Nestled in what many anthropologists consider the cradle of civilization and serving as a crossroads for the African continent throughout history, Uganda’s pre-colonial past was marked by the periodic migration, conflict and resettlement of hunter-gatherers and nomadic groups. As a result, today 48 different tribes and ethnic groups, speaking nearly as many languages, consider Uganda home. Arab traders and British explorers first reached the Pearl of Africa in the middle of the 19th Century, and by 1888, unbeknownst and of little immediate consequence to the majority of people living in the region, the territory was placed under the charter of the British East Africa Company. Territory was consolidated throughout this period of British rule, and by 1914, the protectorate had expanded to its present-day borders and had adopted its present-day name.
As part of the wave of African Independence that swept the continent in the middle of the 20th Century, Uganda became an independent nation on the 9th of October, 1962. After a brief attempt at a constitutional monarchy, the country descended into a dark period political turmoil, harsh military rule, and successive coups. Most notably Idi Amin, who seized power in 1971, presided over the deaths of more than a quarter of a million Ugandans, expelled all people of Indian descent, and was forcibly removed at the close of the decade. Two additional leaders fell before Yoweri Museveni and his National Resistance Movement (NRM) took power in 1986; Museveni has ruled the country ever since.
Over the past 20 years, President Museveni has had an enigmatic record on political reform and governance. At first, Museveni adopted a form of authoritarian populism. As the NRM established power, Museveni announced that the country was embracing a more authentically African system of government. Uganda would eschew Western system political parties that had, in his estimate, reinforced tribal and religious divisions on the continent. Thus, he banned political party activity to ensure that elected officials would be chosen by the people based solely on individual merit. In doing so, he secured the NRM’s monopoly on political power.
In the 1990s, however, Museveni came to be viewed as the model of good governance in Africa. First he embraced the market-based reforms and new public management systems touted by the developed world. As a result, the economy of Uganda began to grow. He became the developed world’s new champion for fighting corruption, and at one point United States’ (US) President Bill Clinton hosted him in the white house and declared him, “The head of a new breed of African leaders who will transform the continent to shed its image of poverty, disease and war.”
More recently, in the 2000s, Museveni has shifted away from the path of accountability, transparency and democracy. First off, he pushed through a constitutional amendment that opened the door to a life-time presidency. Though he honored a referendum of the people and lifted the ban on political parties shortly thereafter, his rival in the first real election had to flee the country due to state-sponsored violence. Furthermore, human rights charges have been brought against him in The Hague for Uganda’s involvement in the civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Finally, though he has enacted a great deal of the reforms enumerated by the World Bank and IMF, corruption grew to be so problematic that the Global Fund suspended operations within the country.