News about Uganda is very depressing and has damaged our national pride, reminiscent of Amin’s days when Uganda was defined as a failed state with a dictatorial regime as now. Wrongdoing cannot be hidden any more thanks to advanced technology. Images of sleeping government leaders and advisers when the president was presenting the State of the Nation address (and it happened last year) have raised questions as to whether that is the best team he can find among 34 million Ugandans. Many Ugandans are convinced beyond any shadow of doubt that Uganda is in a political, economic, social, moral and environmental crisis, no matter what NRM government officials and friends abroad may say. That is not the team that will pull Uganda out of its endemic difficulties including unemployment, poverty and environmental decay. This is the moment when we ought to collectively put our heads together and find a lasting solution. Leaders who ignore the views of others and insist on governing by divine right cause harm to themselves and their nations as history has taught us.
Early this year (2012), South Africa celebrated 100 years marking the founding of African National Congress (ANC) as an independent country with a democratic black majority government. Originally named as South African Native National Congress, ANC was founded at a conference that took place at Bloemfontein (South Africa) on January 8, 1912.
Pixley ka Izaka Seme (Zulu), the founder of ANC earned a degree from Columbia University (USA) in 1906 and later a law degree at Oxford University. He returned to his home country, South Africa, to start a law firm and practice law. “When he arrived in Johannesburg, he found that he wasn’t allowed to use the sidewalks, leave his home without carrying as many as twelve official passes, venture out after 9:00 PM, or vote”. Outraged and appalled, Seme organized a conference at Bloemfontein to “unite all the black South African factions as a single political force”. This was the first unified political organization in colonial Africa composed of black Africans.
Queen Elizabeth I of England who worked well with parliament was succeeded by James I who had been king of Scotland. He insisted he was king by divine right and rejected the English tradition of parliamentary government. He believed kings ruled by the will of God and were responsible only to God.
As expected, opposition to the king grew in parliament in response to James’ extreme demands especially in financial matters.
James I was succeeded by his son Charles I who was even more inflexible. Charles wanted to levy taxes without parliament’s approval which was rejected. To assert itself, parliament passed the Petition of Right, insisting that the king was subject to the law of the land and could not raise taxes without parliament’s approval, impose forced loans on the English people, etc.
The relations between the king and parliament deteriorated to the extent that a civil war occurred. During the war the king was joined by some parliamentarians and other royalists known as Cavaliers. Those parliamentarians and others who opposed the king – the Roundheads – were led by Oliver Cromwell. The king was defeated, tried and executed.
Through his actions Museveni behaves as though he has never understood his role as head of state. He acts as though he is representing western interests in Uganda particularly imposing structural adjustment and joining the west on major issues. He also acts as though he is a representative of Bahororo people in Uganda who are increasingly positioning themselves to govern Uganda for a long time. He sees other Ugandans as a nuisance and despises us as people below his dignity. This comes out clearly from his statements and his body language. These actions that have defined Museveni’s twenty five year presidency should disqualify him for re-election.
Museveni has managed to hang on because of his repressive style of governance with tacit endorsement of western interests and not because he is loved by the people of Uganda except Bahororo. Western interests in Uganda will be served better by letting Museveni go – without western support Museveni would not have lasted a couple of years.
There is consensus that Museveni is a leader guided by a unique philosophy based on the use of force and fear, dependence on foreigners and regional focus that has made his presidency counter-productive, calling for his defeat in 2011 elections. Museveni’s defeat is very important for Uganda, neighboring countries and development partners in order to avoid heavier losses in the future. Thick clouds are gathering on the political horizon and if they are not dissipated quickly they could unleash a very destructive storm. If preventive steps had been taken Ethiopia and Zaire could have avoided the adverse impact of 1974 and 1996/7 events respectively. To prevent the possibility of such events occurring in Uganda, we need to adopt a preventive strategy because it is always cheaper than cure. We should at all times avoid emotions about what Museveni has done for or against us. We should be guided only by considerations of dignity, liberty/freedom and equality of all Ugandans. We should seek and tell the truth because a diversion will be catastrophic. For easy reference let us review the rationale behind Museveni’s philosophy.
Museveni behaves as though he does not understand the concept of accountability even though he grew up in an environment where accountability is very well understood. For example, in western Uganda culture – where Museveni comes from – when your cows destroy a neighbor’s garden when your son was tending them, it is the father who is accountable and pays the fine. Similarly when Museveni’s employees (national or foreign) make mistakes he should be accountable and accept the consequences. Instead Museveni blames others. But before coming to cases where Museveni and those who support him have blamed others, let us examine briefly why Museveni has done poorly with a view to drawing lessons for future leaders and whoever forms the next government after February 18, 2011 elections.
1. Museveni’s school performance through undergraduate studies was not bright. This can be deduced from his own writings and reports (subject to confirmation) that he obtained a pass at the university of Dar es Salaam. At that time a pass was like a certificate of attendance. He did not pursue graduate studies that introduce students to analytical tools and research methodology. So he has a deficit at the academic level. And he became president when the world economy had shifted from Keynesian to neoliberal ideology known as the Washington Consensus that requires a lot of adjustment from state to market forces and laissez-faire capitalism.
Many – if not most – Ugandans have not figured out who Museveni is and much less what he stands for although some have voted for him since 1996. However, going by the voters supporting him, his popularity is dwindling. The uncertainty about Museveni has led to stress and – combined with poor diet of cassava and maize – contributed to insanity which stands at over thirty percent and is rising at an alarming rate – a process that is destroying human capital formation.
The mystery about Museveni springs from many fronts. First, his birth place has remained unresolved. Some Ugandans and others believe he is Rwandese and that he came to Uganda on his mother’s back symbolizing that he was too young to walk on his own. Museveni has written that he was born in Kyamate of Ankole district, now Ntungamo district. Nina Mbabazi has disputed that arguing that Museveni was actually born in Rukungiri district but did not explain. And Nina has declined requests to elaborate which has corroded her reputation. Then, to make matters worse came Shifa Mwesigye with his own story that actually it is Museveni’s grandfather who was born in Rukungiri as if to deny that Museveni was. Like Nina, Shifa did not elaborate. He has been requested to do so. As we shall see later Ugandans are beginning to tilt towards Rwanda as being Museveni’s birth place.
When Museveni graduated from Dar in Tanzania, he began to talk about revolution. This led into the 1981-85 guerrilla war that toppled the government of Okello (not of Obote which was toppled by Okello in July 1985) in January 1986. He continued to talk about revolution. Many Ugandans thought he was talking about the familiar development revolutions: agricultural, industrial and technological. And many gave him support. Museveni suggested that he needed at least 15 years to accomplish this revolution that would in the end metamorphose Uganda’s economy and society.
As time passed, revolutions in agriculture, industry and technology were not happening. While Museveni kept Ugandans waiting for the promised fundamental changes, he embarked on a different kind. Here are a few illustrative cases.
First, he toppled (or it is alleged) governments in Burundi (1993), Rwanda (1994) and Zaire (1997).
Second, Museveni silently handed over Uganda’s economy to foreign ownership, arguing that nationalization was a wrong policy. That is why – justifiably or not – an increasing number of Ugandans think that Museveni is a foreigner working for foreign interests. They reason that a true Ugandan cannot hand over the entire economy except land which he is likely to sell if re-elected.
President Museveni is campaigning for reelection for another five-year term. He has been telling NRM supporters that he has a solid record of achievements for the last 25 years. But he does not elaborate on that record. Deep in his heart he knows that his performance in all areas of human endeavor has been dismal. He has been variously described as a dictator presiding over a failed state. Images around the world of Ugandans disfigured by jiggers which he condemned while waging a guerrilla war, children dying of hunger, Ugandans dying in traffic accidents because of bad roads, patients sleeping on hospital floors, children studying under trees, Kampala City under floods, shooting unarmed demonstrators while he was Chairman of the Commonwealth, demonstrations against him in New York City in 2009 and 2010, recent allegations that Uganda troops committed genocide against Hutu in DRC and terrorist attack on Kampala have left Museveni a weak and vulnerable man. That is why talk of his achievements is circumscribed.
Years ago, I concluded that the NRM government under the leadership of President Museveni has failed to deliver on human security – Ugandans still live in fear, in want and in indignity.
At the United Nations Millennium Summit (New York, September 6-8, 2000) world leaders adopted a Millennium Declaration on peace and security; development and poverty eradication; and human rights, democracy, and good governance. They declared that (1) they would spare no effort to free people from the scourges of war within or between states; (2) they would spare no effort to free fellow men, women and children from the abject and dehumanizing conditions of extreme poverty and (3) they would spare no effort to promote democracy and strengthen the rule of law, as well as respect for all internationally recognized human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the right to development.
These declarations are similar to what is contained in Uganda’s ten-point program launched by the NRM government when it came to power in 1986. As noted above despite these declarations at the national and international levels, massive international assistance and excellent national policy documents Ugandans still leave in fear, want and indignity and the situation is getting worse. Because of space constraints, this article will focus on development and poverty eradication – freedom from want.