On October 9, 2012, in a seven page speech delivered from Kololo airstrip, President Museveni who has been in power for more than half of fifty years of Uganda’s independence addressed the nation and the world. The first two pages of the speech were devoted to protocol requirements and listing invited dignitaries within and without Uganda. The third and part of the fourth pages were devoted to the list of ten strategic bottlenecks inherited at independence in 1962. Before making comments on the speech item by item, let me remark on three things.
First, because there was no agreement on the head of state at the time of independence, the Queen of the United Kingdom remained head of state represented in Uganda by the Governor-General. H. E. the late Mutes II became ceremonial president in 1963, not in 1962.
Second, since 1987 Uganda has been the darling of the west and has received generous donations in financial and technical assistance on a regular – not erratic – basis, at times receiving more assistance than the absorptive capacity. Development partners should therefore be congratulated for that generosity, although there isn’t much to show for it.
Third, in parts of the speech, the president talked as though he was advising the government of as foreign country about what to do as in the last paragraph on page 6, forgetting that he is the head of state and government and chairman of the ruling party. He often does these things to avoid accountability. Let us now comment on specific points in the speech.
1. The president talked about building a new army guided by the ideology of patriotism. We need to realize that Uganda’s army is trained and equipped first and foremost to protect and defend Uganda and Ugandans. The president should have reported on how this duty has been carried out in the last fifty years. He conveniently left that out presumably to cover up alleged military indiscipline in the northern and eastern war that ended recently.
2. Regarding human resource development, the president proudly reported on the number of graduates in primary and higher levels. However, he didn’t indicate how this education has translated into finding jobs, earning a good income to enable graduates feed, shelter and clothe themselves and members of the families. He avoided this in large part because unemployment and under-employment levels especially of youth including university graduates are unacceptably high. Development is measured in the level of standard of living expressed in terms of life expectancy which in Uganda has remained below acceptable levels.
3. Regarding infrastructure, the president singled out electricity, noting that work is still in progress as indicated by his remark that “We are aiming at 20,000 MW in the next few years”, implying that Uganda doesn’t have enough energy after fifty years of independence. In fact economic progress has been undermined in large part by shortage of affordable sources of energy. He avoided mentioning other infrastructures like roads because the record there is very unsatisfactory.
4. Bringing the East African population into the East African community per se will not improve the market for goods and services. Sheer numbers without adequate purchasing power won’t help much – in fact it will help disproportionately countries like Kenya that are ahead in the level of manufacturing and skilled human power. The level of poverty remains very high. What is more important is to devote more effort to significantly reduce poverty and its offshoots of hunger, ignorance and disease. Furthermore, Uganda has been engaged in East African commercial arrangements since before independence, but her trade with Kenya and Tanzania and now with Burundi and Rwanda in addition, still records trade deficits after more than fifty years. Opening up Uganda markets for mobility of capital, human and animal population will likely make matters worse especially if land ownership is part of the deal. Land should be non-negotiable and taken off the negotiating table.
5. President Museveni vowed that Uganda would become an industrialized nation within fifteen years of assuming power in 1986. Here is what he said with confidence in an interview with Ad’Obe Obe of Africa Forum in 1991 “Uganda will be an industrial power in 15 years. I have no doubt about it. There’s no doubt because nothing can stop us”. Notwithstanding this confidence, in 2012, the president is still talking about how to address the bottleneck of exporting raw materials. Something must have stopped him along the industrialization path. He should have informed the nation about it because overall Uganda is de-industrializing and shedding jobs instead of industrializing and creating badly needed jobs.
6. The president informed his listeners that Uganda has embarked on modernization of agriculture through research institutions by improving seeds and breeding stock. He also mentioned experiments with bananas. If this is all we have done in fifty years, then there is nothing to celebrate. The president reported in his latest State of the Union address that subsistence farmers that constitute 68 percent of Uganda’s population were neglected. Earlier the prime minister announced that a decision had been taken to transfer land from small holder subsistence farmers to rich ones (domestic and foreign) to increase productivity. But his decision is based on wrong facts. It has been scientifically determined that when properly facilitated small holder farmers are more productive, more efficient and more environmentally and socially friendly than large scale farmers. Besides the prime minister didn’t indicate what he would do with the displaced 68 percent of Uganda population that are subsistence farmers. Moving them to urban areas isn’t a solution. Already some seventy percent of Ugandans in urban areas live in slums, with no jobs.
7. The president pinned Uganda’s future on oil. The experience of oil producing countries in Africa indicates that oil is a curse rather than a blessing and the president knows that. To allay fear he should have specified how he will avoid the problem experienced by other African oil producing countries.
8. The president rightly praised China for successfully using parastatals and a combination of foreign and domestic companies in economic growth and poverty reduction. He praised China in particular for instituting tough internal discipline. Uganda is already using foreign and domestic companies. What has failed Uganda is lack of discipline because there is too much corruption, sectarianism, cronyism and mismanagement that have mushroomed on the president’s watch. Why has the president who has led Uganda for 26 years failed to establish discipline? This is a leadership bottleneck and the president as head of state and government and of the ruling party should be held accountable.
9. The president rightly pointed out that production and consumption go together. You can’t sustain production without commensurate consumption. In Uganda there is a small market because the population is poor. The president had vowed to eradicate poverty. Yet 26 years in power, absolute poverty is over 50 percent. Advocating East African common market isn’t going to match production with consumption because other members of the East African countries have large pockets of poverty. The first step to solving the problem of consumption is to engage in poverty-reduction programs rather than spend a disproportionate amount of time and money pursuing East African economic integration which hasn’t benefited Uganda so far and isn’t likely to do so in the near future. The East African community should help Uganda to develop its domestic economy and society first and not simply issue passports and open borders for free mobility of factors of production. Eliminating national borders as has been suggested is the wrong way to regional cooperation.
10. Under Museveni leadership, NRM has said the right things in its fifteen point program but done the wrong ones. Rigged elections at gun point don’t constitute democracy. Talking about ending corruption when it is spreading and deepening isn’t going to solve the problem. Talking about socio-economic transformation when the country is stuck in a comparative advantage of agricultural commodities exported in raw form, presiding over collapsing infrastructure, institutional decay, food and nutrition insecurity and social and ecological decadence isn’t moving Uganda forward but backward. Uganda which was ahead of Kenya and Tanzania at independence is now way behind them in many areas of human condition.
11. The president reported that Uganda’s population has increased from seven million at independence in 1962 to 34 million now. But he didn’t give a breakdown about the components of that growth. Population grows or declines depending upon changes in birth and death rates and in-migrants and out-migrants. Poverty, early school dropout and lack of women empowerment are major factors in population growth. With high levels of poverty and in-migrants in excess of out-migrants, population growth could have increased not so much as a result of improvements in living standards but because of high level of poverty, early marriage and high fertility and immigration. In the absence of records on migration and vital registration and imperfections in census taking we can only guess and possibly wrongly about factors pushing rapid population growth.
12. The president reported that “We have achieved high rates of growth in the last 26 years” but he didn’t elaborate. Yes, we have achieved high growth rate in population, in export diversification and in rural-urban migration, etc. Uganda has also experienced rapid growth in youth unemployment, in maternal mortality and environmental destruction. Economic growth which was high in the 1990s and reached 11 percent in the mid-1990s has declined to 3 percent below population growth in the last financial year with a negative per capita income. That Uganda isn’t doing well can be deduced from the fact that we have not reached the general level of the standard of living attained by 1970.
Images coming out of Uganda about the status of health, food security, education specially condition of school infrastructure, bridges, slums, corruption, sectarianism and cronyism, de-industrialization, slow economic growth and increasing level of human suffering point to one sad but unavoidable conclusion – Uganda has retrogressed since 1971 and is quickly sliding away from the international screen. The president’s absence at the United Nations General Assembly is one prominent indicator. Uganda’s alleged involvement in human atrocities and natural resource plunder in DRC has damaged Uganda’s reputation and the image of its leaders. Museveni once the dean of the new breed of African leaders has lost that title.
To overcome the impasse, United Democratic Ugandans (UDU) has prepared and distributed widely a National Recovery Plan (NRP) as alternative to the failed policies and leadership since 1971. The Plan is posted at www.udugandans.org. UDU is currently involved upon request in civic education and the kind of governance system suitable for Uganda. After 50 years under a unitary system of government voices in favor of a federal system of governance that shares defined and protected by constitution responsibilities between the federal and local governments are getting louder.
Hopefully, the October 27, 2012 London conference on federalism will agree on how to proceed to achieve a federal system of government that will empower regions and/or districts to be responsible for their destiny in collaboration with the federal or central government. Under able leadership of experienced, dedicated and patriotic citizens, Uganda should be able to perform better in the next fifty years because human and non-human ingredients for rapid economic growth and equity in a sustainable environment already exist.
Secretary-General & Chief Administrator, UDU