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Uganda - Introduction

Stefan Lindemann points out that "Uganda offers almost unequalled opportunities for the study of civil war1 with no less than fifteen cases since independence in 1962 – a number that makes it one of the most conflict-intensive countries on the African continent. The current government of Yoweri Museveni has faced the highest number of armed insurgencies (seven), followed by the Obote II regime (five), the Amin military dictatorship (two) and the Obote I administration (one). Strikingly, only 17 out of the 47 post-colonial years have been entirely civil war free."

Frederick Golooba-Mutebi notes tha "Uganda has had a turbulent political history characterised by putsches, dictatorship, contested electoral outcomes, civil wars and a military invasion. There were eight changes of government within a period of twenty-four years (from 1962-1986), five of which were violent and unconstitutional. This paper identifies factors that account for these recurrent episodes of political violence and state collapse. While colonialism bequeathed the country a negative legacy including a weak state apparatus, ethnic division, skewed development, elite polarisation and a narrow economic base, post-colonial leaders have on the whole exacerbated rather than reversed these trends. Factors such as ethnic rivalry, political exclusion, militarisation of politics, weak state institutions, and unequal access to opportunities for self-advancement help to account for the recurrent cycles of violence and state failure... "

The US slapped sanctions on Uganda - cancelling a military air exercise, imposing visa bans and freezing some aid - amid deep US anger at "vile" Ugandan anti-gay laws, AFP reports. The legislation "runs counter to universal human rights and complicates our bilateral relationship," the White House said in June 2014, renewing calls for the law to be repealed. Signed by President Yoweri Museveni in February, the law called for "repeat homosexuals" to be jailed for life, outlaws the promotion of homosexuality and obliges Ugandans to denounce gays to the authorities. Rights groups say it has triggered a sharp increase in arrests and assaults of the African nation's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

Despite a relatively peaceful transition to independence in 1962, Uganda became one of the least stable countries in Africa. Each postindependence regime expanded the size of the army, usually by recruiting from among people of one region or ethnic group, and each government employed military force to subdue political unrest. Internal dissent overshadowed external threats, as seven governments were empowered in just over two decades of independent rule and opposition organized against each regime. The government response to its critics and opponents was often repressive: uncounted instances of officially sanctioned torture, imprisonment, and execution detracted from governmental legitimacy. The violence persisted, and abuses continued to occur.

The Republic of Uganda is a landlocked country in East Africa covering an area of 235,885 km2 (94,354 miles2). Major metropolitan areas include the capital city of Kampala and the cities of Jinja, Mbale, and Mbarara. The country’s terrain consists of 18% inland water and swamp; 12% national parks, forest, and game reserves; 70% forest, woodland, and grassland. The climate in the northeast is semi-arid, with annual rainfall of less than 50 cm (20 in.), while in the southwest annual rainfall is 130 cm (50 in.) or more.

After decades of internal strife, Uganda has experienced more than 20 years of relative political stability and economic growth. However, rampant corruption and one of the world’s highest population growth rates present challenges to the country’s continued economic growth and political stability.

The vicious and cult-like Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) operated from 1986 to 2006 in northern Uganda, where it killed tens of thousands of people, abducted thousands of children to serve as soldiers and slaves, and displaced approximately 1.8 million Ugandans. In 2005, the Ugandan military pushed the LRA out of northern Uganda and into neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo (D.R.C.). In December 2008, the Governments of Uganda, the D.R.C., and Southern Sudan launched a joint military operation against the LRA in northeastern D.R.C., dispersing groups of LRA fighters across the D.R.C., Central African Republic, and Southern Sudan (now South Sudan), where the group continued to commit atrocities against local populations. In 2011, the United States sent a small number of military advisers to the LRA-affected region to enhance the capacity of the Ugandan and other regional militaries to pursue the LRA and protect civilian populations.

There have been no LRA attacks in northern Uganda since August 2006. As a result, the vast majority of the 1.8 million former internally displaced persons (IDPs) have returned to or near their homes. Assistance from the Government of Uganda through its Peace, Recovery and Development Plan (PRDP) and from international donors has helped communities in northern Uganda rebuild and recover from the 20-year humanitarian catastrophe caused by the LRA.

While Uganda is generally viewed as a safe, secure, and politically stable country, its extensive and porous borders are inadequately policed, allowing for a robust flow of illicit trade and immigration. Rebel groups operate freely in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), posing a potential risk along Uganda’s western border. The northern border with South Sudan has a limited security presence, and recent events in South Sudan have exacerbated an already challenging security situation. The remoteness of the border with Kenya makes it difficult to police, although main roads and border crossings may have a consistent police presence.

Regional terror organizations continue to threaten Uganda and the region. The Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), originally a Uganda-based rebel group, now operates in eastern DRC. In 2007, the ADF made incursions into western Uganda along the Muzizi River, near Semliki National Park in Bundibugyo District. A military response by the government resulted in the killing or capture of ADF fighters. The government, which believes the ADF has links to Muslim extremists, continues to monitor the group closely.

Crime can occur anywhere and at anytime, though most experts agree that crime is generally low in provincial towns and rural areas. Victimization by criminals is based upon the perception of the victim’s affluence and whether s/he presents an appealing "target of opportunity." Common crimes are generally crimes of opportunity rather than planned attacks. Crimes that result in violence sometimes occur when the victim attempts to resist the assailant.

Uganda does not have large organized crime elements. Organized crime appears more frequently in the form of small, organized, criminal activity, such as that of individuals involved in home invasions, rather than in large-scale racketeering. Human trafficking syndicates provide fraudulent identification for intending illegal immigrants to the European Union, but the volume is likely small. Uganda signed legislation against money laundering in October 2013, but it will likely take several months or more before the bureaucratic structures are in place to fully implement the bill.

Driving requires particular caution and fulltime attention. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Uganda has one of the highest rates of traffic fatalities per vehicle in the world. Roads are poorly maintained, inadequately marked, and poorly illuminated. Street signs are also lacking in certain areas, adding confusion to the casual traveler. Road travel outside Kampala is dangerous during the day and treacherous at night. It is Embassy policy that no official U.S. citizens are authorized to travel on roads outside of the Kampala/Entebbe metropolitan area after dark. The road lighting in larger cities is inadequate at best and virtually nonexistent in smaller towns.

Driving hazards at night include: broken-down vehicles in the road, pedestrians in the road, drunk drivers, stray animals, poor road conditions, and the possibility of armed robbery. Under normal driving conditions, drivers contend with excessive speed, unpredictable local driving habits, pedestrians/livestock in the roadway, commuter bus drivers who ignore traffic laws, and vehicles that are not roadworthy (including lack of brake/indicator lights).

While general vehicle travel during daylight hours on both paved and unpaved roads is considered relatively safe, varying conditions of the roadways (including numerous potholes) combined with excessive speed can lead to serious accidents. In some areas, piles of trash, missing manhole covers, gaping ditches/potholes, wayward/oblivious pedestrians, and animals are threats to vehicular safety on the streets.

In rural areas, drivers should expect a lack of guard rails and few traffic signs/road markings. Drivers should use caution at bends, as it is common for vehicles coming from the other direction to pass slower vehicles or otherwise drive in the middle of the road, even around blind turns. People traveling outside of Kampala should do so during daylight hours if possible, and in tandem with one or more other vehicles due to both the security situation and road conditions. Travelers should educate drivers and other staff to maintain safe driving speeds and never encourage or condone risky passing on Uganda’s roadways.

In the market areas, vendors have taken over the sidewalks and in some cases much of the roadway, forcing pedestrians into the streets. There have been occasional reports of highway robbery, including carjacking, by armed bandits outside urban areas. Some incidents have been accompanied by violence. Visitors are cautioned to limit road travel outside towns or cities to daylight hours and travel in convoys, if possible.

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Page last modified: 15-12-2016 11:09:27 ZULU