Lessons: Can Uganda Still Open Political Space And Avoid Upheaval Through Reforms?

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Gen. Yoweri Museveni -- can a man who claims to be the only "visionary" see need for reform?

[Global: Uganda]

Without a doubt Uganda is going through a difficult time politically, economically and socially. Studies from various credible sources have demonstrated that Uganda is a failed state and vulnerable to domestic and outside shocks.

The golden days when Uganda was presented as a success story in political stability and economic growth at home and regional leader in peace making came to an end around the start of the new century. Uganda has since experienced tremendous problems in virtually all areas of human endeavor.

Sweeping these problems under the carpet through a wide range of methods including providing dubious statistics about economic growth and per capita income, poverty reduction, school enrolment and blaming those still trapped in poverty for being lazy or diverting attention from domestic challenges by focusing on regional and global issues such as costly participation in regional conflicts as in South Sudan or campaigning for key positions in international institutions won’t solve the problem. Instead scarce human and financial resources should be used for development purposes and meaningful reforms adopted in the economic, social and environmental sectors.

Thus, what Uganda policy makers and their advisers need to do is inter alia to study how other governments dealt with challenges and escaped political revolts or revolutions. For a start, it might be helpful to study how Great Britain escaped the impact of the French and subsequent revolutions that swept across Europe and draw some lessons that might be applied to Uganda with modifications as appropriate.

In Great Britain political changes in the 17th century reduced conflicts between parliament and the monarchy.

Thus, Britain escaped the impact of the struggle between the Estates General (French Parliament) and King Louis XVI that resulted in the 1789 French Revolution with significant impact in many European countries including the 1830s and 1848 revolutions because it undertook major reforms under capable and pragmatic leadership especially during the long reign of Queen Victoria from 1837 to 1901.

Great Britain escaped the impact of the 1848 revolution in large part because the Reform Act of 1832 passed under the Whig (Liberal) government that opened the door for the industrial middle class that had accumulated wealth and wanted to participate in the country’s political process. The second Reform Bill that was passed in 1867 under the Tory (Conservative) government demonstrated the flexibility and pragmatism of British leadership in addressing political demands of the people. The Act extended democratization of the political participation by lowering the monetary requirements that enfranchised many male urban workers, raising the number of voters from one million to over two million.

Besides political reforms, Britain experienced favorable changes in the economic and social sectors that promoted stability and prosperity. The country not only experienced rapid economic growth but more importantly the benefits were equitably shared. Between 1850 and 1870, real wages for the working class increased by over 25 percent.

The liberal government from 1868 to 1874 introduced a wide range of impressive reforms. Through legislation and other arrangements the British civil service was opened to competitive examinations instead of sectarianism. In the area of education, reforms were undertaken at different levels. The 1840 Education Act made elementary school available to all children regardless of their background. The religious restriction for entry into Cambridge and Oxford for university education was dropped.

The reforms in the political, economic and social areas as well as the elimination of some human rights violations fostered competition over patronage and laid the foundation for stability, prosperity and strong institutions that addressed the domestic and external shocks that made the Victorian Age very successful. It was largely quality political leadership and the working relationship between parliament and the monarchy that provided space for the people of Great Britain to exercise their political, economic and social rights that contributed to stability and prosperity for the citizens and escaped upheavals in the wake of the French Revolution.

Thus, there are many lessons from the British experience that Uganda can draw on and reverse the current potentially dangerous political, economic and social trajectory.    

 

Eric Kashambuzi is an international consultant in development issues. He is based in New York, USA.

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