Why Uganda has consistently failed to overcome ethnic nepotism and become a thriving democracy

Why Uganda has consistently failed to overcome ethnic nepotism and become a thriving democracy


Uganda is a country that has been yearning for democracy since the White man passed the instruments of power to a Black man. Although democratisation has been a prime goal in the sociopolitical manifestation in the country, a number of interacting factors have combined to prevent meaningful and effective democratisation.

These include colonialism, neocolonialism, history, feudalism, greed for power, militarism, refugees, former refugees, nepotism and ethnicity.

In this article, I set out explore how the vices of nepotism, and ethnic nepotism have prevented meaningful and effective democratisation in/of Uganda since the country obtained political independence from its coloniser – Great Britain.

Let me define nepotism as favouritism (as in appointment to a job) based on kinship, ethnicity or genealogy; ethnicity as the quality or fact of belonging to a population group or subgroup made up of people who share a common cultural background or descent; and ethnic nepotism as nepotism in which the members of an ethnic group tend to favour their group members over non-members because they are more related to their group members than to outsiders (definition borrowed from Peace Research Institute, Oslo).

This disposition to favour kin over non-kin becomes important in social life and politics when people and groups of people have to compete for scarce resources.

In sociology (the study of the development, structure and functioning of human society or the study of social problems), the term ethnic nepotism describes a human tendency for in-group bias or in-group favouritism applied by nepotism for people with the same ethnicity within a multi-ethnic society. The term was coined in the 1960s in the context of the ethnic (tribal) tensions and rivalry in the then recently independent states in Sub-Saharan Africa such as Nigeria.

Influenced by W.D. Hamilton theory of kin selection, ethnic nepotism describes a human tendency for in-group bias or in-group favouritism applied on the ethnic level. The term was coined by sociologist Pierre L. van den Berghe in reference to the situation in the Belgian Congo (Psychology Wiki).

For the purposes of this article, I define democratisation as the action of making “something” accessible to everyone towards ensuring that there is justice and equity at the centre of governance. Here, something includes money, political power, opportunities, leadership, belonging, land, food, medicines, housing, rural industries, roads, public services, scholarships, education, health, et cetera.

Nepotism and ethnicity, and for that matter, ethnic nepotism, are jointly an anti-thesis of democratisation. Ethnicity as a political tool is frequently helped to thrive through political ethnicisation and ethnic politicisation.

There are serious consequences of political ethnicisation (that is, ethnicisation of politics or converting ethnicity into a political tool and attuning all groups or subgroups of a population to serving the interests of a particular group in or with power). This implies putting ethnicity at the centre of a political party, the political processes, the public services and, for that matter, government structure and functions, whether it has to do with the national budget, policies, laws and justice. 

When this happens, ethnic nepotism is unavoidable. Ethnic nepotism entails ethnic purity, which implies deliberate pursuit of ethnic supremacy in every aspect of life and sphere of influence. Ethnic identity and superiority can result, with the collective ethnic attitude that other ethnicities are inferior. This was the foundation of apartheid in South Africa before in collapsed. I will come to this in more detail later.                          

In extreme cases, ethnic cleansing using a variety of tools and avenues is ultimately unavoidable. It is dangerous if one ethnic group chooses to politicise ethnicity and use it as a tool to segregate against other ethnicities. South Africa (also sometimes called racist South Africa) did this between 1948 and 1992. The country came to be known as Apartheid South Africa because the racist, supremacist rulers used colour to discriminate against the Black majority politically, economically, socially, ecologically and environmentally.

As a result, the Black South Africans were marginalised, pushed to the margins of Nature where they could produce nothing but fed by the supremacists. So, the Blacks were ecologically and environmentally segregated and assigned to ecologically and environmentally unproductive lands. There they were granted sham independence and their enclaves called Bantustans. This was crime against humanity: assigning people to enclaves where they could not live wholesome lives.

Ethnic politicisation is when an ethnic group is politicised or when an ethnic identity and loyalty is deliberately moved from the private sphere to the public sphere. Political decisions are made, not to service the whole society, but to benefit a particular ethnic group or identity. It is identity politics ethnicised.

When this happens in a country where the societal ethico-moral fabric derives from the multiple indigenous groups, it distorts the identities of the groups through the penetration, conquest and occupation by the dominant ethnic group politically, militarily, socially, culturally, ecologically, environmentally and even genetically through intermarriages between that group and the other groups to enhance its genetic spread through the populations. This way, the genetic composition of the indigenous groups is altered so that they can no longer claim to be indigenous.

The end result is that politics is no longer a vehicle by which to build a strong non-ethnic civil society. Instead, ethnic politicisation and political ethnicisation interactively and integratively encourage the building of a strong ethnic society in which each population group or subgroup, instead of pursuing the greater goal of holistic societal solidarity and unit, begins to pursue its own sovereignty against the other groups. This tendency will be most pronounced within the dominant group or subgroup.

A society dominated ethnically cannot be in charge of its destiny nor steady itself on the path of democratisation. Everything will be distorted to serve the interests of the dominant ethnic group in terms of power (political, social, economic, etc) and everything that goes with power.

This, unfortunately, indeed seems to be the case under the perennial rule of President Tibuhaburwa Museveni.

Other Ugandans organised politically as alternative political groups have been effectively excluded from the political space and inactivated in the political stream and now manifest more or less like white elephant-like organisations with no meaningful impact on the political, economic, social, development or even ecological and environmental processes of the country.

The organisations in perspective are Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) and the Democratic Party (DP) both of which are the oldest parties in the country, and which were formed during the colonial times to agitate for Black rule and end to colonialism. Their top leaders have been conscripted to serve power and no longer provide meaningful leadership of their parties. There is no effective political development in these Parties anymore.

Other parties include the Forum for Democratic Change, which arose out of the ruling party, National Resistance Movement Organisation (NRMO) that prefers to retain its bush days name National Resistance Movement (NRM) illegally; Conservative Party (CP), which was formed by Mayanja Nkangi to contest the 1980 Uganda National Liberation Front (UNLF) organised General Elections: the Uganda Patriotic Movement (UPM), which was formed by Yoweri Tibuhaburwa Museveni also to contest the 1980 general election, but whose members were absorbed in the NRM, and is, therefore, politically and organisationally dead; the National Unity Party (NUP) formed by Sssentamu Kyagulanyi (Bobi Wine) to contest the 2021 Presidential and General elections; and many other smaller parties.

Under Tibuhaburwa Museveni rule, whether parties are small or big, they are treated the same way: non-entities unfit to access the population and recruit members or conduct any meaningful political activities away from their Headquarters. If their leaders venture beyond their headquarters, they are often hunted down, hounded and thrown in prison arraigned in courts for disturbing law and order or for treason, the same way the racist rulers of South Africa used to treat Black nationalist political leaders.

For God and My Country.

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