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History & Background

Located in the heart of Africa, Uganda is a land-locked nation that straddles the equator. It shares a northern border with the Sudan, to its east it borders Kenya, to its south it borders both Tanzania and Rwanda, and to its west it borders the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Slightly smaller than Oregon, Uganda covers 91,076 square miles in area. Its capital, Kampala, has 954,000 residents. Other major cities include Jinja, Mbale, Masaka, Gulu, Soroti, and Mbarara. Uganda's population is 21,000,000 people and it is growing at a rate of 2.14 percent (Ramsey 1999), which represents a dramatic decline from the 4.6 percent growth rate that was normal during the 1960s. Tutsi refugees fleeing genocide in Rwanda partly accounted for the high growth rates of the 1960s. Uganda provides homes for hundreds of thousands of refugees from the Sudan, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Almost 87 percent of Ugandans are rural residents, while 13 percent are urban dwellers. During the 1990s, reverse migration of Tutsis from Uganda to their tragic homeland, Rwanda, caused growth rates to slow, as did the return home of many members of other ethnic groups to the Sudan and elsewhere. Diseases, such as AIDS, also dramatically cut population growth rates.

The infant mortality rate is 98.4 deaths per 1,000 live births. The average Ugandan woman gives birth to seven children, but many die before reaching their fifth birthday. By 1988 Uganda had 980 health clinics, 81 hospitals and 20,136 hospital beds. There is one doctor per 20,700 Ugandans and only 38 percent of Ugandans have access to safe drinking water. Ugandans consume 83 percent of the recommended daily average caloric intake. Life expectancy is 38 years for males and 40 for females due to AIDS and war. Debate is open and, when President Museveni recognized that over 30 percent of Ugandans were infected with the HIV virus, he made every department of government take the epidemic seriously and the incidence of HIV was reduced to 15 percent between 1986 and 1996 (Museveni 1993a).

Christians comprise 66 percent of Uganda's population, 16 percent are Muslims and the remaining 18 percent of Ugandans follow indigenous religions. Uganda has 40 ethnic groups, most of whom speak Bantu, Nilotic, or Sudanic languages. The principal languages spoken include English (the official language) and Swahili, but several Bantu and Nilotic languages are widely spoken as well, such as Luganda. The adult literacy rate is 48 percent.

Uganda sits atop a huge plateau almost 4,000 feet above sea level, surrounded by a rim of mountains to the east, north, and west, with Lake Victoria defining most its southern border. Swamplands are common along the lakeshore. Arable soil is common and suitable for farming. Perennial crops are grown throughout Uganda. Coffee, tea, cotton, tobacco, cassava, potatoes, corn, millet, pulses, and livestock grow in abundance throughout Uganda. Sugar, copper alcohol, cobalt, limestone, and salt are among Uganda's main exports. Uganda's economy is growing at an impressive 7.1 percent per year. Vast expanses of savanna grasslands mixed with trees cover much of the center of the country. Thick natural forests are found in the west. The climate is tropical and rainy in the south and semiarid and dry in the northeast (Karamoja) near the Sudan. Uganda has two rainy seasons, March through May and September through November. Average annual rainfall varies between 46 and 64 inches per year.

Nilotic-speaking Luo groups migrated from the Sudan into Uganda in the 1400s and 1500s, while the Portuguese were discovering how to circumnavigate the continent of Africa and Columbus was discovering the Americas (Tidy 1980). Luo groups founded several major kingdoms in Uganda, the most notable being the Buganda kingdom, organized by Luos who referred to themselves as the Baganda. When British colonial officers visited Uganda they were surprised to discover well organized kingdoms like the Buganda. The Baganda people had a king, whom they called the Kabaka, and a prime minister or Katikiro, and a parliament or Lukiko, composed of heads of each Baganda clan (Gibbs 1988). This well-organized, wealthy African kingdom had a large standing army and a navy that routinely patrolled and raided other kingdoms along the vast expanse of Lake Victoria, Africa's largest inland, freshwater lake.

Officially Uganda, from 1894 to 1961, was a British Protectorate much like Zanzibar. Britain never colonized the Baganda, rather they agreed to collaborate with them to dominate the traditional rivals of the Baganda, such as the Bunyoro (Beattie 1960). Bunyoro was a kingdom as powerful, well organized, and rich as the Baganda. For this reason they usually fought to a draw or tie. The Baganda used their alliance with Britain to tip the scales against their old enemies. Then they demanded tribute, which they divided with their British allies.

Lord Lugard perfected his system of "indirect rule" through his collaboration with the Baganda (Tidy 1980). Using foot soldiers imported from the Sudan who neither knew nor had sympathy for Ugandans, Lord Lugard and the Kabaka (king) defeated many African groups that opposed them. Swahili was the language of their joint army and consequently became despised by many Ugandan tribes as the language of the oppressor.

Swahili was also spoken in a previous era by slave raiders, thus it already carried a very negative association for most Ugandans (Mazrui 1984). This explains why many Ugandans prefer to speak English even though they know Swahili well, and why it is not the medium of instruction in schools. Swahili is associated with uneducated, rough individuals in Ugandan culture. Conversely, English became associated with missionary schools and, later, government schools, learning, sophistication, and power. The Baganda collaborated with the English because they also had monarchs and the English saw in the Baganda a people similar to themselves in many ways, as both had monarchs, parliaments, armies, and navies. Together they created what is today known as Uganda; the territorial boundaries that they established form the borders of modern Uganda.

Throughout the British Protectorate era Uganda was considered the "pearl of East Africa" by Britain (Tidy 1980). The soil was so fertile that British officials said that if you placed your fingernail clippings in the soil they would grow. Ugandan farmers often harvested three crops per year because of the combination of ideal climate, sunshine, rain, and fertile soil, combined with an industrious and enterprising African peasantry. The first British colonial university in East Africa during the colonial period was Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda's capital. Many future African elites from Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda were educated at Makerere. A few would go for further studies in Britain at Oxford or Cambridge University.

Informal education, or what anthropologist call enculturation, was offered by each ethnic group to train young men and women how to become acceptable and responsible adults in the eyes of their own group (Gibbs 1988). In 1886, formal Western education was introduced in Uganda by the Church Mission Society of London. Between 1886 and 1918 formal education was developed by religious organizations. They set the syllabi, wrote the curriculums, wrote and graded examinations, set standards of accomplishment for each grade, built and administered the schools, and trained the teachers who staffed them. Missionaries sought to win souls as much as to cultivate minds. Their method was to educate an elite cadre who would demonstrate the advantages of Christianity and thereby attract additional converts.

The British Colonial Office initially feared that training Africans might create unfulfillable aspirations (i.e., make Africans believe that they were equal to Europeans in a system based on the assumption of inequality). Educated Africans were often said to be "tragic Africans," because they thought themselves entitled to the same things that Europeans possessed. The colonial system was determined to deny them access to equality. As a result, the British Colonial Office did not begin building and controlling schools in Uganda until 1927.

Ownership of most schools remained in the hands of missionaries until independence, despite creation of a Ministry of Education in 1957 (De Bunsen 1953). Following independence, Africans felt that every place was potentially their place so they educated their children to fill every available position in the country in mass numbers. Lack of education would no longer be an excuse to hold them back or hold them down. Acquisition of education would open doors of power, influence, and scientific discovery previously locked. Education became the key to self-reliance and self-actualization throughout Uganda.

Apolo Milton Obote led Uganda to internal self-government within the British Commonwealth in 1961. Obote headed the Uganda People's Congress (UPC) and he became prime minister of an independent Uganda on 9 October 1962 (Mazrui 1984). Obote was an antimonarchist who sought to destroy the Kabakaship and the kings of the Bunyoro, Ankole, and other Ugandan monarchies. Obote was from northern Uganda, where few tribes had kings and most considered everyone equal. Equality was a foreign concept to the hierarchically organized tribes of the south, many of whom had powerful kings (Jorgensen 1981).

At independence Uganda was divided into four provinces, one of which was Buganda, with King Mutesa II serving as Kabaka. Mutesa II was also the first president. His reputation as a playboy and high stakes gambler while in England alienated him from Obote. Obote saw Mutesa II as a symbol of all that was backward, wasteful, and antimodern and Obote tried to undermine him.

In February 1966 Colonel Idi Amin, under orders from Obote, led the army to overrun Mutesa II's palace, and the Kabaka fled to London. Obote then suspended the Uganda Constitution of 1962. From 1966 until 1992 Uganda functioned without a constitution. During this period anarchy and chaos prevailed. Personal power prevailed above the "rule of law." This began more than 16 years of chaos and struggle between northern Ugandans and southern Ugandans over power. Inability to work out viable power sharing would prove tragic. Hundreds of thousands of Ugandans would die, several ethnic groups—including East Asians—would be forced to flee, and the country would descend into economic ruin. Its educational system, once the pride of East Africa, would suffer a precipitous decline in quality.

To appeal to non-Baganda, Obote returned land conquered by the Kabaka and the British to its Bunyoro original owners. Buganda's federal status and autonomy were abolished and the Baganda rebelled only to be crushed by the Ugandan army under Idi Amin. Amin was a soldier with a third grade formal education who rose through the ranks of the British army by personally killing hundreds of Kikuyu freedom fighters when he helped quell the Mau Mau rebellion during the 1950s. Using psychological warfare, he purportedly cut off the right hand of each Kikuyu whom he killed and wore them in battle.

In 1970 Obote tried to implement a socialist agenda known as the "Common Man's Charter" (Mazrui 1984). Before attending a Commonwealth conference in Singapore in September of 1971, Obote stripped Amin of most of his powers. However in July of 1971, General Idi Amin overthrew Obote before he could implement his socialist plan.

Amin developed a reputation as a brutal dictator. He suspended political activity and declared himself "head of state." He declared an "economic war," which amounted to little more than ousting the wealthy East Indians in 1972 who dominated Uganda's economy. Once they left, he distributed their property to his supporters, who promptly dissipated this wealth without generating new wealth. The result was economic implosion and collapse. The international community condemned Amin for the mass expulsion of East Asians, since many were Ugandan citizens.

Amin often ruthlessly eliminated opponents, and he feared educated Ugandans who he thought despised him for being uneducated so he had many professors, lawyers, doctors, and engineers killed. Those people who could escape the carnage became refugees in neighboring Kenya and Tanzania. Some fled to England, Canada, and the United States. Under Amin, massacres and atrocities were common and human rights violations were daily headlines. To distract Ugandans Amin claimed large regions of Kenya and Tanzania. In 1978 Amin annexed the Kagera Salient of Tanzania, igniting a war, which Uganda lost.

In 1979 a Tanzanian invasion force (Tanzanian Peoples Defense Force, TPDF), together with the Ugandan National Liberation Army (UNLA), formed of Ugandan exiles, defeated Amin's forces. Amin fled to Libya, and in 1980 took up permanent residence in Saudi Arabia. A series of seven, short-lived, unstable regimes were headed by Yusuf Lule, Godfrey Binaisa, Milton Obote, and Basilio Okello. General elections held in 1980 returned Obote to power, but because they were suspected to be rigged, Museveni and 26 supporters started a war of resistance against Obote.

Yoweri Museveni's National Resistance Movement (NRM) came to power in 1985 and introduced stability. Political parties were banned, as was political activity. He established a "no party" system of government with resistance committees at the local and district level who were responsible for maintaining security and eliminating corruption. Museveni fired 80 percent of the police because they were suspected of massive human rights violations and corruption (Museveni 1993a.) Members of resistance movements who did not accept offers to integrate into the new system were arrested and tried for treason.

The strain of integrating returning refugees and addressing the threat of internal resistance slowed Uganda's economic recovery and the rebuilding of its educational system. Late 1992 saw Uganda introduce a new Constitution for the first time since Obote suspended the 1962 Constitution. Rule of law was restored. In 2001 Museveni allowed political parties to form and to compete for all offices in national elections, including the race for president. Amid fears that Museveni would lose in a free and fair election, he defeated his opponent by winning 69 percent of the popular vote. These elections were certified free and fair by international monitors.

Museveni officially invited all expelled Asians to return and promised to restore expropriated property confiscated by Idi Amin. Prince Ronald Muwenda Mutebi was enthroned as Kabaka (king) in a ceremony attended by Museveni. He also attended the coronation of the king of Toro, Patrick Olimi Kaboyo, who became Uganda's ambassador to Cuba. Kings of Ankole, Busoga, and Bunyoro have also been installed since Museveni came to power. These coronations did a lot to restore the confidence of Southern Ugandan cultures in Museveni, since these groups have great affection for their monarchs. Museveni and Paul Kagame, the Rwandan head of state, are old comrades-in-arms. They appear to get along well and support one another. Museveni also has excellent relations with Tanzania's head of state, Benjamin Mkapa. Decades of torturous turmoil, death, and destruction have badly battered Uganda's educational system. Since 1985, Museveni has made significant strides toward rebuilding what was once an educational system that was the "pride of East Africa."

Additional topics

Education Encyclopedia - StateUniversity.comGlobal Education ReferenceUganda - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundations, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education