Uganda Peoples Congress

UPC reflection on challenges facing Uganda

By Hon.John Livingstone Okello Okello

MP-Chua County,Kitgum District

I am grateful to the organizers of this convention for having extended their invitation to the UPC. We are meeting when our country is at a critical crossroad, beset by challenges of national unity and harmony, peace, underdevelopment and poverty in all its manifestations. I wish to share with you our humble vision for Uganda.

At the dawn of independence, which was achieved largely through peace and compromise, there were great hopes for building a united, peaceful and prosperous nation. At the colorful independence ceremony on October 9, 1962 , as the UPC leader then, Dr. A. M. Obote, of illustrious memory, received the instruments of independence we got our identity as a nation, symbolized by our national flag, our national anthem, our own Parliament, and our own passports. It was a happy occasion.

The challenges at independence

Two years before independence, Buganda had threatened to declare unilateral independence (UDI). In 1961, the general elections that led to the election of Benedicto Kiwanuka as Chief Minister were largely boycotted by the people in Buganda. No meaningful independence and national unity could be realised without the participation of Buganda. Although the UPC-KY alliance has been harshly criticised, it was necessary to lead us to independence and put us on the road to national unity. It was another delicate task to hammer out a viable relationship with the Territory of Busoga and the Districts.

There was also the challenge of the small but powerful Asian immigrant community dominating commerce and industry. UPC responded to this challenge by attracting young Asians in its ranks and integrating Ugandans into commerce, trade and industry through expansion of the cooperative movement, the cooperative Bank and Marketing Boards. The small Uganda Credit Savings Society was transformed into a gigantic Uganda Commercial Bank with a nationwide branch network - a truly peoples own bank. The Uganda Development Corporation (UDC) and its leading arm - Ugadev - were expanded to train Ugandans and integrate them into industry. National Housing and Construction Corporation (NHCC) was set up and embarked on elaborate housing programmes to integrate Ugandans into urban areas.

The challenge posed by non-Ugandans, especially from Rwanda and Sudan was attended to by providing basic needs of these refuge communities and establishing harmonious diplomatic relations with our neighbours in Rwanda, Burundi, D.R.Congo and Sudan. We fostered excellent relationships with Tanzania and Kenya leading to the establishment of an enviable East African Community in 1967.

The other challenges were those of poverty, ignorance and disease. At independence, Uganda had only one University College, one National Teachers College, one College of Commerce, and very few government primary and secondary schools. In the health sector, there were only a limited number of hospitals. The only existing railway line ran from Mombasa to Kampala via Tororo, with a branch to Soroti. There were hardly any tarmac roads. The economy was controlled by the Asians and Europeans such that the Africans had no access to jobs, business and trade. The processing and marketing of produce was entirely in the hands of Asians, who cheated the Africans by paying low prices to the African peasant farmers.

UPC response to post-independence challenges The UPC built many primary and secondary schools all over the country, and expanded former missionary schools and opened them to all children irrespective of religious beliefs. This enhanced national unity and integration. Several teacher training colleges, vocational training and tertiary institutions to meet the high demands for trained manpower were built. Girls' education was totally neglected during the colonial time. To address this problem, UPC deliberately built girls' schools like Tororo Girls, Nabisunsa, Wanyange, Bweranyange, St Catherine, to mention but only a few. Similarly, missionary girls' schools like Gayaza, Namagunga, Sacred Heart Gulu, Nabingo and others were expanded to accommodate more students.

Makerere was made a fully fledged University.

The UPC government opened up a comprehensive road network covering the entire country. Major roads such as Kampala-Gulu, Kampala-Kabale, Kampala-Soroti were tarmacked. All inter-district roads were up-graded to first class murram. The railway lines were extended from Kampala to Kasese on the western leg and Soroti to Pakwach on the northern leg.

In the health sector, the UPC government built 23 100-bed hospitals scattered all over the country. These hospitals were well equipped and adequately staffed with qualified personnel. Many health centres were at the same time built to supplement the hospitals, thus making free health services available to all Ugandans.

With the economy, cash crop production was expanded, especially cotton and coffee, which were grown and processed by peasant farmers. Erstwhile cotton ginneries and coffee factories, which had been owned and managed by Asians, were taken over by government and given to cooperative societies/unions.

This was the first time the African peasant farmers began to manage, control and realise full benefits of their sweat.

The UNLF period

After the fall of Idi Amin in 1979, Ugandans had high hopes for a better future. However, the UNLF government, which took over, turned out to be a bunch of political opportunists and self-seekers with no vision of how to govern the country. They spent most of their time on intrigue. Their main concern appeared to be the exclusion of UPC, and in particular, its leader then, Dr. Apollo Milton Obote (RIP) from participating in the politics of Uganda. The result was exacerbation and continuation of anarchy.

Predictably, the opportunists miserably failed and order was only restored when the people of Uganda elected UPC back to power in 1980.

The second UPC administration

UPC II inherited a shattered nation, depleted civil service, destroyed infrastructure and a devastated economy. UPC took on the challenge of rehabilitation and reconstruction of the country and the economy, despite ruthless guerilla campaigns waged by election losers in the Luwero Triangle, not far from the capital city of Kampala.

Within only four-and-a-half years, the confidence of international financial institutions like the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and foreign investors was restored in the management of public affairs of Uganda. A law was made to return expropriated property to the Asian investors, who had been expelled from the country and dispossessed of their property in 1972 by Idi Amin. Leading industrialists like the Madhvanis, the Mehtas and the owners of plantations like Mitchell Cotts returned to the country and had their expropriated property repossessed.

Under the revised Recovery Programme (1982-1984), the UPC government was able, in a record four-year period, to bring down inflation to manageable levels, achieve macro-economic stability, revive production in agriculture and industry, and rebuild the shattered civil service and other institutions. By 1984, Uganda was producing more coffee than it could sell in its allocated quarter markets, salaries of civil servants were increased by an average of 30% per annum; essential commodities were back in the shops; and new schools were established. This rapid pace of national recovery was cut short by the July 1985 military coup of Tito Okello Lutwa and Bazillio Olara Okello that fed into the National Resistance Army (NRA) victory of January, 1986.

The plight of Uganda under NRM/A

Although the NRM warlords promised a return to the rule of law, respect for human rights and good governance, as if these were wanting, the 20 years of the NRM one-party-cum-military dictatorship have proved a real disaster for the country.

The virtue of national unity has been destroyed and replaced by sectarian allegiance; democratic government based on free and fair elections has been undermined by a partisan Electoral Commission; corruption, which has become a pillar of governance, is endemic; militarisation and commercialisation of politics and state-inspired poverty, both of which enable votes and voters to be bought, are now taken for granted. While donors have, for 20 years, poured billions of dollars in aid to the economy, the economy has remained more or less static in real terms. Civil wars have continued to rage while health, education, transport and communication and power sectors are in ruins. The respect for human rights has long been replaced by impunity and abuse of human rights and freedoms by the government.

The worst phenomena have been the glaring gap between the corrupt rich and the poor, that has grown by leaps and bounds, and the North/South divide that is threatening to finally tear apart the once united and harmonious nation.

The UPC mission and vision

The UPC led the two-decade struggle for the return of multi-party governance to Uganda, having rejected to work with the dictatorship for 20 years while many other politicians and political parties did so for decades. With the return of multiparty governance last year, however distorted it is, UPC participated in the general elections of February/March this year. These elections were, of course, not free and fair. Our vision for mother Uganda is:

"An independent, united, democratic, just, peaceful and prosperous nation where all its citizens have equal opportunities and access to the nation's resources."

As a party, we shall not rest until we achieve our mission which is to seek to safeguard national independence, promote national unity, equality and equity, human rights for all, fight poverty, ignorance and disease, and ensure the involvement of all Ugandans in economic development and empowerment of the disadvantaged citizens.

The most urgent task for us is to convince every Ugandan that there is need for national healing and reconciliation. In our open letter to President Museveni of May 24, 2006, we elaborated at length on the reasons why there should be established as a matter of urgency, an impartial Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to set the parameters for genuine national reconciliation. We renewed our call in our memorandum of July 28, 2006 to the President. Without the TRC, no amount of propaganda or development will heal the wounds in our polity and enable the country to forge ahead as a united country in pursuit of unity, stability, development and prosperity.

We request all delegates at this Convention to study these two documents and respond accordingly.

Although we have a constitution in place, it was made under conditions of dictatorship and its implementation has been wanting. To correct the imperfections in our polity, we need a national conference, involving all political parties and stakeholders to sort out issues of democratic governance, including real devolution of power and resources, national unity and peace and proper economic management. This conference, which is long overdue, would then lead to a comprehensive amendment of the partisan 1995 constitution.

Once again, I thank you for your invitation and for listening to me.

For God and my Country