Uganda is Beautiful, But Here is Yet Another Area Where it Excels

President Museveni once said Uganda had transformed from a net exporter of refugees to a net importer.

He was bragging. The point being that his government had created a decent enough environment that masses of Ugandans were no longer fleeing across the borders for their lives.

With the current flood of refugees into Uganda, especially from South Sudan and DR Congo, it is striking how things have changed. So striking that nearly 10 years ago Uganda received Kenyan refugees. Who ever knew?

Despite our convoluted land tenure system and our fractious politics, when refugees come over they are encouraged to live in the community. Many find their way into the towns.

The UN refugee agency gushes: “Uganda has one of the most favourable refugee protection environments in the world; providing for freedom of movement, right to work and also providing land for refugee settlements in line with the Refugee Act of 2006 and the Refugee Regulations of 2010.

Uganda has declared lands as “officially gazetted” for refugees in some of the districts and such lands are protected whether or not refugee reside on it.”

This is one area that shows we are sensitive souls, probably because hundreds of thousands of us were once refugees in Kenya, Tanzania, DR Congo, South Sudan and beyond.

It is also an area that most emphatically speaks to President Museveni’s pan-Africanist outlook that he likes to talk so much about.

At more than 600,000 persons, Uganda is one of the top-three country in Africa in hosting refugees.

Some reports now say it may have leapfrogged Kenya and Ethiopia into top position. Poor Uganda!

This is all the more poignant today given the anti-immigrant stance coursing through the Trump government in the US, the world’s largest economy.

Uganda’s incredibly large-hearted treatment of refugees — and frankly its corruption-fuelled open borders where anyone can walk in and set up — and what is happening in the US show how fragile systems and even countries can turn out to be. You wake up one day and the world is changed.

One day Uganda is the region’s basket case burdening quiet neighbours like Kenya with refugees; the next day not so much. One day the US is the paragon of decent behaviour toward the unfortunates of the world. The next day, well, not quite.

Even amid fragility, Uganda needs to figure out how to deal with its demons to build a decent society. We have seen the worst. Or close to it. There is no reason we cannot imagine and fashion a different and better future.

We are a small land-locked country African country. We always thought Kenya would remain the bigger, stable neighbour.

Until it was not. Its post-election violence nearly a decade ago not only sent us refugees, it almost killed our economy within days because we could not use the seaport of Mombasa.

We always thought that all would be well with the US if only we could fight a few of their wars albeit those where we had some selfish interest as well.

We are not so sure anymore. We have no idea what president Trump will do to countries like ours when he is done with the Australians, Mexicans and Iranians.

We are on our own. Or maybe not quite. We belong to the East African Community; a largely donor-funded entity we claim is ours as key members of the regional geo-political structure. Our ironies are many and never cease. But they should cease or else we remain hostage to an outside world we cannot control.

I do not know how much strategic thinking and forecasting goes on in the Ugandan government, but now is a good time to review any documents we may have. A nasty new world is here.

In its present state Uganda cannot support the hundreds of thousands of refugees endlessly. It would get worse if the US cut bilateral and multilateral funding. That this is a real possibility under the new government in Washington should worry you and me.

Ultimately, we will remain here as a people. In what shape, though? What are we doing to become a viable country, one with a large heart and a generous purse to support those less fortunate amongst us, and others such as refugees?

Mr Tabaire is the co-founder and director of programmes at African Centre for Media Excellence in Kampala.

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Source: The Monitor

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