Yoweri Museveni battled to power in 1986. His government has impressed many observers as Uganda’s most innovative since it gained independence from Britain in 1962. The Economist recommended it as a model for other African states struggling to develop their resources in the best interests of their peoples.
But where was change to start? At the bottom in building resistance committees, or at the top in tough negotiations with the IMF? How was it to continue? Was it in the restructuring of the national army, in increasing respect for human rights, in the reform of education, in tackling AIDS, or in getting Ugandans to speak a common language? Was it in building more viable survival strategies for the poorest Ugandans or in restructuring the national constitution? The last five years have shown a radical approach to Uganda’s dilemmas.
Holger Bernt Hansen and Michael Twaddle previously edited Uganda Now. It was brought together at a significant moment just as President Museveni was gaining power in 1985-6. It was so much in demand that it even entered the magendo market on the streets of Kampala. The book, which is still in print, was described by The Canadian Journal of African Studies as ‘virtually a mini-encyclopedia of Uganda’ and by The African Studies Review as ‘the best overview of Uganda’s trauma in the last two decades.’
The editors have assembled another team of Ugandan and international scholars to review the dilemmas of introducing revolutionary changes in an African country deeply affected by structural adjustment plans which have been imposed from outside.
This is a history of the early days of Uganda. The account has an African focus because it shows the British takeover through the experiences of an extraordinary leader.
“At this spot in the year 1901 the British flag was first hoisted by Semei Kakanguru, emissary and loyal servant of His Majesty the King. He built here a boma which was for a short time the headquarters of the district. From this beginning came the establishment of peace and the development of orderly progress in this part of Uganda.”
Michael Twaddle was shown this plaque in 1963 by a local government official who said “That man created the Uganda we Ugandans are fighting for today.” And yet the local people had had the plaque removed to a bicycle shed.
How do people regard an African who had an active role in the creation of the imperial state? Was this man “a hero,” “a collaborator,” “a warlord”? The reaction of colonial officials was mixed. One considered him “…in point of general intelligence, progressive ideas and charm of manner…far above all other natives in the Protectorate…” Another dismissed him, along with his companions, as “no better than Masai or Nandi cattle lifters.” And yet another viewed him as “undoubtedly…a partial religious maniac.”
The story of this man is an example of the dilemma for a whole generation of East Africans at the turn of the last century. This book has been compared in its importance to Shepperson’s and Price’s Independent African.
Religious activities have been of continuing importance in the rise of protest against postcolonial governments in Eastern Africa. Governments have attempted to “manage“ religious affairs in both Muslim and Christian areas. Religious denominations have acted as advocates of human rights and in opposition to one-party-state regimes. Islamic fundamentalism changed with the ending of the Cold War.
The book is divided into four parts: The Challenge of Islam; Christianity, Sectarianism, and Politics in Uganda; Christians and Muslim in Kenyan Politics; and Cross-cultural Complications. An introductory essay by Michael Twaddle provides and overview of the changing character of politico-religious conflict in Eastern Africa. Holger Bernt Hansen summarizes the presentation with a discussion of dilemmas and challenges in the study of religion and politics.
Can the revolutionary government of Yoweri Museveni’s National Resistance Movement put Uganda back on the road from decay to development?
These informed assessments put the present situation in context. The contributors assembled as Museveni’s guerrillas were launching their final bid for power. They have finalized their contributions in the light of the Museveni government’s initial period of power.
Contributions by Ugandan academics and politicians interlock with those by scholars from across the world who have a concern for Uganda. Historians examine the period of colonialism. There are political studies of the quarter century since independence. There are detailed analyses of the economic realities for the Ugandan government in the period of international debt. The central role of education in national development is given due prominence.
Ali A. Mazrui ends the book by asking ‘Is Africa Decaying?’ The editors have put the consideration of the case of Uganda’s recent history within the context of Africa’s development crisis. Uganda has presented in an aggravated form the crisis common to many other African countries: infrastructural breakdown, mounting foreign debt, military regimes and waves of refugees.
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