The politics of Uganda is at a cross-roads. If we take a wrong turn we shall be in trouble for a very long time and everybody will lose something. We therefore need cool minds to resolve our political differences. We, Ugandans need to remember that our nation has experienced war than peace; politics of exclusiveness than inclusiveness; zero-sum games and winner-take-all than compromise and agreement on win-win arrangements. Democracy in the form of elections since 1961 has not produced the desired results. Governance has lacked transparency, accountability and full participation of all Ugandans. We also need to realize that when a country has been dominated for a long time by one party and one leader, the transition is often very difficult. Because of these unfavorable circumstances and quality of leadership, Ugandans have failed to enjoy the endowments in our land and take advantage of our strategic geographic location in the Great Lakes region. Consequently the majority of Ugandans are trapped in absolute poverty and its offshoots of hunger, unemployment, disease and illiteracy. For these reasons, Uganda’s political economy needs to be overhauled.
That Uganda is in deep crisis is no longer in dispute. There is a political crisis; there is an economic crisis; there is a food crisis; there is a health crisis; there is education crisis; there is moral crisis; there is environmental crisis; there is employment crisis; there is housing crisis etc, etc. These crises are upon us in large part because of poor leadership. How did it happen? We need to examine the leadership style of President Museveni since 1986.
Museveni came to power in 1986 believing that he was the only visionary, the only intellectual and a God send leader born to rule with his tribe’s people. Museveni thought he was on top of the world and would govern Uganda according to his own instincts. He thought running a country was the same as commanding a guerrilla war. But he forgot that he had prepared for the 1981-85 guerrilla war since the 1960s and had accumulated experience. He did not realize nor would he listen that running a country particularly at that difficult moment had different rules. Before becoming president Museveni – according to his own words – had worked for a few months in the office of the president in charge of nomadic people before Obote was overthrown in 1971. So he assumed the presidency without experience in the art of governing a country or managing an organization. Then he made the following blunders which should be avoided by the next administration.
It is now crystal clear that Uganda has leaders suffering from a sleeping ailment. As if that was not debilitating enough, they have begun to quarrel among themselves. When the president addressed parliament last year on State of the Nation, his senior cabinet staff fell into deep sleep – people can doze off once in a while and that is excusable but when you sleep so deeply and repeatedly that is a different matter. One would have thought that the sleeping habit was due to age but young ones slept as well on both occasions. Therefore age has nothing to do with it. Last year’s sleeping incident was not taken seriously. We thought there must have been some specific and temporary reason why so many cabinet ministers could sleep so much. On June 7, 2012 it happened again this time with more ministers – again young and old – in deeper sleep than last year. Leaders who can sleep this deeply and for so long in the presence of their president, how much do they sleep when they are alone in their offices? A non-Ugandan friend of mine who had seen pictures of last year called me after he saw those of this year. He wanted to know whether Ugandans were suffering from a sleeping disease and, if so, what steps were being taken to cure it because no country can develop with that kind of leadership. I had no answer for him.
There are sharp differences between NRM and UDU development priorities.
1. For NRM urban and export-oriented economic growth and earning hard currency come first. This is a top-down approach where the people come last through a trickledown mechanism which sadly has not worked since it was introduced in 1987. Furthermore, NRM policy has focused on services in urban areas especially Kampala and its vicinity generating 70 percent of Gross National Income (GNI) with a population of less than 2 million out of 34 million Ugandans. NRM policy is designed to service external markets with food and raw materials first. For UDU Ugandans come first. The majority of Ugandans (over 85 percent) who are poor and unemployed live in rural areas. UDU will therefore formulate a bottom-up and pro-poor economic growth program based on agriculture and rural development (agro-processing, infrastructure such as roads – focusing on constructing permanent bridges with central government support – and affordable energy) thereby serving the people first and directly. In contrast to NRM food production will meet the needs of Uganda first and surplus will be exported to neighboring countries and beyond. With planned increased productivity, Uganda will have enough food for domestic consumption and increase exports. Under NRM policy food exports have undermined supplies for domestic consumption especially of proteins which are exported in beans and fish. Eating non-nutritious foodstuffs such as cassava and maize has resulted in neurological disabilities and insanity, undermining human capital formation.
I have been receiving comments about why I do not support military confrontation with NRM in the first instance. In other words, why I do not want the opposition to use military means to attack Uganda first? My position is the following:
1. The mood in the Great Lakes Region, African Union and the International Community is not in favor of armed conflict. Protocol on Non-Aggression and Mutual Defense in the Great Lakes Region; African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance and Charter of the United Nations will make military attack on a government regardless of how it came into power very difficult. Opposition attackers will be condemned as terrorists and Museveni will get all the support he needs and enact all draconian laws to cause permanent damage and govern comfortably thereafter. He would welcome that opportunity. We can’t and shouldn’t give it to him. Recall what happened in a successful Mali’s military coup recently: soldiers were forced to hand over power to the civilian. The Madagascar case was also hard for the new government. Conditions when Museveni waged a guerrilla war in the early 1980s were very favorable, not now. So don’t think because Museveni carried out a successful guerrilla war you too can do it.
The Roman Empire was severely weakened by luxuries, corruption and strife. The empire would have collapsed even without barbarian invasions. The invasions merely speeded up what was inevitable. NRM is in the same situation. It has been weakened by too much luxury, too much corruption and the emerging internal strife. If you want to understand the level of luxury, you keep your eyes wide open during the end of year season festivities – from Christmas Day to the New Year – in the countryside. I say countryside because that is where the differences between the rich and the poor are very striking. The NRM big shots and their families are driven in four wheel vehicles. They organize parties the moment they arrive in the villages. They organize extraordinary wedding parties, christening parties, thanksgiving parties; parties for relatives; parties for supporters, parties, parties, parties to show how rich they are until they return to Kampala. And on Christmas Day they come to church dressed expensively and immaculately from the head of the family down to the youngest member. And while these festivities and displays are going on the poor, in second hand clothes and without shoes gather around and watch in disbelief, their hands covering their mouths. And they begin to wonder how these people most of whom lived in poverty like them a few years ago managed to amass so much wealth.
News about Uganda is very depressing and has damaged our national pride, reminiscent of Amin’s days when Uganda was defined as a failed state with a dictatorial regime as now. Wrongdoing cannot be hidden any more thanks to advanced technology. Images of sleeping government leaders and advisers when the president was presenting the State of the Nation address (and it happened last year) have raised questions as to whether that is the best team he can find among 34 million Ugandans. Many Ugandans are convinced beyond any shadow of doubt that Uganda is in a political, economic, social, moral and environmental crisis, no matter what NRM government officials and friends abroad may say. That is not the team that will pull Uganda out of its endemic difficulties including unemployment, poverty and environmental decay. This is the moment when we ought to collectively put our heads together and find a lasting solution. Leaders who ignore the views of others and insist on governing by divine right cause harm to themselves and their nations as history has taught us.
In Uganda things have changed in the political, economic, social and environmental areas since NRM came to power in 1986. The leaders whether under pressure or voluntarily genuinely changed their opinion to match the changes that had taken place in Uganda and at the global level. In 1987 they abandoned the ten point development model and replaced it with a fundamentally different model of structural adjustment which came into force in May 1987. In 2009, structural adjustment model was declared dead. In line with the global economic wind of change, NRM government announced it had changed its opinion and abandoned structural adjustment and replaced it with Five Year National Development Plan (NDP). But there was no fundamental change in content. The core elements of structural adjustment remained intact – macroeconomic stability and limited state intervention in Uganda’s economy. This was a tactical change to hoodwink Ugandans ahead of 2011 presidential and parliamentary elections. So, one can fairly conclude that since 1987 while things have changed considerably government opinion and practice have remained virtually intact. Is it possible for NRM to change its opinion commensurate with the changes that have taken place since 1987? It is unlikely and this is why, beginning with the president.