Why Is Uganda Worse off Today than When Colonialism Ended in 1962?

The East African Presidents shortly after independence: Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere, Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta and Uganda’s Milton Obote. Those were promising days. 
Photo: Charleslincolnshire Wikimedia Commons 
Contrary to popular belief, the British colonial administration bequeathed to Uganda sound fundamentals in economic, social and environmental sectors. In 1962, shortly before independence, I participated in a tour of parts of Uganda that included the economic growth corridor that stretches from Masaka to Mbale via Kampala, Jinja and Tororo. In Masaka, we saw large farms of coffee, the main foreign exchange earner. In Kampala we visited the parliamentary building, Makerere University and Mulago hospital. These were imposing and well maintained structures. I was particularly impressed by Makerere’s magnetic administration block, the library, the halls of residence, lecture halls and professors’ houses on the right hand side of the road near the main entrance.
The new Mulago teaching and referral hospital, the nurses’ hostel nearby and the various uniforms of doctors, nurses and midwives made Mulago hill colorful. Overall the colonial administration left behind a fine preventive and curative health care system of 48 government hospitals, 28 mission hospitals and 150 health centers (Henry Kyemba, 1977). The seven hills of Kampala such as Kololo characterized in large part by green gardens and red-roofed buildings, places of worship and the overall cleanliness of the city made Kampala a wonderful place to live and work in. Kampala exhibited sound social fundamentals in education and healthcare.
In Jinja, we visited the hydroelectric facilities and we were shown how the turbines produce electricity from water. We visited other economic installations such as the ones for copper smelting, textile production and breweries. While in the area, we also visited a sugar processing plant. In Tororo we visited a cement factory. These were sound economic foundations initiated during the governorship of John Hall to diversify Uganda’s economy, create jobs and raise the standard of living. Since 1916, the colonial office had declared that land belongs to Ugandans. Foreign ownership of Uganda land was therefore prohibited. Ugandans used this land to produce cotton, coffee and tobacco for export and foodstuffs for domestic consumption. Foreigners were allocated land on leasehold terms to grow tea and sugar cane.
In the sphere of the environment, the colonial administration preserved wetlands and water catchment areas. Contour and ridge farming practices were introduced in hilly landscapes to prevent soil erosion. These economic, social and environmental fundamentals combined with a reasonably sound transport system of roads and railways as well as law and order prepared Uganda for post-independence rapid economic growth, higher standard of living and environmental protection.
Between 1962 and 1970, Milton Obote’s first administration, sometimes referred to as Obote I,  maintained and expanded these fundamentals. Besides being prime minister, Obote served in the early years of independence as chairperson of the planning commission. Industrial growth accelerated and Uganda was able to generate surplus manufactured products for exports to neighboring countries over and above domestic needs. Commendable advances were made in economic growth averaging 7.8% between 1965 and 1970; education and healthcare expanded as did programs for nutrition among other sectors.
In its 1993 report the World Bank confirmed that during the 1960s, Uganda recorded rapid economic growth of 6%, low inflation, and the country pioneered many low-cost health and nutrition programs. Uganda’s education system developed a reputation for very high quality.
However, since the 1970s, a combination of political turmoil, inappropriate policies, conditionalities under the World Bank’s structural adjustment, mismanagement, corruption, sectarianism and a focus on “security” matters as a prerequisite for economic growth and equity have reversed the gains inherited at independence and expanded upon during the 1960s.
Thus, Uganda which had one of the most promising economies in Africa south of the Sahara at the start of the 1960s has sadly drifted backwards since the 1970s to the extent that the country is now considered a country that is vulnerable to domestic and external shocks. There is consensus that the quality of leadership and the setting of priorities in favor of security and subregional matters over national development are responsible for the current sad state of affairs, not the inheritance from the colonial rule.
Kashambuzi is an international economist and human rights activist 
New York City.

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