By Nangayi Guyson
His Royal Highness the Duke of Kent who represented the Queen, chats with Rwandan President Paul Kagame at Kololo airstrip during the anniversary to mark Uganda’s 50 years of independence (Photo courtesy of Rwanda Presidential Press Unit (RPPU)
Thousands of Ugandans filled the Independence Ground at Kololo Airstrip just outside Kampala to mark the country’s Golden Independence Jubilee Anniversary. Uganda is celebrating 50 of Independence from British colonial rule which took stretched from 1894 to 1962.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who has made history himself by leading the country half of that time, was the guest of honour together with his wife Janet Museveni. Heads of state from Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and Ethiopia, graced the pompous ceremony. British rule over Uganda came to an end on October 9, 1962 with the Union Jack being replaced with the Uganda National flag which was handed over to then Prime Minister Milton Obote during Independence Day on 9 October, 1962. His Royal Highness the Duke of Kent who 50 years ago presented the country’s independence to Dr Obote, was in Uganda for the first time since 1962 to represent Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
In his speech to mark the occasion, President Museveni, who shot his way to power after overthrowing the regime of Gen Tito Okello Lutwa and having fought against the regime of Milton Obote before that, again predicted that the country which has suffered several dictatorship since independence including an army take-over by Gen Idi Amin in 1971, is on course to achieving a first-world status.
Having started his reign in 1986 with a ten-point programme, Mr Museveni seemed to have come out with yet another ten-point programme which he this time named ‘10 key bottlenecks’. Mr Museveni who this year won a consecutive fourth five-year term in office, said these bottlenecks were: fighting ideological disorientation, eliminating sectarianism, improving education to refine human resources, facilitating private sector-led economic growth, developing road, rail and electricity infrastructure, market expansion through regional cooperation, pursuing industrialization for exports, developing the service sector to create jobs, modernizing agriculture to increase household incomes and deepening democratic governance.
When he first came to power, President Museveni’s earlier 10-point programme included democracy, security, the consolidation of national security, the elimination of all forms of sectarianism, defending and consolidating national independence, building an independent, integrated and self-sustaining economy, restoring and improving social services and rehabilitating war-ravaged areas, eliminating corruption and the misuse of power, redressing errors that had resulted in the dislocation of the population and improvements of others, cooperating with other African countries in defending human and democratic rights of ‘our brothers’ in other parts of Africa and following an economic strategy of mixed economy.
While Ugandans and mostly regime supporters were celebrating at Kololo, the country’s opposition leader was under house arrest at Kasangati on the Gayaza Road where armed police have put up a strong show of force to stop him from leaving his house and exercising his right to freedom of movement and speech. Dr Kizza Besigye, who is the leader of the country’s largest opposition party, the Forum for Democratic Change, has been under preventive house arrest for the last two weeks. His house is surrounded by hundreds of riot, regular and anti-terrorism police to stop him from leaving it.
Military and anti-riot police were on Tuesday deployed heavily in Masaka Municipality, south of the capital Kampala, to prevent any planned demonstrations by members of the opposition. The opposition threatened to go on streets and demonstrate while the country was celebrating the Independence Golden Jubilee.
According to the Southern Regional Police Commander, Mr. Simon Peter Wafana, police were deployed to maintain peace as Ugandans mark the Independence Golden Jubilee. It is reported that suspected groups of youth from Masaka distributed anti-government leaflets on streets with messages saying that Uganda has had ‘50 years of bondage and suffering under dictatorial rulers’ and that this period was not worth celebrating.
Political analysts and opposition parties in Uganda say that for more than half a century, the government of Uganda has still not made the necessary transition to genuine democracy. Many Ugandans who did not join the celebrations say they are not yet independent and are unsure about their future. They say true independence celebrations should have been based on the release of falsely accused political prisoners, the restoration of human rights, the declaration and implementation of zero tolerance to corruption, economic freedom for all, security, quality infrastructures likeroads, and the freedom of speech to all Ugandans. Many Ugandan journalists continue to be harassed by the army and police for airing views of the opposition either on private radio and TV stations or in the newspapers.
In Karamoja, northern Uganda where his wife Janet is Minister for Karamoja, locals were angry that they had been denied the right to take part in the golden jubilee celebrations after the government ordered that all district celebrations be done after yesterday’s ceremony to enable district leaders to attend the Kololo ceremony. The decision angered locals who suggested that the government could have allowed the districts also to celebrate the independence since the districts have deputy Regional District Councillors (RDCs) and the vice chairpersons and Assistant chief Administrative officers.
“We have never seen Independence day being postponed. This is not NRM day or Labour Day. If the president was interested [to have top district leaders with him at Kololo] then it would have been better to leave the districts to conduct celebrations because deputy RDCs and their vice chairpersons, and Chief Administrative officers would pass us a national message,” said John Teko a resident of Katanga in Moroto Municipality. Peter Loputh a resident of Nakapiripirit district described the government move of postponing the Independence Day as selfishness. “Now it has called the RDCs, LCV chairpersons and CAOs to Kololo. Are those the only Ugandans?” he asked.