First and foremost, Museveni is president of Uganda to advance his own interests. In true democratic sense Museveni is not popular because of corruption and sectarianism as can be deduced from elite and peasant comments. He has used a combination of security forces, impoverishing Ugandans and collaborating with western powers in structural adjustment and anti-terrorism – areas that are not popular in the Horn and Great Lakes regions – to stay in power.
When structural adjustment ran out of steam in Ghana, the experiment was transferred to Uganda in 1987. Museveni adopted the extreme version (shock therapy) of structural adjustment favored by western sponsors the implementation of which required an authoritarian leader who would not tolerate riots. Museveni was also needed in great lakes geopolitics that resulted in changing governments in Rwanda in 1994 and in Zaire in 1997.
In return Museveni was saved from early multi-party politics which were imposed on others, allowed to strangle pre-independence Uganda Peoples’ Congress (UPC) and Democratic Party (DP), received huge amounts of money and training for his security forces and consolidated military, economic and political power in his hands. He threatened Ugandans that he would go back to the bush and cause another hell if not elected president in 1996. Most development partners did not raise a finger when all these things were happening because they did not want to upset a reliable ally.
Museveni made important and especially strategic appointments. Using civil service retrenchment requirement under structural adjustment, Museveni dismissed those he did not like and marginalized others. He selectively invited those in the diaspora and ignored the rest even when his government needed experienced people. He hired his relatives and friends most of them poorly trained and without experience. Strategic ministries went to loyal supporters. Medical doctors ended up in ministries of finance, foreign affairs, agriculture and parastatal bodies, policemen in education, historians in finance and agriculture etc. He filled gaps with foreign experts, advisers and supervisors that literally ran the ministries especially the enlarged and disproportionately empowered ministry of finance, planning and economic development. Lack of local knowledge and Uganda’s history made foreign experts’ work very difficult in an environment where there were no statistics of any description.
Uganda and Museveni in particular became darling of the west. And money kept pouring in and Museveni allocated a big chunk of it to himself including for the purchase of one of the most expensive presidential jets. Much of the rest went to relatives, friends and those he wanted to woe to his party. Development was not on Museveni’s priority list. The donors watched and listened but apparently did not see or hear anything seriously wrong that required their intervention. Unlike Obote, Muveveni was not punished by IMF and World Bank for not sticking to loan conditionality and for not observing human rights.
Meanwhile social and environmental conditions deteriorated fast. Children were thrown out of school, patients died of curable diseases, women and children died of hunger, mothers produced underweight children because they were under-nourished and vegetation was cleared mercilessly to grow export crops, herd cattle and goats for export and produce quality timber to earn foreign exchange to meet the demands of rich families.
Progress reports focused on inflation control, foreign exchange accumulation, economic growth and per capita income. Social and environmental conditions were ignored. The private sector and market mechanism were expected to create jobs and distribute the benefits of economic growth respectively. Government was saved from that responsibility. Its main task was to maintain order and stability which Museveni is very good at witness how security forces dealt with riots in Kampala in September 2009 when Museveni was chairman of Commonwealth.
Dissatisfaction with structural adjustment coincided with rising terrorism. Museveni saw a window of opportunity. He declared war on terrorism and was prepared to work with western powers in the same fight. The ministry of defense began to gain prominence at the expense of finance in international relations. Because of poverty, weak institutions and corruption, many African states are seen as vulnerable to terrorist networks. There were reports that al Qaeda marketed gems through East African networks and was taking advantage of war in DRC. Al Qaeda and the situation in Somalia made it necessary to have anti-terrorist centers in the Horn and Great Lakes regions.
In 2003 President Bush visited Senegal, South Africa, Botswana, Nigeria and Uganda. Uganda was the only country visited in the Horn and Great Lakes regions. Uganda has the largest contingent of troops in Somalia. To demonstrate determination, Museveni has sent more troops after Somali terrorists attacked Uganda’s capital city and killed many people and injured many more. Museveni is therefore seen as a true ally in the fight against terrorism. In return for this valuable service, Museveni’s abuse of electoral rules in 2011 and violation of human rights will most likely be tolerated so he is re-elected. Already he has refused to appoint an independent electoral commission because he knows that to win he needs to rig and many donors know it.
Like Mobutu Sese Seko, unpopular Museveni has been in power for a long time – 25 years – because of collaboration with western powers at the expense of Uganda citizens. As long as terrorism lasts and western powers still need Museveni he will stay president of Uganda whether Ugandans like it or not. As many Ugandans have commented elections are a waste of time and resources under present circumstances. International observers will not be necessary either because whatever they will say will not change anything. The losers should not even go to the Supreme Court. Why? Because Museveni will make sure he does not lose the case. Uganda’s alleged involvement in Hutu genocide in DRC will not have an impact because Museveni is a staunch ally of the west.
However, Ugandans should not lose hope and the fight with the barrel of the pen. They should continue to expose western injustice and double standards until commonsense prevails as it did in Zaire in 1997.