There is overwhelming evidence in time and space that countries that have developed or recovered quickly from devastation have relied heavily on their efforts – in some cases with additional external support. For instance, post-World War II quick recovery in Europe was more due to domestic institutions and capabilities that survived the war assisted by the Marshall Plan. Those that have relied heavily on outside advice and money – however well-intentioned – have not fared as expected witness Uganda since 1987.
NRM’s ten point program launched in 1986 received overwhelming support of Ugandans because it was homegrown. It covered issues that mattered most to Ugandans. Sadly, NRM dropped it in 1987 before implementation even began in favor of structural adjustment program (Washington Consensus) drawn up by outsiders.
I was among the first that protested to the highest level because I knew many in NRM close to the center of power. We argued that Ugandans know their history, their diversity and challenges and where they are located more than anyone else. Ipso facto, Ugandans should draw the roadmap and drive the process. We argued that experienced Ugandans in exile should be encouraged to return home and participate in the recovery and development process.
NRM – or should I say Museveni – refused, claiming that he had his own people who turned out to be foreign advisers, mostly young and inexperienced in Uganda’s complicated history. Museveni advised that those in exile should send remittances as their contribution to national recovery – but they can’t come home except a few he selected himself.
In Uganda Museveni takes all decisions in the party (NRM), in parliament and in the cabinet. Any initiative coming from someone else will not see light of day unless Museveni internalizes and announces it himself, becoming his own idea without credit to the original source.
Studies have been conducted including by Nancy Birdsall, Dani Rodrik and Arvind Subramanian (Foreign Affairs. July/August 2005) which show that “Development is something largely determined by poor countries themselves and outsiders can play only a limited role”. They add that developed countries should not abandon poor countries to their plight. Instead the latter should think creatively about the development agenda.
Countries like Vietnam, Chile, China, India and in South East Asia including South Korea have made a breakthrough because of internal reforms in economic and political institutions. On the other hand countries that have failed regardless of the level of external assistance and trade opportunities are those where power and resources are concentrated in the hands of a few elites and governments have failed to invest enough in infrastructure, institutions and public welfare.
Uganda belongs to the second category of countries. Power and resources are heavily concentrated in few hands, leaving little for investment in human and infrastructural sectors. The hoped-for-trickle-down mechanism under structural adjustment program has not worked in 25 years. Therefore the benefits of modest economic growth (insufficient to meet the MDGs by 2015) have gone to those already rich while some twenty percent of Ugandans have got worse. In 2011 over 50 percent of the total 34 million people are still trapped in absolute poverty. Uganda’s general standard of living is nowhere near the commendable level reached in 1970 before the UPC government was overthrown in a military coup staged by Amin with external support.
Foreign experts from all walks of life that flocked to Uganda after 1987 came with their pet projects. Some came to test their theories. And Uganda gave them every opportunity provided NRM was spared multiparty elections and allowed to spend lavishly on the military.
Structural adjustment of the “shock therapy”(most damaging) type was adopted by the NRM government. It has crippled education, healthcare, nutrition, housing, environment, infrastructure and institutions. Through labor flexibility, Uganda workers have been underpaid, worked under poor conditions, hired and fired at will. Foreign workers have been hired when Ugandans including university graduates cannot find work.
Although the government was forced to abandon structural adjustment program in 2009 because it was abandoned elsewhere (Peter Clarke 2009) NRM has continued to implement elements of structural adjustment with donor support such as the IMF because it is not capable of finding an alternative.
As they say, “Hope Comes Out of Despair”. In Uganda after twenty five years of despair, Ugandans are beginning to open their eyes and see what has gone wrong and pull themselves together for corrective action. They are increasingly confirming that what the opposition has been saying and writing about NRM failed policies and military dictatorship is right. They are demanding that not only should NRM go but Ugandans should be in the driver’s seat and determine the route along which the bus should be driven.
Within the NRM some leaders are beginning to feel that way. They feel they were misled and have betrayed their children. And that is why a revolt is brewing inside the NRM. Some want a major overhaul of policies, others may even join the opposition to unseat the NRM altogether. Some of them have tacitly encouraged us in the opposition to keep writing and speaking out and agitating so that their hands are strengthened to force major policy changes or change the regime.
It is reported that Museveni has said he will not tolerate dissent in the NRM and in Uganda in general. Let us remind Museveni that Ben Ali of Tunisia, Mubarak of Egypt and Qaddafi of Libya did not want the revolutionary changes that have occurred in their countries in 2011.
So if Ugandans including patriots in the NRM that were misled decide as unfolding events are increasingly revealing including at the recently concluded NRM seminar at Kyankwanzi that they want Museveni out there isn’t much he can do about it. Shooting unarmed demonstrators or harming family members of his arch rivals will only hasten his demise. So he would be unwise to take that route having witnessed what happened to his mentor Qaddafi who funded Museveni’s guerrilla war and sustained him in power.
Reports that Museveni was re-elected with backing of foreign voters and there are mercenaries (to be confirmed) in the police and military means that Museveni is afraid of Uganda security forces.
Museveni’s external support is gradually slipping away and that is why he is skipping major summits including the United Nations General Assembly and the Commonwealth.
In order to hang on for a few more years Museveni has concentrated on the East African economic integration and political federation, notwithstanding that Uganda has benefited very little and will come out the loser if negotiations are conducted in a hurry witness the level of chronic trade deficits. But even here he is running into a wall of opposition because East Africans are beginning to understand his real motive – the creation of a Tutsi Empire with himself as the first Emperor.
In order to regain control of decisions that shape the future of our country, Ugandans at home and abroad opposed to the NRM regime have formed an umbrella organization known as United Democratic Ugandans (UDU). We have prepared and distributed widely at home and abroad a homegrown National Recovery Plan (NRP) available at www.udugandans.org as an alternative to the failed NRM policies. Please read the plan and send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org for incorporation into the final plan. So far we have received very good responses from Ugandan and non-Ugandan readers.
Because of its failed policies and poor governance record particularly corruption and tribalism NRM government is defenseless. All indicators – economic, social, institutional, infrastructural, environmental, political, humanitarian and human rights – are heading in the wrong direction – all of them! Even the growth rate and inflation control that have been NRM’s trademarks are up in smoke.
Given Uganda’s relatively better human and natural resource endowments and massive donor support, how else do you explain Uganda’s lowest life expectancy in the East African region?
NRM has run out of steam – pure and simple. It cannot be reformed. It must be replaced regardless of Museveni’s preference.
With NRM out of the way which hopefully will come sooner than later, Ugandans should design their policies (NRP is already available), employ their human capital to implement, monitor and evaluate policies with donor support in a mutually beneficial manner. This way Uganda stands a better chance of pulling itself out of the poverty trap and onto a sustained and sustainable development trajectory.
To bring NRM to a quick finality and end the suffering of our people, we appeal to all Ugandans to come together and join hands including those disgruntled in the NRM and oppose the government in a peaceful manner. Wars to solve Uganda political disputes have not served us well.
Collectively and unarmed we should demonstrate and disobey and make Uganda ungovernable under the NRM regime. We should use the “war of the flea” strategy by making NRM itch everywhere and lose sleep until it cannot take it anymore. Investors, tourists, donors and Museveni’s lobbyists abroad should join us in this noble, peaceful and democratic effort. Without money for patronage Museveni will lose support in the NRM. Either he will step down or will face the full wrath of Uganda citizens and their friends and well-wishers including our neighbors.
We call on parliament and civil society organizations to lead in this worthy endeavor for you represent the people of Uganda whose sovereignty is under threat by the military dictatorship.
We call on the armed forces to do the right thing which is to abandon NRM for the good of our country and the future of all our children. The minister of defense and a group of army leaders in the Philippines and a foreign backer saved the country from shedding blood by withdrawing support to Marcos who wanted to use force to stay in power against the wish of the people. Marcos stepped down and went into exile. Uganda security forces should emulate the good example of the soldiers in the Philippines.
Each region and location should design a strategy that suits its conditions avoiding getting in danger unnecessarily. What we need is to have an inner conviction that what we are doing is the right thing for our country and our children. Then we must pull down the wall of fear and act boldly and smartly with each one of us playing a role according to his/her capability.
The world will come to our side once it realizes that we mean business. Outside support may come in different guises. Do your part convincingly. The train has left its starting station and is heading towards Kampala. You still can get on board.