The people of Uganda have really suffered all sorts of injustices – economic, social and environmental – in large part because of western advice to Uganda governments on how to establish and maintain economic and political stability. Britain’s rejection of Obote’s “Move to the Left” and nationalization of industries resulted in his overthrow in 1971 and the installation of Amin. The suffering of the people of Uganda during this period is too well known to be repeated here. But this was considered a period of stability and Amin continued to enjoy support from some western countries until he was overthrown in 1979 apparently with British involvement (New African June 2007).
Since 1981 (except a three year period from 1984 to 1986) Uganda has implemented structural adjustment policies which call for macroeconomic stability. Although macroeconomic stability means many things including balanced budgets, in Uganda it has come to mean controlling inflation to 5 percent per annum. To maintain this economic stability, money supply in Uganda’s economy has been controlled including through raising interest rates. High and variable interest rates of up to 30 percent have discouraged borrowing by small and medium enterprises and investing in labor-intensive enterprises. Many entrepreneurs who ventured and borrowed were not able to repay. They either defaulted or sold their assets including land and/or livestock or married off their daughters at very tender ages to repay the loans that left them worse off.
While Uganda has been applauded for macroeconomic stability, economic growth and job creation have been adversely affected. Economic growth has declined from 10 percent recorded in mid 1990s to some 6 percent. Many analysts believe that official figures of 6 percent and above are highly exaggerated. The government wants to convince the world that by achieving an economic growth rate of at least 7 percent, Uganda will meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015. So far it has fallen far behind and the situation on the ground witness increasing malnutrition, communicable diseases and sprawling urban slums and associated ills has betrayed government’s rather rosy economic growth figures. In fact Uganda’s report on MDGs was not submitted to the 2010 MDGs Summit and the president could not attend.
That the economic growth figures are grossly exaggerated can be confirmed from unemployment figures. Right now in January 2011, the unemployment figure for Uganda’s youth stands at over 80 percent 60 percent of them being university graduates. The majority of those workers that have jobs like house maids are paid very little (at or below subsistence level) and work in horrible conditions. They are hired and fired at will by their employers with no recourse for remedy since labor unions have been strangled. So, economic stability has led to slow economic growth, high unemployment and spreading and deepening poverty and its unhappy outcomes.
To make ends meet, Ugandans have engaged in all sorts of activities some of them culturally unheard of. Crime has increased in rural and urban areas. Theft has become rampant in homes and at work. In rural areas livestock is being stolen, banana plantations have been invaded, coffee is harvested under cover of darkness or branches with red cherries are plucked off and in some cases the whole shrub is uprooted so that the cherries are picked in a safer place. Human sacrifice is on the rise supposedly to make people rich or dominate others, mothers are going hungry to be able to feed their children, married women are engaging in sex work with knowledge of their husbands to be able to put food on the table.
This type of economic stability is not suitable in Uganda and has the potential for creating political instability – there have been a few demonstrations which Museveni has met with disproportionate use of force resulting in loss of human life and many injuries.
Museveni with concurrence of some western advisers has put in place tough security arrangements that have prevented riots and demonstrations from taking place causing anger and frustration to build up. Intelligence networks at home and abroad, torture chambers, anti-terrorism laws and military presence and use of live bullets in some instances as in Rukungiri have maintained ‘artificial’ political stability for which Museveni has been praised by western interests.
In western terminology, just as low inflation has come to be associated with economic stability, so has authoritarian rule come to be associated with political stability. If Uganda was a true democratic country where human rights including the right to work in a decent environment were respected, Ugandans would be demonstrating virtually every day to protest economic stability that has brought untold suffering to 50 percent of Uganda’s people living below the poverty line (20 percent in the lowest income bracket have got poorer). Museveni who has ruled by dictatorial means since he came to power continues to be seen by western powers to be a bold leader who has kept Uganda economically and politically stable.
Until the 2007 bloody riots, Kenya was considered by western powers to be the most stable country in Africa. People who held different views and actually predicted that there was potential for political instability caused in large part by unequal income and asset distribution were dismissed as alarmists. And December 2007 came and the deadly Rift Valley riots occurred and vindicated the so-called alarmists. If they (alarmists) had been listened to the use of bows and arrows etc to settle scores and repel invaders and land grabbers would have been avoided.
In spite of known high levels of poverty, unemployment and corruption, western powers kept comforting themselves that North Africa was stable because it had authoritarian leaders capable of sustaining stability. Tunisia was considered to be one of the most stable countries in North Africa! Suddenly riots broke out and the president’s attempt to address grievances came too late and he was toppled. Egypt and Yemen are other countries considered to be stable under authoritarian regimes. The leaders of these two countries are right now battling demonstrations by their angry and hungry citizens.
Western analysts who studied Southern Africa especially South Africa’s independence prospects in the 1970s had concluded that change would not come to the region in their lifetime. They thought the authoritarian rulers would never succumb to the wishes of helpless black people. Some of those analysts are still alive. They clearly underestimated by a big margin the will of black people in the region.
Black South Africans – leaders and followers – resolved to scale up liberation activities to topple the apartheid regime because of political accomplishments and demonstration effects in the neighboring countries of Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Namibia. In 1994 South Africa regained her freedom.
Museveni must draw a lesson from these examples that he does not have a monopoly on power in Uganda through force. The security forces he has relied on to harass, torture and even kill Ugandans may come to their senses one day and stop what they have been doing against their brothers and sisters just to keep a dictator in power to enrich people from his Bahororo tribe and their in-laws. When that happens, Museveni, like the president of Tunisia before him, will be forced out assuming he is not defeated on February 18, 2011. And western powers will salute the victory of the people of Uganda over their dictator!
To avoid these unhappy developments, Uganda must recast the application of the western concept of stability in economic and political discourse under conditions of authoritarian leadership. A new government and a democratic leader is part of the answer.