A characterization of Uganda that sounds a lot like Zimbabwe

Jan 31, 2012

An article in a Ugandan publication serves as a useful reminder that none of the problems that Zimbabweans are grappling with are unique to their country. The exact nature and extent of the problems may differ, but there is a surprising same-ness to the issues, their causes and the sense of leaders whose concerns are very distant from those of ordinary citizens.

The November 2011 article has the strong heading, ‘Uganda: The rotten state.’   

‘How did we come to this? All over Uganda; homes, offices, restaurants, warehouses, and workshops are in darkness.’

All over Zimbabwe, homes and offices are in darkness over chronic power cuts as well. One of the most disheartening things about Harare is driving at night on pitch-dark major streets that were once brilliantly lit. On many of these streets this is not just because of power cuts, but long periods of neglect.

‘Inflation is now past 30 per cent, profit margins have been eroded, the boarding schools realize that even their fee raise of last term was not enough to cover the effects of inflation but can’t bring themselves to announce yet higher fees.’

Fortunately Zimbabwe’s hyperinflation is a thing of the past, though the effects and trauma of that era remain. Zimbabwe now enjoys an inflation rate of less than 5%, but the memories of inflation measured in the millions of percent will not soon fade from collective memory. The inflation-caused problems briefly described in the Uganda article are very familiar to Zimbabweans, even though that country’s current 30% inflation, bad as that is, is nothing compared to the worse of what Zimbabwe went through. Hopefully Uganda does not repeat the full Zimbabwe experience.

‘Groups in Uganda that are known to be risk averse are now at the point of being desperate enough to strike and march in protest.’

Uganda and Zimbabwe’s regimes are probably about the same in terms of their ruthless autocracy, the inducement of fear being a key part of retaining control. The periodic displays of that ruthlessness have made many groups of citizens ‘risk averse’ about protesting anything. But in Zimbabwe as in Uganda, tough economic times have forced people to take protest risks that they might not have before.

‘Garbage lies everywhere, from Kampala to Jinja, Mbarara, Entebbe, Masaka

One reads and hears often about how formally clean and orderly Harare now has mounds of trash everywhere.

‘In two major by-elections since the February 18, 2011 general election, disillusionment runs so deep…’

Zimbabweans know all about political disillusionment, whether before or after elections!

‘Today, except for the fact that the western media is focused on the Eurozone and US economic woes, they should be describing countries like Uganda as being in their own version of the Great Depression.’

This is a particularly interesting point. The Western media was gleefully all over the ‘Zimbabwe crisis’ story during the country’s own ‘Great Depression,’ from about 2004 to 2008. Uganda’s current troubles don’t sound anything as bad as Zimbabwe’s then, but obviously Ugandans measure things according to their own past, not those of another country’s.

Why are there no Western media stories about the ‘Uganda crisis?’ Could it be that while autocratic Zimbabwean strongman Robert Mugabe is a ‘bad boy,’ autocratic Ugandan strongman Yoweri Museveni is ‘good boy?’

The US imposed ‘targeted sanctions’ on Mugabe’s brand of autocracy, but the US has just sent ‘army advisors’ to help prop up Museveni’s brand of autocracy against a persistent rebel group.

Cynics will inevitably conclude that the main difference between the two African autocrats in the eyes of the Western media is that one dispossessed white farmers, while the other has no white farmers to dispossess.

‘Of course another glaring fact is that the Uganda of today is as failed a state as it was in 1986. It was consistent western diplomatic, military, intelligence, and financial aid to the
Museveni government that had kept the regime in power this long.’

Aha, so autocratic Museveni really is considered worthy of Western support, while autocratic Mugabe gets the demonization treatment.

‘Something must explain this failure of state and society. It is fashionable in the media to lay the blame at the feet of President Yoweri Museveni and in most ways, rightly so. However, a closer, more detached view of Ugandan society reveals that Ugandans helped bring on this national collapse to themselves.’

The same discussion has been held by Zimbabweans about the reasons for their own ‘failure of state and society’ for years.

‘So let’s endure the mud in the taxi parks and our neighborhoods, the rotten state of once respectable schools, the erosion of any sense of shame by public officials. Let inflation get to 50 percent by mid next year. Let Museveni and his cronies abuse power at will. Let prison be filled with the innocently convicted. This is part of that divine punishment. When we are done with it, a new Uganda will emerge.’

Indeed, may ‘a new Uganda’ emerge! But if the Zimbabwean example is anything to go by, things can get much, much worse than 30% inflation and the other things the author talks about, before there is any hint of a new society emerging. Zimbabwe has got over the worst of its crisis and its own ‘Great Depression,’ but several years later, there is no sign of a fundamentally ‘new Zimbabwe’ in the way the author hopes for a ’new Uganda.’ 

Uganda, Zimbabwe: Different countries and details, but much the same underlying governance rotten-ness.


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