The country that Winston Churchill named "the pearl of Africa" gained independence from Great Britain on 9 October 1962 after almost 70 years of colonial rule. Several decades of political unrest and widespread violence followed, notably under President Milton Obote in the 1960s and again in the 1980s. Amnesty International estimated in 1985 that Obote's administration hadbeen responsible for over 300,000 civilian deaths in Uganda.
In 1971, Idi Amin ousted Obote through a military coup, ushering in one of the most brutal chapters in Uganda's history. Amin viciously quashed any opposition, often beheading suspected insurgents. It is estimated that he killed as many as 300,000 civilians during his eight years as president. In 1972, he expelled all Uganda's Asians, giving them three days to leave the country - a move that wreaked havoc on the country's economy. Amin attempted to invade Tanzania in 1978 to claim its Kagera region for Uganda. Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere retaliated, and, with the help of exiled Ugandan opposition members, deposed Amin, who fled to Saudi Arabia, where he died in 2003.
In 1986, President Yoweri Museveni wrestled power from Tito Okello Lutwa through a military coup after a five-year guerrilla war. He was first elected democratically in 1996 following the formation of a new constitution and was re-elected in 2001. Museveni remains Uganda's leader, having won a controversial third term in office in February 2006.
Peace and security
Since 1987, northern Uganda has been the scene of a violent conflict between the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) and government troops. The LRA's leader, self-proclaimed mystic Joseph Kony, claims to be fighting to replace Museveni's government with one based on the Bible's Ten Commandments. However, the group is best known for its brutality, routinely maiming and killing civilians and abducting children for use as child fighters, sex slaves or domestic workers. The insurgents traditionally operate from rear bases in southern Sudan but have recently moved into the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Other rebel groups that have been active in Uganda in the past two decades are the Allied Democratic Force and the People's Redemption Army, both based in the DRC. The rest of the country remains relatively peaceful, save for incursions into the east by the LRA. The government spends an estimated 2.2 percent of Uganda's gross domestic product - US $170.3 million - on military expenditures.
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the conflict in northern Uganda has forced some 1.7 million people - close to 90 percent of the region's population - to leave their homes for the relative safety of about 200 camps for internally displaced persons scattered around the region. They are almost entirely dependent on humanitarian support for their survival.
By December 2005, Uganda was host to more than 140,000 refugees, mainly from Sudan, Rwanda and the DRC. With the help of the Ugandan government, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and other partners, these refugees are housed in over 60 communities around the country.
Democracy and governance
When Museveni seized power in 1986, he abolished political parties, blaming them for the country's decades of turmoil and saying they had divided the country along ethnic and religious lines. In 2005, following internal and external pressure, the government held a referendum in which the public voted overwhelmingly to return the country to a multiparty system.
During his early years as head of state, Museveni was widely hailed as one of a new generation of African leaders. However, more recently he has been criticised by Uganda's development partners for the slow progress of political transition in the country, as well as for the arrest in November 2005 of Kiiza Besigye, his main challenger in the 2006 elections.
Uganda ranked 117 out of 158 in Transparency International's 2005 corruption index, scoring 2.5 out of a possible 10.
Several donors, including the European Union, Ireland, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK, cut their budgetary support to Uganda over concerns about democracy and governance.
The country has one state-owned broadcasting corporation and several independent media outlets. Media watchdog Freedom House described the press in Uganda as "partly free".
Although press freedom is guaranteed by the constitution, laws of sedition and treason - ostensibly put in place in the name of national security - ensure that the media practice some self-censorship.
The government has faced international criticism for its closure of opposition newspaper The Monitor in 2002 and its sister radio station, KFM, in 2005, over negative coverage of the government.
Agriculture forms the backbone of Uganda's economy, employing over 80 percent of the population. Coffee is the country's main export. In January 2006, an Australian firm discovered oil around Lake Albert in central Uganda, raising hopes that oil could become an additional source of income for the country.
By 1986, decades of political instability and poor governance had left Uganda's economy in shreds. Museveni's administration has been credited with reviving the flagging economy, which was liberalised in the late 1980s.
The 1990s witnessed currency reforms, privatisation and an overhaul of the civil service, in accordance with International Monetary Fund (IMF) stipulations.
The economy received an additional boost with the return during the late 1980s of the Asian community, which was expelled by Amin in 1972.
The most recent UN Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Index placed Uganda in the medium human development category for the first time in 2005 - the country had until then been in the low human development bracket. However, the country's gross domestic product for 2004 was just US $263, according to the IMF. Uganda has qualified for about $2 billion in debt relief.
Uganda has a population of about 26.8 million, according to the country's bureau of statistics. The population growth rate is 3.3 percent per annum, a figure higher than other countries in the region. Fertility rates are high, with each woman having an average of seven children. The country has nine major ethnic groups - Baganda, Banyankore, Basoga, Bakiga, Itesot, Langi, Acholi, Bagisu and Lugbara. The official language is English; Luganda, a Bantu language, is widely spoken in the south. Some 44 percent of Ugandans are Roman Catholic, with another 39 percent being Anglicans. Muslims make up 10 percent of the population.
About 9.2 million people lived below the poverty line of $1 per day at the time of the last census in 2002, down from 9.8 million in 1992. Infant mortality is at 83 per 1,000 live births, compared with 122 per 1,000 live births in 1991. About 8 percent of Ugandan households use electricity as the major source of lighting. Close to half the population uses the radio as their main source of information, while another 49 percent report that "word of mouth" is their major source of information - less than 1 percent reported the print media as their main source of information.
Uganda has an adult literacy rate of about 69 percent. The current administration introduced free universal primary education in 1996, greatly increasing the enrolment of children in schools. In chronically food-insecure northeastern Uganda, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) runs school feeding programmes to encourage attendance.
Some gains have been made for children, such as net primary school attendance, which has reached about 87 percent. However, malaria, respiratory infections and diarrhoea continue to be the main cause of under-five mortality, and HIV infects approximately 20,000 babies annually through mother-to-child transmission. According to the UN Children's Fund, nearly half of the country's estimated two million orphans are orphaned due to AIDS, with the total expected to rise to 3.5 million by 2010.
The children of northern Uganda continue to suffer the ravages of the 19-year war in the region. The LRA has abducted more than 25,000 children since 1986. In the conflict-affected districts such as Gulu and Kitgum, around 40,000 unaccompanied children, known as "night commuters", walk from their homes in outlying villages to urban centres every night in search of protection from the LRA.
An estimated 51 percent of households do not have access to medical services in Uganda, with healthcare delivery especially poor in the conflict-affected north. Major health issues include HIV/AIDS, malaria, acute respiratory infections and diarrhoea. The average life expectancy in Uganda is 47 for men and 50 for women. The government spends about 7.4 percent of its GDP on the health sector.
Uganda was one of the first countries to experience the HIV/AIDS pandemic. The government has been credited with using an open, honest and aggressive approach to counter its spread, leading to a fall in prevalence rates from more than 20 percent in the 1980s to about 7 percent currently.
The fight against HIV/AIDS was dealt a blow in 2005, when the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria suspended all grants to Uganda because of mismanagement of funds. The fund lifted the suspension a few months later, but the government's commitment to the continued struggle against the pandemic has been brought into question.
More than three million Ugandans - including 1.4 million people displaced by conflict in the northern region - need food every year, according to WFP. The agency also feeds more than 500,000 people in the Karamoja region, in the northeast. The country's eastern region also suffers from drought.
The current administration has encouraged women to participate in politics and other aspects of public life. Each of Uganda's districts has a female Member of Parliament, and one-third of all local council seats are reserved for women. As a result, women make up about 24 percent of the legislature. There are active women's rights groups, including the Uganda Women Lawyers Association (FIDA-U), Action for Development, the National Association of Women Judges.
Uganda's past has been chequered with torture and human rights abuses, and according to human rights organisation, Museveni's administration has continued with these violations. The army has been accused by rights groups like Human Rights Watch of committing atrocities against the populations in northern Uganda, and security forces allegedly routinely torture suspects and members of the opposition. The Uganda Human Rights Commission was established in the mid-1990s to promote and protect human rights.
Uganda needs life-sustaining assistance primarily in its camps for the displaced, where some 1.7 million people reside. Among the needs are food aid; water and sanitation; health and nutrition, including HIV/AIDS; protection/human rights/rule of law; education; agriculture; coordination and support services; economic recovery and infrastructure; multisector refugee assistance; family shelter and non-food items; mine action; and staff safety and security.
CREDIT : IRIN - United Nations Office – Humanitarian Country Profile