Uganda’s society since NRM came to power in 1986 has been dominated by a few rich families that continue to accumulate wealth at the expense of the majority. The rich have been using Social Darwin doctrine – the survival of the fittest – to explain why they are doing well while others are doing very poorly, adding that the poor should be blamed for their poverty and vulnerability. The fact that poverty and wealth have coexisted in time and space, one needs to understand whether or not there is causality. Given my experience in the areas I am familiar with there is a direct relationship. Those who become rich in a particular community exploit those that end up poor.
UDU’s line of thinking is that the rich entrepreneurs will not be penalized for the benefit of the poor. We do not intend to introduce a Robin Hood strategy of robbing the rich and giving to the poor (but those who stole public funds to become rich will be treated differently). Therefore the entrepreneurial spirit and achievement motive will continue to be nurtured. Ipso facto, foreign and domestic business community has nothing to worry about. At the same time we need to realize collectively that business will not thrive in a society where the levels of poverty, disease, illiteracy, squalor and unemployment are high and rising as in Uganda. In a situation like this skilled labor will be hard to come by and domestic market will be small because of low purchasing power, creating obstacles for private sector development. Studies have demonstrated convincingly that much of the crime and anti-social behavior that constrain private entrepreneurship spring from poverty, unemployment and general deprivation.
NRM adopted a strategy of solving unemployment and poverty challenges through market forces and trickle down mechanism which were launched in 1987 but the problems have got worse. Meanwhile, the government has resorted to security force intimidation and violation of human rights and fundamental freedom of Ugandans innocently seeking government assistance to ease their poverty, unemployment and associated ills. Ugandans and the international community have served notice that these practices must end. Ugandans therefore have a right to associate, march, assemble and express their opinion provided it is done responsibly and peacefully. Ugandans should note that NRM‘s use of force has been constrained. Ugandans should therefore demonstrate, go on strike and withdraw cooperation with the government when demands are not met. For example, during by-elections, you should defeat NRM candidates to register dissatisfaction with the government. The only thing to fear in Uganda is largely fear itself. UDU has worked hard openly through press releases and behind the scenes to ensure that NRM stops harassing Uganda citizens when they express their opinions. We and the international community are watching for any action violating people’s rights and an appropriate response will be taken. We have established some networks and NRM cannot continue to violate rights and freedoms in Uganda with impunity.
As you know, UDU has criticized NRM’s policy of continuing macroeconomic stability with a focus on inflation control. When you have concurrent high inflation and high unemployment you cannot focus on one and ignore the other which NRM has done since 1987 by focusing on inflation control. NRM had hoped that low inflation would automatically encourage private (mostly foreign) investment, economic growth and job creation. NRM also made two strategic mistakes by focusing on largely capital-intensive service sectors based mostly in Kampala and removing the state from economic intervention. This top-down and market driven approach has not reached the majority still trapped in poverty in the countryside. Strategic state involvement would have invested in labor-intensive public programs to ease unemployment as others have done with some success.
Brazil government has underlined that “The primary purpose of government is to reduce poverty” and “The main aim of economic development must always be the improvement of living conditions” The two concepts go hand in hand: “The creation and distribution of wealth increases living standards; likewise, increases in living conditions lead to economic prosperity” (The New Yorker December, 2011). In contrast, NRM government assigned responsibility for poverty reduction to market forces with all their imperfections.
In its National Recovery Plan (NRP), UDU has proposed a bottom-up approach with a focus on agriculture, agro-processing and associated physical and social infrastructure in a public and private partnership. The two sectors will work together on employment and skills training programs in line with the labor market requirements. For example, if the demand for labor is high or projected to be high in the construction industry then the training of civil engineers, brick layers, carpenters and electricians will receive priority attention. Similarly when there is a high demand for accountants or extension workers capacity building programs will be adjusted accordingly. Uganda’s education has to date remained largely academic in arts and social subjects and mostly irrelevant to the labor market requirements. UDU will change this approach with a focus on science, computers and mathematics that have propelled India and other emerging countries onto the global economic stage.
In his State of the Nation address the president accorded high priority to supporting the 68 percent Ugandans engaged in subsistence farming. Therefore government and private sector should work out the skills required and embark on a training program if the demand exceeds what is already available. In Uganda’s current hard economic times with very high youth unemployment, the government needs to invest and create jobs in those areas where the private sector does not have a comparative advantage such as roads, schools and clinics construction and repair as well as regeneration of the environment through reforestation and wetland rehabilitation.
These programs while not penalizing the private sector will in fact create better conditions for it through training of skilled human power and creating jobs and increasing incomes that will generate demand for goods and services that the private sector will provide and in turn create more jobs in the process. In the long run the economic and social gap between the rich and the poor will narrow, crime will decline and social justice will be enhanced.
Unfortunately, NRM is unlikely to engage in these innovative approaches because it is still glued to the neo-liberal economics of macroeconomic stability particularly inflation control to single digit, balanced budget, export diversification and foreign reserves accumulation introduced in the 1980s but abandoned in 2009. Many Ugandans were surprised when the minister of finance confirmed that “Tackling inflation remains government’s overriding macroeconomic objective in order to protect macroeconomic stability” But macroeconomic stability was the pillar of structural adjustment which NRM government abandoned in 2009 because it had failed to deliver as expected. Its resurrection can only mean that the government has no capacity or will to design a new program along the public and private partnership lines that bring together the state and private sector. Therefore what Uganda can hope for is status quo at best or decline at worst. To get out of this economic quagmire will require a fundamentally different approach which UDU has presented in its National Recovery Plan. A new breed of leadership is required. President Museveni appears to have lost control over his staff and advisers going by contradictions in the president’s State of the Nation address and the president’s budget speech presented to parliament on his behalf by the minister of finance. The impression given is that two groups with opposing views in government prepared the two president’s speeches. The rift that has developed within the NRM will make it difficult for the government to function properly because each leader will be busy building political support to take over government when Museveni retires. This will seriously undermine economic growth prospects as investors will adopt the “wait and see” attitude and possibly send more capital outside Uganda, undermining prospects for promotion of social justice.
Let me end on a separate note. There are those who argue that Uganda will get better only by getting rid of NRM preferably by force. What does it mean? Does it mean that when another government comes in all who worked under NRM – politicians and civil servants – will be removed or marginalized as happened to UPC supporters and civil servants when NRM took over in 1986 or will the policies of NRM be replaced? We should draw a distinction between policies and persons.
My personal view is that if we want to build a solid foundation for the future of Uganda, we should avoid a zero-sum game or winner-take-all philosophy. We have been criticizing NRM for sectarianism and cannot do the same when we get there. Civil servants serve any government and should serve the next government. Progressive members of NRM – and there are many who do not support NRM policies – should be integrated into the new government. That is why we have been calling for UDU collaboration with progressive members in the NRM. The whole idea of a transitional government is built on the principle of inclusiveness. What will be changed or significantly altered are NRM failed policies.
The new UDU government will not conduct a witch hunt against innocent Ugandans simply because they worked under NRM regime. So, NRM supporters should not be worried about being thrown out. A formula that will incorporate all Ugandans – old and young, men and women regardless of their faith, ethnicity or region is being worked out. There won’t be any discrimination like the breakaway NRM group has suggested that the young will replace the old because it is their turn to govern. In UDU posts will be competed for based on agreed upon profiles to avoid favoritism.
There are those we hear in the media arguing that Uganda will not be run by one person without elaborating what they mean. We have seen the danger of accumulating power in the hands of one person or one office. UDU will not allow that. That is why we have proposed decentralization of powers to regions, districts and communities. That is why UDU is insisting that the separation of powers must be restored to serve as checks and balances and the powers of the presidency significantly reduced. UDU has even gone further to underscore that sovereignty resides in the people and the government exists only to serve the people. When government fails to deliver, the people have a right to remove that government by democratic means.
Not least, UDU is founded on principles of inclusiveness, democracy, good governance and full participation, transparency and accountability with the overall objective of social justice for all. This will mean a non-corrupt and non-sectarian government that will pursue efficiency and effectiveness, economic growth with equity, respect for human rights and fundamental freedom and environmental regeneration. It will attach a high priority to the character of individuals. This will be necessary to end NRM’s corrosive policies and practices. UDU’s slogan is that Uganda belongs to all Ugandans who are born free with equal rights. Not surprisingly, those who are exploiting the majority of Ugandans see these proposed changes as radical. We think this approach is the right way to move forward for present and future generations. UDU has been transparent from its inception in July 2011. It will continue to do so in order to get feedback. We want everyone to participate in the post-NRM government. That is how empowerment of Ugandans will be achieved. So make your views known so that you own the process and outcome. UDU is open to all.