Following the elimination by Parliament of term limits that had been built into the 1995 Uganda Constitution, President Museveni is eligible to run for President of Uganda as many times as he wishes. He has already declared he is running in 2011.
Under the current constitutional arrangements, President Museveni has a right to run. However, his decision to run in 2011 has raised two issues. Some people are saying that if he runs he should not be supported because he has been in power for too long. He should therefore step aside so that others can try their luck.
Others have reasoned that his reelection or rejection should be based on performance against the promises he made including leaving public life after a short while, achieving national unity and delivering a better future for the long-suffering of the people of Uganda.
Yoweri Museveni has been in power as President of the Republic of Uganda and leader of the National Resistance Movement government since January 1986. Does his record call for his stay in power or not? Let us see by drawing on a few illustrative examples.
Regarding early departure from national public life, President Museveni stated unambiguously at the start of his presidency that he had no intention of staying in power for long. During an interview with John Nagenda (published in New African in March 1986), Yoweri Museveni said that “Then after some years, after we have settled the immediate problems of the country especially security and restoring democracy to the population, personally I am one of those fellows who are not very keen to remain in public life for a long time, because I have got a lot of other things I can do, for example, community leadership, working among the local people and working on the African scene. I am also a Panafricanist ideologically so I see my work in Uganda (apart from solving the problems of Ugandans) as also being a springboard for our work on the African continent as a whole”.
And Anver Versi editor of African Business reported in March 1995 that “President Museveni himself has said he will give up politics in 1999 by which time he says he will have brought the country back to an even keel”. The President has delivered on what he promised – to restore security and democracy. Therefore he should have left but he has not.
John Nagenda also asked Yoweri Museveni “What then would you say to people, myself included, who have held the view that for 20 years the country has suffered and people come from mainly one region and that region being one that is in every way different from the other region – I am talking about people of a completely different racial group. Would you not say that that is going to be difficult in the future?”
In response, the President asserted that the problem of the north and south was created by the British who planted it in the army, civil service and in the economy, which they used to keep themselves in power undemocratically.
The question of tribalism, he added, was of no consequence and “we have been able to unite our army and I can tell you that now some of the battalions from the north are the most exuberant in our army… we are sure we shall be able to unite Uganda. I am definitely sure about that”.
There is a general consensus that the national unity project may have run into insurmountable problems. Ugandans and non-Ugandans alike argue that the country is now more divided, more corrupt and more sectarian than at any time in its history. The two stories of a Ugandan and non-Ugandan researchers speak for many on this matter.
Amii Omara-Otunnu wrote that upon assuming power in 1986, President Museveni had moved quickly to satisfy the demands of the Bantu-speaking ethnic groups which lent their support to his rise to power, noting that his own ethnic group of Banyankole had particularly benefited in the dispensing of patronage.
During the Uganda Convention in New York in September 2006, accusations of sectarianism were more specific – a small click of Banyankole was accumulating enormous economic, political and military power at the expense of the rest of Ugandans thereby dealing a very severe and possibly fatal blow to the national unity project.
Ellen Hauser observed that Uganda was more divided than it was when the National Resistance Movement assumed power in 1986. She stressed that regionalism and ethnicity had intensified as a means of determining who gets what in the political and economic arenas.
The division of the country into small and uneconomically viable districts almost along tribal lines is seen by many as divisive no matter what other benefits are. A continuation along this trajectory would in the end produce adverse results in the economic, social and political spheres. Ugandans should therefore decide whether or not to abandon this trajectory and those behind it.
In the Ten-Point Program, Yoweri Museveni stated clearly that he had worked out proposals for a political program “that could form the basis for a nationwide coalition of political and social forces that could usher in a new and better future for the long-suffering people of Uganda. This proposal is popularly known as the Ten-Point Program”. The implementation of the Program would follow a mixed economy strategy on the basis of public and private partnership.
The shift from the people-centered mixed economy strategy to the Washington Consensus or structural adjustment after May 1987 has since focused on export-oriented economic growth and inflation control at the expense of social and environmental sectors – the pillars of equitable, sustained and sustainable development.
Consequently, economic growth has attained a commendable level averaging 6 percent annually. Inflation has also been contained within single digits. But income distribution has become highly skewed with twenty percent of the population in the top income bracket earning over 50 percent of national income.
Ultimately, however, the value of economic growth and low inflation must be judged on the extent to which they impact on social and environmental conditions. The record to date leaves much room for improvement.
Unemployment especially of young workers is very high and rising, over 30 percent of Ugandans are poor, 30 percent are hungry, 40 percent of children under the age of five are under-nourished, 12 percent of infants are born underweight because their mothers are under-nourished (underweight infants suffer permanent disabilities and face the prospect of early death), over 33 percent of Ugandans have mental disorders in part because they are eating unbalanced diets dominated by maize and cassava (originally introduced as a famine, not staple, crop), up to 80 percent of children are dropping out of primary school in part because they are hungry, the quality of education is very low largely because of the poor education environment such as poor quality of many teachers, absence of school lunches, high student/teacher ratios, inadequate instructional materials and poor quality of buildings such as the crumbling Duhaga school in Bunyoro. These conditions do not make it easy for students to learn. High levels of disease such as trachoma (leads to blindness) reduce the productivity of Ugandans and undermine their competitiveness in global markets.
And Uganda’s high level of alcohol consumption has pushed it among the top ten countries in the world. High levels of alcohol consumption lead to many social ills including crime, selling assets to raise money for buzz, impoverishment and violence especially domestic against women. Many think this does not seem to be a good record to present for reelection.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) issued an environment report on Uganda in September 2008 showing that if corrective steps are not taken soon, 80 percent of the country will turn into a desert within 100 years because the current policies of natural resource use to feed the nation and generate exports to neighboring countries and beyond to earn foreign exchange are not sustainable.
Therefore, the decision to reelect or reject Yoweri Museveni’s for another five-year term as President of Uganda should be based on his record against his promises since 1986 – not on new or repackaged promises.
The few examples sketched above should serve as a guide.