External reporting on Uganda is misleading the public

The people of Uganda are hurting very badly under the NRM regime. Their conditions are getting worse. Ugandans are eating poorly, dressing poorly, sleeping poorly. When people struggle to get one meal of cassava a day; when people can only afford used clothes not even appropriate for their climate; when a whole family sleeps in one room on the floor sometimes with domestic animals; when parents force their daughters into early marriage to make ends meets that is a society in real trouble. I am describing Uganda society which is beginning to say Amin administration was better than Museveni’s. I am saying this from first-hand knowledge accumulated over many years. In my research, I have had the opportunity to interact with many people from all walks of life. I have visited churches, administrative offices, schools, homes, market places and vendors on the street. I have even travelled by bus many times between my home town of Rukungiri and the nation’s capital Kampala to hear passenger stories. I have visited homes at critical moments – at meal times, at bed times. I have also conversed with Uganda bureaucrats, politicians and donors. I have heard and seen it all: not from books but from real people. Some of the stories I have heard and things I have seen are horrible. People want enabling environment (roads, affordable electricity, etc) to struggle on their own but they are not getting it.

Ending the suffering of Ugandans could be easy if the international community reports on the end results of NRM programs. Reporting has very largely focused on means, not ends. Imagine you have quality shoes that you do not wear, plenty of food that you do not eat or a degree that you do not use to find a well paying job. Similarly what is the purpose of multi-parties, elections and legislatures if they do not help people solve their problems? What is the purpose of macroeconomic stability and economic growth if the majority of population remains poor? The provision of goods and services should be linked to how they serve the people not to be judged on their comprehensiveness and quality per se. The following illustrations will shed light on how reporting on means has misled the public about NRM performance.

For a long time NRM received high marks from the international community for implementing structural adjustment program (SAP). NRM met the conditions of macroeconomic stability (such as low inflation until recently), liberalization of domestic market and exchange rate, privatization of public enterprises, diversification of exports and virtual elimination of state intervention in the economy. Fulfilling these conditions was meant to attract investment, promote growth and end poverty and its offshoots of hunger, disease and ignorance. But Uganda has ended up with jobless growth and skewed income distribution. The end product was poverty eradication. But poverty has remained over 50 percent, unemployment over 80 percent. But these shortcomings are rarely mentioned in the international media even by organizations whose mandate is poverty eradication. Consequently NRM is not under commensurate international pressure to do better.

The international community has also tended to focus on the design of programs than the end product. Four prominent examples are Poverty Reduction Action Plan, Modernization of Agriculture, Environment Action Plan and Universal Primary Education. These programs have been praised more for their comprehensiveness and technical soundness than the outcomes delivered. Uganda became a model in program design. But these programs and plans have remained largely unimplemented or suffered in other ways like quality, relevance and attendance of primary education. Consequently, Uganda is unlikely to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015 including poverty and hunger reduction in half. Agriculture has remained largely primitive using hand hoes, low yielding traditional seeds and relying on rainfall rather than irrigation. Environmental degradation has got worse in rural and urban areas. The nation’s capital city Kampala is experiencing sprawling slums and frequent flooding. The countryside is going through extensive de-vegetation including wetland clearance adversely affecting temperature and rainfall regimes. The international community rarely reports on failure to meet these goals, keeping NRM government off the hook.

Legalizing multi-party politics and holding regular elections at local and national levels have been hailed by the international community as success stories paving the way for legislatures to design policies that would help Ugandans meet their needs. But party politics, elections and legislatures have turned out to be tools for sustaining NRM in power than serving the needs of the people. External reporting has dwelt more on defending NRM government legitimacy than on how it is violating the rights of citizens and its record on governance including corruption, sectarianism, cronyism and electoral reforms including restoration of presidential term limits. Uganda opposition groups believe NRM government is illegitimate.

How has this external partial reporting affected NRM’s original intentions? NRM came to power with a ten point program and very clear goals such as poverty and hunger eradication. Museveni stressed that he did not agree with those who talked about poverty and hunger reduction. His administration’s goal was total eradication. The international community was approached to assist the government in designing and funding programs as a means to meet the goals. However, NRM government slowly moved towards reporting the means rather than outcomes in line with external reporting. Constructing schools and clinics, maintaining macroeconomic stability and promoting economic growth, increasing and diversifying exports, etc became the focus of reporting in line with external preference. Eventually NRM abandoned its original goals of focusing on final outcomes such as poverty and hunger elimination and sustainable development. Thus, influenced by external reporting on means than ends, NRM has abandoned its original agenda with impunity. Old diseases are back, malaria is killing more Ugandans, some thirty per cent of Ugandans go to bed on empty stomachs daily and insanity is rising etc. NRM government is now devoting disproportionate time on East African economic integration and political federation without specifying the exact net benefits than on domestic programs. Enlarging the market and getting East African passport do not guarantee a better standard of living for all Ugandans.

The purpose of this message is to appeal to the international community to recast analysis and reporting on Uganda development so that the means and outcomes are equally covered.