When you entered Kampala with your guerrilla fighters in January 1986 you brought a message of hope. It was contained in the ten-point program. When you addressed the OAU Summit in Addis Ababa and the United Nations General Assembly in New York City you conveyed a similar message of hope for your country, your continent and indeed the whole world. You presented yourself as a unique leader with a new and purposeful political economy message and direction. Your leadership was about change and movement towards improving the standard of living of all Ugandans who had suffered for so long. Your leadership was to metamorphose Uganda into a new and better entity and then move on to the Pan-African stage and perhaps the global platform. There was hope you would end up in the same class as Mandela and Nyerere.
The first decade of your leadership was by and large commendable. You formed an umbrella administration, drawing ministers and advisers from all political groups. You gave political space to women, youth and Ugandans with disabilities. You tackled HIV & AIDS pandemic with boldness that won you admiration worldwide. The economy did well and by mid-1990s it was growing at ten percent per annum. You launched structural adjustment program hoping it would serve as a development model for third world countries and you got massive donor support for it. Your leadership helped produce the 1995 constitution with presidential term limits. You became dean of a new breed of African leaders and your leadership in Eastern and Central Africa was recognized. This is the time you should have left Uganda’s political stage – at the end of 1995.
Instead you chose to stay, claiming there was nobody to replace you. You competed in the 1996 presidential elections which you won through rigging, marking the beginning of a downward trend. Subsequent presidential elections have become costly especially in civil and political rights violations with so many disenfranchised and foreigners voting to help you win the 2011 elections because you could not trust Ugandans to vote for you. Meanwhile the northern war dragged on upon your alleged insistence that the LRA would be defeated militarily and not through negotiations. The latter prevailed through external pressure.
Structural adjustment program for which you had been christened the star performer and blue eyed darling of the west began to show signs of stress. The growth rate slowed to below 8 or 9 percent (now in 2011 about 5 percent) as minimum required to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015. The benefits of economic growth failed to trickle down to the majority of Ugandans especially those in rural areas. The rich few became richer – largely through corruption which has now become endemic, denting your government’s image – and many poor became poorer with over fifty percent of Uganda’s total population living below the poverty line of $1.25 a day, 8 million going to bed on empty stomach and some 80 percent of youth unemployed. Export diversification into more raw materials has failed to improve foreign exchange earnings but managed to destroy the environment as large swathes of land were cleared of vegetation to grow export commodities including cut flowers that have replaced food crops.
Neglect of agriculture and related institutions of extension services and cooperatives and processing facilities, infrastructure (especially roads and energy), social sectors of education, healthcare and housing have resulted in low agricultural productivity, food losses and low value addition, poor quality education, spreading slums and a health system about to collapse. The spreading diseases of poverty some of which had disappeared are a clear signal that things have gone wrong. That some 70 percent of Uganda’s GDP is generated in the nation’s capital of Kampala with less than two million out of 33 million Ugandans is a reflection of faulty policy formulation, much less implementation.
Uganda’s foreign policy especially in the great lakes region under your leadership has been characterized by confrontation and interference than cooperation. In particular, the invasion of DRC and plunder of her resources and alleged arming militias that have caused too much human suffering and the allegation that Uganda troops participated in the genocide of Hutu people in eastern DRC have severely dented your image.
Your failure to show up at the United Nations General Assembly Summit on MDGs in 2010 and at the 66th session in 2011 when your name was on the list of speakers until the last minute has conveyed a message that the once star performer is on retreat.
Not least, your focus shift into East African economic integration and political federation will not help much because there are so many unknowns. While theoretically convincing – a large market to facilitate economies of scale, free mobility within the region and one nation – economic integration and federation are not easy to realize, witness slow progress in the European Union. The failures of Central African Federation (1953-63) and the East African Economic Integration (1967-77) after the idea of federation failed to register the support of Uganda in 1963 (Chidzero and Gauher 1986) should serve as a warning of what lies ahead and suggest that economic integration and federation might be realized by indirection than direct fast track arrangements. Building interstate institutions and infrastructure first might create conditions for eventual smooth economic integration and federation in that order.
For your own good and that of Uganda, now is the time to go gracefully.