Is there anything in Uganda that NRM has done right?

With a professional eye, it is difficult to see what NRM government has done right. However, it is very easy to see what it has done wrong. The costs have by far exceeded the benefits, raising serious questions about how long Ugandans should sustain NRM in power. So far, surrogates for the government have failed to convince the public. That they have failed comes through when asked to provide success stories. They don’t even know how to successfully attack their opponents, ending up embarrassing themselves when asked to substantiate their allegations. Let us illustrate what has gone wrong.

1. In the countryside, fisheries, forests, woodlands, wetlands and grasslands of Uganda that Winston Churchill talked and wrote about in 1907 have been extensively used with serious environmental damage. The clearing of vegetation to increase crop and animal production for domestic consumption and export has had negative impact. Vegetative cover has three functions. It protects soils from erosion, helps rainwater sink into the ground and maintain or raise water tables and contributes to convectional rainfall. Extensive de-vegetation has exposed soils to wind and rain erosion, water runoff has increased causing floods and lowering water tables that plants with short roots do not get enough water and have dried causing the development of desertification conditions (dust storms, shrinking water bodies and disappearing rivers – Kiborogota disappeared a long time ago and Rwizi is on the way to extinction on NRM watch). Convectional rainfall has also declined. Thermal (temperature) and hydrological (water) regimes have been adversely impacted resulting in rising temperatures and declining rainfall, hence warmer local climate change that has facilitated the spread of mosquitoes and malaria. The resulting combination of eroded soils, droughts and floods has contributed to a reduction in agricultural productivity and total production, leading to shortages of agricultural supplies (also contributed to by food exports) and the associated rising prices beyond the means of many Uganda consumers, hence rising malnutrition and other health disabilities like insanity. FAO published a report a few years ago and warned that if environmental degradation is not arrested and reversed Uganda will turn into a desert within 100 years – a very short time indeed by historical standards which NRM does not appear to view that way. Already some areas that were once crop cultivation some with two growing seasons a year have turned into grazing land conditions because of insufficient moisture for crop cultivation.

2. Inappropriate urban policies have contributed to two major problems especially in the nation’s capital city of Kampala. Unplanned construction of buildings has blocked water drainage channels causing frequent flooding and stagnant water that has created breeding grounds for mosquitoes to reproduce rapidly and transmit malaria. A combination of stagnant water in urban areas and warmer climate change as in Kabale district has increased mosquito population and deaths caused by malaria have doubled. Rapid rural-urban migration has given rise to rapid sprawl of slums to the extent that some 70 percent of urban population lives in slums and are experiencing all sorts of economic, social, environmental and moral challenges.

3. Deficits in social policy have given rise to poor school attendance, poor quality and largely irrelevant education and functional illiteracy of many graduates most of them unemployable. Poor health and nutrition policy has resulted in high levels of mortality especially among women and children. Re-emergence of diseases that had disappeared is a reflection of serious deficits in the health sector. Malnutrition is killing more people in Uganda than malaria – and deaths from malaria have doubled. A combination of poor education, poor health and poor diet has undermined human capital formation that is necessary in a knowledge-based global economy. That is why Uganda youth are unemployed while jobs with knowledge-based skills are going to foreigners including Kenyans. Defenders of government should not describe Uganda jobs going to foreign workers because of the forces of globalization beyond government control. It is the result of NRM policy failure.

4. There is nothing good to report about infrastructure. The roads are in a sorry state especially in rural areas. When bridges are washed away which are costly to repair given scarce local government resources roads become unusable, with multiple problems. The countryside is cut off from the outside world, trade is affected, shortages in rural and urban areas increase, economic growth falters and poverty escalates. Shortages of affordable energy have undermined rural transformation. The high prices of kerosene and electricity have increased the use of charcoal and fuel wood, resulting in accelerated deforestation. Providing grid electricity from Jinja or elsewhere for political purposes has not served any useful economic purpose because the majority of Ugandans simply cannot afford it.

5. At one time especially in the 1990s, the government boasted about rapid economic growth reaching 10 percent and poverty declining dramatically from 50 something to thirty and later to 20 something percent. The president boasted that there was no problem NRM could not handle. He confidently reported that Uganda would be an industrial country within 15 years and tolerating high inflation was indiscipline. With the economy growing at 3 percent and poverty at 80 percent in 2012, the government no longer boasts. Instead it is blaming external factors and opposition sabotage for Uganda’s current ills including de-industrialization. NRM did not realize (or knew but ignored it) that what drove Uganda’s rapid economic growth was not market forces and private sector under favorable structural adjustment conditions. Uganda’s source of economic growth especially in the 1990s came from utilization of excess capacity inherited in 1986, the presence of foreign troops that increased demand for goods and services and improved security in southern Uganda (that is why insecure north and east of the country did not share in rapid economic growth). With troops and excess capacity gone and walk to work demonstrations discouraging investments, the economic growth dropped precipitously from 10 percent in mid-1990s to 3 percent in 2012. To meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015 including reducing poverty and hunger in half Uganda’s economy needs to grow at a minimum rate of 8-9 percent per annum. The prospects for realizing that goal in the next three and half years are very bleak indeed.

6. NRM’s performance in democracy and governance is defined by deficits. Elections since 1996 have been marked by violence, intimidation, bribery, overuse of incumbency and fraud to the extent that opposition parties rejected the 2011 results and have declared the current government illegitimate. There is virtually no transparency in government operations and accountability is non-existent. As mentioned already, things that have gone wrong are blamed on external factors beyond control and opposition sabotage. Despite complaints from Ugandans and development partners, rampant corruption, sectarianism, cronyism and mismanagement of public funds have intensified. When pressure mounts, NRM government embarks on investigations that produce reports that gather dust on shelves while bad governance continues unabated. Donors that have continued to pump money into Uganda have helped to prolong irresponsible NRM behavior.

Supporters of NRM regime have pointed to successes in export diversification, the number of vehicles on Uganda roads, mobile phones and country houses roofed with corrugated iron sheets. Here is what NRM supporters don’t tell you that negate overall performance.

1. It is true that Uganda’s unprocessed exports have been diversified with non-traditional exports (NTEs) including foodstuffs such as fish, beans and maize traditionally supplied for domestic consumption. Fisheries (wild harvesting and fish farming in ponds) were developed by the colonial administration to provide an affordable source of protein to low income households. Fish and beans provided enough protein. The export of these two items has reduced supplies in the domestic market. Consequently Uganda diet for the majority of consumers lacks protein. The export of food has resulted in two major problems. Ugandans are not eating enough. Some thirty percent go to bed hungry every night. Those who do eat one meal of maize or cassava a day or in two days. Eating too much cassava or maize has contributed to serious neurological handicaps including insanity, explaining why Uganda’s mental hospitals are overflowing. Despite warnings of the danger of poor diet, the president has insisted Uganda will continue to export food to benefit from high external demand which benefits large scale producers but grossly disadvantages Uganda consumers. Government cannot even support a school lunch program so that food for export is not reduced. NRM has amply demonstrated disinterest in Uganda’s human welfare. Those Ugandans and others who have not seen this must recast how they view the NRM government.

2. The number of used vehicles which in other countries would have been taken off the road for pollution has increased on Uganda roads. The result of too many vehicles on limited roads especially in Kampala became time consuming and counterproductive because of traffic jam. The exhaust they emit became a health hazard. When you add up the impact of these two shortcomings you see clearly why on balance too many used vehicles on Uganda roads are not something to boast about.

3. It is true that the number of mobile phones has increased tremendously. Mobile phones were praised in terms of communication opportunities they offered in commercial terms. It was believed for example that farmers would get information about price levels in different parts of Uganda so that they are not cheated by middlemen. But the majority of phones have ended up serving a social rather than an economic function. To buy the very expensive air time many phone owners have had to make a choice between putting food on the table and buying air time. The latter has often ended up the winner. Many mobile phone users in rural areas do not have electricity to charge them. So they have to go to town and that is a day lost. Providing mobile phones should have been synchronized with affordable energy supply. Mobile phones have for many users become a liability than an asset.

4. In a New York restaurant, I had a long conversation with a compatriot from the same home area as mine about the achievements of NRM government. He stressed that the most visible achievement was the multiplication of country houses roofed with corrugated iron sheets because NRM’s coffee price policy had put more money into the pockets of coffee farmers like never before. I asked him to give me names of people who grow coffee that has earned them so much money. He looked baffled because he could not find them. Then he faced me sternly and asked me to explain where the money came from. I told him that before Amin came to power there was a lot of thatch grass in wetlands and in areas where agriculture was prohibited for ecological reasons. Amin’s agricultural policy of using any piece of land available including swamps resulted in de-vegetation. Consequently thatch materials which were free disappeared virtually overnight. Households had to purchase corrugated iron sheets. Those who had wage incomes used part of it and purchased iron sheets. Those who didn’t sold part of their assets such as cattle, goats or a piece of land to raise money and purchase iron sheets. I told him a story of two families that forced their daughters to marry early to raise money to be able to roof their houses with corrugated iron sheets. I further told him that because iron sheets were expensive new houses were on average smaller than old ones that used free grass thatch materials, leading to overcrowding and associated health hazards. He concurred with the presentation from our home area in southwest Uganda.

Limited space does not allow giving more illustrations. Hopefully the above analysis suffices that NRM does not have a good record. This has been the result of many factors including inappropriate policies, many incompetent staff at professional and political level (ministers or ministers of state with high school diploma or dubious degree can’t handle today’s complex issues) and poor governance. Above all, as we have stated many times before, the core of NRM has devoted disproportional amount of time on planning the colonization of the Great Lakes region with tacit support of external helpers: that is where the bulk of development funds has gone. That is why modernization of agriculture and poverty reduction programs did not get off the ground. That is why East African political federation, elimination of national borders and naturalization of illegal immigrants and refugees have become top priority. Hopefully Kenya and Tanzania understand what is happening. For these reasons NRM has no case to continue governing Uganda. The time has come for Ugandans to look for an alternative government to save Uganda from extinction. States have disappeared before! When it finally happens don’t say you didn’t know what NRM was up to all along. We have told you many times already.

Thus far UDU is the only one with a viable alternative. The National Recovery Plan has been well drafted and well received at home and abroad. That is why NRM government is unable or unwilling to comment on it because it contrasts NRM failed policies. UDU has seasoned officials who understand Great Lakes complexes within which to situate Uganda. It has a bottom up and participatory approach to development and a public and private partnership development model. Our sense of direction can be deduced from what we have published so far and posted at Give us a chance and you won’t be disappointed again. We are ready to hit the ground running.

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