Uganda registers modest gains under Obote

Uganda's new year was a low-key affair, with many people somewhat surprised that no coup or revolt had ousted Milton Obote from the president's office.

Obote has just completed a year in office, a year of continuing economic trauma -- despite an upturn in coffee exports new aid from the West -- and lingering security problems.

Inflation is running at 100 percent. It is Uganda's biggest problem despite devaluation of the Ugandan shilling. Economic improvement is hindered by guerrilla activity and sabotage, for the economy and security are linked, but there have been modest financial gains for Uganda:

Uganda has met its 120,000-ton coffee export quota set in 1980-81 by the International Coffee Organization. (Coffee provides 95 percent of the foreign exchange earned). The tea industry resumed exports in September from estates owned jointly by the government and the British multinational, Mitchell Cotts. And the big sugar estates are coming back into production under the direction of the large east African firm of Madhvani.

Obote has also attracted funds from the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the EEC.

Guerrillas still engage in acts of lawlessness, killing, and sabotage, but there has been a lessening of the security problem. Road blocks have almost disappeared and night patrols relaxed, reducing the shooting incidents which were a nightly occurrence in Kampala. But security forces have not yet caught up with the chief rebel, former Minister Yoweri Museveni, who is in hiding somewhere in the country.

Uganda observers believe the security problem will never be removed till the authorities round up the thousands of guns known to be in private hands.

''In Kampala we have swept the streets of guerrilla attacks and crime,'' said a government minister, ''but many country areas round are still living in fear.''

One important factor helping Obote is that resistance movements no longer operate from neighboring Kenya. Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi cracked down on these movements.

There is every indication that Kenya, Tanzania, and other neighbors are supporting Mr. Obote in his efforts to pacify and rehabilitatehis country after the past years of agony and chaos.

Obote has pledged a commitment to multiparty democracy. But whether this is an anachronism in Africa, where even the politically stable Kenya is a one-party state, remains to be seen.

The President allows a legal opposition party (the Democratic Party), and Obote seems to be trying to make parliamentary government work. However, opposition MPs for a time were arrested and detained. In a new-year amnesty, Obote allowed four MP detainees to be released; some 1,000 other detainees were released recently as well. The MPs, who had been accused of ''connection with acts of violence,'' were received personally by Obote.

Uganda observers are very cautious in their forecasts for the country in the coming year, but it seems that Obote's government, having brought some semblance of discipline to the Army, created a new-look police force, and got on top of the guerrilla movement.

The foreign aid picture looks like this: There are $197 million in the IMF pipeline. Uganda is also scheduled to receive $95 million from the World Bank, and sums from the EEC and the United Nations Development Program. Of bilateral aid there is $40 million from West Germany. The Standard Chartered Bank is lending $20 million for Leyland buses to revive the broken-down transport situation.

Obote has raised producer prices for the farmers to encourage production and reduce the temptation to smuggle. The government subsidizes spray pumps, insecticides, herbicides, and fertilizers, which have been a crushing burden to poor farmers.

Consumer goods are in short supply. And some commodities like cooking fats, soaps, sugar, and other household items are beyond the reach of most families. Farm products are flowing into the markets, although their prices are astronomical.

Uganda's biggest asset is the fertility of the countryside. ''When all else fails people just go back to their plots - and most have them somewhere - and live off the land,'' said a top financial expert. But that does not help people who have to live and work in the towns and cities.

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