In the shadow of potential Scottish independence, the citizens of Uganda had the opportunity to celebrate the nation’s Golden Jubilee. This marked Uganda’s 50 years of independence from Great Britain. On the 9th of October the festivity was divided in the eyes of its people. It was a time of singing, dancing and laughter for some. However, for those concerned with the poor state of affairs within Uganda, the celebration was met with disapproval.
Uganda has carried the burden of a brutal past tainted with violence and political unrest. In 1971, Idi Amin overthrew the government of President Milton Obote and amended the constitution to award him absolute power. Under Amin’s rule, Uganda experienced a colossal decline in its economic and social standings. Its citizens were exposed to deliberate human rights violations, such as the persecution of ethnic groups and the rape of his people, which led to the death of between 100,000 and 300,000 Ugandans. Power was eventually restored to Obote before being seized by current-day leader Yoweri Museveni, who has held the position of President since 1986. Though Museveni is praised for his opposition to human rights violations and paving the path for Ugandan economic recovery, his administration still faced threats from Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Kony, made famous by the Invisible Children campaign, considers himself a “prophet” with the vision of recreating Uganda based on his disturbing interpretation of Christianity. Kony and the LRA are responsible for kidnapping 8,000 to 10,000 children and forcing them into child soldiery or sex slavery. The resonating fear of Kony and his followers led to the displacement of nearly 1.5 million Ugandans. 60 percent of those 1.5 million citizens were forced into internally displace persons (IDP) camps from the resulting destruction caused by Kony and the LRA. Though pressure from the international community caused Kony and the LRA to flee into neighbouring Sudan, countless Ugandans are still stranded in IDP camps because of the destruction of their homes by rebels. In addition, 24.5 percent of Ugandans are living below the poverty line, causing children who should be obtaining an education to drop out of school and work low-wage jobs to support their families. These situations feed cyclical poverty in a nation from which millions of Ugandans are finding it extremely difficult to escape.
Critics of the Golden Jubilee celebrations pose the question of morality in celebrating the supposed freedom of a nation when so many of its peoples are still suffering. Hosting extravagant festivities with government money that could be going towards helping suffering citizens hardly seems justifiable, and Museveni has received backlash from his actions. An opposition movement against Museveni’s National Resistance Movement (NRM) party known as ‘For God and My Country’ (4GC) organised several protests against Museveni’s longstanding rule prior to the Jubilee. The President instructed the police force to crack down on protestors and many were subsequently jailed for expressing their opinions. Museveni’s high sensitivity to any outbursts against him during the celebration was due to his view of the Golden Jubilee celebrations as a means of strengthening his reputation in the public eye. Museveni, oddly enough, wanted to recreate the rise in popularity he saw Great Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II experience during last summer’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations. President Museveni has received criticism for his handling of Ugandan domestic affairs in the recent years, and is desperately trying to rehabilitate his image. According to Opiyo Dennis, a mentor working at the Upper Nile Institute for Appropriate Technology (UNIFAT) School in Uganda, citizens feel there is corruption associated with the President’s fiscal spending. Many believe that Museveni is allocating government money for the development of regions inhabited by the Ankole, the tribe he descends from. Dennis says that, “Since the rest of the country is left underdeveloped, citizens still do not feel as though they have acquired independence. Even if they have attained their independence from the British, they still feel they are being indirectly colonised by the Ankole [because of the allocated spending].” The economic situation in Uganda is such that poverty-stricken individuals cannot survive because of the inflated market prices. The government has done little to nothing to settle this persistent economic situation. Without experiencing the benefits that are associated with independence, it is understandable that the non-Ankole people of Uganda would not want to participate in the Golden Jubilee festivities.
The immorality associated with government spending on a celebratory occasion amidst a suffering population, along with the ulterior motives of the government-promoted festivities, emphasise the reasons for controversy around Uganda’s Golden Jubilee celebrations. However, while the problems stemming from the horrors of Uganda’s past have not yet been completely fixed, there are still individuals in Uganda that believed the festivities were exactly what the nation needed. Advocates of the celebration point out that when comparing the status of the nation when it achieved freedom in 1962 to the status of the nation today, there has notably been nothing but improvement. They call 4GCs opposition of the celebrations unintelligent, and argue that the group does not understand the dynamics of Uganda.
Despite extremely differing viewpoints on the legitimacy of the Golden Jubilee celebration, the festivities were earnestly carried out while showcasing Uganda’s rich culture and heritage that gives the nation its beauty. While Opiyo Dennis was in the United States during the celebration, he says he came back to many stories about the excitement associated with the festivities from his friends and family. Instead of Museveni being unified with the people through the celebration, Uganda’s Golden Jubilee seemed to unify the people of the nation with each other. The tragedy and suffering that the people of Uganda have endured are best understood by the people themselves. Regardless of what happens as Uganda continues to work to decrease its poverty and strengthen its economic and social standings, the people of Uganda will always have the safeguard of a common identity. Within the ten years to the Diamond Jubilee, citizens should be able to agree upon the legitimacy and hopefully well-deserved nature of the celebration of independence.