics of Uganda assert that the small group is composed of people who were once refugees from Rwanda and Mulenge in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and participated in the bush war in the Luwero Triangle for political and economic power, but also new refugees from places like Somalia and Ethiopia.

These are being buttressed by economic refugees from India, China, South Africa and Tanzania, who frequently either engage in ventures with the former refugees or act as fronts for them. It is unlikely that these will have the public interest of indigenous Ugandans at heart.

It is under these socio-political conditions that modernity is being pursued in favour of the status quo. Pursuing modernity means pursuing capitalism in the context of President Tibuhaburwa Museveni’s philosophy of development that “Development (infrastructure) comes first followed by environment, nature and last people. People coming last is not by accident.

President Tibuhaburwa Museveni has, since he abandoned barter trade 18 months after preferring it to capitalist economic relations with the wider world, put things ahead of people or their communities. In total turnaround, he prefers and puts infrastructure development over and above social development.

However, his commitment to the small ethnic group that dislodged Apollo Milton Obote and Tito Okello from power in Kampala, has meant that promotes the interests of the small ethnic group with exogenous roots historically, culturally, ecologically and biologically, because it is the one, which secured and put him in power.

This choice of focus of time, energy and public money to satisfy the interests of a small ethnic group has violated the greater public interest of Ugandans and jeopardised the futures of millions and generations of Ugandans. The long-term consequence of apartheid-style governance in the country are thus dire in the context of perverted modernity and modernisation.

Humanity in modern times first recorded perverted modernity and modernisation in the USA in the 19th century and then South Africa in the 20th century

In USA and South Africa, perverted modernity and modernisation was called apartheid. It was pursued as ethnic, political, economic, social, ecological and environmental discrimination against Black people. Blacks were excluded politically, economically, socially, ecologically and environmentally from development, transformation and progress. They were no more than beasts of burden.

  • A Tell report / Opinion / By Prof Oweyegha-Afunaduula, a retired professor of political science and environment at Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda.
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