Uganda and its many confluences
Uganda’s army bringing flaming military weaponry into the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo caught the worldwide media. Its immediate origins lay in the nation being a confluence between a conflict in which its forces have, for over a decade, been battling to resist control by Islamic Jihadists, Al Shabaab, over Somalia.
The Islamic Ugandan gang who attacked government buildings in Kampala had origins in Ottoman Turks who ruled over Egypt desiring control of the source of River Nile whose waters support the country’s irrigated crops. Sir Samuel Baker described horrific brutalities by Turkish forces on indigenous communities near the river.
Ottoman Turks employed Swiss, Austrian, Italian, British, and Nubian mercenaries. Their Nubian force was stuck in northern Uganda after a revolutionary battle concluded horrible exploitation in Sudan’s Gezira lowlands by Turks. The Nubians traveling up the Nile discovered fellow Muslims from the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean coast who had battled alongside the Kabaka (king) of Buganda against British invaders.
Muslim converts in Busoga and Buganda stayed underground throughout British colonial oppression until Idi Amin’s revolution triggered a renaissance. After Amin’s rapid collapse and departure to Saudi Arabia, his political masters, the remains of his army found safety across the border in DRCongo. Historians have commented that throughout their invasion from Egypt to Libya, Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco, Ottoman Turks coupled persistent aggression against indigenous communities with Lack of Development. That legacy is shaping the nature of Idi Amin’s rump in eastern Congo.
The source of the Nile, copper riches in the foothills of Ruwenzori highlands and lush regions, led the British to construct a railway route from the Indian Ocean coast to Kampala. The record of nationalist revolt in Sudan made the building of a railway line from Jinja to Cairo less appealing than one from Kampala to Mombasa. A confluence of a river and railway lines gave Uganda a new relevance to Kenya. In the past three decades, commerce via Kenya and Uganda to eastern DRCongo has both flourished and attracted politicians towards expanding the membership of the East African Federation to the Atlantic Ocean.
British authorities also determined to make Kampala the site of the lone oasis of higher education for Africans for her colonies in eastern Africa. European immigrants in Kenya, Tanganyika, Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) were not allowed into Makerere – a College of London University. In 1963, Milton Obote’s administration allowed 45 undergraduates from Nigeria, a handful from Ethiopia and Burundi. Dr Lawrence Ekpebu, a recent PhD graduate from Harvard taught at Makerere under a Rockefeller Foundation plan for job seekers from premier American Universities. Dr. Kenneth Prewitt arrived from Stanford University via the same approach.
Uganda paid the price for this intellectual magnetism. Euro-American scholars at Makerere’s faculty took an active part in conducting the scholarly homework for the military takeover that brought Idi Amin to power on January 23, 1971. The late Professor Ali A. Mazrui walked the narrow line of appeasing President Obote and expatriate professors on campus. As Idi Amin became a chum of Muammar Gaddafi, evicted hundreds of thousands of ‘’Asians’’ – even those who were citizens – ours of Uganda – this scholarly battalion escaped from Uganda.
The Makerere ‘knowledge oasis’ did withstand Idi Amin’s cyclone. Its potential for fulfilling academic thirst from large Southern Sudan to the north, the much vaster DRCongo to the west; the similarly vast Tanzania to the South. Under Daniel Arap Moi’s repeated closing of gates of university campuses to students and faculty, parents from education-hungry Kikuyu communities sent their children to Uganda’s colleges. Private universities arose and have prospered.
Conflicts over resources that devastated eastern DRCongo after the overthrow of President Mobutu Sese Seko, have forced into Uganda millions of refugees. They have confluence with rivers from over 50 years of civil warfare in Southern Sudan. An earlier flow from a bloodbath in Rwanda from the day of independence took newborn Paul Kagame into Uganda. A strategy of addressing these people flows not as ‘’refugees’’ but as ‘’Fellow Africans in Need’’ has been an immense service to Pan-Africanism.
International appreciation of this policy legacy has not been matched by the infusion of resources for the realization of this tremendous human potential. Even the African Union has yet to devote diplomatic resources to the building of excellent educational facilities like technological colleges and a Pan-African Confluence University.
It has been suggested that President Yoweri Museveni’s backing for John Garang’s war made it simple for an enemy diplomat to detonate the bomb that killed him in an aircraft accident on his return from Uganda. It ruined his dream of a unified Sudan. Museveni’s backing for Laurent Kabila’s war murdered Mobutu and his peaceful ‘’ZAIRE’’. So historic a Ugandan confluence.