It is known that when people are hungry and/or feel they are unfairly taxed or neglected, they get cranky. And when they do they rebel, making governments uncomfortable including the government of Uganda right now.
Museveni came to power in 1986 promising to end the long suffering of Uganda people through democracy, rule of law and equal development opportunity. He declared that the people of Uganda were sovereign and his government would be their servant. He also indicated he would step down and focus on pan-African issues as soon as the security situation improved. He called on the nation for support as he put the house in order. And support he got!
As soon as he felt fairly secure, Museveni began to behave more like a conqueror and dictator than a liberator. Earlier he had talked about different races in southwest Uganda, implying superior and inferior tribes. In 1992 Museveni convened a meeting of Bahororo (considered a superior race) at his Rwakitura country residence to map out how to dominate Uganda politically, economically and militarily for at least fifty years.
In interviews he supported slavery for stupid people and had no problems with colonialism, hinting at what he intended to do to Uganda and Ugandans. His authoritarian, colonizing and enslaving mentality did not take long to surface. He imposed a very unpopular thirty percent service charge to change old into new Uganda currency which donors had opposed. He and his senior staff threatened to shoot those who opposed NRM government development program especially after the launch of structural adjustment program in 1987. Ugandans in the diaspora were virtually forced to stay there, earn and remit foreign currency to help the rehabilitation program at home. Through labor flexibility some workers especially domestic servants were treated virtually like slaves. For all intents and purposes Uganda became a neo-colony in the sense that it reverted to a ‘banana’ economy focusing on export of raw materials in exchange for manufactured products under the rubric of comparative advantage.
Museveni’s uncaring and iron fisted attitude was particularly exhibited when he adopted the shock therapy version of structural adjustment program: a very costly exercise in social, institutional, infrastructural and ecological terms without safety nets. Advisers who proposed a gradual, incremental approach to minimize the cost of adjustment were either summarily dismissed or marginalized.
Under the adjustment program, schools were closed or downgraded, fees introduced. The health sector was treated the same. School and hospital attendance and quality of service dropped because the charges were too high and good staff had quit. The neglect of agriculture – Uganda’s economic mainstay – through drastic budget reduction, downgrading extension services, elimination of subsidies and cooperatives and poor transport services constrained agricultural productivity and transport of food from surplus to deficit areas. Food losses due to poor storage and processing facilities added to the list of problems which Museveni left to the operation of market forces. The situation was made worse by the introduction of a regressive consumption tax known as VAT which disproportionately disadvantaged low income families. Article 29 (2) of the 1995 constitution allows Ugandans to settle and own land anywhere in the country. This provision has benefitted the rich and well connected including those with doubtful citizenship record to grab land from the powerless citizens that have become either landless or own tiny plots to sustain a family. Landlessness without non-agricultural skills has rendered the people affected very vulnerable.
Balancing the budget and privatizing public enterprises required massive retrenchment of public servants who could not be absorbed by the private sector that did not grow as expected because Uganda has remained unsafe for direct foreign investment. High interest rates to keep inflation low and expensive intermediary imports in large part because of massive devaluation of Uganda shilling have constrained the growth of small and medium enterprises that create jobs especially for young employees. Export diversification into foodstuffs traditionally grown for domestic consumption such as beans, maize and fish has led to shortages and subsequent rising food prices forcing many households to go to bed hungry or eat one meal a day mostly of maize or cassava, resulting in serious nutritional deficiencies such as insanity and undernourished mothers producing underweight children with permanent physical and mental abnormalities. Museveni flatly rejected primary school feeding program with a proven record of improving attendance and performance in developed and developing countries especially for girls and has been endorsed by NEPAD.
It soon turned out that the invisible hand of market forces and trickle down mechanism associated with structural adjustment was not working as expected, calling for strategic state intervention to correct imperfections of neo-liberal economics based on monetarism with a focus on inflation rather than employment concerns. Museveni would not budge. Instead he resorted to force to silence dissent and used rubber stamp cabinet and parliament to get what he wanted. The donor community more concerned with macroeconomic stability than social welfare went along, dubbing Museveni the darling of the west presiding over an economic success story.
Meanwhile poverty, taxes, hunger, disease, ecological decay and anger were deepening and spreading. The government and donors brushed them under the carpet to be resolved in due course by demand and supply. They focused on economic growth and inflation figures which deceived the world that Uganda was doing well. Economic and political stability were considered more important than individual security – freedom from want, freedom from fear and freedom to live in dignity. Absolute poverty has remained above 50 percent of total population of 32 million.
The suffering people of Uganda waited to solve their problems through the ballot box during the 2011 presidential, parliamentary and local elections by throwing out Museveni and his NRM party. Realizing that he might lose, Museveni resorted to busing in millions of foreign voters from neighboring countries including Burundi, Rwanda and Tanzania and disenfranchising over five million Uganda voters, using public funds to buy votes and massive military presence to scare away opposition voters from polling stations. The Commonwealth Observer Team that monitored the elections reported that the electoral process from start to finish lacked a level playing field, implying that the results were null and void.
The opposition did not concede defeat. Instead it declared the results illegitimate and has called for a transitional coalition government to arrange fresh elections failing which Museveni and NRM would be opposed through peaceful demonstrations. The rising prices of goods and services particularly fuel and food caused in part by NRM’s pumping too much money into the economy during the campaign and continued massive export of food have caused untold suffering as the majority of households cannot cope. Government’s refusal to intervene has turned demonstration from an opposition to a nationwide affair since everyone, pro-or anti-Museveni is hurting. Museveni has met demonstrators with massive force apparently directed by his son in the capital city of Kampala using presidential troops thereby sidelining the national army and police implying that Museveni does not trust them.
Museveni has followed the fatal example of Nicolae Ceausescu of Romania who in 1989 used his favored presidential secret police to attack demonstrators. The demonstrators were joined by the army that had not been treated so well. The police and UPDF troops must be feeling bad at this humiliation. We wonder what is going through the mind of Generals Kayihura and Nyakairima and/or their families at this blatant humiliation. This is not the first time Museveni has favored his son over senior police and military officers. What a humiliation!
We appeal to all Ugandans especially the youth that this is the moment including Kayihura and Nyakairima and their troops to join hands and bring about a peaceful change and save the country from a terrible blood bath. The brutal death of that little kid in Masaka should touch the hearts of all Ugandans, their international and regional friends and well wishers and galvanize them to remove a dictatorial and uncaring system from power. The world will thank you for it!