There is no fun
Writing about Uganda and the Great Lakes region isn’t fun. You are either correcting distortions or reporting on wars, human rights violations, genocide and other crimes against humanity; land grabbing and stealing elections; corruption and sectarianism; people dying mysteriously or of negligence and others of starvation in a region that has the potential to produce surplus food over and above domestic needs. In many of the interviews I have been asked why I don’t report on good news. Frankly I would love to but there isn’t much good news to report and twisting things to please isn’t my cup of tea. I am writing these stories not to start trouble but to prevent one. In this article, I will focus on Tutsi land grab in Uganda and the implications for the landless.
Museveni’s hidden agenda
Yoweri Museveni came to power with a clear but hidden agenda from the majority of Ugandans. You have to study Museveni dialectically to find the truth which many of us haven’t done or those who know don’t want to say it for various reasons mostly selfish ones. He also came to power with a conviction that he could do whatever he wants with impunity as long as he has his AK 47 and full support of security forces and some western backers.
In every society, people make mistakes. Those who recognize them early and correct them get back on the right track and move on. Those who don’t correct the mistakes suffer the consequences.
In England, King Charles I was defeated in a civil war, absolutism and the monarchy were abolished and England became a republic (Commonwealth) under Oliver Cromwell, a military commander. Cromwell governed with an iron hand and his son who succeeded him was very weak. The people of England through their Parliament decided to restore the monarchy under King Charles II with restrictions. The mistake was corrected and England moved forward.
Since the Lancaster House constitutional conference for independence, we Ugandans have made mistakes. In a rush to meet the deadline of October 9, 1962 for independence, we postponed and overlooked major issues which should have been resolved with Britain in the chair. The daunting issues of Lost Counties, Head of State, Batutsi refugees and the fate of Amin were postponed. We abandoned Ben Kiwanuka whom we knew better and welcomed Milton Obote who had just returned from Kenya who didn’t know Uganda and Uganda didn’t know him. When Uganda became independent, it was neither a monarchy nor a republic. It was simply called “The Sovereign State of Uganda” with the Queen as Head of State.
During the debate leading up to the Reform Act of 1832, Thomas B. Macaulay a Whig member of British Parliament made a memorable observation: “It is better to reform than to have a political revolution”. The successful 1830 revolution in France sounded a warning about what could happen in England if the middle class and industrial leaders’ demands for participation in the political process were not addressed. The Whigs who won the 1830 general elections “realized that concessions to reform were superior to revolution”. An election reform bill was introduced and became the Reform Act in 1832. The law gave explicit recognition to the changes that accompanied the Industrial Revolution including creation of the working class. The Reform Act of 1832 together with repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 saved Britain from the 1848 revolutions that swept across Europe. The working class demands that were not accommodated in the Reform Act were taken care of in the second half of the 19th century.
While addressing NRM members of parliament at Kyankwanzi National Leadership Institute, Dr. Thomas Richardson, senior IMF representative to Uganda observed that Uganda has one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Uganda’s future economic growth was recently lowered to about 5 percent because of the difficulties being experienced in the country.
Five percent growth rate falls far short of the 8-9 percent growth rates required as minimum to meet Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015. Countries like South Korea that transformed their economies and graduated to developed country status grew at 9 percent for many decades. Dr. Richardson observed correctly that agriculture has played a small part in Uganda’s economic growth. Given that some 90 percent of Ugandans earn their livelihood in agriculture, the sector should receive top priority attention.
The government with external support has focused on services and industry which are located mostly in the Kampala area and are capital-intensive, creating virtually no jobs. It’s no wonder that some 70 percent of Uganda’s GDP is generated in the Kampala area.
When we talk about industry we need to specify whether we are talking about manufacturing industries or industries in general like tourism industry. Uganda needs manufacturing industries to contribute to structural transformation and transition to a middle income nation.
Some Ugandans and non-Ugandans who have doubts that peaceful demonstrations alone (which I support) will squeeze Museveni and NRM illegitimate government out of power have asked me to explain the mechanism through which it will happen. Let me state right away that I have opted for peaceful demonstrations because their potential for human loss, injuries and displacement as well as destruction of property is much lower than the military option.
Uganda is a small country with a vulnerable economy dependent on external forces through exports, donations and soft loans, foreign investors, foreign experts and advisers, tourism and remittances by Ugandans living abroad. All we need to do is to convince these forces including our neighbors and all members of the East African community to cooperate with the suffering Ugandans to change the regime through peaceful means.
Sustained demonstrations and civil disobedience will create economic disruptions and security response will generate instability. These developments will constrain production of goods and services, cause supply to fall below demand, raise prices and force more Ugandans including NRM supporters to join demonstrations in protest against rising prices especially of food thereby denting the popularity of Museveni’s illegitimate government. Deterioration in economic activity will reduce the tax base and government revenue forcing it to cut back the provision of services further reducing its popularity especially its illegitimate leader Museveni.
The people of Uganda want their country, dignity and liberty back. Ipso facto, they want Museveni out no matter what others may say.
First, the good news is that Ugandans have finally realized who Museveni is and why he has divided Ugandans up and trampled on their civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights with impunity. Museveni fought a guerrilla war on Buganda territory with foreign and mercenary backing. Some 25 percent of guerrilla fighters were Tutsi mostly from Rwanda – Museveni’s cousins. Museveni tortured a Muhima man who wanted to know the guerrillas in their midst that spoke a strange language. Museveni tortured this man to put an end to that kind of questioning.
Lest we forget here are a few names of Tutsi who commanded the guerrilla war and served in Uganda’s army. Fred Rwigyema, major-general of NRA and its deputy commander – Museveni being the commander, Paul Kagame a major in NRA and head of intelligence and counter-intelligence, Dr. Peter Baingana a major and head of the NRA medical services, Chris Bunyenyezi a major and commanding officer of NRA’s 306 brigade and major Sam Kaka commanding officer of the NRA’s military police. Some returned to Rwanda in 1994 after the fall of Habyarimana regime. Some have returned to govern Uganda with Museveni.
Recently I watched a wild life movie. A lion strayed into the territory of monkeys. The monkeys were irritated and decided to chase the lion out. Young and old, male and female, some fifteen monkeys mustered courage and harassed the lion and it left. The lion actually ran to save its life! If irritated monkeys can unite and chase out a lion, angry Ugandans can surely unite and defeat Museveni in February 2010 elections.
Britain through its citizens put Museveni into power. Tiny Rowlands funded the guerrilla war and facilitated Museveni’s travel. William Pike has led the media and publicity work for Museveni since the guerrilla war days. Linda Chalker a trusted former minister in Thatcher’s government was the first foreign dignitary to meet Museveni as president and has remained a very close adviser since then. Paul Collier has been the chief foreign macroeconomist that constructed structural adjustment program (SAP) based on Thatcherism – get socialism and state out of Uganda’s economy; focus on inflation at the expense of employment; discipline trade unions and facilitate labor flexibility to hire and fire at will and pay low wages; and privatize all public enterprises so that laissez faire capitalism and invisible hand of market forces drive Uganda’s economy and society. Structural adjustment program has been implemented by British economists in the powerful ministry of finance and central Bank. The Department for International Development (DFID) has also been active in Uganda’s economy.
The 2010 UNDP’s Human Development report has recorded that between 2000 and 2008 51.5 percent of Ugandans lived below $1.25 a day with an index ranking of 143 out of 169. This high level of poverty and associated ills is unacceptable. So, what should be done to get Uganda out of this poverty trap?
First and foremost, Uganda leaders and senior civil servants must genuinely admit that the development model pursued in since 1987 did not work as expected for inter alia the following reasons.
1. The average economic growth rate did not reach 7 or 8 percent essential as minimum for achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015.
2. Excess capacity inherited in 1986 contributed more than economic reforms to economic growth and that that excess capacity is almost exhausted, calling for other sources of growth.
3. Trickle down mechanism failed to distribute the benefits of economic growth equitably resulting in skewed income distribution in favor of rich few families and spreading and deepening poverty.
4. Excessive obsession with macroeconomic stability especially inflation control to 5 percent and balanced budgets constrained investment and job growth because of very high interest rates and starved agriculture and social and infrastructural sectors of essential funding.
The creation of a banana district
In his interview which was published in Uganda’s Monitor dated February 9, 2004 Hon. Major General (rtd) Kahinda Otafire observed that “We [NRM] stood for national unity, for democracy, for equality and we were for justice for all. You find all the principles we fought for contained in our ten-point program”. Ugandans interpreted democracy to mean empowering them to participate directly or through their representatives in decisions that improve their lives.
The president’s spokesperson characterized President Museveni as a man of the people – a believer in true democracy – who is always in touch with ordinary people including at the lowest level. In practice two major things have happened: first, the ten-point program was dropped – and so were the principles contained in it – when the NRM government began collaboration with the IMF and the World Bank after signing an agreement in May 1987 and second, democracy has been practiced at gun point to force people and institutions to take decisions dictated by NRM leaders. In forcing some of these decisions, NRM leaders were facilitated by the donor community. For example, the idea of decentralization came largely from development partners who thought that people would be able to take decisions that improve the quality of their lives and that services would be brought closer to them.