Uganda: A New Year's Resolution in No Hurry to Be Achieved
As hopes and wishes for a prosperous a new century engulfed many peoples and nations around the globe, Uganda's list of wishes was by far the longest. President Yoweri Museveni appeared on Uganda's official TV station only half an hour before the New Year was to start and said, "We must industrialize our economy. We should not look after goats, cows or just tend peasant farms."
But how can one of the world's poorest countries move to industrialization while over 86 percent of its work force relies on agriculture? How can this war-torn nation break the cycle of AIDS, hunger, civil war, corruption and move into a prosperous and happy new century? What must Uganda do to live?
President Museveni, who has been in charge of the country's political strategies for 14 years, is now vowing to renovate the shabby economy. While many African countries owe their devastated economies to painful and costly civil wars, Uganda validates such a theory, for it is just as well the victim of many long insurgencies. And like many other African countries where internal affairs and conflicts often spill into neighboring countries, Uganda still is engaged in many tangled disputes and alliances.
In 1997, Uganda was an enthusiastic supporter of Laurent Kabila who seized power in Zaire, renaming it the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). After helping him in his rebellion, only one year passed before Ugandan troops were in the battlefields of DRC, aiding insurgents who were fighting to oust Kabila. Uganda was clearly fighting the battle for its own reasons, for the government's main opposing group, Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), launched its deadly attacks against western Uganda from bases on the Congolese side of the Rwenzori Mountains.
On Dec 8, Uganda signed an agreement with the Sudanese government whereas both agreed to halt their aid to each other's rebels. The two countries' commitments seem, thus far, genuine, as both have abided by the terms therein, releasing scores of prisoners and exchanging visits where officials appear cheerful before cameras.
Following the Ugandan President's New Year's message to his people, the ADF rebels also had their own message, which they were eager to deliver. While Museveni's vows were aimed at keeping the country's various groups and religious sects united, the ADF's message was a challenge to the Dec 8 accord arranged and signed between Ugandan and Sudanese officials. The ADF hoped to tell Museveni that their three year long fight to oust him would never be halted, with or without Sudanese aid. The message however, was written in blood and ashes. The blood belonged to over 50 Ugandan villagers who were slaughtered in West Uganda's villages and the ashes belonged to other innocents who were burned alive in their huts, also burned by rebels. The message was delivered in full.
The recent killings forcing thousands more Ugandans to flee their villages to other areas naïvely assumed to be safe havens. But with over 200,000 already displaced in impoverished and unprotected camps, and more on the move, one wonders whether escaping is more profitable than standing still. Moreover, most of the recent killings took place in the many scattered refugee camps.
The recent rise in violence from rebel soldiers could also mean that the latter is desperately trying to demonstrate its capability to survive the Ugandan-Sudanese accord. Unless the ADF fails to find a new source of aid, it is likely that their military impact could be greatly crippled. Such a possibility can be strengthened if a recent report published by the government-owned New Vision Newspaper is indeed found true. The report says that many Congolese soldiers, who backed the Ugandan rebels' war against the government, are fleeing the rebel bases in eastern Congo as they anticipate a significant military loss due to the lack of aid.
Until the war is truly over, Uganda's New Year's resolutions are put on hold. Industrialization cannot be achieved nor can poverty be dealt with as long as the country's budget is drained by the costs of a flaming and savage war. And so far West Uganda's villagers are unable to see the dawn of a prosperous millenium through the scary dark night of the past one. For them however, surviving the war and saving their old worn-out huts is all that they wish for, even if that means "looking after goats, hens and cows" for many years to come.
Topics: Conflicts And War, Uganda