Monday, March 10, 2008

Uganda aids South Sudan

Important news from Uganda:
The government of South Sudan is discussing a deal in which the country’s students in Ugandan public universities will pay the same tuition as their counterparts.
Yesterday, the South Sudanese media reported that this was one of the issues President Salva Kiir discussed with President Yoweri Museveni during his two-day visit here last week.
“I have signed with the Uganda president to allow all our students to pay the same tuition fees as their natives,” Kiir told Sudanese students at the Imperial Resort Beach Hotel in Entebbe on Friday. . . .
It was, however, not clear whether the deal applied to private universities. Uganda has five public universities: Makerere, Kyambogo, Mbarara, Busitema and Gulu. The arrangement is part of the cooperation that includes pacts on transport and communication, health, culture and the media.
This cooperation between Uganda and South Sudan is a very positive step toward peace and prosperity in the region.
South Sudan (also known as "New Sudan") won autonomy from Khartoum after a 22-year civil war that ending in 2005. That war was caused by radical Islamicist elements in the Khartoum government, which sought forcibly to impose sharia law throughout Sudan. The Christians in southern Sudan -- under the leadership of Col. John Garang -- fought back and paid a heavy price for their freedom. Many from the South were carried away in slavery to the Islamic North, and atrocities were widespread. Khartoum sided with Saddam Hussein after he invaded Iraq in 1990; For five years (1991-96), Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda were based in Sudan.
One consequence of the long civil war was that it produced what has been called a "lost generation" of Sudanese who have had little or no formal education. Among the South Sudan war veterans I met during my February trip to Africa were some who joined the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) as young as 11.
However, I'm not sure that "lost generation" phrase -- with its overtones of hopelessness -- is entirely fair to the Sudanese. These veterans (such as my Dinka friend Santino, shown in the photo) are Christian men with the kind of personal dignity that befits such military heroes. Their long years of army discipline will surely make them valuable citizens in peace.
Nonetheless, the opportunity for South Sudanese students to attend Uganda's universities at standard tuition will be a tremendous aid to South Sudan's efforts to rebuild its economy and civil society.

The Remarkable Museveni
The mention of Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni in this Monday news story gives me an opportunity to discuss this amazing historical figure. Museveni has been controversial and he definitely has his critics (a Kenyan man who attends our church is one of those critics), but what he has accomplished in Uganda is truly remarkable.
Given that Museveni came to power 22 years ago as the result of a successful "war of liberation," it would be easy for Westerners to think of him as just another of the "strong man" rulers who have been so common in post-colonial Africa. It would be easy to think that, but it would also be ignorant and wrong to do so.
While in downtown Kampala with Sam Childer's assistant, "Nineteen" (his African name sounds exactly like "Nineteen" in English), I visited a street market and asked a used-book vendor if he had a recent history of Uganda. The vendor sold me, for a modest sum, a 1990 paperback book called Mission to Freedom: Uganda Resistance News, 1981-85.
I didn't realize it at the time -- not until I got back to the States and tried to find it online -- but there in that street market, I had purchased quite a rare volume. Mission to Freedom is a collection of original dispatches from what might be called the "underground newspaper" of the National Resistance Movement, which was then an outlaw guerrilla resistance effort against the dictatorship that ruled Uganda.

A very brief history: When Uganda gained its independence in 1962, a guy named Obote became the prime minister. In 1966, Obote effectively made himself dictator and pursued a socialist economic policy, with predicably bad results. Obote's dictatorship was dependent on the support of the military. In 1971 (again, predictably) the military decided it didn't need Obote, so while he was out of the country, there was a coup that installed as the new dictator Obote's longtime military henchman, Idi Amin. Of course, Amin became one of the most heinous dictators in history. He was finally deposed in 1979, and in 1980, Obote returned to power in an election that was widely considered fraudulent.
Museveni had been one of the Ugandans who went into exile in Tanzania during Amin's dictatorship, and was a key figure in the alliance of Ugandan exiles and Tanzanian army troops that deposed Amin. After Obote's fraudulent election, Museveni went into the countryside and organized a resistance movement. In February 1981, Museveni led a daring raid on a Ugandan military installation, seizing weapons and equipment, thus starting the five-year "war in the bush" that eventually made Museveni president.
OK, standard Third World "war of liberation" stuff, right? So it seems, until you read Museveni's declarations of his principles, written during the war, as reprinted in Mission to Freedom.
Though he had been a campus Marxist leader in the late '60s, and had written his senior thesis on the nihilistic intellectual Franz Fanon, clearly Museveni's worldview had changed in the intervening decade -- probably from the experience of watching the dictatorship of Amin in action. Museveni's writings in Mission to Freedom deal chiefly with military and political affairs, but he also condemns tribalism and "backwardness," and emphasizes "the rule of law" and "economic revitalization."
If he were an American academic, the Museveni of Mission to Freedom would be right at home at a Cato, AEI or Heritage seminar. As I was reading this book, I had the distinct impression that at some point Museveni had spent part of his exile reading Hayek.

Museveni & Uganda today

Uganda's gross domestic product ranks 13th in Africa, although a good bit lower (24th among 59 African nations) when calculated on a per-capita basis. However, considering that it is a relatively small landlocked country, considering that it has only recently suppressed the terrorist depradations of Joseph Kony, and considering that its northern neighbor Sudan has been embroiled in civil war so long, Uganda's economic situation is very good.
Uganda's economic situation is especially good if you keep in mind the historic context: First, the socialist insanity of the Obote regime, then the barbaric despotism of Amin, and then the five-year guerrilla war that brought Museveni to power in 1986. Recovering from such a history takes a long time. Even if Uganda's per-capita GDP of $1,800 a year doesn't sound impressive (although it's double the per-capita GDP of neighboring Tanzania), the country has obviously made great strides, and the stability of Museveni's government is a big reason for that.

Politically, Museveni's government has held true to its declaration during its "resistance" years, seeking to eliminate "backwardness" and discourage tribalism.
Like many of my conservative friends in America, I understand tribalism as being in some sense intrinsic to the human experience, and I suspect some of my America friends will look askance at the phrase "discourage tribalism." Trust me, friends: What the Ugandan government is doing is perfectly Burkean. I'd need 5,000 words to explain it, but it's a good thing.
I could (and eventually plan to) write a lot more about Museveni's policies, but it's getting late, so let me just give you one brilliant example. This is a photo I took of a roadside sign near downtown Kampala put up by the Uganda election commission:

"For Democracy, Reject Ignorance: Listen, Analyze and Choose." I don't know about you, but I'd sure like to see some signs like that in America.

Finally, to any of my American friends who might wish to visit Uganda, let me offer some travel advice:
  • Fly British Airways. They're the best, and you'll just love listening to the crew speak with those cool Brit accents.
  • Don't get freaked out by all the recommended vaccinations. Get the shots, but don't get the idea that you're heading to a rendezvous with certain death. Also, beware of medication interactions. About four or five days into my trip, I stopped taking my anti-malaria medicine because of the weird side effects.
  • Also, don't get freaked out by the "traveler's advisories" from the State Department. The U.S. State Department is evidently run by a bunch of neuraesthenic, agoraphobic, hypochondriac scaredy-cats who get paid to convey the official U.S. government position that a trip to Uganda is a rendezvous with certain death.
  • After arrival at Entebbe Airport, take the shuttle bus to the Kampala Serena Hotel. It's a five-star resort, located adjacent to the central government offices in downtown Kampala, and thus within a security perimeter similar to what you'd find at the White House or the Capitol. It's $375 a night, but wait until you see the fabulous gardens, the beautiful swimming pool with its dramatic waterfall, the poolside cafe, the dinner buffet, et cetera. We visited the Serena mainly to use their business center and Wi-fi service, but I also got a bit of leisure relaxation time there. It's excellent.
  • Of course, smart travelers know never to drink tap water or any beverage with ice in a foreign country. The bottled water in Uganda is fine (Perrier is available), but if you prefer stronger beverages, allow me to recommend Bell Lager, a fine Ugandan beer.
  • For shopping, I recommend the Garden City Mall in downtown Kampala -- it's the only mall I've ever seen that also includes a casino. I didn't visit the casino, but I did visit an ice cream shop, clothing store, grocery store and Internet cafe at the mall. Internet service in Uganda is much slower than what I used to in the States, but the Internet cafe at the mall had a connection as fast as the one in the business center at the Serena Hotel, for a lower cost.
  • Your first day in Uganda, study the currency and exchange rate, so (a) you've got some idea what things actually cost, and (b) you'll be able to properly tip waiters, bellhops, etc. You will find that if you make a point of learning the name of your waiter your first day at the place, and give him a healthy tip (i.e., 20%), your service on all subsequent nights will be excellent. (Of course, this is true wherever you travel; I'm just pointing out that this principle applies in Africa, too.)

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