Most times when I compare Uganda with western democracies, I find myself being vilified left and right by critics, who claim that Uganda is a baby democracy and shouldn't be compared to the likes of Britain and America.
Nevertheless, these comparisons can teach us something – for we are not trying to do something that has never been done. Let us take a quick look at the course one of Uganda's estimable friends- America at fifty years after Independence.
In 1826, when the United States of America was marking fifty years of independence, it was celebrating its success in ending the American-Franco war through diplomatic means; it was celebrating the purchase of the Louisiana territory from France for $15 million; it was celebrating the steady expansion in the market economy, trade and business.
By the fiftieth anniversary, America was talking about multi-million dollar accomplishments such as the construction of the Erie Canal that commercially linked the West and the East. Actually, very interestingly and very specifically, at that time, the American economy was already absorbing up to 80 percent of rural women into different kinds of factories.
So, how does 50-year-old Uganda compare?
Fifty years after Independence, Uganda is still grappling with the 80 percent youth unemployment rate. At 50, we are still struggling with creating comprehensive policy frameworks to manage such crisis unemployment levels. It is important to note that unlike Uganda, which fought light wars on the course to independence, the Americans fought large scale liberation wars against British forces.
In Uganda, previous wars have only served to divide the country on the basis of regions. In America the liberation struggles built a very strong sense of national union and identity, which was evident at America's golden jubilee and after. In Uganda, 50 years after independence, our identity is still in question – it is ethnicised, fragmented, narrow and based on people's physical features.
Worse still, there doesn't seem to be any common consensual platform to guide and reinvigorate nationalism. Some of those in charge of our state affairs have often found themselves in a sticky situation of sowing ethnic divisions as opposed to denouncing threats of didunity as avowals of treason.
Today, Uganda is still engrossed in the prominent 'northern concerns versus southern fear syndrome'. This syndrome continues to strike down the nation of Uganda and the cohesion amongst the people of Uganda. It is, however, shocking that with the numerous ethnic and racial diversities in the United States there was not any serious racial and ethnic violence in the run up to the first fifty years of independence.
The law of comparison, of course, necessitates that one highlights similarities and differences. There is quite a bit about the evident differences between Uganda and America at fifty years after Independence. My parting short will entail a trace of similarities between America and Uganda at fifty.
In America, the 1820s constituted a transitional period, intellectually, generationally, and socially. A very interesting point of comparison relates to the Americans' attitude toward the Constitution of the United States in the period leading up to the fifty years of independence.
During the years of 1825 and 1826, several proposed constitutional amendments sought to redefine American democracy by imposing term limits and eliminating the Electoral College. Similarly, at the dawn of the golden jubilee, Ugandans seem to be determined to restore confidence in their 1995 Constitution by, first of all, calling for the restoration of the presidential term limits.
Could fifty be the magic number for leadership term limits?
Yes, today, Uganda has all the potential and the compulsion to be like America at fifty. What we need are those leaders that inspire the nation to think and act as a nation. For us as citizens, our responsibility should be to dream, make and act on plans that make Uganda better. Our future is in the making and only we are responsible for making it happen.
Crispy Kaheru is project coordinator, Citizens' Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU).