Museveni’s address was not directed at Ugandans but donors who have withdrawn support largely because of rampant corruption and mismanagement of public funds. He was I think also addressing the United Nations on one Millennium Development Goal – Achieve universal primary education. He focused on the glass half full, leaving out the empty half.
He was telling donors that his administration met the requirements or conditionality of stabilization and structural adjustment program (SAP).
1. That is why he talked about growth of the economy or GNI and per capita income;
2. That is why he talked about inflation control to single digits;
3. That is why he talked about export growth and diversification;
4. That is why he talked about accumulating international reserves;
5. That is why he talked about his determination to stamp out rampant corruption as part of good governance practice.
These were the conditions together with market forces, austerity and trickle down that were imposed by donors including IMF and World Bank which Uganda adhered to rigidly with serious social and environmental costs that he left out in his address. In other words, Museveni was saying that he did religiously what the donors wanted him to do except stamping out corruption which he has begun addressing and calling on the resumption of aid and technical assistance.
As to the United Nations, he said that school enrollment went up considerably although the goal is far from being reached.
Museveni conveniently left out:
1. Income distribution which has been heavily skewed in favor of the rich and Kampala city. In the mid-1990s when the economy grew at the highest rate of 10 percent, two-thirds or 66 percent of Ugandans were still trapped in absolute poverty (Development Cooperation Seminar Tokyo, Japan September 1999). And by 2010, over 50 percent of Ugandans were still trapped in absolute poverty because a disproportionate share of national income went to a few families already rich and some 70 percent of Gross Domestic Income (GNI) is located in the capital city of Kampala and the vicinity with less than two million people, with over 30 million people in the rest of Uganda generating some 30 percent of GNI.
2. Museveni didn’t indicate that by keeping inflation in single digits around 5 percent, interest rates were so high to reduce money in circulation that potential investors especially small and medium entrepreneurs that create jobs could not borrow and invest or expand their businesses, resulting in high unemployment especially of youth that is over 80 percent.
3. Regarding increased export growth and diversification, the president didn’t tell us that so much food has been exported leading to malnutrition especially of women and children. Insanity has also increased because of inadequate and poor diet and stress because of hard economic times. He also didn’t tell us that in order to increase and diversify exports the environment has been badly damaged as more vegetation has been cleared to grow export commodities. Deforestation has accelerated due in large part to an increase in timber exports. Fisheries have also been depleted for the same reason.
President Museveni talked about an increase school enrolment. But he conveniently left out the high dropout rate. He also failed to mention that some children are studying under trees. He left out the high student/teacher ratio that makes it hard for teachers to do a good job, leading to poor quality education and high functionally illiterates of graduates. He didn’t mention employment status of those that have graduated because youth unemployment is extremely high over 80 percent.
One would have expected the president to talk about the status of human condition since 1986. He didn’t because the general standard of living is nowhere near what was attained in 1970; the last year of Obote’s first government. Further, he didn’t because Uganda which was ahead of Kenya and Tanzania in human condition is now far behind them.
In Uganda poverty has spread and deepened because of implementation of structural adjustment program including retrenchment of public servants, removal of subsidies, imposition of user charges and VAT which hurt the poor disproportionately and created the “new poor” (those public servants that were retrenched largely to create room for NRM cadres and settle scores disguised as downsizing the civil service) and made the poor poorer. Some estimates indicate that 20 percent in the lowest income bracket has become poorer. In any case one doesn’t need statistics to confirm that poverty has increased especially in rural areas.
Application of labor flexibility that includes incapacitation of trade unions has enabled employers to hire and fire at will, offer low wages to employees without benefits, making some of them earn at or below subsistence wages.
Museveni didn’t talk about healthcare because the system is on the verge of collapse as evidenced by re-emergence of diseases of poverty “including meningitis, cholera, dysentery, plague and sleeping sickness” as reported by the government (Background to the budget June 1998).
Upon assumption of the presidency, Museveni stressed that he would balance production of food for domestic consumption and for export. In practice, he has favored the latter to earn foreign exchange that has resulted in high levels of malnutrition, an increase in the number of underweight children because mothers are undernourished, development of smaller brain size than normal and an increase in neurological disabilities including insanity.
At the start of his presidency, Museveni was also clear about his concern for environmental degradation. He emphasized that he was going to re-grow hair on Uganda’s balding hills. What has happened in practice is further de-vegetation, deforestation and wetland clearance that have adversely affected thermal and hydrological regimes that have resulted in frequent and intense droughts and floods with repercussions on agricultural and livestock production.
Because of these deficits, structural adjustment program was terminated in 2009 as a failure. It was replaced by a five year development plan which as reported by the prime minister not too long ago hasn’t been implemented, explaining in part why Uganda is deteriorating fast.
Museveni has blamed others for these failures including:
1. Population growth. He noted that “If the population had grown at a slower rate, Uganda would already be a middle-income country”. Here the implication can’t be mistaken. He was laying a foundation for and preparing Members of Parliament for passing a law on birth control. He added that “However, the economy could have grown much faster if it was not for some ideological confusion on the part of some of the actors that we are, sometimes, forced to work with”. There are problems here. Museveni has insisted he is the only person with a vision for the development of Uganda, meaning that his ideology has prevailed over all others. So there shouldn’t be ideological confusion. In support of this, his close advisers have denied, sometimes contradicting themselves, external influence on Uganda’s development. What we know is that Museveni dropped his ideology of mixed economy and fully embraced neo-liberal ideology. Neo-liberal ideology called inter alia for employment of foreign experts and advisers to manage Uganda’s economy and eliminating or drastically reducing the role of the state in the economy. In fact one senior government official closest to the president wrote that NRM government invited IMF and World Bank to assist the government in designing and implementing the economic recovery program or structural adjustment and have been doing so since the early days of NRM government. So again there is no ideological confusion. There is only ideological failure of structural adjustment or neo-liberal economics based on the invisible hand of market forces, laissez faire policies, austerity and trickle down mechanism.
2. Museveni spoke with overwhelming confidence that Uganda would become an industrialized country within 15 years of his assumption of Uganda presidency. What we have after 26 years in power is de-industrialization of Uganda. Museveni has blamed this sad development on corrupt, indifferent officials or incapable people who were given concessions. But Museveni has played a role in appointing these corrupt and indifferent people. Why doesn’t he fire them when he finds out?
Museveni address on NRM 27th anniversary and the one before it on 50th anniversary of Uganda independence have clearly revealed that there is very little or none positive to report about Uganda since 1986 except some processes which haven’t produced the desired outcomes.
Museveni is a person who never accepts blame or compromises in order to get things done well. Museveni thought he would run the country as he ran the guerrilla war. But these are different situations that require different approaches and players but Museveni has failed to grasp the difference. He has continued to rely on loyalty and sectarianism than competence with all adverse implications including a decadent country and society. You don’t need statistics to prove this outcome. Those who have praised Museveni and NRM record of accomplishments especially western commentators need to be specific because what ultimately counts is for every Ugandan to meet basic needs which is far from happening.