It is rather surprising that one of the most powerful states in the East and Central African region is landlocked Uganda. Uganda’s power and influence is so immense that when the US recently cancelled some foreign aid due to the country’s anti-homosexuality laws, it made it clear that it had not ceased diplomatic and military relations. If nothing else, the military collaboration has gone full throttle, and Uganda is the Pearl of Africa once again. It has always been.
East African history repeatedly notes that the only reason Britain ended up colonising what is today Kenya was to get to Uganda. For them, Uganda was the Promised Land, and Kenya was the thicket with spears and man-eating lions separating them from the land’s milk and honey. What resulted was the Lunatic Line, snaking its way from the Kenyan Coast, through thousands of miles of ever-changing terrain and risks, until it crossed to what is today Uganda.
The colonists at the time might not have known it, and Kenya eventually grew to be the strategic power that Uganda should have been, but the Pearl of Africa was hiding below her untapped oil and mineral reserves. Even worse, independence for Uganda led to a proper game of thrones, switching from one lord to the other until it landed into the hands of madman Idi Amin Dada. The brutal dictator set about undoing all he thought was wrong with Uganda, in the process bringing the country to a dark era it would forever fight to avoid.
While her immediate neighbours, Kenya and Tanzania, thrived, Uganda’s presidency switched from one man to the other, sometimes for a mere two months, sometimes for six months, other times for eleven. It eventually landed in the hands of a man who knew he had to do everything to survive. First he set aside following the laws of power, crushing his enemies and playing his neighbours against each other. Museveni is a bush fighter who has proven his knack for playing regional politics. For the longest time, he had the most active army, dabbling in almost all conflicts in East and Central Africa.
For some reason her not-landlocked neighbours could not understand, foreigners seemed to favour Uganda despite the outrageous laws and crackdowns. As one oil well after the other began being discovered, it became clear that she had never died; her star had only dimmed, sometimes blotted by blood. All she needed was a firm hand and stability for two decades to find her footing, using her handicap as strength, and leading the clamour for regional cohesion, sometimes by the butt of a gun. In his two plus decades in power, Museveni has shown just how shrewd he is at both foreign and domestic policy. The most recent example is the anti-gay bill where he buckled under pressure from domestic lobbies with full knowledge that he could get away with it on the international front.
Uganda is now courted by the China, the US, Turkey, and just about anyone else interested in her oil, minerals, and other valuable resources. But Museveni has not been content with simply amassing this kind of power; he has transformed a small shy nation into a regional lion, making the Sudanese conflict his own, openly defying the West, especially the ICC, and making sure he controls the East African story. With Tanzania still obstinate about its South African ties and Kenya reeling under terror attacks, Uganda is thriving, and quickly making her neighbours what they initially were, simple gateways to the promised land of milk, bananas, oil, minerals, and honey.