If you think foreigners will initiate change in Uganda, you are mistaken

There are some Ugandans who are still calling on foreigners to initiate political change in Uganda preferably through the barrel of the gun to end abuse of power and the suffering it has caused there. Why should they? Foreigners have had it so good until now under Museveni like never before. Conditions for them (enabling environment) are better than in colonial days in many respects. Take land as an illustration. Governor Bell, Commissioner Spire and Director Simpson refused foreigners to own or lease land except for a few plantations. They argued successfully that land in Uganda belongs to peasants and it should remain so and convert it into commercial enterprises.

Museveni is changing all of that. He has given foreign developers the land they want and where they want it. A model school that Ugandans were proud of was pulled down in Kampala City because a developer wanted the site. Construction has taken place in previous water drainage channels in Kampala City because those are the sites the developers wanted, causing flooding and breeding ground for mosquitoes. Museveni shouted down advisers who argued against such developments. Uganda farmers have lost their land where they grew a variety of crops for own consumption and sell surplus in urban areas in the Entebbe-Kampala corridor in order to create space for cut flower production for export. Mabira forest is under constant threat because that is where the developer wants to grow sugar cane for export. It is reported he has refused other sites. Although Museveni has delayed the decision on Mabira forest he will likely yield in the end because foreign interests have triumphed over national ones.

Conferences will not develop Uganda’s economy and society

Uganda has become a conference country. Ugandans are attending conferences or workshops at home and abroad and hosting international conferences. The international conferences are hosted largely to boost Uganda’s sagging image but are very costly in human and financial terms.

This article is a response to a request at the UDU Boston conference (October 2011) to provide information that may help to understand why Uganda despite all its endowments and generous external support poverty remains high and is deepening for some 20 percent in the lowest income bracket.

By and large, these meetings are organized or attended to analyze Uganda’s development challenges, draw lessons and recommend solutions.

A closer examination since 1986 indicates that Uganda’s development problems have been analyzed in detail, lessons learned and recommendations articulated as outlined below. Consequently, conferences could be significantly reduced, resources saved and the focus reoriented to address emerging challenges.

First, Uganda’s development challenges have been exhaustively analyzed and solutions adequately articulated. The analysis and recommendations in the ten-point program later extended to fifteen remain valid as subsequently elaborated and expanded or refocused in research findings and other documents like UDU’s National Recovery Plan (NRP) which was officially transmitted to the government and Uganda’s development partners. The Plan is accessible at www.udugandans.org.

How Museveni is changing the face of Uganda

Museveni came to power with a hidden long term plan: to change Uganda’s human and natural landscape beyond recognition. The plan is embedded in his philosophy of metamorphosis which Ugandans interpreted wrongly to mean agricultural, industrial and technological revolution.

To divert attention while mobilizing mass support Museveni presented a carefully drafted and broadly supported ten-point program which won him support mostly in central and western regions. Museveni knew he would discard the program (as well as those who drafted it) because it did not fit into the neo-liberal ideological framework of market forces and laissez faire capitalism and the interests of those foreigners who funded, provided media and political cover during the guerrilla war.

However, because of pressure from some of his supporters, Museveni delayed implementation of structural adjustment until 1987. The minister of finance and governor of central bank and many others who opposed shock therapy adjustment were dismissed or marginalized. The period between 1987 and 1989 was devoted to winning over many other dissenting voices because the strong bitterness of adjustment had been tasted under Obote 11 regime between 1981 and 1983.