My friend, novelist Brig Chuka Kibuuka loves to say that after Lyantonde—as one travels from southwestern Uganda towards east into Buganda, Busoga, onwards—there are “no serious people.” But “lazy fools.”
Everyone after Lyantonde is poor both materially and mentally, Kibuuka says. Please note that Brig Kibuuka is not tribal. He is a humorous and quite cosmopolitan man. But he is non-analytical, loose, and acutely obsessed with what he sees, visuals: lush banana plantations, curvy well-fed damsels, and cattle herds common in southwestern Uganda. He endlessly contrasts these visuals against the pale and often unkempt plantations in Buganda, and jigger-infested and starving Busoga.
He is full of jokes about the mud-and-wattle, grass-thatched huts in central and Eastern Uganda, against the all-brick mansions across southwestern Uganda. He takes these as markers of seriousness and individual genius of the people of southwestern Uganda. (I know, he never accounts for the tribal advantaging of Museveni’s government but I will not hold that against him today).
Just to note that these are the same comparisons that informed Museveni’s cynicism when he ridiculed Busoga recently. I agree, both men are handicapped by their soft lives. Because Museveni hails from southwestern Uganda (Ankole), and the seat of government is in the central (Buganda), these juxtapositions between Buganda-Busoga poverty and southwestern Uganda wealth have become commonplace.
A great deal of fiction and tribal sentiment filters through these comparisons, again, thanks to Bwana Museveni—and could be recipe for disaster. My concern today is that these comparisons, unfortunately locate some in-born genius or lack of it, in the individuals or cultures of either side.
In truth, however, the difference between the material conditions (housing, food, farmlands, cattle herds) in southwestern Uganda and the scarcities in the central has a different history, which has nothing to do with anyone’s genius. But the aggression of the so-called “international” political economic regimes.
On either side of this contention, all Ugandans are victims. The difference in conditions in Buganda and Busoga are the prime examples of (a) the ruins of structural adjustment, and (b) early cosmopolitanism in the central as the southwest remained agrarian, almost untouched by colonial modernity.
My father’s story
Last week, I wrote about my father, Hassan Byekwaso Tibamanya (or Butamanya as he recently amended his surname). I return to his story with more details and insight As a young man whose education reached Junior Level II (Namagabi Secondary School), this man joined the working-class in the early 1960s with the rise of industrialisation in Jinja.
From Kayunga, he went to Jinja where he joined Muluk Textiles, skilling his hands as cone-winder. He would then join Print-Park printers as darkroom assistant, before joining Nyanza Textile Industries Ltd (Nytil).
He would work with Nytil for the next 20 years (1973-1995) rising to the position of senior weaver. Those days, flawless in several Bantu and Nilotic languages, including Ngakarimojong—as Jinja was a melting pot of languages—like many of his peers, this man was dandy and sleek. He was the dream of independent Uganda.
As Eli Wamala, summarised, “they ate what they ate.” Riding their glistening Raleigh bicycles, they were the men about town, playing both league and corporate football. My father was the traditional Number 7 for Nytil.
As a young man, raised in the cattle corridor, he had left over 50 head of cattle in Bbale and over 20 acres of land. Like many of his generation, he was determined to embrace a colonial modernity, become working-class or even capitalist later in life.
Please follow the timelines: in the late 1980s, Museveni alongside the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) entered a deal to privatise all these companies that our parents worked for. (Well, WB-IMF forced these policies onto governments across Africa, but Museveni’s embrace, as Prof Mahmood Mamdani pointed out, was absolutely personal.
Him and his former rebels saw opportunity to both enrich themselves, impoverish nationals—making them more governable—but also endear themselves to returning colonisers). Hitherto government-owned Nyanza Textiles would be sold off to Picfare, which only turned into a storage facility.
The Nytil story is the story of Coffee Marketing Board, Lint, Chillington, Uganda Grain Millers, Tiptop Bread, Nuvita, Dunlop Tyres, British American Tobacco (BAT), Gomba Fishing Industry, Uganda Electricity Board, Print-Park, Uganda Argus, Uganda Commercial Bank, all Growers Unions, Uganda Hotels, and several others across the country. Our parents’ dreams would be permanently altered by Museveni’s gripping love affair with the World Bank and IMF.
FALSE ANKOLE-BUGANDA DIVIDE
It is here that my father’s story reflects the story of many people in Buganda and Busoga, and helps put the Buganda-Busoga vs Ankole debate in context. As early cosmopolitans, also altered by colonialism, Baganda and Basoga quickly moved away from agrarian or pastoral lives to wage labour as the country paced towards industrialisation.
Even farmers were cosmopolitanised through the growers and cooperative unions. While they still had their plantations, these were tended by labourers coming from Ankole and Rwanda.
The present conditions in Buganda and Busoga are because the modes of sustenance would be suddenly collapsed by WB and IMF – in servile association with a man with a cattle-herding worldview.
With industries and cooperative unions collapsed, the people in central Uganda struggled to return to their agrarian lifestyles. They had lost many years. Neither petty trade worked out for them as native credit banks were also collapsed—and Emmanuel Tumusiime-Mutebile executed this role till his death.
While, on the other hand, the people in Ankole returned or continued with their agrarian lifestyles (with farming skills perfected from having worked in Buganda). They are now considered more sophisticated.
But they, too, are victims of the same terrible economy—with a banking regime, for example, which only cripples their efforts to process and sell their agricultural products at good prices, either aboard or an equally impoverished capital city. It is 30 years ago since all this stuff happened—Washington Consensus and Museveni are still in place—and Buganda and Busoga are still struggling. Ankole is in this trap as well.
The author is a political theorist based at Makerere University.