The easily most momentous event in world history occurred on July 20, 1969, exactly 50 years ago, when Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon.
For Uganda, where many watched the moon landing on black-and-white TV, the country was to witness an even bigger event locally a week later, when Pope Paul VI became the first Pontiff to step on African soil at Entebbe.
Several presidents and thousands of ordinary Christians from neighbouring countries converged on Kampala to witness what had earlier been considered impossible, hosting the Pope.
If Ugandans were a reflective society, this would be a period for reflection on how far we have come in 50 years, for several things that affected the nation happened in 1969, a time when many of today’s leaders were already politically active.
Soon after astronauts Armstrong, Edwin and Collins returned to Earth and Paul VI returned to Rome, hundreds of Ugandans were back lining the Kampala-Entebbe road to witness another wonder. A piece of rock that the US astronauts brought back to earth was donated to Uganda and it was slowly driven from the airport to the capital, where it is still probably kept somewhere.
That same year in November, in London, Sir Edward Mutesa, former Kabaka of Buganda, died in exile and land grabbers descended on his square mile (640 acres) that he owned in Kampala city. To date, the fight over that property is raging actively in courts and before a judicial commission of inquiry.
What is the connection?
Half a century after the world’s most technologically advanced nation extended such a huge symbolic overture of co-operation by giving us soil they picked up from a quarter of a million miles away, we should by now have effectively learnt from them how to improve our soil.
In their geography classes, all of Uganda’s leaders who attended secondary school from the 1960s to the ‘80s learnt of the prairies, the Maize Triangle and the makeover of Tennessee Valley, which up to the mid-1930s was as unacceptably poor and backward as much of Uganda is today.
Besides complaining that they were made to read about American agriculture and infrastructure, what actually did they pick up from the classes they now despise?
If nothing else can plunge Uganda into anarchy, the land-grabbing phenomenon can. The biggest problem with land as a factor of production is that its supply cannot be increased. The Dutch have increased theirs for centuries by reclaiming it from the sea, but Uganda has neither a sea nor technology to do that. If an acre today is producing less than it did in 1969 (one reason being the death of farmers’ co-operative societies) yet the population has increased five to six times in that period, the ensuing pressure must be addressed by making the land produce more, not less, by throwing people off it.
We have aged by 59 years. We have learnt less than a 50-minute lesson in economics. Go figure.
Joachim Buwembo is a Kampala-based journalist. Email:[email protected]