The last few years seem to confirm that Uganda is a stratified ecosystem of unraveling social problems. The different sub-regions continue to flounder in major social problems whose solutions seemingly simple have proved hard to find. Some of these problems have their roots in our colonial past while others are related to demographic changes, socio-political conditions and cultural processes.
A quick recount will reveal the following. In Acholi, the population continues to grapple with the uncertainty of sustainable peace in the region; the breakage in the moral fabric; and post-war trauma and infrastructural breakdown. The Ankole region is still trapped in the nascent problem of land acquisition by a majority of poor Banyankole; the unresolved ethnic conflicts between the Bahima and Bairu; the muffled restoration of the institution of the Obugabe; limited access to clean and safe water; limited local markets of dairy products; declining agricultural productivity and the fear of the possible extinction of the longhorn Ankole cow. Buganda is no different, the unresolved land issues involving massive non-baganda settlement on the Buganda soil; the issue of the non-recovered Buganda assets (ebyaffe); the general trepidation between the central government and the Buganda kingdom; the spiraling environmental degradation and of course the declining growth of Buganda’s staple food, matooke due to the infestation of the banana wilt disease remain key issues to date.
The Bugisu and Bukedi regions remain startled with the land slide catastrophes; declining fortunes of coffee farming; and the political squabbles linked to intra-ethnic fragmentation. In Bunyoro, it is the limited access to clean water; uncertainty on whether the recently discovered oil in the region will benefit the Banyoro; the incessant epileptic conditions amongst the natives; insurmountable levels of youth unemployment; rocking levels of child labour; land wrangles between the Banyoro and Bafuruki, all still top the key social issues in Bunyoro.
Differently, in Busonga, the rampant problem of river blindness amongst the Basoga; poor hygiene; the unending hunger situation; ethnic divisions and discord on traditional cultural leadership and the proliferation of jiggers in the region have crippled development in the region. While in Kigezi, limited land and limited access to employable modern farming habits by the averagely poor farmers (or better put, peasants); and the perceived marginalization and exploitation of the Batwa in Kigezi are the currently acing problems.
In Karamoja, it is the poor security of lives and property; chronic food insecurity; and lack of programmes to harness the natural resources in the region. Whereas in Lango it is land grabbing disputes as people continue to return from the IDP camps; and the general feeling of social exclusion by the natives in relation to national issues.
The Sebei and Teso sub-regions are struggling with the chronic cattle rustling and the unresolved sentiments on the Mukurra massacre. The Toro and Rwenzori regions continue to grapple with the rising levels of moral decadency; and the 1962 Batoro, Bakonzo, Bamba unsettled ethnic disputes. In the West Nile, it is the limited and inaccessible coverage of electricity; and issues to do with the porous borders with DRC and Sudan.
Alongside all these dampening social issues in each of the regions, a cross cutting diagnosis of the country still reveals the following critical social challenges: the horrendous poverty levels; asymmetrical delivery of health, education services; gender discrimination; unspeakable employment levels; poor infrastructure; capricious climatic changes; unbridled corruption in the public and private sectors; dire crime levels and of course the ever mounting terror attack threats on Uganda.
Correlatively, all these are at play in a country that has not yet developed and integrated a fully-fledged social protection framework for its populace.
There was remarkable excitement and hope at the adoption of the eight Millennium Development Goal (MDGs) at the dawn of the year 2000. Globally, this was the first time universal development benchmarks were set and a clear mechanism of performance monitoring of the goals instituted. Very surprisingly the leaps towards achieving these goals by 2015 for Uganda, still hang in balance. As usual, one of the reasons as to why the country is in this predicament is the questionable commitment of the political powers that be to achieve the goals amidst the unchecked corruption vice.
The next new hope for a reversal of Uganda’s socio-economic dilemma is the OIL discovery in Western Uganda. Some sections of society especially those in the political cluster are optimistic that once Uganda swings into oil production, there will be high possibilities of socio-economic growth and improved welfare of the whole population. However the bigger population which doesn’t seem to clearly understand how the government plans to harness the oil resource remains very pessimistic on the benefit of the resource to the entire country.
The certain, uncertain, visible and invisible social challenges that continue to bewilder Uganda must be confronted by collective citizen action. There is unquestionable need to build critical citizen-based social movements that challenge the sources of these crises in each of the segmented regional ecosystems. Unless citizens are willing to come together to advance ideas and action against their smaller local level social problems shall they then be able to overcome the complex cross cutting development issues that confront their country. While citizen groups seek to influence policy in their local setting, they need not ignore the impact that a muzzled and polarized society has on advocacy efforts. The decentralized citizen engagement efforts should not be for mere bigoted self aggrandizement at the local level but for the greater good of the entire nation.