According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary, the term “sectarian” refers to ‘of or concerning a sect; bigoted or narrow-minded in following the doctrines of one’s sect; a member of a sect’.When the National Resistance Movement (NRM) government came to power in 1986, it launched the Ten-Point Programme for the advancement and security of all Ugandans. Point three of the programme stressed the consolidation of national unity and elimination of all forms of sectarianism which had divided the country along religious, ethnic and tribal lines. The NRM added that it was a home to everyone irrespective of party affiliation, colour, sex or height. The Movement would vigorously fight tribalism and religious sectarianism.
More than anything else, point three drew crowds to the Movement camp because Ugandans were tired of disunity, favouritism and inequality in the distribution of economic benefits and social services.
Initial appointments to the cabinet and civil service reflected the spirit of anti-sectarianism. Everyone looked forward to a rosy future where merit would be the criterion for political, economic and social mobility.
In anticipation that sectarianism was bound to occur, many Ugandans believe that the framers of the Ten-Point Programme deliberately introduced anti-sectarianism for the purpose of blocking any future attempt to criticise those that practised sectarianism on tribal and other fronts.
Indeed as time passed, some sections in the Movement and government began to feel that time had come to begin to dish out national benefits on a selected basis – hence sectarianism.
Key appointments and promotions, especially in strategic ministries such as Foreign Affairs, Finance and those connected with national security, began to drift in a certain direction. Some citizens got good jobs upon graduation and quick promotions while others spent years unemployed or when they secured employment it was temporary with low pay and no benefits. They could not meet basic needs of food, housing, clothing, health care or send their children to private schools.
On the other hand, those with good jobs and incomes built brick and tile houses, drove good cars – mostly 4×4, sent their children to private schools in Uganda or abroad, and got health care services in private facilities at home or abroad.
At a convention in New York of Ugandans living in North America (2006) which was well attended by cabinet ministers, presidential advisors, State House officials and party representatives, the issue of sectarianism in practice came up.
Participants spoke candidly that a section of Banyankole in south-west Uganda had reaped disproportionate benefits, meaning that point three of the Ten-Point Programme on national unity and elimination of all forms of sectarianism had not been implemented.
The dichotomy between poverty and wealth is visibly demonstrated in rural areas during the period between Christmas Day and the New Year.
Those well connected and highly paid drive home with their families in 4×4 vehicles, attend church service dressed elegantly and spend lavishly on food and drinks.
The marginalized ones – who are sometimes referred to as the lazy ones – struggle to buy a kilo of meat for a family of six or more, buy second hand clothes for themselves and their children, and most of them go to church barefoot on Christmas Day.
The author who has conducted research in the county of Rujumbura has witnessed these differences first hand. The findings were published in an article titled ‘How Bujumbura’s Bairu got impoverished’ in The Weekly Observer last December.
The purpose was to draw the attention of national and local authorities to the challenges in the county and how they came about so that corrective measures are taken.
The few who commented on the article, including historian Dr. Ephraim Kamuhangire, jumped to the conclusion that the article was filled with “hatred and sectarian bias” and was written to misinform the public.
This is a classic case of character assassination and intimidation that is stifling genuine debate and formulation of appropriate development programmes. Many Ugandans – abroad and at home – are afraid of expressing their opinions lest they are accused of sectarianism and what might follow – a regrettable development indeed!
Eric Kashambuzi, The author is a UN consultant based in New York, USA