|Uganda is becoming increasingly ostracised and reviled for its Anti-Homosexuality Act. But are there are other defects within what has been described as a "failed state" waiting to happen?
According to BBC History's David Keys, there are two primary linguistic and cultural communities in Uganda. The Kingdom of Buganda dominated the fertile south, while Northern Uganda was more tribalised and less hierarchical- as well as disrupted by ivory poachers and slave traders. In 1894, the whole of present day Uganda was annexed as a British protectorate, until 1962 and independence.
For the first five years, it was a constitutional monarchy, until northern Ugandan Peoples Congress President Milton Obote overthrew the Bugandan king in 1967, and ruled alone. In 1971, he too was overthrown, and replaced by Idi Amin, who massacred an estimated 100, 000 Ugandans and expelled Uganda's Indian entrepreneurial class, crashing its economy.
In 1979, he was overthrown in his turn, leaving Milton Obote theoretically back in control, until he was temporarily replaced by Tito Okello in 1985. During all this time, though, Uganda was in a state of endemic civil war, until southerner Yoweri Museveni seized control of the country in 1985. Tragically, that didn't end Uganda's endemic state of civil war, as northern Akholi tribal communities regrouped around a syncretist Pentecostal Christian/spiritualist movement, which evolved into the 'Lords Resistance Army'. The LRA is infamous for its use of child soldiers and prostitutes.
Since Yoweri Museveni seized power in 1986, he has been battling this insurgency from Northern Uganda, known collectively as the "Lords Resistance Army." After Museveni's, many Acholi tribal community members gravitated toward Alice Lakewenya, a spiritualist, who founded an anti-regime "Holy Spirit Battalion" slightly later. The movement practices a blend of Christianity and popular spiritualism and animism and although it was initially defeated after it marched on Kampala, the survivors regrouped into a new paramilitary organisation, the Lords Resistance Army. Despite its anti-regime nature, the LRA are no saints. They routinely abduct children, forcing them to become soldiers or child prostitutes, often through killing their own parents.
The LRA is a cult. When its child soldiers are inducted into the army, they undergo rituals that consecrate them to the service of Joseph Konya, the LRA leader. They are then starved, beaten and sexually abused until they submit to his will. Although the LRA has its roots in Northern Uganda's Acholi communities, the latter rejected their tactics and have been exposed to its ravages as a consequence of Konya's anger at his former tribal community. Many international humanitarian and child relief agencies have drawn attention to the particular plight of children within this tragedy. What's worse, the insurgency is spreading. The LRA now has outposts in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and Central African Republic. Originally, I penned those words in 2009. The LRA situation has not markedly improved over the intervening five years since. There was an abortive ceasefire in 2009, but it only resulted in escalated LRA activity and revenge killings outside Uganda.
As much as we despise the Museveni regime for its actions against LGBT Ugandans, it is worth remembering that this is but a single aspect of a wider ordeal for that wretched nation's inhabitants. The international community needs to offer assistance to end the grim toll of death, displacement, abuse and civil conflict that the regime and LRA engage in, heedless of its peoples enduring misery at the hands of both.
What about the governing National Resistance Movement? The NRM began its existence as the National Resistance Army, formed by Museveni back in 1979, seven years before he seized power in 1986. Until 2005, it was the sole "permissible" Ugandan political party. Therefore, Uganda has only been a parliamentary "democracy" since 2005 and suspicions of widespread electoral fraud still abound. For over twenty years, only the NRM was represented in Uganda's Parliament, and it is still the majority governing party. While there are opposition parties now, the Forum for Democratic Change, Ugandan People's Congress, Democratic Party, Conservative Party, Independents and Justice Forum all have meagre representation. In all, they total ninety three MPs, not enough to provide significant opposition to what is widely regarded as a de facto one party state with shallow democratic facade institutions. In addition, there are ten Ugandan People's Defence Force representatives. Moreover, Yoweri Museveni could theoretically govern until the time of his death- presidential term limits were abolished in 2006.
What are Uganda's other problems? In 1998, it invaded and occupied the adjacent Democratic Republic of Congo during the Second Congo War (1998-2004) and supported rebel insurgency, placing it in conflict against Zimbabwe, Angola, Chad and Namibia, although allied with Rwanda, Burundi and rebel anti-regime forces from Angola (UNITA). Although formal conflict ended in 2004, continuing instability still occurs in the hapless nation.
In 2012, the US State Department released a scathing report on the woes of that nation. Government corruption is a severe problem- the State Department rated it a risible 140 out of 176 nations in terms of such problems. Indeed, $12.6 million dollars was embezzled from the Office of the Prime Minister alone, prompting the European Union, United Kingdom, Germany, Denmark and Norway to suspend intergovernment aid. This is probably set to worsen given the passage of Uganda's Petroleum Bill that same year- it was supposed to bring "transparency" to the petrochemical sector, but has failed to satisfy international economists and political analysts. As for the voluntary sector, organisations are hamstrung by the Non-Governmental Organisations Amendment Act 2006, which imposes onerous entry, activity, funding and assembly restrictions. Corrupt registration processes, onerous regulation and rigorous restriction of foreign fund transit further obstruct NGO activities against the ruling regime. A recent Public Order Management Bill has also notably restricted freedom of speech and expression.
It must be concluded that Uganda's homophobia is being used to cloak its manifold other, equally grave human rights violations, endemic governmental corruption and dark past and present from the casual observer.
US State Department: Uganda: 2012: http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/204390.pdf
Global Witness: Uganda's Oil Laws (2012): http://www.globalwitness.org/library/ugandas-oil-laws-global-witness-analysis
International Centre for Not-For-Profit Law (2012): Uganda: http://www.icnl.org/research/monitor/uganda.html
Transparency International: Corruption Perceptions Index (2012): http://www.transparency.org/cpi2012/results
Wikipedia: National Resistance Movement: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Resistance_Movement
David Keys: 'Uganda in agony' BBC History: May 2009: 10: 5: 16-17
Steve Rabey: "Terrorising the Innocents in Uganda: Religion Plays a Role in the Lords Resistance Army" Christian Research Journal 28: 2: 2005: 6-8: http://www.equip.org/
[NB: Although this is a fundamentalist resource, the quality of its news coverage of this issue is excellent. Read with that caveat in mind] Craig Young - 28th March 2014