Museveni’s address was not directed at Ugandans but donors who have withdrawn support largely because of rampant corruption and mismanagement of public funds.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.
Since I joined Uganda political debates, I have been concerned about the degree of sub-nationalism, albeit subsiding. I had hoped that the suffering we have experienced as a nation, not as individual regions or families, would bring us closer together to forge a common front, liberate ourselves and lay a strong foundation for sustainable peace, stability, security, prosperity, equity and happiness for all Ugandans. I was invited to co-host an English program on Radio Munansi. As the debates proceeded we began to lose focus on the country as a whole and drifted into sub-nationalism accusing one region for all the troubles in Uganda and vowing not to allow another national leader from there. Thankfully, others stepped in and we resumed the national debate. Based on the information we gathered among Ugandans at home and abroad and friends and well wishers, a consensus emerged that opposition groups needed to come together under one umbrella and speak with one voice for efficiency and effectiveness. Another consensus emerged that we should use our respective talents, expertise and experiences in a mutually reinforcing manner, regardless of region, religion, ethnicity, gender, age and size, etc.
There are some Ugandans who are still calling on foreigners to initiate political change in Uganda preferably through the barrel of the gun to end abuse of power and the suffering it has caused there. Why should they? Foreigners have had it so good until now under Museveni like never before. Conditions for them (enabling environment) are better than in colonial days in many respects. Take land as an illustration. Governor Bell, Commissioner Spire and Director Simpson refused foreigners to own or lease land except for a few plantations. They argued successfully that land in Uganda belongs to peasants and it should remain so and convert it into commercial enterprises.
Museveni is changing all of that. He has given foreign developers the land they want and where they want it. A model school that Ugandans were proud of was pulled down in Kampala City because a developer wanted the site. Construction has taken place in previous water drainage channels in Kampala City because those are the sites the developers wanted, causing flooding and breeding ground for mosquitoes. Museveni shouted down advisers who argued against such developments. Uganda farmers have lost their land where they grew a variety of crops for own consumption and sell surplus in urban areas in the Entebbe-Kampala corridor in order to create space for cut flower production for export. Mabira forest is under constant threat because that is where the developer wants to grow sugar cane for export. It is reported he has refused other sites. Although Museveni has delayed the decision on Mabira forest he will likely yield in the end because foreign interests have triumphed over national ones.
Good medical doctors always insist they will not prescribe medication until they are sure they have diagnosed and identified the problem. The tests and consultations involved are sometimes expensive in time and money.
Similarly challenges in other areas of human endeavor should be correctly analyzed before solutions are presented. This takes time, money and above all patience.
As I read and hear commentators about developments in Uganda and the Great Lakes region, I am impressed by the depth of analysis and understanding of issues. For example:
1. People are correctly saying that economic growth is necessary but not sufficient condition for social development;
2. They are saying that rapid economic growth that destroys the environment is not sustainable;
3. They are saying that focus on urban development at the expense of the countryside will create more problems than solutions;
4. They are saying that without educating girls and empowering women and controlling immigrants into Uganda it will be difficult to reduce population growth;
5. They are saying that export of raw materials however diversified in commodities and markets will not generate enough foreign exchange earnings, keeping Uganda dependent on donations with strings attached;
The behavior of so-called Uganda leaders and potential leaders is unprecedented, to say the least. We have become overly obsessed with being MPs, ministers, ambassadors, councilors, mayors and bishops that we have virtually forgotten everything else. To get and retain these positions we have surrendered ourselves to one man – the appointing authority who is Museveni. Some have even described Museveni as godsend because they were given or promised gifts including cows and others cannot question what he says lest they annoy him and lose their comfortable jobs or miss a promotion.
Those who had principles and expressed opinions different from those of the appointing authority were silenced by offers of jobs with high-sounding titles and nothing else. After a while they would be blasted for incompetence and humiliated with dismissal or marginalization. Many others have succumbed to brown envelopes. When Museveni travels in Uganda or abroad Ugandans follow him hoping they will get a chance to shower superficial praises on him for an excellent job he is doing for the country and hope to get noticed in case a vacancy becomes available. Museveni has unleashed hecklers against the few that have stuck to their principles hoping to break their backs some day. The effort could be counter-productive.
You have taken us for granted for too long. You hood winked us with your ten point program when you knew you were not going to implement it. Instead of development you have brought hell on Uganda soil. You have reduced a country of hardworking, innovative and cheerful people to a semi-desert where rivers are disappearing, lakes are shrinking and water tables are dropping. Hospitals have turned into hospices, maternal mortality and insanity rates are on the rise. Ugandans have become number one alcohol consumer in the world. You are selling food to earn foreign currency when Ugandans are starving to death. You have refused to allocate money for primary school lunch causing girls to drop out of school and forced into teenage pregnancy and having children they cannot afford. You are encouraging poor families to practice birth control for lack of resources, yet you are selling or leasing Uganda land to foreigners to produce food for their people. Land is the only asset Ugandans have. Education has not provided them an alternative source of income.
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.
When I wrote that dividing Uganda into watertight Nilotic North and Bantu South was not entirely correct, some people sought clarification and elaboration. Earlier on some people had also raised the question whether the people of southern Uganda who are linguistically the same (Bantu-speakers) are also racially (or ethnically) the same.
For Uganda’s northern region one can safely use the Nilotic classification. For Buganda, Bunyoro and Toro one can also safely use the Bantu classification since intermarriage between Nilotic and Bantu peoples was so thorough that new communities emerged, adopted a common Bantu language and practiced mixed farming thereby ending the pastoralist and agricultural specialization between Nilotic and Bantu peoples respectively. However, in south west Uganda (Ntungamo and Rujumbura in particular) the situation is different.
Bantu people who speak Bantu language or Bantu Bantu-speakers (BBS) from Cameroon/Nigeria border arrived in southwest Uganda first through the Congo region. They practiced mixed farming of crops, short horn cattle, goats and sheep and poultry. They also manufactured a wide range of products particularly those based on iron ore. Centuries later, Nilotic Luo-speaking people with long horn cattle arrived in the area. Their ancestors came from southern Sudan. Although the Nilotic people (Bahima and Bahororo) adopted Bantu language, hence Nilotic Bantu-speakers (NBS), culturally and economically they remained distinct from Bantu Bantu-speakers (BBS). Separate identities were retained through a combination of strict restrictions on inter-marriage and specialized economic functions.
Some years ago I attended a panel discussion on poverty in Geneva, Switzerland. One of the panelists argued that in any community in time and space you will find a group of poor and another of rich people living side by side. This happens, the panelist argued, because those who become rich exploit, marginalize and impoverish those who ultimately become poor. This argument has presented an analytic framework for understanding the co-existence of poverty and wealth in the great lakes region (Burundi, Rwanda and southwest Uganda).
By way of introduction, by and large, in colonial Africa the whites became rich while the Africans became poor because the whites occupied the best land, got the best education and the best jobs and received government assistance in their development efforts. On the other hand, Africans were pushed onto marginal land, prevented from growing export crops, became cheap laborers, lacked good education and could not get good jobs. In areas where Africans as in Uganda were allowed to own land and grow export crops, they obtained low prices and were heavily taxed.
Because of my strong stand against the ongoing marginalization of Bahutu and Bairu in the Great Lakes region, I have been intimidated, abused, threatened (with my family) and called all sorts of names. In the media, I have been dubbed “a tribal hater, a sectarian full of hatred and an irritant like dandruff etc”. I have been accused of reopening wounds and advised to let sleeping dogs lie.
I am a very strong believer in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights especially Article I which states that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood”.