What we have learned since Uganda’s independence in 1962

The discussions within UDU and other forums about the future of Uganda have necessitated an assessment of Uganda’s experience since independence in 1962. This is still work in progress but here are some preliminary findings. Your constructive comments are welcome.

1. Winner-take-all or government of exclusion has created many problems. Future governments should be inclusive on a proportional representation basis. Uganda’s population and natural diversity should be seen and used as an asset;

2. Notwithstanding political deficits, the civilian government in the 1960s performed much better in economic and social sectors than the succeeding military regime of the 1970s and military-turned democratic regime since 1986. Leaders with military background do not appear to be suitable for civilian administration.

3. Learning the art of governing a country on-the-job has proven to be the wrong approach. All the three presidents (Obote, Amin and Museveni) did not have what it takes at the beginning to govern, forcing them to rely on loyalty than competence. Future leaders must show experience, confidence and success in managing a large organization preferably with diverse characteristics as in Uganda. This would avoid or minimize parochialism which has become an endemic problem. Leaders that jump out of a ‘corn field’ onto a presidential stage no matter how educated they are should prove their practical experience. The issues of experience and character should be emphasized. Good character here refers to those leaders that in their lives have demonstrated distaste for corruption and nepotism and are conscious of good public image. When you become a leader you cannot afford to behave recklessly in private or public arena;

4. Leaders should use different strokes for different folks. In other words every Ugandan has something useful to offer to the nation but they should be used according to their comparative advantage. Mismatching professionals and portfolios has become a problem in Uganda. With due respect to the professions mentioned here, President Museveni has a preference for medical doctors and lawyers and he appoints them to key and strategic ministries. This arrangement is not productive. Given today’s economic difficulties (economic growth of 3.2 percent is below population growth of 3.5 percent), he should have appointed an economist or someone with a multi-disciplinary knowledge and experience (and there are some) to assist him. Instead, the Vice President, Speaker of Parliament and Prime Minister are all lawyers. According to records the President graduated either in political science or political economy;

5. For efficiency and effectiveness, Uganda needs a small cabinet of not more than twenty ministers supported by permanent secretaries in their areas of expertise and experience. To avoid a conflict of interest MPs should not be ministers. If an MP accepts a ministerial appointment, s/he should step down as MP;

6. If an MP crosses the floor, there must be fresh elections;

7. The succession arrangement for the head of state must be institutionalized to avoid cut throat competition;

8. The power of central government needs to be reduced and more powers decentralized but monitored by the center to make sure decentralization does not degenerate into sub-nationalism;

9. The presidency is too powerful. Its powers need to be reduced significantly;

10. Separation of powers needs to be restored so that parliament passes laws, the executive branch implements them, and the judiciary interprets them. This arrangement also ensures that checks and balances are in place;

11. Uganda must be governed through strong institutions, not individuals. Individuals come and go but institutions stay.

12. Sovereignty resides with the people. The government serves the people. When the government fails to deliver as promised during the campaign, the people have a right to remove it by democratic means.

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