Comparison between Museveni and British colonial chiefs in Uganda

The comments and questions I am receiving from readers of my books and blog have rekindled hope that Uganda might exit from the current neo-colonial, private sector dominated and market oriented model to a truly poverty-reduction paradigm based on building viable and lasting institutions and infrastructure (rather than governments and individual leaders) and promoting public and private partnership. But for this to happen, leaders in Uganda must have a different political economy profile from those in power today.

Museveni has failed the people of Uganda and pleased his western sponsors because he has had two conflictingstrategies. On the one hand, he has told Ugandans the right things such as transformation of Uganda’s economy through industrialization and improving the living standards of all Ugandans etc. On the other hand, he has in practice implemented what western powers have demanded – integrating Uganda into a global market economy embodied in the Washington Consensus (WC) similar to what Britain demanded during the colonial period. The WC model requires Uganda leadership to adopt policies and strategies similar to those in the colonial days under the indirect rule system. In essence Museveni has behaved like an indirect rule chief under the direction of western powers including the World Bank, IMF and especially Britain. Let us review a few examples to show that Museveni has served western and not Ugandan interests.

First, under the colonial indirect rule system, the ideal chief was loyal to the British authorities. Similarly, under the Washington Consensus, Museveni has been loyal to the World Bank and IMF under the overall authority of Britain represented by Lynda Chalker, William Pike, Paul Collier and DFID (Department for International Development) formerly the Ministry of Overseas Development.

Second, the indirect colonial chief in Uganda was responsible for maintaining law and order to avoid eruption of revolts. Uganda was brought under colonial administration through the barrel of the gun especially in Bunyoro. So there was always fear that Ugandans might revolt again against oppressive political and economic British policies.

Museveni was brought to power by western powers led by Britain through the barrel of the gun – the five year guerrilla war that devastated central Uganda (Luwero Triangle) and overthrew a national government. Similarly, since 1986 there has been a fear that a revolt might erupt against Museveni because of his draconian economic policies under structural adjustment and political dictatorship. Museveni is still considered by many Ugandans as a foreigner from Rwanda to justify why he does not care about the welfare of Ugandans (especially children Uganda’s future leaders) except those from his Bahororo tribe who have got more than everything they need. In this connection Jeffrey Herbst (2000), among others, has written that “it is commonly said that Museveni is not a Ugandan because he is a Tutsi”.

A true Ugandan, some have passionately argued, would not treat Ugandans as Museveni has done even refusing to provide resources for primary school lunch and medicines and supplies in children wards but he is willing to cover funeral expenses. Can you believe this! A normal person does not behave like this anywhere in the world in time and space. It is really baffling to say the least.

To maintain law and order, Museveni has like his counterparts in the colonial days paid special attention to security matters, allocating increasing amount of money to police, prisons and military to train and equip these institutions to prevent an uprising. Like in colonial days inadequate resources have been allocated to social institutions and infrastructure that are needed to transform Uganda and pull the population out of poverty. As in colonial days poverty reduction is not a priority under Museveni.

Third, British authorities encouraged Uganda peasants to produce crops – cotton, coffee, tobacco and tea – for export in raw form. The commodities would be processed in Britain and re-exported to Uganda at exorbitant prices beyond the means of small scale farmers who produced the raw materials. The imported goods were mostly for the few Uganda elites and expatriate population of Asians and British civil servants and business entrepreneurs and their families who benefited from foreign currency obtained from selling peasant export commodities.

Since Museveni came to power not only did he resume export of traditional crops of cotton, coffee, tea and tobacco (that had virtually vanished during the Amin regime), but diversified into non-traditional export commodities (NTEs) of foodstuffs (beans, maize and fish etc traditionally available for domestic consumption) and cut flowers, and timber. Museveni has intensified and diversified colonial production relations with Britain severely damaging the environment through de-vegetation.

Fourth, during the colonial days manufacturing, commercial and the service sectors were concentrated in foreign hands mostly British Asians. Dynamic indigenous manufacturing enterprises were destroyed thanks to Ricardian comparative advantage that confined Uganda to the static producer of raw materials.

With Museveni in power, the Asians were invited back and repossessed their properties possibly including those that had been compensated by Amin regime. Museveni’s government privatized all public enterprises and retrenched Ugandans with the largest share of business going to foreign ownership including the all important and strategic post office. As in colonial days Britain is the largest investor in Uganda under Museveni. Through trade liberalization, Uganda’s manufacturing enterprises have been outcompeted and Uganda has de-industrialized.

Fifth, in colonial days, senior servants were British. The few Ugandans that were trained occupied semi-skilled jobs such as clerks, assistants, teachers, carpenters, brick layers or in local government under a decentralization policy which amounted to divide and rule etc. Education was largely limited to primary level although Makerere produced fine graduates albeit few and in arts subjects dominated by literature, religion and history etc.

Under Museveni education has been reduced to primary level. Although universities have multiplied they are producing mostly semi-illiterate graduates and many of them unemployable. Makerere lost its glory as the “Harvard of Africa” a long time ago. It is now being compared to a two year diploma institution. The semi-illiterate graduates are therefore dependent on European expatriates especially British that like in colonial days are dominating or directing Uganda’s economy and society. The well educated Ugandans have been advised by Museveni to stay abroad and those at home are being urged to join them so that the skills gaps are filled by expatriates whose number has no limitation. Museveni as in colonial days has emphasized decentralization strategy supposedly to bring services and decision making processes closer to the people. But driven by divide and rule motive Museveni has divided the country that at one time had 18 districts into over 100. The exercise has become counterproductive because there is no money and skilled human power to do the job. This could not have been an accident.

Sixth, under the colonial rule, wages were deliberately kept very low especially in labor reserve areas in western and northern regions. Under Museveni, labor flexibility has been employed to the maximum. There are no meaningful workers organizations to negotiate wages and decent working conditions. Consequently, Uganda workers are hired and fired at will, work under some of the worst conditions especially domestic workers who are treated almost like slaves according to reports appearing in the local media.

To sum up, the Uganda chief under British colonial rule and Museveni under the Washington Consensus dominated by Britain have behaved the same in terms of loyalty and acceptance of foreign domination (especially Britain in colonial days and since 1986), governing by authoritarian means disguised as law and order, promotion of raw material production and export in exchange for manufactured products that have destroyed domestic industries and kept wages very low so that business mostly foreign maximize profits which are then remitted abroad.

As in colonial days the majority of Ugandans are illiterate, poor, hungry and sick. The Washington Consensus like the colonial policy before it has come under heavy attack. In 2009, Museveni was forced to abandon it. Museveni like his colonial chief counterparts is serving the interests of his western masters and not those of Ugandans. It is for this reason that Museveni was described (not anymore) by western powers and corporations as the star pupil of WC, blue-eyed boy and darling of the west because he met all the conditions of structural adjustment that in the process hurt the welfare of Ugandans.

With structural adjustment out of the way, Uganda needs a new leader to implement a truly poverty-reduction growth and development model. The new model would include: (1) job creation and poverty reduction, (2) production for domestic consumption with surplus for export, (3) public investment in education, health and infrastructure, (4) manufacturing enterprises that add value, reduce losses and improve longevity of the product and (5) protection of workers and environment from abuse.

This should constitute the new post-Washington Consensus agenda. Museveni who has been involved in the failed structural adjustment program for 23 years does not have the profile for the new proposed agenda. A new president and party will be needed to carry the new agenda forward. Uganda needs to be given space to use her natural and human capital with foreigners providing additional support upon request but not running our economy as has been the unprecedented case under Museveni who has turned Uganda into a true neo-colony of Britain, with Museveni serving almost like a British employee. Consequently Museveni has seriously devalued Uganda’s pride and dignity. For this retrogression, Museveni and his NRM government should be ashamed.

Ugandans must therefore overcome the temptation to be bribed by NRM. They should use their inalienable right to elect freely a leader that should govern Uganda in the next five years according to the wishes of the people and relying on Ugandans with foreigners only providing temporary support upon request. And that leader is definitely not Museveni and his NRM.

If Ugandans miss this golden and unique opportunity either because of bribery or fear then we should not blame anyone else but ourselves. Our Creator helps those who help themselves. You cannot sit there, complain and then wait for changes to take place automatically. Those who are afraid of incurring bruises in the struggle for their dignity, liberty and equality will remain trampled on. That is a lesson of history. Museveni has ruled by fear and Ugandans must gather courage and challenge him. This is the right moment.

The Tunisians have just helped themselves by throwing out a dictator. As we watched on TV screens around the world there were some bruises. That is unavoidable. But their action was heroic! Ugandans should help themselves by voting out the dictator on February 18, 2011. Good luck.