Storm clouds hang over Uganda as NRM marks 26 years of misrule

The NRM captured power undemocratically through the barrel of the gun in January 1986. To compensate for gaining power at gun point, NRM conveyed a message of hope. The acting NRM Chairman Yoweri Museveni (Chairman Yusufu Lule passed a year earlier) spelled this message in the ten point program. It was grounded in democracy; security; consolidation of national unity and elimination of all forms of sectarianism; defending and consolidating national independence; building an independent, integrated and self-contained national economy; restoration and improvement of social services and the rehabilitation of the war ravaged areas; elimination of corruption and misuse of power; redressing errors that have resulted into the dislocation of sections of the population and improvement of others; co-operation with other African countries in defending human and democratic rights of our brothers in other parts of Africa; and following an economic strategy of mixed economy.

Museveni proudly and confidently declared to the nation and the whole world in broad daylight that “Ours is a fundamental change” – change inter alia to end the long suffering of all Ugandans (he even stressed that everyone would afford shoes); change to eliminate corruption and sectarianism once and for all; change to ensure that elections are free of corruption and manipulation of population. Museveni vigorously and regularly condemned leaders who stay in power too long. He announced that his stay would be very short because he had other things to do at the community (including attending to his cows) and Pan-African levels. Museveni defined security in broad terms to include human security of persons from hunger and fear in all its forms and security of legitimately earned property. The ten point program was subsequently expanded to fifteen points. To what extent has this message of hope been fulfilled or delayed?

The suffering of Ugandans has spread and deepened. The retrenchment program and rising youth unemployment now over 80 percent have created the ‘new poor’. Consequently, over 50 percent of Ugandans live in absolute poverty and some 20 percent in the lowest income bracket are believed to have seen their standard of living decline. Thus, overall the standard of living is nowhere near the level attained in 1970. Images of children and the elderly dying of starvation in a country that exports food, women delivering on hospital floors unattended or under trees, hospitals becoming hospices, jiggers disfiguring and incapacitating Ugandans in their productive years, children studying under trees while the president is donating money to build schools for Rwandese children, Uganda children dropping out of school because they are hungry and the president refuses to subsidize lunch which other governments in developed and developing countries provide free, human trafficking and sacrifice, domestic violence and crime increasing and urban slums spreading accompanied by moral decadence are sufficient illustrations that the NRM government has not fulfilled this critically important promise. While economic growth is necessary its benefits have not trickled down to the majority as elaborated below and should not be used to justify progress.

The elections record has betrayed the commitment made by Museveni that they would be free of corruption and manipulation. Corruption, intimidation, physical violence, disenfranchisement, foreign voters and overall lack of a level playing field have defined elections in Uganda since 1996. That Uganda is a democratic country at gun point can be understood from what happened in Rukungiri district in 2001. When Museveni realized he could lose the district to home-boy Kiiza Besigye, his presidential opponent, he ordered his troops which included his son to wreak terror including grabbing voters’ cards in a house-to-house operation. One man was killed and several others injured and Museveni got the vote. This has been the pattern which has devalued the usefulness of the ballot box in Uganda politics. The opposition parties and their supporters have rejected the presidential results of 2011 elections. According to them Museveni’s current government is illegitimate.

Museveni declared that he was very tired of corruption and sectarianism and he vowed to eliminate them forever in the shortest time possible. Instead there are increasing indications that he has been at the center of the rampant corruption never before experienced in Uganda. At the sectarian level Museveni is strengthening and consolidating his tiny tribe of Bahororo (Batutsi from Rwanda) for indefinite domination of Uganda politically, economically and militarily. On March 15, 1992, Museveni convened and chaired a meeting of Bahororo leaders at his Rwakitura country residence to agree on a 50 year master plan to realize the goal of dominating Uganda in perpetuity. The strategy includes denying the rest of Uganda children quality education, access to resources and top military positions and impoverishing them so they become politically and economically powerless and voiceless, making it easy to govern them. The leaked report of this meeting has not been denied. Even if it were the actions confirm some sort of arrangement to weaken non-Bahororo Ugandans, explaining why issues of quality education and healthcare, food and nutrition security and youth unemployment etc do not get Museveni’s attention in practical terms such as allocating adequate funds and reporting on progress in his policy speeches like the budget and state of the republic.

At the regional and international levels, NRM’s image has been tarnished. Regionally, NRM government has been accused of plundering Congolese resources and it was ordered to compensate DRC and of interfering in domestic affairs of member states in the Great Lakes region. The United Nations report alleged that Uganda troops participated in the genocide of Bahutu people in eastern DRC. For these reasons, Museveni has lost his deanship of the new breed of African leaders.

Until a few years ago, Uganda was regarded as the star performer in stabilization and structural adjustment program (SAP) which was being experimented as an economic development model for developing countries. At the political level, the absence of demonstrations and strikes was presented as evidence of political stability. As a reward for macroeconomic and political stability, Museveni became the darling of the west and was invited regularly to G8 Summits, a group of the most industrialized nations and hosted the Commonwealth Summit in Uganda.

As time passed cracks developed and widened and what had been hidden in cooked statistics surfaced in reality for everyone at home and abroad to see, proving that trickledown economics had not worked. The benefits of economic growth went to the few already rich and the rest sank deeper into poverty as demonstrated by acute hunger and death from malnutrition, diseases of poverty such as jiggers, scabies and trachoma etc. The number of underweight children increased because their mothers were undernourished and insanity and maternal mortality rose sharply. Clearing large swathes of vegetation to graze and grow the export commodities damaged the environment. There were political and economic repercussions.

To contain rising demands for change in Uganda’s political economy, the NRM government became authoritarian instead of negotiating a way out. Disproportionate resources were invested in the military, police and intelligence services to intimidate dissent at home and abroad. Occasionally Museveni appeared on television dressed in military fatigues and addressed the nation with his eyes protruding to warn anybody who dared threaten his regime. He planted the seeds of fear in the minds of Ugandans. Any suggestion he did not like, he treated it as an attempt to sabotage his regime and dismissed it out of hand. I wrote to him and his senior colleagues warning them of the dangers in store but my advice was ignored. My messages can be accessed at They were also published in my book titled “For Present and Future Generations”. Meanwhile, the international community watched as Uganda’s economy and politics nose-dived. Finally it reclassified Uganda from a stable country to a failed state under dictatorship.

Sensing that NRM was going to lose the 2011 presidential and parliamentary elections, every effort was made to win including the reported invasion of the treasury and central bank for campaign money and allowing foreigners to vote in support of NRM. The five year development plan which replaced the failed structural adjustment in 2009 has not been implemented for lack of funds. Because of the economic crisis and associated rising prices and food shortages combined with lack of political will and capacity to act by the illegitimate regime, Uganda has found itself in a very difficult situation.

Recognizing that NRM was driving the country towards a precipice (there were rumors that mercenaries had been hired to contain the situation), Ugandans in the opposition at home and abroad began to organize and call to attention the impending catastrophe. Radio stations sprang up, websites were created and demonstrations and strikes were organized. Ugandans began to shed fear and demanded restoration of their human rights and fundamental freedoms.

As NRM opposition groups multiplied, it became necessary to form an umbrella organization of political parties and organizations at home and abroad to coordinate activities and speak with one voice for efficiency and maximum effect. To this end, United Democratic Ugandans (UDU) was born in July 2011. The UDU committee was tasked to prepare a National Recovery Plan (NRP) as an alternative to the failed policies of NRM in which the goals and strategy to achieve them have been articulated. Before the UDU Boston conference to discuss the Plan, it was widely distributed to all political parties and organizations for consultation and readiness for fruitful discussion at the conference. The Plan was well received and adopted at the Boston conference on October 8, 2011. The final Plan has been posted at UDU has also contributed through press releases and articles on topical issues such as protest against allocating part of Mabira forest for sugar cane production and human rights violations. UDU has called for an assessment of the possible environmental impact of the oil industry. UDU has also been active at the diplomatic level calling on development partners to reconsider continued funding to an illegitimate, corrupt and sectarian regime.

Thus, a wind of change and associated thick cloud has formed, shaking NRM foundation. The failures of NRM are being exposed at home and abroad virtually on a daily basis. The wall of fear is being pulled down and Ugandans are boldly demanding real change. NRM has lost the will and capacity to govern. Diverting attention to East African economic integration and political federation which appear to be absorbing much of Museveni’s time or spending weeks at Kyankwazi will not return Uganda to the right development path. New arrangements will need to be introduced. We appeal to the army to stay neutral as Ugandans and NRM regime sort out their differences.

, , , , , , , , , All