NRM ‘revolution’ has reversed Uganda’s 90 years achievements

When the National Resistance Movement (NRM) came to power in 1986, it promised fundamental changes in Uganda’s political economy and society. Ugandans assumed fundamental change meant a quick recovery from the political, economic and social difficulties they had experienced since 1971 to a path of sustained growth, sustainable and transformational development. The launch of the ten-point program gave Ugandans hope. Unfortunately the ten point program never materialized. Instead, since 1990, Uganda has experienced a reversal of its earlier achievements including land ownership, economic transformation, ecological conservation and human capital formation. No one imagined that NRM’s fundamental change meant reversal of achievements Uganda had realized in the 90 years between 1894 and 1985. The reversal has affected the following areas:

The British colonial authorities left Uganda’s land firmly in the hands of Uganda peasants. This decision was taken after intensive discussions between London and Entebbe. British authorities further realized that adequate food and nutrition security was a human right that must be observed. They developed fisheries to provide affordable source of protein for low income families.

In the area of economic transformation, Britain realized that as population increased, agriculture would not provide adequate jobs to the growing economically active labor force. Consequently, in the 1950s they began to promote and protect ‘infant’ industries. In preparation for industrialization of Uganda’s economy, Britain constructed the Jinja dam to provide hydroelectric energy (HEP), established Uganda Development Corporation (UDC) to facilitate industrialization, and created an enabling legal framework for private sector participation.

In the environment sector, British authorities preserved wetlands and forests to protect biodiversity and planted trees on steep slopes and hill tops to protect water catchment areas. They introduced contour farming in areas with hilly topography to prevent soil erosion.

In the education sector the 1960s registered great achievements at all levels under Uganda Peoples’ Congress (UPC) government. Many schools and teachers’ houses were built, teachers were trained and instructional materials were delivered in adequate amount. Besides increased school enrolment, high quality education was established and maintained as reported in the 1993 World Bank report.

In the health sector, tremendous achievements were also realized in the first decade of independence (1960s). Hospitals and clinics were built mostly in rural areas and medical staff was trained at all levels. Houses were provided together with good salaries and an invigorating working atmosphere. Mortality declined in all age groups and life expectancy at birth rose fast.

The NRM government since it came to power in 1986 has reversed these fundamental achievements. Land is increasingly being concentrated in the hands of Uganda’s rich elites and foreigners. Refugees who sought asylum in Uganda until conditions in their home countries improved for them to return home and illegal immigrants who are tolerated have become land owners competing with indigenous people. As a result, conflicts between the two groups have increased. At this rate of in-migration combined with mounting pressure on Ugandans to reduce their population growth, indigenous populations will soon become a minority in their own country – and this is a serious matter that needs urgent government attention. At independence in 1962, forty percent (40%) of Buganda’s population was Banyarwanda from Burundi but mostly from Rwanda who came into the country as migrant workers and others later on as refugees. Since then more Banyarwanda have come in as illegal immigrants. In parts of Ntungamo, Rukungiri, Kanungu and Bunyoro immigrants already outnumber indigenous populations. This development has led to political conflicts which could get worse. The conflict and civil war in Cote d’voire (Ivory Coast) is between indigenous people and foreign born immigrants that constitute half the population.

The fisheries policy has been reversed by NRM policy from providing an affordable source of protein to Ugandans to earning foreign exchange as an export commodity. This change of policy has deprived peasants who originally benefited from the fish protein, increasing under-nutrition as a result.

By promoting trade liberalization, the NRM government has opened Uganda market to subsidized and used products which have outcompeted domestically produced goods. For example, the importation of used clothes has crippled Uganda’s once vibrant textile industry. World Trade Organization (WTO) has safeguards which allow member states to impose temporary trade restrictions when an increase in imports undermines local industries. The NRM government has not invoked this provision as Uganda’s industries close or perform below installed capacity leading to loss of jobs. Unlike some African countries Uganda government has deliberately refused to start public works programs to absorb the unemployed youth.

In the environment sector, NRM has accelerated de-vegetation of wetlands and stripping of hill tops and slopes and deforestation of reserve areas which began under the Amin regime. Consequently, there have been significant adverse ecological changes. Rainfall patterns have changed in amount, timing and duration. Temperatures are now warmer and the duration of the dry season longer than before. Increased timber exports, clearing land for non-traditional exports particularly cut flowers and extensive fishing has destroyed biodiversity in many places. The offshoots of droughts and floods have become frequent and very destructive.

In the education sector, NRM government used the now discredited structural adjustment program (SAP) excuse to destroy Uganda’s education infrastructure by denying education sufficient funds. Schools were closed and others downgraded en masse forcing many children to stay at home. Teachers were not trained and those in schools are not paid enough or on time. They have quit in droves and are replaced by unlicensed teachers who travel long distances between schools and their homes, and as expected deliver very poor services. Instructional materials have almost dried up in public schools. Some private schools are just making money without providing proper teaching. Secondary and tertiary education was put on the back burner. Makerere University shifted from being the “Harvard” of Tropical Africa to a community college status. Graduates in most schools are now defined by the number of years spent at school rather than the quality of education acquired which is close to zero in the majority of public schools. The reputation of Ugandans as intelligent and hardworking people has been eroded because of NRM’s policies. With Uganda’s education in ruins, the country is left with a largely functionally illiterate labor force in a world economy driven by knowledge rather than raw materials including oil which the government is falsely fronting as Uganda’s savior from aid dependency. Based on the experience of other African oil producing countries, without transparency and accountability in the use of oil revenue, oil will not reduce Uganda’s aid dependency. It will end up in the pockets of a few families.

NRM government significantly reduced funding for the health sector as well in both preventive and curative areas. Medical professionals are encouraged to leave for greener pastures at home and abroad and medicines are stolen and sold in neighboring countries. Hospitals have become centers of disease contagion and mortality rates have increased as a result.

Based on the above analysis, it is clear that since NRM took power in 1986, Uganda has registered a reversal of its pre-NRM achievements. The reversal of achievements in land ownership, food security, industries, environment, education and health care is reflected in increased poverty, joblessness, hunger, disease, functional illiteracy and decay in institutions and infrastructure. Over 80 percent of Ugandans live on less than one dollar a day. Increasingly, Ugandans are interpreting NRM’s fundamental change as deliberate dispossession and marginalization and have begun expressing their anger on radio, television and in newspapers as well as through demonstrations.

The government has reacted with disproportionate use of force killing unarmed demonstrators, instilling a sense of fear through extensive spy networks throughout the country and closing some radio stations. Ipso facto, Uganda is drifting towards a military state (elections are being conducted at gun point) with all abuses of human rights in order to continue dismantling what was achieved before it came to power in 1986. Although it has not caught the attention of the international community, Uganda has retrogressed under the NRM regime. The time has come to recognize this reality and adopt actions to reverse it.