On July 9, 2011, I said a prayer silently and then stood up in front of fellow Ugandans in a conference hall in Los Angeles, USA and officially declared that I was going to devote the balance of my life to finding a lasting solution to the endemic problems in the Great Lakes Region of Africa (GLRA). I added that in carrying out this task I would be honest and fair to all stakeholders, notwithstanding that some findings may be contested even when everyone knows they are accurate. I have read and written extensively on the Great Lakes Region of Africa (GLRA) and posted some articles on www.kashambuzi.com.
I was born and grew up in Rujumbura county of Rukungiri district in southwest Uganda which for centuries has been a battle ground between Bantu (Bahutu and Bairu) or agriculturalists and Nilotic (Batutsi, Bahima, Bahororo and Banyamulenge) or pastoralists. Because of shortages of pasture and water, nomadic pastoralists fight most of the time to destroy or chase away the competitor and dominate the territory. Because of constant wars and dispossession of opponents, pastoralists end up destroying more than they construct. Pastoralists in GLRA (and possibly elsewhere) don’t have a culture of negotiations and sharing with others on equal terms.
Through his actions Museveni behaves as though he has never understood his role as head of state. He acts as though he is representing western interests in Uganda particularly imposing structural adjustment and joining the west on major issues. He also acts as though he is a representative of Bahororo people in Uganda who are increasingly positioning themselves to govern Uganda for a long time. He sees other Ugandans as a nuisance and despises us as people below his dignity. This comes out clearly from his statements and his body language. These actions that have defined Museveni’s twenty five year presidency should disqualify him for re-election.
Museveni has managed to hang on because of his repressive style of governance with tacit endorsement of western interests and not because he is loved by the people of Uganda except Bahororo. Western interests in Uganda will be served better by letting Museveni go – without western support Museveni would not have lasted a couple of years.
President Museveni’s address to the NRM special organs conference at Namboole on Tuesday September 7, 2010 portrayed him more like a religious preacher to a flock in disarray and adviser to a government that has done a poor job than a president who has been in power continuously for 25 years. It is not surprising given the unprecedented chaotic performance in the recent (September 2010) NRM primaries for 2011 elections and the overall economic, social and ecological decline. The promised industrial and social revolutions and poverty eradication are nowhere in sight.
In Uganda, politics under the NRM is about power: how to get it, monopolize it and use it to become filthy rich relying on family members, relatives and friends. Knowing full well that democracy would not secure him the presidency, Museveni chose the military option and became president in 1986 and has no plans to retire soon. The army and other security forces are used more to silence dissent against his regime than to keep peace and stability as Museveni and his foreign backers would want us to believe. The demonstration by unemployed and unarmed citizens in Kampala was met with disproportional military force resulting in many deaths and injuries.
When you force a square peg into an object with a round hole you won’t succeed.
You damage both objects or one gets more damaged than the other. Similarly, when foreign projects or ideas, however altruistic or technically sound, are imposed especially quickly on different cultures, chances are they will not succeed and people in the receiving cultures might get hurt in the process. Foreign ideas such as indirect rule, modern birth control and structural adjustment programs that have been imposed on recipient populations have generally run into difficulties and caused suffering.
More often than not people hesitate to accept new ideas for rational reasons. For example, subsistence farmers are generally hesitant to replace old with new seeds for fear that if something goes wrong they might starve. Peasant farmers hesitate to sell their land and start business in towns for fear that business failure might spell disaster for the entrepreneur and his/her family. Poorly educated workers generally hesitate to look for another job especially during economic hard times because should they fail in the new job, they may not get another one or do so quickly. So they stick with what they have regardless of low pay and/or unsatisfactory working conditions.
Since the 1990s, Uganda under the leadership of President Museveni has been described by donors, foreign media and the United Nations as a ‘success story’ and a Washington Consensus ‘star performer’. When the National Resistance Movement (NRM) government came to power in 1986, Uganda had suffered fifteen years of political instability and economic collapse. There was excess capacity of idle labor, land and industries. The latter were performing at twenty percent of installed capacity. What Uganda needed was political stability and some foreign currency with which to import spare parts and inputs like hoes to rehabilitate the economy.
The government restored security in the southern half of the country and development partners provided funds after an agreement was signed with the International Monetary Fund in May 1987 making Uganda a ‘shock therapist’. With the blessing of good weather, excess capacity, resilient and hardworking people, the economy recorded rapid growth reaching 10 percent in mid-1990s albeit from a low base, inflation was tamed by reducing money in circulation, raising interest rates, balancing the budget largely by dismissing civil servants, introducing fees, eliminating some schools or classes and reducing teachers, charging fees for health services and reducing or eliminating subsidies. Because of these reforms, Uganda became a star performer and a successful ‘adjusting’ country.
When our country became a protectorate in 1894 it was occupied by two major ethnic groups – Bantu and Nilotic people in a territory situated at the centre of Africa, the source of the Nile and in a region immensely endowed with human and non-human resources.
Foreign visitors to the region before and after Uganda became a protectorate, were impressed by the abundance and variety of foodstuffs, manufacturing industries and resilient, innovative and industrious people never seen anywhere on the African continent. Winston Churchill advised all foreign visitors to Africa not to skip Uganda.
Notwithstanding, on the eve of the second decade of the 21st century, Uganda cannot feed, clothe and shelter her people adequately. The September 2009 report of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) observes that Uganda has entered the fourth successive poor harvest. This is a man-made problem due mainly to poor ecological policies. In 2005 Uganda was categorized in a UN report as a hunger ‘hot spot’ country needing food assistance.
The once vibrant manufacturing sector is all but gone in the name of comparative advantage that has consigned Uganda to the agrarian status.