The collapse and abandonment of structural adjustment in 2009 and the disastrous February 18, 2011 presidential and parliamentary elections have demonstrated beyond a shadow of doubt that the two western models have no place in Uganda’s political economy. How did it all begin?
In 1981 the revenue starved government of Obote was forced to sign a structural adjustment agreement with the IMF in order to open the door for other donors to enter and support Uganda’s development efforts. The agreement had stiff conditionality including a balanced budget and low inflation. A combination of drought and guerrilla war necessitated deficit financing slightly above the ceiling agreed with the IMF. The latter would not budge and withdrew support at such a critical moment. IMF action meant that the door was shut to other donors because agreement with IMF is a prerequisite for foreign aid. Therefore, other donors had to leave or reduce support to humanitarian activities. Under the pretext of excessive human rights violations, the World Bank pulled out as well.
Lack of resources to meet the needs of the public and armed forces and other aggravating factors led to a split in the armed forces and a discontented population. Consequently, Obote’s government was overthrown in July 1985 by a section of the national army.
It is now recognized that to bring about justice or fairness in Uganda will require inclusiveness, full participation, solidarity and compassion. In other words it means involvement of all sections of society: religious and traditional leaders, political and civil society leaders, security forces, youth, students and women. Religious leaders in Uganda have a special responsibility to end injustice because they interact directly or through networks with the population and appreciate its suffering better than most observers and are therefore in a position to recommend appropriate and location specific short and long term action-oriented solutions. The Christmas sermons in 2011 were very powerful in this regard. You need to build on that solid foundation in 2012. To facilitate your work and remove some possible obstacles in relations between religion and politics let us review in a historical perspective the work of religious leaders and theologians to end injustice.
Uganda is hungry for regime change even by progressive and well placed members in the NRM government and security forces. Some senior police officers have resigned, others fired for refusing to apply disproportionate force against peaceful demonstrators presenting to the government reasonable demands like ending corruption, sectarianism and cronyism so that national benefits are distributed equitably. Some army officers are complaining openly about injustices in the military. Some religious leaders are opposing the government in broad daylight.
Thankfully, the donor community is beginning to hear the voices of dissent and to act appropriately by issuing statements from their capitals or missions in Uganda, calling on the government to respond to the needs of the people. That some donors are demanding return of their stolen (donor) money is a sign that there is a wind of change in the donor community. It is estimated that over $30 billion has been donated (free money not loans to be repaid) to NRM government but there is virtually nothing to show for it. Add on $1 billion annually sent home by Ugandans in the diaspora, the revenue from exports, taxes and now oil and you have an idea of the magnitude of money that has been stolen by Museveni and his collaborators.
This article has been written by popular demand as part of end-of-year reports. All Ugandans want a united, peaceful and secure country that guarantees civil rights (equal protection and opportunity under the law) and civil liberties (freedom of speech, press, religion and due process of the law). Yet the majority doesn’t want to know what divides us. Those who have attempted to explain have suffered abuse and intimidation. And those seeking political support prefer to remain silent. One compatriot advised that we should let sleeping dogs lie but when they wake up they may get mad when they see the condition they are in.
NRM took a dramatic step and outlawed talking about our religious and ethnic differences that have divided Uganda since before colonial rule. Accordingly, the anti-sectarian law was promulgated by parliament. This restriction has become counterproductive in the face of increasing sectarianism under the NRM government that is disproportionately favoring Tutsi and “tutsified” Ugandans (non-Tutsi men who have married Tutsi women).
There are many reasons why people join politics. There are those who join for fame. There are those who join because they have nothing else to do. There are those who join to make money. There are those who join to bring certain issues to public attention. And there are those who join to solve problems.
I joined politics very early in life. I joined student politics at Butobere School because I wanted to bring all students together to celebrate independence as one united group, not supporters of DP or UPC. I became president of Rujumbura Students Association to bring harmony among sectarian groups. I involuntarily joined Rukungiri UPC politics of meat eaters and vegetarians because I wanted to defend a civil servant who had been unfairly treated by the vegetarian group. I became president of African Students Association at the University of California at Berkeley because I wanted African students to have a common position on the Vietnam War. I became chairman of UNDP staff association in Zambia because I wanted harmony between locally and internationally recruited staff. I co-founded Uganda Unity Group in Zambia to bring Ugandans together and end sectarian politics against the Amin regime and I joined Amicale at the United Nations in New York so that Africans have a common position on matters that affected their welfare.
As I have said before, I joined Uganda politics not for personal gain but because I was unhappy about what was and still is happening in a country that was once the envy of the world, with a potential for rapid economic growth and social transformation in terms of improving the standard of living and life expectancy of all Ugandans.
I have expressed my disappointment through writing, radio broadcasting and trying to advise NRM government in writing and orally about how to do things better to no avail. I have distributed some five hundred copies of my ten books to Ugandans free of charge and created a free website www.kashambuzi.com to reach a wider readership. But Uganda continues to decay. This is undeniable. Metaphorically speaking, rampant corruption and sectarianism are eating Uganda away before our eyes!
Many Ugandans and others have contacted me and advised that what is needed is implementation of the good ideas already proposed. It requires that we acquire political tools since NRM has refused to adopt the ideas we have put forward. That is why I joined the United Democratic Ugandans (UDU) and was elected Secretary General with authority to mobilize political and diplomatic support for the implementation of the National Recovery Plan (NRP).
Let me begin with three points of clarification. First, there are some people who are wondering how one person can write as prolifically as I am doing without assistance. I want to assure everyone that I have never received one dollar in assistance; I have never hired a consultant or even a secretary to type my manuscripts. I have done all the research, all the writing and all the typing by myself and paid all expenses from my own resources. I have not been influenced by anybody or any ideology but my own conscience. It is a commitment to my country that has driven me to do what you have read. If unsure you are free to investigate.
Second, I became an author and co-host of an English program on Radio Munansi for various reasons. One of them is that many decision makers in Uganda used to tell me and still do that more often than not they take decisions they would avoid if they had enough information. Some of them urged me to share my thoughts with a larger public. I focused on the Great Lakes region because it has had a far greater impact on Uganda than any other African region, and it could even have more in the days ahead. Notwithstanding human imperfections, I have tried to be as factual as possible, at times examining both sides of the issue before drawing conclusions and offering recommendations.
A special Message
on the Problem and Causes of Political Apathy,
Lack of Unity and Corruption in our Community
As I write this message the United Democratic Ugandans (UDU) has been in existence for almost ten months. No political miracles were anticipated or promised by the founders of UDU at the time it was formed in Los Angeles, California, on July 9 2011. None has happened so far. The year in which UDU was born has long expired and a new year in which we expect to accomplish some of our primary objectives as enshrined in our constitution has inevitably been ushered in by the irreversible natural stream of time to which all cosmic events and life are subject. The original psychological Euphoria is slowly wearing off and the reality and complexity of our political task is gradually sinking in. These circumstances dictate the urgency of my message. What we need most now is courage, determination and creativity to forge ahead and liberate ourselves from the irrational fear (timidity) of our enemy and the claws of (military) dictatorship that are ruthlessly suppressing liberty in our motherland.
The politics of Uganda is at a cross-roads. If we take a wrong turn we shall be in trouble for a very long time and everybody will lose something. We therefore need cool minds to resolve our political differences. We, Ugandans need to remember that our nation has experienced war than peace; politics of exclusiveness than inclusiveness; zero-sum games and winner-take-all than compromise and agreement on win-win arrangements. Democracy in the form of elections since 1961 has not produced the desired results. Governance has lacked transparency, accountability and full participation of all Ugandans. We also need to realize that when a country has been dominated for a long time by one party and one leader, the transition is often very difficult. Because of these unfavorable circumstances and quality of leadership, Ugandans have failed to enjoy the endowments in our land and take advantage of our strategic geographic location in the Great Lakes region. Consequently the majority of Ugandans are trapped in absolute poverty and its offshoots of hunger, unemployment, disease and illiteracy. For these reasons, Uganda’s political economy needs to be overhauled.
Uganda leaders and their foreign backers who believe that Ugandans are docile and will not be influenced by Arab Spring Revolutions need to think again before it is too late. The Egyptians had all along been regarded as docile people. But at the start of 2011, they rebelled against what was considered to be a stable government with strong foreign support, powerful military and sophisticated secret service and within less than three weeks, the government was gone. Foreign backers switched sides and congratulated the revolutionaries for a job well done in the name of democracy and will of the people.
History is full of cases which show that a revolution in one place impacts on subsequent revolutions in places where there is discontent. Common discontent such as poverty, unemployment, hunger, inequality and police brutality etc brings people together as in Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen to get rid of a government responsible for their suffering. The discontent in Uganda is similar to what obtained in these Arab countries before the revolutions: high levels of poverty, unemployment, hunger, inequality and police brutality etc. In a world that has been reduced to a village by transport and information technology news and ideas are being shared instantly. For example, many Ugandans already know the details of how Wael Ghonim and colleagues organized the Egyptian revolution from his book titled “Revolution 2.0” published in early 2012. Here are a few illustrations.