From time immemorial opposition, rebellion and even revolution against a regime develop not because the regime is getting stronger or becoming more dictatorial but because it is getting weaker and less capable of delivering desired goods and services. What triggered the French Revolution of 1789, for example, was a reaction not against the rising tyranny of the ancient regime but its weakness and inability to deliver expected results.
In Uganda, the NRM regime is following in the footsteps of France’s ancient regime. NRM’s domestic, continental and global strength and glory are fading. At home the promise of eradicating poverty has vanished. Instead absolute and relative poverty is increasing. Some twenty percent of Ugandans are believed to be getting poorer. Those in the top income bracket are getting richer leaving behind those in the middle income causing a feeling of relative poverty.
This message is addressed primarily to Uganda youth and their present and future leaders. The raison d’etre (purpose) of governments is first and foremost to protect the independence, territorial integrity, lives, welfare and property of Uganda and her citizens. This message should be accorded serious attention because of rapid and uncontrolled influx of people and animals into Uganda in the wake of globalization and its borderless ramifications and consolidation of expanded East African community and possible political integration with a component of free human and animal mobility across East African borders.
The subject of population movements across international borders for economic and security reasons has become one of the most intractable challenges in international relations. Everywhere there are complaints about immigrants – they bring diseases, take jobs from nationals, become richer than their hosts, occupy key political, economic and public service positions in foreign countries and undermine cultural values. Above all new comers do not mix with nationals. Recent developments in France and Sweden are a vivid illustration of what lies in store.
Ugandans have a right to be angry and to show it when a mother produces an underweight child because she is undernourished in a country that exports food to earn foreign currency to meet the needs of the few rich families; an infant dies of jiggers because of poor housing conditions and lack of shoes; a child dies of hunger because the mother is forced to produce food for cash rather than for the stomach; a child drops out of school for lack of school lunch because the government has sold food to feed children in neighboring countries; jobs go to foreign workers when Uganda graduates are unemployed because of a liberal labor and immigration policy; domestic industries are closed and workers dismissed because of a trade liberalization policy that allows in cheap used or subsidized imports; droughts and floods cause hunger and famine because of reckless and unsustainable de-vegetation policy that has adversely changed thermal and hydrological regimes; people who lose elections or are censured by parliament for corruption are appointed ministers; family members, relatives and friends of key officials are appointed, promoted or reassigned to positions they do not qualify for while qualified people are sidelined; children of rich people attend private schools at home or abroad while those from poor households languish in neglected public schools and graduate without learning anything; members and relatives of senior officials go abroad to deliver or get treatment while those from poor families die in child birth or from preventable and curable diseases because the health system has been plundered; well connected citizens steal huge sums of public funds and are not touched while junior officers who steal ‘peanuts’ to make ends meet are arrested and jailed; weak and voiceless citizens are ‘politically’ robbed and dispossessed of their land and property as in Rukungiri through municipal legislation; twenty percent of Ugandans get poorer and many more hungrier in a country that has been boasting of eradicating poverty and all its offshoots of hunger, disease and illiteracy; government divides up the country into many economically unviable districts making them dependent on central government for budget support with stiff conditionality; and government hosts expensive international conferences when money is needed to meet basic human needs of Uganda citizens etc, etc. Anger has also been accumulating for the following illustrative deceptions.
Since 1986, I have attended annual debates of the United Nations General assembly in New York. From this vantage point I have watched, listened and heard world leaders deliver speeches including those by President Museveni.
During his initial visits to the UN in New York, Museveni portrayed an image of a new breed of African leaders. He conveyed a clear political, human rights and economic development message which immediately won him international recognition, causing his star to rise rapidly. He spoke eloquently and convincingly about his determination to end corruption and sectarianism forever; launch full scale democracy based on regular, free and fair elections, full participation of Uganda citizens, transparency and accountability; restore the rule of law and full respect for human rights; and end poverty and its offshoots of hunger, disease and illiteracy in Uganda.
To remove any ambiguity Museveni stressed that his goal was not to reduce but to eradicate poverty! Within a short time, he declared, Ugandans would break the poverty trap and get on a path of sustained and sustainable economic growth, social development and environmental protection for present and future generations. He was soon christened the ‘dean’ of a new breed of African leaders which included the president of Eritrea, prime minister of Ethiopia and president of Rwanda; and a regional ‘leader’ in the Horn and Great Lakes regions of Africa. He was seen as a stabilizing force in a region that for long had been marked by political instability, civil wars and economic backwardness.
The introduction of structural adjustment program (SAP) in Uganda in 1981 coincided with the launch of a guerrilla war by the military wing of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) against an elected government of Uganda. Political economy analysts in the NRM carefully studied the impact of SAP conditionality in Uganda and Ghana. They concluded that the SAP model sponsored by the IMF and the World Bank was not suitable for Uganda. They drew up an alternative political economy model of a mixed economy based on private and public partnership. The model was published in 1985 as a ten-point program. It was a consensus blue print that was carefully prepared by Ugandans in consultation with a wide range of stakeholders. Thus, it was a home grown program.
Uganda’s NRM government adopted stabilization and structural adjustment program (SAP) in 1987 under the assumption that after a short period (three to five years) of austerity and debt repayment, the economy under the guidance of market forces would begin rapid and sustained growth, create jobs and distribute income to all Ugandans through a trickle down mechanism. The government estimated that by 2017 poverty would be history in the Republic.
To lay the ground work for eventual sustained growth and equity, the government focused on monetary and fiscal policy to balance the budget, control inflation, establish a realistic exchange rate; privatize public enterprises and promote exports to earn foreign currency, pay external debt and use surplus for investment in productive sectors. Government participation in the economy and funds for social sectors would be reduced significantly.
Mindful that inflation was indiscipline, NRM government worked hard to bring it down to a low and stable rate of five percent per annum. This required drastic reduction of money supply in the economy and increased interest rate to encourage savings. However, high interest rates of some thirty percent discouraged borrowing by small and medium enterprises that create most jobs and spread income.
When the National Resistance Movement (NRM) came to power in 1986, it promised fundamental changes in Uganda’s political economy and society. Ugandans assumed fundamental change meant a quick recovery from the political, economic and social difficulties they had experienced since 1971 to a path of sustained growth, sustainable and transformational development. The launch of the ten-point program gave Ugandans hope. Unfortunately the ten point program never materialized. Instead, since 1990, Uganda has experienced a reversal of its earlier achievements including land ownership, economic transformation, ecological conservation and human capital formation. No one imagined that NRM’s fundamental change meant reversal of achievements Uganda had realized in the 90 years between 1894 and 1985. The reversal has affected the following areas:
The British colonial authorities left Uganda’s land firmly in the hands of Uganda peasants. This decision was taken after intensive discussions between London and Entebbe. British authorities further realized that adequate food and nutrition security was a human right that must be observed. They developed fisheries to provide affordable source of protein for low income families.
Julius Nyerere of Tanzania and Nelson Mandela of South Africa left power when their images as great leaders had reached a watershed. Yoweri Museveni could have joined their ranks as a great leader not only in Africa but also the world had he stepped down at the right time. Regrettably, Museveni missed that opportunity at a great cost.
After capturing power through force, Museveni quickly established himself as the ‘dean’ of the new breed of African leaders determined to break with the past by ending sectarianism and poverty, launching democracy and the rule of law and strictly observing human rights. At home, the launching of the ten-point program which had been drafted after extensive consultations and compromise marked him as a listener and pragmatic leader. The formation of a government of national unity which embraced representatives from all political parties, all religions and all regions and took into consideration the special needs of women and disabled persons erased any lingering doubt about his sincerity to forge a new Uganda. On their part Ugandans were prepared to sacrifice even more to make him succeed.
The NRM government which is led by a religious president with a religious first lady must be embarrassed for presiding over a country whose citizens have largely become perpetual thieves. Everywhere you turn you read or hear stories about theft – of money and property and increasingly of children. People are no longer ashamed to be caught or accused of stealing. It has become normal to steal. There are those who steal because they are too poor to make ends meet and those who are already rich but steal to become filthy rich.
When we were growing up in the 1950s and early 1960s all religious faiths preached against stealing. If you found money, handkerchief, etc, etc, you took it to the nearest Protestant or Catholic priest so the item could be returned to the owner. On Sundays there would be announcements of the lost and found items. Those who found them would be praised. As a result, employees, housemaids, gardeners etc would not steal from their employers. Those who still managed to steal would be denounced in public and punished. This served as warning to potential thieves. At school, thieves would be called names and teased by fellow students until they left the school. Some thieves would confess and be forgiven. Priests, church wardens and teachers never stole church money or school fees. They served as role models. These early exposures prepared many people from stealing in their adult life. Unfortunately, when economic hard times set in caused by political instability and economic decline, and corruption, stealing crept in and started to gather speed.
Uganda’s National Resistance Movement (NRM) government led by Museveni conveyed a message of hope when it came to power in 1986 after a costly guerrilla war. It promised to end all forms of sectarianism (ethnic, tribal and religion in particular) and all privileges by birth, root causes of political instability in the 1960s and the dark period from 1971 through 1985.
On capturing power the NRM government created an environment that accommodated every Ugandan and leveled the playing field so that every Ugandan could participate in the national development process on equal footing. This would correct pre and colonial deficits including lumping together people from different political, cultural, professional, social and discriminatory formations. For example, in southern and western Uganda pre-colonial authoritarian and exploitative governance system of rulers and ruled was not only retained but reinforced through the indirect rule system, causing endemic struggles between the two classes particularly in former Ankole and Rujumbura county of Rukungiri district.
Uganda’s situation was further complicated by religious feuds between Anglican Protestantism and Roman Catholicism and the economic divide between the north and the south. Thus, throughout the colonial period no attempt was made to create national consciousness through economic, social and political linkages. The federal independence constitution imposed by the British to keep Uganda together when it was very clear there was no sense of common statehood made a bad situation worse.