Uganda’s upcountry towns: Who will revive them?

Late last week I visited Hoima Town as part of my photo research tour of Uganda. I started to feel depressed half an hour after arriving in Hoima. I had never been there.
Hoima, the main town of Bunyoro and seat of the kingdom, is largely a trading town just slightly more vibrant than Mityana. I would put it in the same grouping as towns such as Malaba, Lyantonde, Mityana, Busia, Iganga, Kasese, Mubende and Lugazi.
Other than retail trade and everything else conducted and performed at a retail level, there is not much going on there.
Bunyoro was once the most powerful political and military entity in the future territory that would be called Uganda. Banyoro who lived in the 18th Century would be astonished if they came back to life and saw the state in which their kingdom is today.
There is not a single town in Bunyoro that ranks anywhere near the most developed in Uganda.
The situation upcountry continues to bother many of us.
I am quite sure it started to bother and frustrate President Museveni long before us and realising the limits of his ability and competence to transform Uganda, he gave up and turned instead to his personal betterment.
Just as Opposition parties and many citizens feel frustration that they somehow have been unable to remove Mr Museveni from power after nearly 30 years of trying, for his part it must be equally frustrating to the leader who, as a student at Ntare School in the 1960s, liked to boast about how intelligent he is.
Despite that supposed intelligence, three decades in which to apply it to Uganda’s development challenges, billions in aid and investment money flowing into Uganda, his trips upcountry are an uncomfortable reminder that perhaps he might not be as intelligent or competent a leader as he once imagined.
The condition of these upcountry towns is also a good reminder to the optimists not to judge Uganda’s development in terms of Kampala. It is also a reminder of why per capita GDP, rather than nominal GDP is a more accurate measure of a country’s standing.
From the conversations I was able to pick up about the oil industry and the situation over land in the Buliisa area, for as long as the NRM government remains in power, the pattern of growth in Bunyoro even when or if oil production begins in full will be similar to what we see in Kampala.
The public sector and infrastructure will be given only token attention and the passion and resources directed by the country’s top politicians toward personal gain, with property bought in North America, Europe and South Africa.

Total self-belief
All this, of course, takes me back to reflecting on Europeans. They seem to be the only people in the world with total self-belief. Western governments will impose their will on Third World countries and their intelligence services will meddle in the political and military situation in foreign countries.
But all this effort, as annoying as it is to us in the Third World, is carried out with one goal in mind: to aance Western interests.
The Chinese, Japanese and Koreans also have similar goals but not to the full extent that is what we see with the West. Chinese and Japanese elites will send their children to universities in the West, but it will almost never happen that European elites send their children to universities or military academies in non-Western countries.
Even when Western companies invest abroad, the end goal is to make the West more dominant or to keep it dominant. The ultimate goal of the plunder and greed by the African elite, by contrast, is much simpler: to secure one’s family a comfortable future. The country does not feature in their minds.
It is this difference in mindset that guarantees that in the next 20 years, Europe is going to re-colonise Africa.
With pressure from the rising China and the competition for the world’s resources growing stiffer every year, I do not see which African country has the kinds of politicians, academicians, media, civil society, religious leaders and outlook to marshal their people to a more powerful and ambitious sense of nationhood to stand up for Africa’s resources.
We are simple people, with simple life goals and this task, as far as I see, is mentally beyond us. The only hope will be for those same foreign capital interests, in their self-interest, to build the infrastructure that will give a modicum of modernity to our dying towns.
The Chinese are already doing a large part of that, constructing highways and repairing roads all over the country. In exchange for this, they who have a sense of national purpose that we lack, get to win concessions on oil and other mineral exploration.
The only role of our political and cultural elite, as it has been since the first Europeans arrived in Uganda in the mid 19th Century, will be to act as local negotiation partners and commission agents.
The Europeans and now the Chinese will get the lion’s share of the spoils, our “elite” will get to pocket money which they can never feel comfortable investing or displaying at home.
So they will take it to banks in Europe for safe-keeping, with the result that not only does Europe directly benefit from the exploration and exploitation rights secured in Africa, on African soil, but their banks also enjoy benefits from the commission money the African elite deposit in European banks.
And with the newly-gotten wealth by the short-sighted Africans, Europe also gets to enjoy further benefits when the African elite now with huge sums of money, buy German and British luxury cars and clothes.
In all its dealings with Africa, Europe always gains 90 per cent while Africa gains 10 per cent. This is the truth behind the current hype (although which has reduced a little in 2014) behind the cliché of “Africa rising.”

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SOURCE: Daily Monitor

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