|Yoweri Museveni, the leader of the Ugandan ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) and incumbent president, casts his vote at a polling station in the western Ugandan town of Kiruhura, 280km southwest of Kampala in 2011 [EPA]|
Uganda is a landlocked country situated in East Africa, with neighbours Kenya and Tanzania to the east and south, respectively. It also shares a border with Rwanda to the south, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to the west and South Sudan to the north. It covers an area of 241,038 square kilometres.
While visiting Uganda in 1908, former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill described it as the “Pearl of Africa” for its natural beauty. It is the source of the Nile, the longest river in the world, and is home to mountain gorillas, an endangered species and a major tourist attraction.
Uganda is one of the countries with the fastest-growing populations – a growth rate is estimated at 3.2 per cent – after Niger and Yemen. Most of its 34 million inhabitants live in rural areas with farming as their main economic activity. Per capita income stands at $600. Major exports include coffee, tea, vanilla, flowers, sesame and cotton. A lot of foreign exchange also comes from tourism, and the country is beginning to pump oil in the west.
The media is very vibrant and relatively free. Several newspapers – published in English, the official language, and Luganda, the most widely spoken language – are privately-owned and there are dozens of radio stations. But the state also owns radio and TV stations and nearly always dictates what is broadcast.
In 1962, Uganda gained independence from Britain, after more than a century of colonial administration. Although the post-independence era was characterised by peace and prosperity for sometime, the country started to experience political upheavals in 1966 when Milton Obote, the prime minister, used the army to invade the palace of King Edward Mutesa, the monarch.
Mutesa was forced into exile and the monarchy was abolished by Obote, who became executive president after abrogating the constitution. But Obote also fell out with the army commander at the time, Idi Amin. While Obote was attending a Commonwealth summit in Singapore in 1971, Amin seized power in coup and became president.
Uganda then became a byword for political instability and human rights abuses as Amin murdered political opponents. By 1979, when he was forced out of power after a military campaign aided by troops from Tanzania, which he had invaded, the country was a no-go zone for Western tourists – and Amin’s atrocities were grabbing headlines in the international press at every turn.
The current president, Yoweri Museveni, had been involved in a guerrilla campaign to oust Amin in the 1970s. But he did not make headway until he launched another campaign in 1981, after disputing elections in which he stood and lost.
Museveni has been in power since 1986, governing under his National Resistance Movement (NRM), and he removed term limits in 2005, effectively paving the way for him to run for president as many times as he wants. Political opponents have accused him of clinging to power. But he has often argued that he is still president because he contests elections and wins, though opponents often dispute the election results.
His 26-year rule has not been without challenges. The army has been battling a murderous rebel group in the north, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), for more than two decades – with civilians frequently abducted and killed mainly by the rebels but also by the army, according to human rights organisations.
Although largely weakened and on the verge of being defeated, the LRA, whose leader Joseph Kony has been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC), still operates in neighbouring DRC and the Central African Republic.
An operation launched to capture Kony in 2008 by the governments of Uganda, DRC and South Sudan ended in failure, and the US has deployed military advisers to help Uganda in the hunt for Kony, whose true whereabouts remain unknown.