The Uganda NRM Has Created

National Resistance Movement (NRM) under the leadership of Yoweri Museveni
captured state power in 1986 through the barrel of the gun after a devastating
five-year guerrilla war. Since 1971
Uganda had gone through unprecedented fifteen years of political, economic,
social, human rights and environmental crisis. Even wild animals in national parks
could not survive and had to migrate to safe havens in neighboring countries!

still in the bush the NRM had carefully studied what the people of Uganda needed
from a new government. They skillfully drafted a ten-point program later
expanded to fifteen points capturing the sentiments and aspirations of Ugandans
– young and old, men and women, Protestants, Catholics and Muslims, commoners
and royal families.

President, senior government and Movement officials travelled abroad and delivered
moving speeches at the United Nations, African Summits and in European
capitals. They talked and wrote with passion about the untold suffering that
Ugandans had gone through while the whole world just watched, making everyone feel
guilty. They vowed Uganda would never again suffer humiliation and indignity. They stressed that their regime was
fundamentally different from past governments. Everyone was welcomed to join on
an equal basis irrespective of gender, level of education, tribe and even
physical size. The tent would accommodate everyone and there would work for
all, they promised.

NRM told Ugandans and indeed the whole world that its government would “usher
in a new and better future for the long-suffering people of Uganda”. The
government would restore food and nutrition security which had been sacrificed
in favor of exports, it would end the colonial economic system that had reduced
Uganda to an exporter of raw materials and destroyed her manufacturing
enterprises, it would end poverty and its offshoots of illiteracy, ignorance
and disease, it would promote environmental regeneration and sustainability, it
would end corruption and restore democracy and realize national unity among
many others.

easy reference, the fifteen points are: Restoration of democracy; Restoration
of security; Consolidation of national unity and elimination of all forms of sectarianism; Defending and
consolidating national independence; Building an independent, integrated and
self-sustaining national economy; Restoration and improvement of social
services and rehabilitation of war-ravaged areas; Elimination of corruption and
misuse of power; Redressing errors that have resulted in the dislocation of
some sections of the population; Cooperation with other African countries;
Following an economic strategy of a mixed economy; The financing of public
infrastructure using internal borrowing and creation of employment in the
country; Focused human resource development and capacity building in the
technical and public service sector; Preservation and development of culture;
Consolidation of programs which are responsible to gender and marginalized
groups; and Environmental protection and management. A very comprehensive
program indeed! Then came implementation of promises and everything fell apart.
Let us consider a few illustrative cases.

nation anywhere in the world can stand and survive in the long term unless her
people are well fed first and foremost. In Uganda, the determination to feed
the nation was abandoned when the government in agreement with donors
especially the IMF and World Bank agreed to focus on increased and diversified
exports to earn foreign exchange and repay external debt. The food that was
traditionally used for domestic consumption such as beans, sesame, maize and
above all fish entered the export market en masse. Secondly, government desire
to commercialize agriculture and end subsistence has encouraged peasants to
sell virtually everything leading to acute food shortages for domestic
consumption. That is one of the reasons parents are not able to pack lunches
for their school children. The food that is available in inadequate quantities
is dominated by plantains, cassava and maize which are non-nutritious.

some 30 percent of Ugandans go to bed hungry, 33 percent are mentally sick in
large part because they eat a lot of cassava and maize without dietary
supplements, 40 percent of children under five are under-nourished, 12 percent
of infants are underweight, and up to 80 percent of children are dropping out
of primary school in part because they are hungry.

have conclusively demonstrated that infants born underweight develop permanent
disabilities and face the prospect of early death. And children who are
undernourished become physically and mentally underdeveloped thereby
undermining their learning ability and reducing productivity when they enter
the labor market.

food and nutrition security will worsen should the government decide to lease
or sell Uganda land to foreign developers to produce food for their own
citizens like South Korea plans to do in Madagascar. Ugandans and their friends
should not allow the government to enter into such agreements irrespective of
foreign exchange benefits.

explorers, missionaries and travelers described Uganda as a unique country in
biological diversity, rainfall pattern, soil fertility and mild climate as well
as dynamic, innovative and resilient people comparable to the Japanese of the
Meiji Restoration period and later to the Chinese. However, reckless development policies that
began during the Amin regime and have continued under the NRM government have devastated
the environment through extensive agriculture, overfishing and deforestation to
earn foreign exchange.

soil fertility has drastically declined leading to low productivity, rainfall
has become irregular in amount, duration and timing, floods and droughts have
become common, water tables are dropping, perennial rivers are disappearing or
have become seasonal and lakes are shrinking. The dry period has become longer
and the temperatures hotter. In some areas the previous two growing seasons are
merging into one season.

current policy of nomadic grazing to maximize herd size and especially the
introduction of goats on large commercial basis will damage the environment
further. Goats are known for destroying the environment faster than any other
domestic animal. Desertification conditions are already evident in some parts
of the country. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
(FAO) has warned that if corrective measures are not taken quickly Uganda could
become a desert within one hundred years. It could happen earlier if the speed
of de-vegetation is accelerated in search of quick returns as seems to be the
case right now.

NRM government vowed it would end corruption at all levels once and for all.
What Ugandans – and donors resident in Uganda – are witnessing is difficult to
express in words. Corruption is deep and is everywhere – in public and private
sectors as well as in homes. We hear stories that the few who have resisted
corruption are considered abnormal. In other words, a normal person in Uganda
is a corrupt one! Consequently, relatives are stealing from fellow relatives,
children from parents, workers from employers etc, etc. At one time some
so-called scholars were beginning to justify that in a country with fast
economic growth as Uganda was experiencing at some point in the 1990s,
corruption was unavoidable.

has reached such an advanced stage that it is becoming a disincentive to
investment and it has to be stopped. However, some people are wondering whether
the NRM government has the will or the capacity to do it.

vital area where the government was going to demonstrate its determination and
difference from previous regimes was in ending sectarianism. Milton Obote had
been criticized heavily for favoring the people of Lango especially those
related to him. So was Amin for favoring Muslims and those from West Nile, his
home region.

the beginning of the NRM government, genuine and commendable efforts were made
to treat Ugandans equally, using merit as the criterion for appointments and
promotions. Something very serious went wrong along the way. Appointments and
promotions in key and strategic ministries and departments began to follow
another criterion. Complaints against sectarianism – initially silent and in informal
settings – became vocal and Ugandans began to point fingers in certain
directions. They even ventured to reason that to get a juicy job or to get a
contract after one has reached retirement age one had to be related to the
first family by blood or marriage. Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Finance and
those connected with security have been mentioned. We need verification before
a definitive conclusion can be drawn. But more often than not where there is
smoke there is fire.

the NRM government talked with confidence about achieving national unity: an
important dimension where previous regimes had failed miserably because of
sectarianism. However, as time passed,
the regime began to talk convincingly about bringing services closer to the
people through decentralization. It asserted that decentralization would create
jobs and people would work closer to their homes and their families in a
familiar environment that would maximize their contribution to the welfare of
their people. It sounded great and the donors were impressed and ready to pump
money into the project.

the decentralization process has become more tribal in orientation than
economic resulting in divisions – called districts – that are increasingly
becoming economically unviable. Tribal differences are being magnified to get a
district thus making Uganda a more divided country than ever before. Tiny and
impoverished districts have been created and are easier to manipulate by the
center – which controls the purse – especially at election time and in a
country practicing democracy at gun point.

NRM government has therefore produced a country and society characterized by
hungry people in a major food exporting country, mentally sick people because
of stress and eating the wrong food dominated by cassava and maize that
contribute to neurological disorders, many functionally illiterate citizens
that nobody wants to employ, heavy alcohol drinking and domestic violent people
who are increasingly becoming criminals to make ends meet as well as an
environment that is rapidly transforming into a desert.

rapid economic growth, economic liberalization and free trade, low inflation
rates, balanced budgets and primary commodity export orientation – the
cornerstones of government economic policy – have driven Uganda in a wrong
direction because trickle down to social sectors has not happened and won’t

there is a change in direction in favor of industrialization, technical competence,
equal opportunity and a strategic role for the state, Uganda will not be able
to compete in a globalizing world. And the dream of transforming Uganda from
medieval to a modern economy and society will remain a dream. But people cannot
dream for ever. At some point they have to transform their dreams into riches with
which to improve the quality of their lives. The question before us is whether
the NRM government which has been in power since 1986 has the political will
and the capacity to effect innovative and transformational changes.