Thursday 11 October 2012

Uganda @50: Why President buys a million dollar car amidst poverty

Tuesday, 9th October was the long waited day for Uganda as it celebrated its independence golden jubilee. A lot has been said about Uganda @50. I reiterate and agree that it was an important time to remember. This year's independence was not ordinary; it was 50 years since the British colonialists allowed Ugandans to determine the direction of the affairs of their country.

As part of celebrations, several newspaper articles have been written about about Uganda's golden jubilee. Some of the stories were inspirational yet others attempted to re-write the history of this country. I will tell  this story another day.

First things first, in July, I had the opportunity of receiving a powerfully narrative book, The State of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence authored by Martin Meredith, as a gift from my former employer, The Independent.

I loved this book's insightful accounts of how African nations and nationalists struggled for self rule.At the same time, I was so sad that fifty years later far too many mistakes have been made inadvertently or deliberately by the leaders of post independence Africa. The most scaring thing is that few of today's African leaders are minding about the social, political and economic independence of the people they are supposed to lead.

President Museveni gives his party's thump-up sign to crowd
In the case of Uganda, the last 50 years have been a mixed bag.Becoming an independent state in 1962, Uganda has since had 9 heads of state with pioneer executive prime minister Milton Obote whom the British colonialists handed the instruments of power.

First, when Obote took over power, he abrogated the 1962 constitution in 1966 setting the country on a collusion path. Perhaps the turning point in Uganda’s history was the ascendance of an illiterate soldier Idi Amin to presidency. Amin ruled Ugandans with an iron fist. Hundreds of thousands of Ugandans are believed to have been murdered during Amin’s government. 

So by celebrating the 50 years of independence on October 9, Ugandans were having an opportunity to assess their past, reflect on the failures and chart the future they want in the next few years. This was a time to turn a new page.

Apparently this was not the real case. President Yoweri Museveni, who has been president for 26 years of
Uganda's golden independence, arrived for the occasion in a brand new car valued at a whopping Shillings 3 billion.This has been the talk of town. Questions are being asked if this was necessary.

The new presidential Mercedes Benz limousine which cost taxpayers a humongous Uganda Shillings 3 billion (US$1 million at exchange rate of $1 to 2400 shillings) yet more than 8 million Ugandans live in abject poverty; will be fueled and maintained by poor tax payers. These poverty statistics were used by Museveni as he sought a fourth presidential term last year

Never mind that. To celebrate with Ugandans, were several foreign guests including the Duke of Kent Prince Edward representing the Queen of England, 11 African presidents, and China’s Speaker of Parliament among other dignitaries.  
A sense of ecstasy swept through the Kololo Independence grounds as the Uganda flag was hoisted, a re-enactment of October 9, 1962. The man who was privileged to perform that task then, now 83 year-old Maj Kenneth Akorimo, was proudly attending. He said Uganda has achieved many things in the last 50 years singling out the discipline of its military in the last 26 years.

When Museveni and his wife Janet arrived at, Kololo Independence Grounds which is 4 kilometres from the Kampala City centre, cruising an S500 Mercedes Benz model, partying Ugandans here could only manage joyous ululations perhaps not caring that the first family was enjoying a lavish life while some Ugandans sleep on empty stomachs. 

At the end of celebrations, the President and his guests drove away in luxury motorcades, few rich Ugandans drove away in their private cars to continue the party. Majority Ugandans left the Kololo Independence Grounds walking all their way home perhaps pondering on where to get the next meal that evening.

However, not every Ugandan could see reason to celebrate the 50 years of independence. Uganda’s opposition politicians boycotted the jubilee arguing that the regime does not respect their freedom of association. As the country’s top politicians and civil servants celebrated the 50 years of political independence, millions of Ugandans were struggling to make ends meet. Among these Ugandans was Joseph Senkubuge, a motorcycle taxi driver locally known as bodabodas. 

Senkubuge parks his motorcycle taxi next to Kobil fuel station in the Kampala City suburb of Kamwokya. He plies routes across town charging each route a minimum of Shillings 2000 (about US$1) depending on the mileage. The 25 year-old father of three said he could not join the president and his guests to celebrate the 50 years of independence because he first has “to get the daily bread and put food to the table for his children”. He says he would have attended the main celebrations if he had a permanent salaried job.

At 50 years of independence Uganda has 49% of its 33 million people below age of 15. Another 48% Ugandans are aged between 16 and 64. Unemployment among university graduates remains sky-high; by some measures youth unemployment is at 80% . 
 For the last two years Uganda’s  inflation has fluctuated wildly, with rates at times as high as 20-30 percent and now still in the low double digits.
When I asked a number of Ugandans if there is reason to celebrate the 50 years of independence the answers were mixed. Some see the glass half empty; others half full. 

“In the last 50 years we have achieved the basics in education, health care delivery, infrastructure, electricity, etc. and we have failed in many other things. For example, the roads are very poor, hospitals have indequate staff and drugs; etc. But we should use the last 50 years to reflect on our past and chart the way forward for a Uganda we want in the next 50 years. We should use this time to plan for our children,” said the old man.

Whatever the case, Uganda has much to celebrate in the last 50 years: an economy that in spite of recent high inflation, has grown steadily for a quarter century, a healing rift after civil war in the northern region, and gains against HIV/AIDS. But the rising levels of corruption and oppression of opposition leaders have marred Jubilee celebrations, as well as the legacy of the President.  Fixing these challenges should be on Uganda's leaders' mind.


  1. The poor will always be there but only that the country should come up with better policies to help address this!!

  2. Policies to help the poor should include reguglated and reasonable expenditure on luxuries. That, in my opinion, would be the best golden jubilee gift to the country.

  3. What would u say see'g ur president drive in a cheap car,compare sevo z car n PK z car coz he atleast has tried 2 somethng but y doesnt he go 4 arelatively cheap car...2 make as long as its of high quality n rite price.

  4. A country should get its priorities right,whats the point of riding a 3billion car while others remain without food,basic amenities,poor roads etc.