EAR TO THE GROUND Charles Onyango-Obbo
There are two Ugandas; the 1st and 2nd republics
September 12, 2007
Recently MP Hussein Kyanjo got very many people, from the fattest political cats at the top, to small time village NRM officials, very agitated when he suggested that it might be better for Uganda to secede, because it has got a very raw deal under the government of President Yoweri Museveni.
Funny thing is, Kyanjo is right. The surprise is his failure to note that various selected parts and groups of people have been seceding from the main Uganda for years. The secession that has been happening in Uganda, is not the type that was attempted between 1967 and 1970 when mainly the Igbo southeastern provinces of Nigeria tried to break away from the rest of the country as the self-proclaimed Republic of Biafra.In Uganda, it is the various governments and leaders who have been leading “their people” in secession movements against the rest of the country.
Consider this. Many, many years ago, our father used to work in Fort Portal. Naturally, we travelled a lot between Fort Portal and Tororo.As soon as we left Kampala to head westward, things changed. We encountered roadblocks manned by heavily armed Special Force police and soldiers. We only used to see machine guns in movies, so the sight of the real thing really fascinated us.
Nearly every time we would ask our parents why there were guns only in Buganda. And they would reply that it was because there was a “state of emergency” there. I didn’t understand what “state of emergency” meant until several years later when I went to secondary school. Anyhow, because of the “troubles” in Buganda, which led to the storming of Kabaka Mutesa’s palace and his exile, and eventually, the abolition of the 1962 constitution, the government suspended a wide range of civil liberties in the region.
Some republicans argue that when Mengo passed a resolution ordering the “government of Uganda” to “leave Buganda’s soil”, it declared secession, and sought to return to the “special status” the region enjoyed before independence.
If that were the case, then the ultimate irony is that Buganda got a “special status” in Uganda, though not the type it was looking for. Rather it was the government of Uganda that sealed off Buganda, and ruled it as a mini police state, denying citizens there rights other Ugandans enjoyed.
Things have remained the same since then. Governments don’t want to hear talk of secession, while on the other hand it is seceding.There was the Field Marshall Idi Amin era. Amin and his circle created a small country and seceded from Uganda. In that that “state within Uganda”, call it “First Republic”, they would fly in planeloads of the finest whisky, wine, designer clothes and condiments to bake up a cake worthy of an emperor, for their weddings.
Meanwhile in the “Second Republic” shops were empty. No salt, no soap, no milk, no toothpaste, no cooking fat. Nothing. In the Second Republic most families went without sugar, and couldn’t find soda or beer for their weddings.
Every Ugandan regime has maintained this separate First Republic. When their wives and daughters are ready to deliver their babies, they are flown to Europe at taxpayers’ expense. Meanwhile, there is no medicine to treat malaria in the “Second Republic” hospitals. A captain with First Republic connections will be flown to Germany for treatment if he is wounded in battle, while another captain from the “Second Republic” struggles for his life in some rundown military hospital.
Then the groups and families in the First Republic get most of the top public jobs and lucrative state tenders, while those from the Second Republic grass. In other words, there are groups that are ‘eating’, that have seceded from the “non-eating” ones.In politics too there was secession. The government created a separated world of the Movement. This was the First Republic. Here you could campaign for office without harassment, and get money from state coffers to buy votes.
The Second Republic that had been left behind, was occupied by multipartyists and other “misguided” elements. Police broke up their seminars, and helicopter gunships were deployed to scatter their rallies. And they couldn’t even use their own money to buy votes.
Then we had the infamous “Karuma Line”, the secession line that carved northern Uganda from the rest of the country. The rest of us lived in the First Republic, where life was normal. In the northern Second Republic, the “other Uganda” lived in terror, abject poverty. In short, in the Stone Age.
In fact, for quite a while, government (and some international finance organisations’) economic statistics excluded the Second Republic, because things were so bad that if you added the poverty levels there to the national count, the standard of living of Uganda dropped sharply.
In Uganda, a ruling class and government can secede. But Kyanjo cannot do so from the Opposition benches. He must wait until he is in power.