There is consensus that Uganda is in real trouble – politically, economically, socially, morally and ecologically. These are challenges that Museveni and NRM set out to solve and they appeared to have confidence to do that. Instead Uganda has turned into a failed state on their watch and has disappeared from the global radar of success stories. Before recommending a solution, we need to understand why Museveni has not succeeded in managing the affairs of Uganda. Here are some of the reasons.
First, Museveni came to power without work experience. Until he became president in 1986, Museveni had never worked in public or private sector except for a brief period in Obote’s office as a research assistant working on an assignment that appeared to be connected with refugees. According to information on the back cover of his book “Consolidating the Revolution (1990)”, Museveni studied political science graduating with a BA in 1970 from Dar es Salaam University. Museveni devoted most of his time undergoing guerrilla training and reading theories about revolution and development. Theoretically Museveni has a good grasp as reflected in his speeches. But converting theories into development has turned out to be harder for him than preparing rhetorical speeches with outstanding sound bites. This has been aggravated by recruiting many of his advisers with theoretical background from universities or straight from the bush war. Furthermore most of his foreign advisers and experts in key ministries are theoreticians with little or no practical experience. So Museveni has continued to be fed on theories. And when you hear him talking, you get the impression that he is advising the government of Uganda on what to do. It appears that he has never considered himself to be the Chief Manager of Uganda’s economy to be held accountable when things go wrong. That is why he blames ministers and civil servants or external factors. He needs to accept responsibility as head of state and government of Uganda and adapt his approach to the development needs. But with 26 years in power, it may be difficult for Museveni to change. Rarely do revolutions come from within.
Second, Museveni prefers sectarianism and loyalty to competence. While he condemns sectarianism in the strongest terms in his speeches he has hired people from his Batutsi/Bahororo tribe and family to key and strategic positions in areas for which they are not qualified much less experienced. Because many of them know they owe their jobs to Museveni and therefore nobody can fire them, they do not bother to learn and adjust to the requirements of their jobs. We have heard complaints about their incompetence and seen some of them at work in embassies. Museveni also has placed loyalty ahead of competence. That is why you find medical doctors for instance posted to ministries of defense, finance, foreign affairs and key embassies and police in health and education. That explains why we have lawyers as vice president, prime minister and speaker of parliament instead of or mixed with economists. At the moment of economic recession Uganda needs at least one seasoned economist in the top four positions. A political scientist and most lawyers from the same Dar es salaam University is not the mixture Uganda needs now. These are people who are loyal and he has placed them in sensitive and strategic ministries whether they perform or not. And because they lack expertise and experience they cannot be expected to perform well especially when their advisers are also deficient in many ways. Competent civil servants were either retrenched, told to stay abroad or marginalized in order to accommodate loyal NRM cadres who are either inadequately trained or lack experience or are appointed to wrong posts.
Third, Museveni has lacked ability or willingness to adapt to changing circumstances. Those who have worked in development programs know that adjustments or complete overhaul are necessary depending upon the extent of change in original circumstances when the program was drawn up. Pinochet of Chile was the first leader to introduce structural adjustment with “Chicago Boys” (Chilean economists trained at the University of Chicago in USA) as his economic advisers. When the neo-liberal program ran into serious difficulties because it was implemented on the principle of market forces alone, he did not drop it but made changes and adopted a public- private sector partnership strategy that introduced a strategic role of the state which had been dropped from the original program. Pinochet also dismissed the entire team of Chicago Boys and brought in a new pragmatic team. These adaptations suited the environment and the economy picked up quickly and sustainably. Museveni made no such changes in the structural adjustment program or in the team of economic advisers. Although he replaced ministers of finance, he left intact top civil servants who perhaps give wrong advice to the ministers. He thus kept the status quo from 1987 until the abandonment of structural adjustment in 2009 for its failure to deliver. A successor five year development plan based on a different paradigm was launched which required a team with different profiles but Museveni has retained the same team that advised on the design and implementation of the failed and abandoned neo-liberal program. It’s no wonder that the plan is gathering dust on shelves in line and central ministries.
If Museveni had realized that the rapid economic growth in the first ten years of his administration had been caused mostly by utilization of excess capacity (manufacturing sector had 80 percent unutilized installed capacity in 1986 when NRM came to power), he would have adjusted accordingly. But when troubles hit he blamed external factors beyond his control and did not bother to adjust economic policies. His advisers and western visiting delegations kept telling His Excellency that Uganda was doing well macro economically and market forces alone would eventually turn the economy around. Therefore no strategic state intervention was necessary. And Museveni believed them (and rejected advice from other quarters) until 2009 when the situation was serious and he reluctantly dropped structural adjustment program without much thought about its successor. Museveni has to realize that domestic policies are also responsible for Uganda’s current economic troubles and his advisers loyal as they may be have not helped him address the situation appropriately. Even if external environment improved, Uganda would not fully recover without adjustments in domestic policies and management team. Right now, Uganda needs experienced people that have helped design, manage, monitor and evaluate development programs and know what it takes to turn a difficult economy around. There is no short cut here.
Fourth and finally, Museveni has put too much trust in the military, believing that it would protect him against all odds, all the time. He has used it to steal elections and to disperse demonstrators. But Museveni thought that Uganda was governed by the law of the jungle where the strongest does whatever he wants to the weakest with impunity. He forgot that there are norms in national, regional and global institutions that do not allow use of force against people who peacefully demand fulfillment of their rights. Ugandans like citizens elsewhere have inalienable rights including the right to walk, assemble and express opinion against a government that is uncaring as Uganda government is. No leader or institution can take away this God given right. Inalienable rights are not acts of parliament or privileges that are given and taken away by authorities when it suits them. Museveni now knows that he cannot use his military irresponsibly to deny Ugandans to peacefully demonstrate against his failed government because Uganda activists and the international community including the ICC are watching. Thus, instead of threatening to use force when there is a demonstration, Museveni should adjust to the reality and enter into dialogue with opposition groups to find a solution acceptable to all parties. The opposition should also refrain from threat of using armed rebellion to topple NRM government for three main reasons. First, when attacked first, Museveni will be happy to unleash his troops with sophisticated weapons on Ugandans and clean up the place and rule happily ever after. Second, the majority of Ugandans do not seem to be in favor of armed rebellion because on balance it does more harm than good. Therefore at face value there is no mass support (as in Luwero Triangle in the early 1980s) for armed attack on NRM government much as it is not liked. Even if the military attack were to succeed, another military government is not what Uganda wants. Third, the international community including African Union is in no mood for a guerrilla attack on a sitting government regardless of how it got into power. But what is clear is that the international backing of Museveni will fade and eventually end once it realizes there is a wind of change blowing across Uganda. Ugandans are therefore advised to use peaceful and legitimate means of regime change, leaving Museveni stranded with his troops if they do not join the group on the right side of history. We expect Uganda troops to abandon dictatorship as they did in Iran in 1979 and the Philippines in 1986 or a hesitant regime in the Soviet Union in 1991.